Big Ten mailbag: Debating Penn State's place

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Friday mailbag comes a day early, as I'll be taking most of Friday off and you guys sent in some real good e-mails. Keep 'em coming.

A popular issue this week seemed to be Penn State and whether the Lions would be better suited in the Big East than the Big Ten. This is a fascinating topic and one that will be discussed more on the blog in the coming weeks.

Joe from Harrisburg, Pa., writes: Hey, thanks for the post about the Big East and Penn St. It's an often over-looked point that Penn St. is a very unnatural fit for the Big 10 -- and we continue to search for an identity in this conference. Besides the new-born rivalry with Ohio State, nothing about PSU in the B10 really fits: Geographically, historically, storied rivalries, etc. It's really sad to imagine what could have been: a conference with PSU, Pitt, BC, Miami, FSU, WVU, and more all playing one another every season. Suddenly the landscape of college football would be dramatically different, because a strong unified eastern conference such as that would certainly alter history as we know it: Bowden and Paterno would go head to head every season. The PSU Pitt rivalry would still exist. Paterno may have 3 national championships. The B10 would be able to have the championship game they desperately need. Had Syracuse not spoiled the deal back in ?82, I think college football would have been a lot better off.

Adam Rittenberg: I certainly don't object to having Penn State in the Big Ten, but you bring up some pretty valid points. The geographical gap between Penn State and the rest of the Big Ten is significant. Penn State and its fans are more Northeast-based than Midwest-based, so I can understand if they feel like outsiders at times. And though a rivalry is brewing between Penn State and Ohio State, it wouldn't compare to built-in rivalries like Pitt.

Who knows if the addition of Penn State would have kept Miami and Florida State in the Big East, as Mike Tranghese said, but it would make it harder for those schools to leave. The Joe Paterno-Bobby Bowden matchups would be a lot of fun.

Derek from Baltimore writes: Re: Your piece on Penn State and the Big East... I'm taking a big leap into the deep end of hypothetical-land, but I'd trade Penn State to the Big East for ND and Pitt, provided ND plays football in the Big Ten. Quite honestly, I'd even go for a Penn State-Pitt trade with the Big East, provided we pick up Iowa St. or Mizzou from the Big 12. Then the Big 12 could grab TCU and be even again. Split into 2 divisions (Pitt, MSU, Michigan, OSU, Indiana, Purdue; Illinois, NW, Wisc. Minn., Iowa, Iowa St.) It could be done. How the mind whirrs on this issue :)

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting take, Derek, though this would once again split up Penn State and Pitt. Notre Dame is the natural fit that will never happen for the Big Ten, and I'm not so sure Pitt wants to give up its Big East affiliation in basketball. The divisions argument is always tricky in the Big Ten because of Michigan and Ohio State, but adding a school to the west (Iowa State, Missouri) seems logical. Then again, as Jim Delany said Wednesday, expansion isn't even on the back burner.

Jareth from Mount Pleasant writes: Love the blog keep it up!! I was just wondering what you think about the situation at Michigan and the quarterback position? I know that Threet is gone and he was the better of him and Sheridan but with Forcier coming in early and Robinson this summer that will help with depth and competition. The biggest thing that I think will help, even if they have a true freshmen start is the supporting staff of all the OL, RBs, and WRs returning so who ever starts will have more weapons and more experience surronding them. That should take a little bit of the pressure off of them. Just wondering what you think? Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Jareth. I'll touch on this more in Friday's blog, but you're absolutely right in identifying the other positions as a benefit for the starting quarterback. Rich Rodriguez basically has said the position competition under the previous regime wasn't where it needed to be, and he wants to increase it everywhere this spring. There will definitely be good competition at wide receiver and offensive line, and running back might be Michigan's deepest position next fall.

This is still a quarterback's game and Michigan must get better at that position, but the 2009 starter will have a lot more help surrounding him. It should be easier to move the ball and sustain drives.

Tom from Charlotte writes: Adam, really liked the post on "Comparing Big Ten football and hoops identities." It reminded me of the LeBron James hype around playing for the Browns. What recent Big Ten hoops player would make the best transition onto the gridiron? Do you project OSU's Greg Oden at TE? Or maybe Wisconsin's Mike Flower's at CB? It almost goes without saying that Northwestern's Brett Basanez could probably dunk from the free throw line.

Adam Rittenberg: Hmmm, good question, Tom. I think most Big Ten secondary coaches would take Michigan State's Kalin Lucas as a cornerback right now. As far as recent Big Ten hoopsters, I'd take Terence Dials on my defensive line. I'm sure we could find a spot for Oden, maybe as a pass-deflecting defensive tackle. Luther Head could play wide receiver. So could Devin Harris. And Deron Williams would be a load at running back. As for Baz dunking from the foul line? I'd highly doubt that.

Jake from Hampton, Va., writes: Adam i was just wondering with all the experience we have returning on sides of the ball i think Iowa has a good shot at the big ten title this year whether you look at Jewel Hampton replacing green or Klug and Binns filling in at DT. What are your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Hampton should be able to step in nicely for Shonn Greene. I wouldn't expect another season like Greene had, but with Hampton, Jeff Brinson and a very good offensive line, Iowa should be able to run the ball. My bigger concern is the defensive tackle spot. Karl Klug won Big Ten Player of the Week honors last year, but I don't see much else returning at that position. You can't undervalue what Mitch King and Matt Kroul meant to that team, and I'd expect a pretty significant drop-off there.