Chat with Adam Rittenberg
Welcome to SportsNation! On Wednesday, ESPN.com's Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg will stop by to talk college football.
Rittenberg joined ESPN.com in 2008 after four years at the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald, where he covered sports at Notre Dame, Northwestern, DePaul and several other colleges. He lives in Chicago.
Send your questions now and join Rittenberg Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET!
Adam Rittenberg (3:00 PM)
Hey guys, greetings from Madison. Let's chat!
Matthias (Troy, MI)
I still don't understand why the Spartan's are getting so much love in the press and polls. Everyone that writes about them always mentions how tough their schedule is, but still claims they will be a 9+ win team. Am I insane for believing otherwise?
Adam Rittenberg (3:01 PM)
Matthias, you're entitled to your opinion, and given what Michigan State loses on the offensive side, it's fair to forecast a step back. The reason I'm not is the defense. It's a top 5 unit nationally in my mind. I also think Michigan State will become more of a running team this fall behind Le'Veon Bell, and Andrew Maxwell, while being a first-time starting QB, isn't going to be terrible.
Rick M (Louisville, KY)
Nebraska has beefed up their RB situation with Imani Cross, Braylon Heard and Ameer Abdullah. The Huskers have been granted sole rights to the new Diamond formation from the Rickett family. Which backs do you foresee running out of that formation and what success do you envision it against the B1G defenses? Go Big Red !!
Adam Rittenberg (3:03 PM)
I think Nebraska has to use multiple backs this year. Rex clearly is the guy, but it'd be smart for Nebraska to keep him fresher for the stretch run in Big Ten play. Abdullah has drawn good reviews all offseason, and Cross really seems to be a good pickup as a true freshman. I definitely expect a little more diversity in the Huskers' backfield. With those four and a healthy Taylor Martinez, there's no shortage of options.
Noel Thompson (California.)
Good chance Minnesota sweeps their non conference games. Is their a chance they squeeze out 2 B10 wins to be bowl eligible?
Adam Rittenberg (3:05 PM)
Noel, given the recent struggles in non-league play, I wouldn't assume a clean sweep. Western Michigan and Syracuse are the two tricky games. WMU quarterback Alex Carder can light up a defense, and Syracuse should be improved after a disappointing season. I expect Minnesota to emerge from non-league play at 3-1. That makes it critical for the Gophers to continue their Big Ten success against teams like Illinois and Iowa and record wins against teams like Purdue and Northwestern.
What are your expectations of DOB in his first year at Wisconsin? And will he stay around for his senior year?
Adam Rittenberg (3:06 PM)
Just visited with O'Brien about an hour ago, Jimmy. Very nice guy. I think he's a better athlete than people give him credit for, and while he can't move around like Russell Wilson, he'll make some throws on the move. I think he has a chance to become a more athletic Scott Tolzien for the Badgers, which would be more than fine. He has to improve his completion ratio and definitely trim his interceptions total from 2011. And yes, I expect him to stick around for two years. That was a big part of bringing him in.
Do you think Saban still dislikes michigan (from his time at Michigan State) and will try and run up the score?
Adam Rittenberg (3:08 PM)
Mike, I don't think Saban looks at the game like that. He's so focused the steps it takes to win, and getting his team as prepared as possible. Will he ease off the gas if Bama is up in the second half? Probably not. But I don't think Michigan has much to do with that approach.
What will be tOSU's toughest games this season both from a physical/talent standpoint and a situation/environmental standpoint?
Adam Rittenberg (3:10 PM)
Ben, I think Michigan State could be a reality check game for the Buckeyes. Ohio State likely will be 4-0 and riding high, but the Spartans defense is much, much better than anything Ohio State will have faced to that point. Michigan State is an extremely physical team, and the game takes place in a tough road setting. The four big games that stand out for the Buckeyes are Michigan State (road), Nebraska (home), Wisconsin (road) and Michigan (home). Penn State could factor into that mix as well, but there are a lot of questions about the Lions right now.
