Big Ten mailblog

Great to be back. Let's get to your questions.

Next mailblog comes your way Friday, so be sure and send questions here. The season is rapidly approaching.

Rex from Oconomowoc, Wis., writes: The past three years, Wisconsin has constantly been in the conversation as a serious BCS contender yet they have been to back-to-back Rose Bowls and nothing to show for it. Do you think that this is finally the year that they win the Rose Bowl or even compete for a national title due to a much improved defense and star-power returning on offense?

Adam Rittenberg: Rex, while I think Wisconsin gets back to the Big Ten title game, I expect the league champion to come out of the Legends division this season. The Badgers likely won't be quite as potent offensively as they've been the past two seasons. While there's room for improvement on defense and some strides there could make a huge difference, the 2012 Badgers don't seem to be as strong as the 2011 version. I'm still baffled how last season's team managed to lose three times. The key really is the defense, as I expect the offense to be good and, at times, very good but not nationally elite. If Wisconsin can develop an elite pass-rusher or two and some playmakers in the secondary to complement a strong linebacking corps, the ceiling for this team will be raised.

1IllHusker from Illinois writes: Despite the criticism Taylor Martinez gets for his mechanics, isn't more important for him to get back to running the ball the way he was early on in 2010? The Huskers are undefeated when Taylor rushes over 100 yards and also undefeated when the team rushes over 185. It's a given that their passing games needs to improve to balance the offense but I think it's more important for him to regain his explosiveness on the ground. What are your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Some good points, Husker. Martinez says he's finally back to 100 percent after the ankle slowed him down for the second half of 2010 and all of 2011. While his rushing numbers dropped last fall, the bigger effect might have been on his passing. Taylor says the ankle problem forced him into some bad habits with his throwing mechanics that he has tried to correct during the offseason. There's no doubt that having Martinez at top speed helps the Huskers, as he can take it to the house on every snap. But Big Ten defenses can contain mobile quarterbacks better than those in the Big 12, in my view. Martinez will need to pose a bigger threat as a passer for Nebraska's offense to surge this fall. His explosive running will help, but only if defenses can't load up at the line of scrimmage to stop him and Rex Burkhead.

Eric from TriBeCa writes: Hi Adam, love the blog. I've found the best/worst case fairly entertaining. I was taking a look at UofM's, and was wondering if you would be willing to say what scenario you believe to be more likely? An 11-1 national championship season, or the 6-6 disappointing season. While I think they have the talent to put in an 11-1 season, I could also see them dropping games to Bama, Air Force, @Notre Dame, @Purdue, Michigan State, @Nebraska, @Ohio State.

Adam Rittenberg: Can I tell you after the Alabama game? The opener should tell us a lot about this Michigan team and its ceiling for the 2012 season. Right now, I have a tough time seeing the Wolverines win, because of their question marks on both lines and Alabama's strength up front. But if Denard Robinson plays a big game, Michigan forces some turnovers, plays a clean 60 minutes and prevails in Texas, it really changes the complexion of the season. The Wolverines then would be on the national championship radar. A loss doesn't kill Michigan, but I think it increases the chances for an 9-3 or 8-4 type of season. My sense is Michigan will be a better team than 2011 with a worse record than 2011. Will the Wolverines tumble to 6-6? Highly doubtful. But I also don't see the Maize and Blue going 11-1. Not with this schedule. But I might feel differently after Sept. 1.

@vedderkj (via Twitter) writes: What's the word on the Northwestern backfield? Trumpy fully healed? Venric Mark durable enough? RB by Committee (again)?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike Trumpy is back in the fold and will be a part of the mix this season. But Mark seems to be transitioning well to running back, and could play a bigger role than I thought he would, even outside of the option game. His size certainly is a concern, but with him and Colter on the field together, Northwestern has a ton of speed. The younger backs -- Jordan Perkins, Malin Jones, Stephen Buckley -- also should be part of the mix. So yes, a committee system seems likely, although Northwestern would benefit more from a featured back emerging. That was the case when the Wildcats ran the ball very well between 2000-08.

Dave from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam -I read that a quarterback at Wisconsin has recently left the team. Do you think Bielema's call to start his newest, experienced quarterback from NC instead of another QB who has been on the team longer makes his "sell" more difficult to a high school junion/senior quarterback who now has to weigh whether Bielema will just continually take a quarterback from another college? Thanks! Dave

Adam Rittenberg: Dave, I think Joe Brennan's decision to leave had more to do with his drop on the depth chart than Wisconsin bringing in Danny O'Brien. While O'Brien moved ahead of Brennan, so did Curt Phillips and Joel Stave. As to your larger question, Wisconsin landed a highly touted quarterback recruit in February in Bart Houston. They might not sign a quarterback for the 2013 class, but their overall depth shouldn't be too bad with O'Brien back for another year, and both Houston and Jon Budmayr returning from injuries. I don't think Wisconsin will have to keep taking transfer quarterbacks, and depth certainly played a role in the Badgers adding both O'Brien and Russell Wilson. So while it might be a tough sell for a 2013 quarterback recruit, it shouldn't be an issue beyond that date.

