Big Ten Friday mailblog

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And away we go ...

Brutus from The Ninth Circle writes: Hey Adam, got a recruiting question for you. I've been watching Penn State's ability to recruit under sanctions and have been mildly impressed with what Bill O'Brien has been able to do. I think the caliber of recruit, while varying, has been good. I'd say in some cases it's been better than some previous years. The various pundits point to the sanctions as being a factor in affecting their ability to recruit. So my question is, how do you think the recruiting will change, if at all, once the sanctions have passed? Does the ability to compete in a bowl really have that much of an effect? Or are we going to see only a minor change in recruiting ability once the sanctions are gone? I'm intrigued by how much the recruiting is affected by the coaches, the facilities, the exposure, the bowl games, and the overall stability.

Adam Rittenberg: Brutus, I've been more than mildly impressed with Penn State's recruiting efforts under O'Brien, especially when you consider how selective they need to be. Time will tell how many recruits pan out, but O'Brien and his assistants have brought in a lot of high-ceiling guys at a time when they really can't miss on many or any. The chance to win championships and play in bowl games matters to recruits, and Penn State will have an easier time once the sanctions are finished or nearing their end. But O'Brien has effectively leveraged his NFL experience on the recruiting trail. Recruits with NFL aspirations, especially those who play offense, can see the path to the next level under O'Brien in State College.

Penn State still offers great facilities and great exposure, especially during Big Ten play. The program also is much friendlier to NFL scouts under O'Brien than it was under Joe Paterno. O'Brien also can sell the chance to play for championships as juniors and seniors, and the light at the end of the tunnel will get closer each year. I expect a recruiting upgrade post-sanctions, but perhaps not a dramatic one as long as O'Brien stays, Penn State keeps winning at a decent level and players move on to the NFL.

Stan from Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., writes: Your reply to "Unhappy Husker" today was a fail. You implied that Nebraska was equal with all Big 10 members w/your $25.7M comment. C'mon Adam: don't be untruthful. OK, you might be presidential material, but being misleading here is just wrong. Nebraska won't get an equal share for several more years. And U totally missed his larger point. Nebraska DOES have fabulous facilites/game-day experience, but recruits have to GET THERE before it matters. THAT is the point. Nebraska isn't close to that manyr top talent H.S. players, so many have to wait to see Nebraska until their Sr. season, based on NCAA rules, unless they pay for it on their own earlier. So when you said "regardless of the kickoff time" you should have thought instead. And you say NE will have "more night games in future seasons." How does that help THIS year's recruiting?

Adam Rittenberg: Stan, you're right about the revenue share error, as Nebraska didn't get a full Big Ten revenue share in 2012. But my larger point doesn't change: Nebraska will be a richer athletic program in the Big Ten than it would have been in the Big 12. You can't dispute that, and I think some Nebraska fans need to appreciate the financial benefits of the Big Ten rather than pining for the good ol' Big 12, which made their program less and less relevant with its Southern shift. I also understand the difficulty Nebraska has in getting some recruits to campus on game day, and the added importance of official visits for the Huskers. I wrote about this topic last month.

I understand that night games help recruiting, but I don't buy into the belief that an 11 a.m. kickoff against UCLA is going to ruin Nebraska's recruiting efforts for 2014. That's fan panic, not reality. There will be enough afternoon kickoffs this season -- in addition to home games against Wyoming and Southern Miss in prime time -- for recruits to attend. Some will take official visits to Nebraska on their bye weeks. Some will take Saturday morning flights to Omaha from other Midwest cities, and there are several. Is it ideal? No. Is it a reason for Nebraska to go back to the Big 12 or wish it was still there? No.

Matt K. from New York writes: I think this season one can make the argument that Penn State has the strongest receiving corps in the Big Ten with Robinson, Carter, and Jesse James (coolest name on the team) returning, plus the additions of Adam Breneman and Eugene Lewis coming up, but my question is who do you see throwing these receivers the ball? Hackenberg will surely need some time to learn BOB's system, but his ceiling definitely seems much higher than Tyler Ferguson's. Also, do you see Michael O'Connor getting a redshirt his first season to separate eligibility years between him and Hackenberg, or will he be kept without a redshirt for depth purposes?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, I agree Penn State has an excellent group of pass-catchers coming back for 2013, especially at the tight end spot with Kyle Carter, James and Matt Lehman, to go along with Breneman. The quarterback competition comes down to whether Ferguson separates himself early in camp. He had the entire spring to work in the offense, while Hackenberg did not. If Hackenberg progresses quickly or Ferguson struggles early in camp, I can definitely see O'Brien playing for the future with Hackenberg. If the two are relatively equal, it usually makes sense to go with the younger, seemingly more talented player. I'm sure Penn State would like to redshirt O'Connor to create enough separation between its quarterbacks. If Hackenberg and Ferguson both prove to be solid options, I see Penn State going that route.

Mac from Cincinnati writes: Hey Adam, I saw the recent strength of schedules and Ohio State's is 105th. A lot of people are predicting them to go to the national title as you know. Do you think that they are picking them to go because their schedule is weak or because they are a really good team? Also I saw that Oregon has the 113th toughest schedule and they are also a title contender. Why aren't people talking about their weaker schedule as a reason why they might make it?