"Osborne retires and then becomes a consultant for Texas."Do you even KNOW how deeply this would cut Nebraska fans? I know men who would rather see their wives cheat on them.
Adam Rittenberg (3:11 PM)
Wow, that's bold, JP. Yes, it'll never happen. Just like Nebraska would never re-hire Steve Pederson. Having a little fun with the worst-case scenario.
Pavlov's Dog (Mother Russia)
Do you think Redd made the right choice going to USC? PSU fans don't think so, but IMO it was a great move.
Adam Rittenberg (3:13 PM)
From an exposure standpoint, yes. He'll be in the national spotlight more at USC this season than at Penn State, and he'll have a chance to have big performances in nationally significant games. But he'll also be pushed more in Los Angeles, and he might not be the Trojans' featured back like he would have been in State College. As I said all along, if Redd cared about getting to the NFL, staying in State College wouldn't have been a bad move at all. He'd be the featured back in a run-heavy, pro-style offense led by a coach coming straight from the New England Patriots. Not a bad situation for a guy wanting to play at the next level.
Brocktologist (Lansing, MI)
What ever happened to the idea Pat Fitzgerald brought up? With the Leaders division having only 4 teams eligible for the post season, will they take the Legends Division Champion & then select the next best from all eligible teams in the conference to play against the Legend winner, regardless of division?
Adam Rittenberg (3:14 PM)
It never really got anywhere, Brock. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told Brian and I that it was briefly discusssed but not seriously considered. While I'm not surprised by that, I thought it was a decent idea from Fitz.
Evan W (Wisconsin)
I've seen many lists from those who work for major sports networks list Dennard Robinson as a top 5 dual-threat QB, and also top 5 in the Heisman race. 1:Don't you have to be able to throw to be considered a "dual-threat" and 2:Why has no one learned he cannot sustain numbers like he does in the nonconference through B1G play?
Adam Rittenberg (3:16 PM)
Evan, Denard has shown he can pass the ball well at times. Does he need to be more consistent and limit INTs? Without a doubt. But he's experienced enough that he should make some better decisions. Your second question doesn't really hold water any more in my book. Maybe it did after the 2010 season, but Denard had huge performances in Big Ten play against Nebraska and Ohio State down the stretch last year. While he didn't play well in the Sugar Bowl, he ended the regular season playing at a very high level.
I'm going to go out on a limb this year after seeing IU football practice this year and say they will win 5 to 7 games this year. As a Butler alum, I always thought IU's team was just as big as the FCS Butler team, except this year. What are your thoughts? I predict their running game will be great!
Adam Rittenberg (3:18 PM)
Sebastian, I agree the IU run game should be strong this season with Houston and Roberson leading the way. The key is to complement the rush with a more consistent passing attack. New OC Seth Litrell loves to throw the ball, and Kevin Wilson wants Roberson to become a more comfortable passing QB. Tight end Ted Bolser told me Indiana definitley will be more balanced offensively this year, which should keep defenses off balance. But again, for the 1000th time, it's all about the defense for Indiana. Unless the unit gets substantially better, it's hard to see the Hoosiers winning more than three or four games.
Nate (Chicago )
Hey Adam!Does Iowa's 2006 team (beat up running backs) with senoir QB Drew Tate at the helm remind you any of this upcoming 2012 squad led by James Vandenberg and a beat up backdfield?
Adam Rittenberg (3:21 PM)
Iowa fans should hope not. I can see where you're going there, Nate, but I expect Vandenberg to have a much better season this fall than Tate did in 2006. Tate took a step back between 2005 and 2006, and I expect bigger things from Vandenberg with the new offense.
Andrew (New York)
Will Wisconsin ever become recognized as a nationally elite program until they get bigger names in the non-conference schedule? Oregon State may occasionally be a decent team, but they do little to move the needle.
