Big Ten mailbag

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Sean from Cary, N.C., writes: I'm usually one of a few guys who stick up for Adam here, but he deserves a mild criticism for going back on some of his "predictions" from the past month (Penn State to "win" the Big Ten, Michigan to climb up to the middle of the pack, Ohio State second). It was three weeks ago, give or take, that you went on to say "Penn State should be the favorite going into 2009." You were the only one. You stated Michigan too will get back to the middle of the conference; their 9th in the "Power Rankings". Now there's this prediction, which is based on what? Recruiting last week? How the season ended? That's how you broke it down, and it's abstract. You should explain what these rankings are based on with more detail, because you set yourself up here. I suppose this is the reason why predictions -- or opinions -- are just that. I just don't understand the flop months before even the spring games start. Tisk Adam... you're better than this; I'm saddened to see you going back on your opinions before early February. Keep up the good fight, and please don't morph into one of these journalistic goons who predict on clouds. Still your friend in NC, Sean

Adam Rittenberg: Sean, thanks for the note, and I understand your criticism. We do several rounds of these way-too-early predictions during a very long offseason, and they're somewhat designed to "set us up," as you put it. It's hard to really know how things will pan out until the season gets a bit closer.

I put Ohio State at No. 1 largely because of the Buckeyes' recruiting class, which boasts several players who should make an immediate impact this fall. Also, Penn State lost two key contributors (Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans) at defensive end, giving the team another hole to fill after the departure of a large and productive senior class. Ohio State also lost a lot of seniors, but the Buckeyes began their youth movement a bit last fall and will accelerate it in spring practice.

Penn State also brought in a solid recruiting class, but most Nittany Lions fans would acknowledge it's a notch or two below Ohio State's haul. I'm not saying the Lions won't develop their freshmen into standout performers, but there's just a bit more uncertainty there right now. Also, multiple personnel losses on the offensive and defensive lines are, in my opinion, more significant than replacing an oft-injured star running back like Chris "Beanie" Wells.

The bottom line is that these predictions could go either way, and given how often we roll them out, expect more changes before Sept. 5. As for Michigan, the Wolverines could work their way back to the league's midsection, but they have too many question marks right now to warrant being any higher than ninth in the power rankings.

Phil from Columbus writes: You keep talking about how Purdue got a bunch of recruits from Florida to upgrade their speed and athleticism. I was wondering if perhaps you might actually analyze those recruits instead of saying in effect "they're from Florida so the *must* be faster and more athletic".

Adam Rittenberg: Phil, I never wrote that Purdue's ability to lure Florida recruits automatically makes the Boilers faster and more athletic. But that's certainly what head coach Danny Hope has in mind with this year's class. I would say Purdue's recruiting class is the biggest mystery in the Big Ten. Most of the prospects weren't highly rated, so the Boilers hope they've found some diamonds in the rough from the Sunshine State.

I would say there's a decent chance Purdue will be a faster team in 2009. A better one? The jury's still out.

John from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Hi Adam, I'm glad the blog is going year round. I just noticed that the Hawkeyes are taking a trip to Michigan State for the 2nd year in a row. Why is this? Don't they normally alternate?

Adam Rittenberg: This fall marks the start of a new rotation for Big Ten games and Big Ten no-plays, or byes. So you almost have to separate 2008 from 2009 because it's an entirely different set of games. The problem with the Big Ten's unbalanced schedule is that you get several of these repeat games every so often because the no-plays for each team have to change every two seasons.

The Iowa-Michigan State game is one of five repeat contests from 2008. The others are: Northwestern at Iowa, Indiana at Penn State, Wisconsin at Indiana and Minnesota at Ohio State.

T.J. from State College, Pa., writes: Hey Adam, What are the chances of the Nittany Lions running a 3-4 defense next year? We are losing two NFL caliber defensive linemen, without clear replacements. Keeping all three starting linebackers from this year, getting back Sean Lee, and adding in rising stars like Michael Mauti, should make our linebacking corps strong as ever. Any chance of this happening, or will we stick with the 4-3?

Adam Rittenberg: That's an interesting call, T.J. Penn State will have the Big Ten's best linebacking corps next fall, while defensive end suddenly is a hazy spot after the losses of Maybin, Evans and Josh Gaines. I could see Penn State using three-down packages more in 2009, especially with a potential All-American at defensive tackle in Jared Odrick. And going full-time to the 3-4 makes some sense. But I doubt coordinator Tom Bradley will go away from the 4-3. Defensive end Jerome Hayes returns from injury, and if Penn State can find another contributor or two on the edge, it should be able to stick with the 4-3 alignment.

Adam from Madison, Wis., writes: I live in madison and i have been hearing people say Jon Budymar could be the best quarterback wisconsin has ever had. do you think wisconsin will get him a shot to be the starting quarterback like ohio state did with terell pryor?

Adam Rittenberg: Jon Budmayr certainly arrives with a lot of hype, especially because Wisconsin has been recruiting him since the end of his sophomore season in high school. I really think the Badgers would benefit from having a multi-year starter at quarterback, and they've brought in two pretty heralded quarterback recruits in Budmayr and Curt Phillips. Rising senior Dustin Sherer will have his chance to win the starting job in spring ball, but offensive coordinator Paul Chryst will take a long look at Phillips and Budmayr.

Wisconsin needs to acknowledge that college football has become a quarterback's game, and you can't just get by with a game manager. The sooner the Badgers and the rest of the Big Ten embrace that philosophy, the faster the team and the rest of the league will improve.

Nick from Columbia, S.C., writes: Hey Adam- Why do so many sources say that Iowa has a sneaky good recruiting class (bringing up Iowa's history of turning unheralded recruits into star players), and yet rank them so low? Columnists talk about how guys like [Stephane] Ngoumou, [Micah] Hyde, and [Shane] DiBona are flying really low under the radar with a lot of potential, and yet they still rate them as 1-2 star prospects anyway. This just doesn't add up to me.

Adam Rittenberg: I'm not the expert on why some recruits get more stars than others, but the talent pool in the Midwest this year was generally regarded as weaker than normal. Iowa had nine in-state products, three from neighboring Illinois and two from Ohio in a class of only 19 signees. So that could fuel the lower ratings.

Also, when a program has a reputation for developing talent the way Iowa
does, it could play into the minds of recruiting analysts when they do their rankings. It's one of the reasons why I never want to rip a recruiting class until the players have been in the program for at least two or three seasons. You could argue that Iowa's most disappointing class also was its most heralded, the 2005 crop, which featured several four-star prospects. Iowa has gotten more from less acclaimed classes than the one it brought in after three consecutive January bowl appearances.