The mail comes to you a little early today as I'll have coverage of the Big Ten spring meetings this afternoon.
Badger in Columbus from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Please explain giving the edge to Washington over Wisconsin. If it was a contest of which defense would give up more points then Washington is the obvious choice. Or is this one of those auto-correct errors. Maybe some form of hangover. Did you forget which teams were which.... Help me out.
Adam Rittenberg: I've received several similar emails from Wisconsin fans, and I'm quite frankly a little surprised. Wisconsin was a slightly above-average football team in 2012 that couldn't pass the ball, struggled in close games and only got to the Big Ten championship because Ohio State and Penn State were barred by NCAA sanctions. Both Wisconsin and Washington finished 7-6, and Washington beat two teams -- Stanford and Oregon State -- that Wisconsin lost to last season. The Huskies have a talented veteran quarterback in Keith Price, a solid running back in Bishop Sankey and one of the nation's best tight ends in Austin Seferian-Jenkins (currently suspended). Sure, the matchup might be a toss-up, but to say Wisconsin is leaps and bounds ahead of Washington is silly talk, especially after the Badgers went through a coaching change. You can't base these picks on how a program has done in the past decade (Wisconsin obviously better). You base it on the current teams and the upcoming season.
Matt from Omaha writes: People are worried about how the BIG West will be just as bad as the Big Twelve North, but they forget one key argument that no one seems to be talking about, COACHING STABILITY. The old Big Twelve North was actually really good before instability in the Coaching position affected Nebraska, Kansas State, and Colorado. I mean, during that time both Kansas (that?s right I said Kansas) and Missouri had pretty dominant programs for a short while. The fact right now is that the BIG West has enough stability at the coaching position to be competitive. Nebraska, Northwestern, and Iowa have had the same head coach for five years or more and each schools coach doesn?t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Had the divisional split happened two or three years ago, there wouldn't be such a problem in my opinion. Remember that time when Michigan was terrible under Rich Rod., when Ohio State lost Tress, or when Joe Paterno was fired? All these programs had faltered, but became more attractive when coaching stability came back to eaches respective programs. Nebraska will be competitive, so will Northwestern, and does anybody really think Ferentz is going to let Iowa fall far and let Iowa State take over as the top school in the state?
Adam Rittenberg: Good points here, Matt. Coaching stability is a big issue not only for the new Big Ten West division but throughout the Big Ten. We've seen coaching changes at eight of 12 programs in the past three years, and the lack of stability certainly has contributed to the league's overall downturn. Pat Fitzgerald doesn't appear to be going anywhere at Northwestern, but some would say this is a big season for both Bo Pelini at Nebraska and Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. I wouldn't put either coach on the hot seat, but there's some grumbling from both fan bases, and it wouldn't shock me to see either coach eventually leave for another job (Pelini in college, Ferentz in the NFL). Jerry Kill should remain at Minnesota for a while, as long as he remains healthy, and Gary Andersen has the potential to be a long-term answer at Wisconsin. Your point is a valid one, but I also think it's imperative that West division programs upgrade their recruiting efforts to keep up with Urban Meyer, Brady Hoke and Bill O'Brien in the East.
Adam from Chicago writes: Lots of excitement within Northwestern fan circles about the forming 2014 recruiting class. Is this class a sign that Northwestern is ready to become a legitimate contender for the immediate future or is this class just exciting because previous ones have been more average?
Adam Rittenberg: The recruiting uptick shows momentum is building at Northwestern. The combination of wins on the field, improved recruiting and, most important, the new lakefront facility being built puts Northwestern in position to be a more consistent division/league title contender. Northwestern's placement in the seemingly easier West division also helps. Pat Fitzgerald brought in some average recruiting classes at the start of his tenure, but the quality of recruits has improved in the past three seasons and 2014 has a chance to be the best yet. The question is whether Northwestern can continue to win 8-10 games per year as the schedules get a bit tougher in future seasons. Ultimately, it all comes down to wins and losses, but Northwestern definitely is bringing in more talent now than it was five years ago.