Alex from Cincinnati writes: Isn't it a bit to soon to deem Michigan State an "established power". Sure, 2010 and 2011 were consecutive seasons with 11 wins. Good for them, but let's not jump to conclusions here. People seem to easily forget a stretch of mediocrity in the years preceding. In the 2006-2009 they went a combined 26-27 (season records of 4-8, 7-6, 9-4, 6-7). During the last 6 years they have a 1-4 record in bowl games and have yet to appear in, let alone win, a BCS bowl game. I'm sorry, but a quick flash of success doesn't immediately make you an "established power". Give it a couple seasons, and at the end of the day MSU is closer to the likes of Iowa, Illinois, or Wisconsin than it is to Michigan or OSU. So let's cool the jets on this Big Ten powerhouse talk.

Adam Rittenberg: I agree that "established power" is the wrong term (and not one I think I've used). But emerging power is a fair description for Michigan State, which has finally found some stability under Mark Dantonio. Take away the 2009 season, which featured a lot of problems both on and off the field, and the Spartans have been very solid since 2008. Dantonio has kept his staff together and elevated the recruiting, particularly on the defensive side. Michigan State also has made important financial investments into the program, the coaches, etc. I agree that right now, Michigan State is closer to Wisconsin and Iowa than Ohio State. Actually, Wisconsin is that "next team" to challenge the elite, despite the Spartans' success against the Badgers. But to dismiss Michigan State as temporary or the same old Spartans is shortsighted in my view. Dantonio has built a foundation for long-term success, and while Michigan State might not challenge for a league title every year, I don't expect to see the dramatic swings we saw with the program too often from 1991-2006.

Brady from Newell, Iowa, writes: Mr. Rittenberg, Now that the Hawkeyes seem to have lost another running back...could you offer your input on a possible depth chart with whoever else knows how to run the ball?

Adam Rittenberg: While Greg Garmon might not start Iowa's opener in Chicago, I expect him to emerge as the featured back soon enough. The Hawkeyes simply don't have many other options, especially after Barkley Hill's ACL tear. While Garmon is a young freshman, the team has to go with its most talented player. Garmon showed off his power in the most recent scrimmage and should help Iowa grind out some tough yards. It wouldn't surprise me if Damon Bullock ends up starting the opener, but unless Bullock takes some significant strides, I expect Garmon to get a shot fairly early on.

AC from Pittsburgh writes: Am I the only one that is sick of being told that Penn State fans "still don't get it"? What exactly is it that we don't get? I'm a recent graduate and I can assure you that the horrible crimes that took place are not being forgotten or brushed aside in State College. I'd argue that it's everyone else that simply "doesn't get" the hypocrisy of the entire situation. Look at other big time football schools. Do you really think if what happened at Penn State happened anywhere else that the reaction would be any different? If it were LSU's former coach who got arrested for abuse, do you really think that LSU fans would be clamoring for their own death penalty? Of course not, they'd be defending their favorite program. The issue isn't Penn State and football, it's the entire country and football. If the NCAA, and by that I mean Mark Emmert feels the need to make Penn State the example so be it. I just don't see how a man who said "...success in LSU football is essential for the success of Louisiana State University" can change his tune so quickly and hope to change the "...mindset in which football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing, and protecting young people..." Can't have it both ways Mr. Emmert. Criticize me all you want but I sincerely hope people actually understand what I said before they rush to judgement.

Adam Rittenberg: AC, I think there's a lot of truth to what you write. I don't think the reaction would be vastly different in other places where football is king. One difference between Penn State and LSU is the way Joe Paterno is/was viewed compared with most coaches. LSU fans don't have the same loyalty toward Les Miles as Penn State fans have/had toward Paterno. Not saying Tiger Nation wouldn't support Miles, but Paterno's longevity and impact on the program and the community was truly unique. Has it clouded the judgment of some folks, who seem unable or unwilling to acknowledge the possibility that Paterno made major mistakes? I believe it has. But that's not all Penn State fans. Defending the program against the sanctions makes more sense than defending Paterno or the other school leaders, but people also need to realize that massive leadership failures have consequences that can go beyond the removal of those individuals. The nature of NCAA punishments always has been geared more toward the present and the future than the past. That certainly hits home for Penn State.