Adam Rittenberg (3:25 PM)
Andrew, this is sort of a chicken-and-egg question, as I've learned today in Madison. Here's the problem: no one wants to play Wisconsin in Madison. And Wisconsin isn't in a position to be giving up home games if not getting any in return. The problem is Wisconsin isn't seen as a big enough program to allow opposing coaches to justify getting beat at Camp Randall. For some elite coaches, a loss at Camp Randall will look a lot worse than a loss at, say, Michigan Stadium or Ohio Stadium. Wisconsin just doesn't have that national prestige just yet. Do the Badgers need to be aggresive with scheduling? Sure. Do they need to be creative with neutral-site opportunities, etc? Sure. But it might take a few more Big Ten titles to raise the program's profile and justify the trips to Madison for big-time opponents.
Word out of Iowa City is that the Hawks will be a little blitz happy this year. A welcome change for most fans. However, I tend to think that while it's nice to have an extra sack or two a game, we may be also looking at more huge plays given up per game...thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg (3:28 PM)
Interesting stuff, Jason. I think Iowa has to take some calculated risks on defense and mix it up more with such a young front. I don't think Iowa can simply rely on its front four to get home, as it has in years past. The strength of the defense is in the back seven, and if Phil Parker thinks he has some blitz opportunities with linebackers (Kirksey, Morris), corners (Hyde) and others, he should capitalize. Is there a risk of giving up big plays? Sure. Will big plays happen? Sure. But this might be the best approach for Iowa given the youth up front.
I know this item will probably hit the back-burner with games being played in less than 2 weeks, but do you think three is any chance that talk of a B1G - ACC partnership will boil back up in the offseason?
Adam Rittenberg (3:30 PM)
Interesting you say that, JP. I'll go on record as saying if the Big Ten ever forms another scheduling partnership, it'll be with the ACC. That's the sense I get from talking to folks around the league. Now that said, the ACC is going to a 9-game conference schedule. The 9-game schedule was the big stumbling block for the Pac-12 in its brief alliance with the Big Ten. There's a feeling that soon enough, all leagues will go to nine league games (yes, even the SEC and Big Ten). So while I wouldn't rule out a B1G-ACC partnership, I wouldn't hold my breath, either.
Why are you so high on Gholston? He had a pretty mediocre season last year, with 9 terrible games and only one game where he made an impact, so why do you think he's the next coming of Reggie White?
Adam Rittenberg (3:32 PM)
I don't think he had nine "terrible" games, ES. If you watch the tape, you can see how he influences play. He's a freakishly athletic defensive lineman who has the potential to take over at times. Also, a bowl game is often a great indication of how a player will be the following year. Penn State's Devon Still had a great game in the 2011 Outback Bowl and then won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors last fall. Gholston was very big in the 2012 Outback Bowl. I think he'll build on that performance this fall.
Adam (Not Rittenberg) (BoilerNation)
Which of these games does Purdue have the best chance of winning:Wisc, Mich, OSU.
Adam Rittenberg (3:34 PM)
Wisconsin. I think the two home games -- Wisconsin and Michigan -- give Purdue the best chance versus the trip to Columbus to play a Buckeyes team with revenge on its mind. The Badgers aren't the same away from Camp Randall, and Purdue should be geared up for a huge division game. I think Purdue matches up better with Wisconsin than it does with Michigan. All three games certainly are challenging, but if Purdue intends to make any noise in the Big Ten, it can't afford to go 0-3.
Who do you think will emerge as PSU's starting WRs. I have heard a lot of good reports on Evan Lweis breaking through. Also, do you think Steven Bench could pass both Jones and McMoxie before the end of the year? Word out of camp is he is already pressing PJ for the #2 spot
Adam Rittenberg (3:36 PM)
Tom, I also heard good things about Evan Lewis. We know Allen Robinson already has locked up a starting job, and I expect Kersey and Kenney also to be in the mix. Bill O'Brien isn't going to be afraid to play young players at receiver, quarterback or pretty much anywhere on offense. It's interesting to hear about Bench's progress, but the coaching staff really liked him in recruiting. While I'd expect Penn State to stick with McGloin for a while, if McGloin struggles, all bets are off.