Aaron from Bettendorf, Iowa, writes: After getting engaged over the weekend we have been discussing possible dates. We both like Fall 2014; however, that prime time Big 10 football season. We are in agreement that it CANNOT be on an Iowa weekend. With the additions of Maryland and Rutgers next year it is hard to know the schedule this far in advance. Any ideas when we might have some clarity on this situation regarding bye weeks for next season.
Adam Rittenberg: First of all, congrats to you and your fiancée! The simple answer is to tell her, like I told my wife, that we had to get married in the spring or summer (wife still a bit peeved, by the way). If that doesn't fly, wait a few more weeks as the Big Ten hopes to release the 2014 and 2015 schedules by the end of May. The Big Ten would like to get all its significant business -- bowl lineup, future schedules -- finished by the presidents/chancellors meeting June 2. So sit tight for now and you should know the schedules soon. One thing in your favor is that Iowa will have two open weeks rather than one in the 2014 season, like it will this fall.
Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: Adam, like your choice of important games for Minnesota. Have you done any more in depth study as to why previous Kill teams have succeeded in their third year? I believe that there are three particular reasons - Kill's leadership, consistency of staff and the quality of his physical fitness coach.
Adam Rittenberg: All three of those factors undoubtedly have contributed to Kill's Year 3 success at previous spots like Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois. Two other factors: he had more of his own recruits in positions to contribute, and every player had greater familiarity with his system. Former Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish, for example, was recruited by the previous staff but redshirted the season before Kill arrived. He had two years to develop in the offense under Kill's staff before putting together a record-setting 2010 season -- Kill's third at the school -- in leading the Huskies to the MAC title game.
Jeremy from Columbus writes: You've said that Big Ten fan bases tend to frown upon games against the MAC, but why is this? Obviously we'd all rather watch a game against the Pac 12, but no team is going to schedule 12 games against BCS teams. If the Buckeyes demand on playing two 'cupcakes' each year, I'd much rather play local teams like Miami and Toledo than Alabama-Birmingham and Central Florida. When we played Miami last year, there were tons of Miami fans. Half the OSU students at the game had a friend from high school who had gone to Miami that they had been trash talking with in the week leading up to the game. In my opinion, that local aspect really helps build up the excitement for the game, even if the game itself usually isn't very good.
Adam Rittenberg: Jeremy, some great points here. Most fans don't understand why teams play cupcake/guarantee/gimme games in non-league play, and that's not a bad thing as programs should be pressured to challenge themselves and schedule attractive opponents for the fans. But the reality is these games will be played in some form (one per year, two per year), and there's value in playing teams from the same state or region. Ohio State has done this a lot over the years, and it helps that six MAC programs are located in Ohio. These are great opportunities for MAC teams to not only play on bigger stages but record signature wins. As long as Big Ten teams are playing at least one marquee game per year, I think there will be less grumbling about the MAC games. But it's also important for the MAC to keep improving as a league. Last year was a step in the right direction, but the MAC had been on a steady decline for a while. Most Big Ten fans will never get excited about playing MAC opponents, but if they understand the realities of scheduling and the benefits for playing in the state/region, they could start tolerating them.
Ryan from Lincoln, Neb., writes: No more Pretender or Contender? When will you finish the remaining schools?
Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, we actually completed the series last week with the Illinois post. You can check out all nine posts here. As we pointed out in each post, we considered Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska likely preseason top-20 teams and therefore bona fide contenders. So we didn't do polls for those squads. Maybe we should have for Michigan and Nebraska, but we didn't. There was some interesting voting. You guys don't think much of the Big Ten as only Northwestern was labeled a contender. Wisconsin finished with a 50-50 contender/pretender split. The voting for both Michigan State and Penn State was fairly even but leaned toward pretender. Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue all were clear-cut pretenders, according to the voting.