Big Ten Friday mailblog

Wishing you a good weekend of football. Should be a fun one.

Matt from Minneapolis writes: Hey Adam!I haven't had much to weigh in on lately as my Spartans have fallen far below expectations. All critical analysis has been spot on. Kudos, on giving good teams credit when due, and conversely balancing the other end of the spectrum. Here's my question: While I despise saying "next year" in October, can the MSU Spartans return next fall underrated and surprise the Big 10 ala 2011? I see Burbridge, Kings JR, Mumphrey all having higher ceilings than the "3 kings" we had Cousins throwing to last year. Wide Receiver University needs a comeback somewhere. Am I dreaming or can this team bounce back from a dismal 8-4 or 7-5 season?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, Brian Bennett and I were discussing this exact topic earlier in the week. Looking at Michigan State's roster, the Spartans could be very good in 2013. The offensive line should be deeper, Andrew Maxwell will have a full season under his belt as the starting quarterback, the wide receivers will be older, and most of the defense returns. I don't think RB Le'Veon Bell will be back for his senior season, but you never know. And the Spartans should be fine at the tailback spot. The biggest question in my view is the offensive line. I've always felt Michigan State will never truly turn the corner as a program until it starts producing offensive lines like Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan have in most seasons. Injuries happen, but the Spartans haven't had enough depth to overcome them this season. Maxwell's development also is vital for MSU. I still really like the talent on defense and see that unit as potentially getting better with so many starters back. Nebraska likely will be the favorite in the Legends division, but Michigan could be rebuilding a bit after losing Denard Robinson. It'll be a big year for Michigan State, which needs to get back among the league's elite.

Mark from Omaha writes: Looking at the schedule's of Nebraska and Michigan it looks like there's the possibility that Nebraska could go 5-0 in the legends division and still not make it to Indy for the B1G Championship. If Nebraska loses to Penn State and Michigan wins out Michigan would represent the Legends Division in Indy. Do you think that this is fair when you consider that Nebraska had to play OSU, Penn State, and Wisconsin for its crossover play while Michigan got to play OSU, Illinois, and Purdue. Should they change it to just division records instead of conference overall records?

Adam Rittenberg: Mark, there's not a perfect way to do things, but I think the entire Big Ten record should matter. While it would be somewhat unfortunate if this situation played out in the Legends division, Nebraska had its opportunity in Columbus and didn't get it done. The Penn State game will be tough, but it does take place in Lincoln, where Nebraska has been very good over the years. Michigan running the table would include a win at Ohio State, which would be impressive. Nebraska has had a tough crossover schedule these first two years, and Michigan's certainly is easier. But things will change in other seasons and Nebraska will have a more favorable slate in the Leaders division. Again, I get your point and understand the potential frustration, but the Big Ten isn't going to start playing 11 league games per year. Things don't work out perfectly, but I think you have to make every conference game count.

Jeremy from Lansing writes: Adam, if Indiana had Tre Roberson the last month, would we have seen an Indiana squad that could get ever the hump in clutch situations? Or is their inability to win really just a fault of a defense that can't hold it down?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Jeremy. Aside from last week's loss, where the offense didn't get into the end zone nearly enough, Indiana's continued struggles on defense are why it can't get over the hump. The Hoosiers needed one stop against Ball State -- and didn't get it. They couldn't stop Northwestern at all. The Michigan State loss was a bit of a combo (offense/defense), but the Hoosiers couldn't stop a Spartans offense in the second half that has been very inefficient this season. Ohio State had its way with the Hoosiers defense to the tune of 52 points. So it's mostly the same story in Bloomington. It would be nice to have Roberson for sure, but Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld have done a nice job filling in, limiting turnovers and making plays in the pass game.

Robert from Enlightened City writes: As this whole Penn State issue has started to die down, I am curious as to what your parameters are from your bosses on handling the reporting of controversial topics. Was it frowned a pone to have a view different from the norm on Penn State or was it all up to you guys? When you make your predictions and power rankings are you influenced by ratings in your decisions? I understand this is an intrusive question, but I would be curious to know how much freedom, or how strict your parameters are on this blog.

Adam Ritttenberg: Robert, while we have covered elements of the Sandusky sex-abuse scandal on the blog, we try to keep it mostly to football, especially now that we're in the heart of the season. I can tell you that there's no directive from Bristol on how we cover Penn State's football team. Our predictions, power rankings, columns and anything else that hits on Penn State is completely up to us. Penn State's 2012 football team has received a lot of praise from Brian and I, and deservedly so. Although I can understand fan criticism for ESPN in relation to Penn State coverage, there are a lot of assumptions (mostly incorrect) about controlling coverage and steering it in one direction or another. I can say in relation to the Big Ten blog, they let us do our jobs.

Paul from Dodge City, Kan., writes: I keep hearing that Michigan has a really good defense but I'm not sure I believe it. Purdue put up big numbers against less than average opponents but their offense has struggle against better competition. Michigan State and Illinois are both scoring less than 20 points a game this year while Notre Dame is averaging just under 26 points a game. So is Michigan's defense really that good?

Adam Rittenberg: Paul, we'll truly find out Saturday night as Michigan faces the best offense (Nebraska) it has seen since the season opener (Alabama). I think it's safe to say Michigan's defense is better than what we saw against both Alabama and Air Force. The Wolverines are tackling better, flying to the ball and making more game-changing plays, like Jordan Kovacs' interception last week against Michigan State. You can only play the teams on your schedule, and while I agree the Wolverines haven't seen great offenses, they've taken care of business. Linebacker Jake Ryan is performing at a very high level, and others have stepped up around him. Nebraska's big-play offense poses a major threat, though, and Michigan will need to be up to the challenge.

Cody from North Carolina writes: Hey Adam, big fan of your writing. I was just wondering, as a Michigan fan, why is Ohio State ranked so high? Michigan ranked so low? In my opinion, Ohio State has played nobody. Their toughest non-conference team was Cal(3-5), and they struggled with them. On top of that Urban Meyer is still looking for the word defense in the dictionary. Meanwhile Michigan got beat by Alabama, can't defend that. Michigan, gift wrapped a win in South Bend. Other than that Michigan has been pretty solid not too mention the two teams who beat them are both undefeated. Where's the love?

Adam Rittenberg: Cody, the argument against Michigan is that the Wolverines haven't beaten anyone. Michigan has lost to the two best teams it has faced. Plus, you don't see a ton of 2-loss teams in the national rankings. If Michigan can beat Nebraska in Lincoln, the Wolverines should make a nice move up the rankings because any road win against Nebraska should resonate. Ohio State, to its credit, crushed Nebraska in Columbus, a victory that has helped its cause in the rankings. But it's not a crime to see an undefeated Ohio State team lingering on the edge of the Top 10. If the Big Ten wasn't so bad, an 8-0 Buckeyes team -- or an 8-0 Michigan team, for that matter -- would be closer to the top-5. Ohio State's ranking has more to do with other teams losing as well as its ability to keep winning despite some obvious flaws.

Brian from Canton, Ohio, writes: Hi Adam,Is there any chance of the OSU v Illinios game being at 8pm on Nov 3rd.?Can we count on it being either noon or 3:30?Do you have a gut feel for the actual start time?

Adam Rittenberg: No, Brian, there's zero chance of that happening because of the Big Ten's policy against November night games. Although schools can petition for November night games -- there was some talk about it with Penn State and Ohio State a few years ago -- the expectation is every November game will kick off at noon ET or 3:30 p.m. ET. I'm not privy to discussions about the start time. If I had to guess, I'd say noon ET. But we'll find out for sure after Saturday's games.