Which is the bigger program nationally, MSU or Wisc?
Adam Rittenberg (3:38 PM)
Wisconsin, no doubt. Despite Michigan State's recent home success against Wisconsin, the Badgers have been getting it done at a high level for about two decades. Wisconsin has been one of the nation's more consistent programs since 1993. Michigan State is getting closer under Dantonio, but the Spartans are a notch below Wisconsin nationally.
Andrew (New York)
Interesting stuff on the Wisconsin scheduling, but doesn't MSU provide a counterpoint? They've got home and homes with Alabama, Miami, Boise State, and Oregon scheduled, plus an annual game with Notre Dame. How does that jibe with Wisconsin's explanation?
Adam Rittenberg (3:40 PM)
Andrew, I think those coaches feel better about their chances in East Lansing than they do in Madison. Although Michigan State has been very, very good at home as of late, Spartan Stadium doesn't yet have the same image as a brutally hostile environment. It's known as a tough place to play, but Camp Randall is viewed differently by some of the nation's top coaches. Maybe it's the Jump Around or the record or the perception that it'll be 4 degrees, but these coaches simply want no part of Camp Randall.
Which coach is the most restrictive with the media during fall practices? And who has been the most open with you guys?
Adam Rittenberg (3:43 PM)
I'll answer this in a general sense, not only during fall practices. Michigan is extremely restrictive, among the most restrictive in the country. Not a huge surprise as Brady Hoke comes from the Lloyd Carr school of media dealings. Iowa also is very restrictive with access, although things are getting a bit better. Penn State used to be one of the worst as well. As far as open programs, I'd say Northwestern, Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin are up there.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
When will we see The Very First Big-10 College Football Game of 2012?
Adam Rittenberg (3:43 PM)
The first Big Ten team will be in action in eight days (!), as Minnesota takes on UNLV in Las Vegas. The first Big Ten league games take place Sept. 29 (Week 5).
Brandon (Las Vegas, NV)
Urban Myers has been extremely critical of the WR position at OSU. Certainly the passing game was REALLY bad last year but, there were key injuries (Verlon Reed) and we had Jim Bollman. Is Urban simply trying to motivate the current WRs or were they really that bad. If that bad, how do they get recruited to a top 10 program like OSU?
Adam Rittenberg (3:46 PM)
Brandon, I think it's a combination of Urban trying to motivate the players and Urban being honest about a lack of depth. There really aren't any proven receivers aside from Stoneburner, a former TE. I think Urban feels better about the group now than he did this spring, but we all need to see what the group can do when the games kick off. I know this: Ohio State will give its receivers more opportunities with this offense than it did with whatever it called that sorry system last year.
Does The Ohio St. end up causing the B1G to only put one team into a BCS bowl? Also, I've noticed a worrying lack of smack talk towards B.B. regarding your upcoming fantasy season . . .
Adam Rittenberg (3:49 PM)
After last year's whupping, I'm keeping my mouth shut until at least Week 2. But I also get the first pick in this year's draft, takin place tomorrow (Montee Ball, come on down!). ... As to your question, with both Penn State and Ohio State banned from postseason play, the Big Ten could get only one team into a BCS bowl. That said, every year I think the streak of two BCS entries will end, and it never does. The key is whether enough Legends division teams get to 9 or 10 wins. I think Wisconsin is probably the only Leaders division contender for an at-large BCS spot, so it comes down to if there are enough from the Legends division.
Chuck Shwartz II (Florida)
AR, I liked your best case/worst case for Minnesota. I honestly think that Minnesota will come out and achieve the best case that you laid out. Gray is a stud and we have good young players. I see us winning Floyd again this year and taking the axe. I think Minnesota is on the upswing and will be very good in the coming years. Show some Minesota love AR!!!