Adam Rittenberg: Mac, I've read a lot about Ohio State as a national title contender, and every story mentions the weak schedule, so it's definitely a topic of discussion. The schedule certainly plays into Ohio State being labeled a title contender. The Buckeyes went 12-0 last season but were far from a dominant team. Although they'll be better in certain areas this season and more comfortable with the Urban Meyer way, they have significant question marks with a young defense. So the schedule certainly is a factor in the title talk surrounding the Buckeyes, who face a few early challenges (Wisconsin, Northwestern) but should be a fairly sizable favorite every time they take the field. It's worth pointing out that Ohio State's schedule would have looked a bit better if Vanderbilt hadn't backed out of a season-opening game in Columbus. The Buckeyes ended up moving their game against Buffalo to the opener and replaced Vanderbilt with San Diego State. You bring up an interesting point about Oregon, which plays two major-conference teams (Virginia and Tennessee) in non-league play, plus nine conference games, including a trip to Stanford (but no USC). The Ducks' schedule doesn't appear as easy as Ohio State's, but it might be.

Aaron from Bettendorf, Iowa, writes: Adam,With the Big 10 going to 9 conference games I like the idea of one cupcake, one middle of the road, and one "upper echelon" team. One cupcake is not a problem for Iowa as they typically schedule one a year anyway. Middle of the road appears to be Iowa St - which should be played every other year now with the nine game schedule - due to neither Barta or Pollard wanting to look like a bad guy by backing out of the series. So my 3rd pick will go to...Virginia Tech. Iowa and Beamer ball are very similar. Iowa is starting to recruit the Virginia area more due to the hiring of coach Reid. That game puts you in the Virginia/Maryland/DC markets. Lastly, it will likely be a marquee game on ABC/ESPN in the primetime slots.

Adam Rittenberg: Aaron, I like your approach here and I'm guessing a lot of Iowa fans would, too. The problem: Iowa would need to organize its schedule to include at least seven home games in most if not every season. Virginia Tech certainly would want a home-and-home series unless the teams met at a neutral site. Would Iowa agree to play a neutral-site game against Virginia Tech at FedEx Field, where the Hokies played Boise State in 2010? It would be more of a Hokie home game, but it would get Iowa into that market. From talking with Gary Barta and Kirk Ferentz, it doesn't sound like there's much interest in scheduling a second major-conference team for home-and-homes. I think Iowa has three options after the Big Ten goes to nine league games in 2016: keep scheduling Iowa State and two guarantee games; take two-year breaks with Iowa State and replace the Cyclones with a team like Virginia Tech; or keep playing Iowa State and sprinkle in neutral-site games with teams like Virginia Tech. I prefer the second and third options to the first.

Max from Toronto writes: Adam, your response to Jon from Tumalo, Ore., about the NCAA refusal to punish SEC cheating in any sort of meaningful way, pretty much shows that you have to tow the ESPN company line. You sounded like nothing more than an SEC apologist. Major infractions are major infraction, I bet you bought the only Cam Newton's dad knew crap. I ask you this, since it's now reached to ridiculous extremities, do you know just how much your employers are paying the NCAA not to punish their cash cow?

Adam Rittenberg: You're right, Max, the NCAA giving Mississippi State a one-year bowl ban would ruin ESPN's investment in the SEC and send panic across the ESPN campus in Bristol. If you've followed recent NCAA cases, there are a lot of "major infractions" that aren't punished with postseason bans. I'm not apologizing for Mississippi State or the SEC, and it amazes me how Auburn escaped any penalties for the Cam Newton situation. My response to Jon was an attempt to explain why the Mississippi State and Ohio State cases were different in the NCAA's eyes and why Mississippi State escaped a postseason ban. I never said I agreed with the ruling, but there's a difference between an assistant providing benefits to a recruit and the head coach lying repeatedly to everyone, which happened at Ohio State.

Tony from Geneva, Neb., writes: Do you see any parallels between the 2013 Huskers and the '83 Scoring Explosion Huskers. Both defenses could be called a bend but dont break model. Now dont get me wrong. Gill, Rozier and Friar averaging 52 points a game is probably loftier than Martinez, Abdullah and Bell will accumulate due to the turnover bug that has yet to be remedied. But I believe 43-46 points a game isn't out of the question when you look at the roster. Bo shouldnt be afraid to run it up to get inside the opponents head a week in advance. Sportsmanship in Big Red country is a standard, but settling for 27 points against Wyoming could show weakness to a future conference foe.

Adam Rittenberg: An interesting comparison, Tony. I have little doubt Nebraska will put up mammoth points and yards totals in its first few games, which should help a talented offense build confidence. It might be unrealistic to expect Nebraska to average more than 40 points a game against Big Ten defenses, but the Huskers should be one of the league's most productive offenses this fall. My issue with Nebraska's offense remains the turnovers, which tend to catch up with a team even if it's racking up all those yards and points. Few defenses are good enough to overcome so many giveaways, and Nebraska's defense has some major question marks entering the fall. If the Husker offense builds on last year's production and cuts down on the turnovers, it could lead the team to a division title. But I also think Nebraska could have fewer yards, fewer points and fewer turnovers, and still get back to Indy. Remember, Nebraska's 1983 team had 21 turnovers (15 fumbles, six interceptions). Nebraska had 35 last season.