Adam Rittenberg (3:51 PM)
Chuck, I'll be happy to show the love after the season starts, but Minnesota has won only six games the past two years and has significant question marks on both sides of the ball. I agree that Gray will have a nice year at QB, especially if the Gophers build depth around him. The offense should be able to get to 30 points a few times, which it failed to do all of last year. A bigger key might be the defense, and especially the line. I'm really interested to see if Ra'Shede Hageman, whom I writing about for tomorrow's blog, finally matches the hype.
Danger (Road Games)
Which is the more likely spoiler game for PU if they are in contention for the Leaders division Illinois or Iowa?
Adam Rittenberg (3:54 PM)
Good question, Danger. Iowa is typically very tough at home, and Purdue has had its struggles at Kinnick Stadium. Illinois is somewhat of a mystery team, and that game falls within the division. The Illini are definitely a tougher matchup for Purdue's offense, while Iowa's offense will test Kawann Short, Ricardo Allen and the Boilers' D. It's a tough call, but I'll go with the Iowa game as a tiny bit tougher.
There's been a lot of chatter about Nebraskas young defense looking good in camp (even from BTN when they were in town). Along with a potent offense of playmakers is this the year that Nebraska finally breaks out?
Adam Rittenberg (3:55 PM)
Zach, it could be, especially since Nebraska is flying under the radar a bit and not dealing with all the attention/pressure it had last year as a new Big Ten member. Right now, everyone is talking about Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Even Ohio State seems to be generating more buzz. But if the offense takes a step forward and the defense can replace its lost star power (David, Dennard, Crick) with greater overall depth, Nebraska will be a very tough out. My big question is can the Huskers win a marquee Big Ten road game? They have an excellent chance in Week 6 at Ohio State.
Lou Holtz Kelly (Mom's Basement)
ND should have no problem beating on the B1G this year. MSU and Michigan will not be in any top 10's when ND is finished with them.
Adam Rittenberg (3:56 PM)
Thanks, Lou. Glad to know it's 1993. When is Nirvana coming out with its next album?
Brocktologist (Lansing, MI)
What's the change you're looking most forward to this year in the Big Ten? Certain Stadium upgrade, new players, new coaches, etc...
Adam Rittenberg (3:57 PM)
I'm really excited to watch Ohio State and Penn State run modernized offenses. Both teams have been very vanilla on offense, and that should change this year with Meyer and O'Brien coming in. Honestly, all the new coaching changes really interest me. How will Iowa look with new coordinators? Will Wisconsin change at all?
OK, my initial question was worded incorrectly. You are correct on program status. But I should've asked about national brand. And I think this is where you may miss on your answer to Andrew. Part of the reason MSU is able to schedule the way they do IS the fact that it has a bigger national brand, which is heavily aided by the basketball program. And schedules are decided by AD's, not coaches, as most coaches are gone by the time the games are played.
Adam Rittenberg (3:59 PM)
Mike, I think you make some great points here. Mark Hollis is a terrific AD, and he has done an excellent job of increasing Michigan State's national brand. He has made the Spartans football program more appealing. That said, coaches absolutely have a lot to do with scheduling, and I'm telling you that the fear of Camp Randall is very real, and has prevented Wisconsin from beefing up its non-league schedule to a degree.
Adam Rittenberg (3:59 PM)
Last one for the day ...
Kyle (Davenport, IA)
In 2004 (the trube beginning of AIRBHG), sixth string running back Sam Brownlee was last in the nation in rushing (2.4 ypc) and yet led the Hawks to a share of the BIG title. What are the odds, walk-on Andre Dawson does the same? 1 in a million?
Adam Rittenberg (4:00 PM)
Maybe, Kyle, but Iowa certainly would take it. And if it doesn't work out for Dawson on the gridiron, maybe the Hawkeyes baseball team could use his opposite-field power and rocket throwing arm.
Adam Rittenberg (4:01 PM)
OK, I'm done for the day. Enjoyed the chat! Next week -- FOOTBALL!