Chat with Adam Rittenberg
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, ESPN.com's Big Ten reporter 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 Thursday at noon ET!
Adam Rittenberg (12:00 PM)
Hey guys, I'm here. Let's chat!
Do you see Mike Vrabel returning to Columbus in a few years in a coordinator capacity? Or is he destined to coach in the NFL?
Adam Rittenberg (12:02 PM)
It will be interesting to see where Vrabel's career goes, Caleb. I know he loves Ohio State and transitioned well to the college game, especially as a recruiter. I could see him coming back to the college ranks. Then again, he isn't far removed from his NFL playing days and should do well under Bill O'Brien with the Texans. It could depend on how much he enjoys recruiting, as it's a factor that keeps some coaches in the NFL.
I know the common perception is that Rutgers and Maryland will enter the B1G as doormats, but I'm actually curious about Maryland. As a team, they were undefeated until they essentially lost their first team offense to injuries against Florida State. Do you see Maryland as a potential aTm/Mizzou or Colorado/Utah in the B1G?
Adam Rittenberg (12:03 PM)
It will be tough for Maryland in the East division with Ohio State and Michigan State, but the Terps have some talent, especially at the wide receiver position. Maryland is located in an excellent recruiting hotbed. I just wonder if the Terps can consistently compete against programs with many more resources and more tradition. They didn't really find that in the ACC.
Jim (Ann Arbor)
Michigan has shared one national title in the last 65 years, in the meantime Nebraska has won 11, Ohio State 10, Michigan State 6, and Penn State 5. Michigan used to regularly compete for the BG title, but hasn't in the last 8 year? How realistic is it that Brady Hoke can take this team to national relevancy when it hasn't been there in over half a century?? Seems to me Michigan need to go get a Jim Harbaugh, or Nick Saban.
Adam Rittenberg (12:05 PM)
I think the first step, to coin a Hoke phrase, is to win the Big Ten first. Michigan used to compete consistently for league championships, and that could/should be the pathway to the Playoff, where anything can happen. How a program like Michigan goes so long without competing for national titles is troubling, and it's more than fair to wonder whether Hoke can get the Wolverines there. Harbaugh and Saban clearly are superior coaches at this point, but neither are coming to Michigan, at least not right now. I wonder if Harbaugh would consider it down the line.
I read recently that the ACC is petitioning the NCAA to allow them to scrap divisions but keep a championship game. If, as many currently feel, the B1G East winds up dominating the conference, would the B1G consider adopting a similar position?
Adam Rittenberg (12:07 PM)
Chris, I'm very interested to see if this idea would gain momentum in the Big Ten. My sense is it wouldn't, but if there's a true imbalance, the league might want to consider it. The league's priority is to have as strong of a rotation of games as possible while preserving as many rivalries as possible. If it can do that without divisions, why not?
Adam, what are the biggest B1G signing day storylines. Do you foresee any major surprises, either big commitments or de-commitments?
Adam Rittenberg (12:08 PM)
There are always a few surprises on signing day, Tom. Penn State's progress under James Franklin and his staff is especially interesting, as the Lions have flipped several recruits since Franklin arrived. PSU's class looks quite different than it did a month ago. I'm also interested to see how teams like Nebraska, MSU and Ohio State finish out.
L.K. (Ann Arbor)
With the news of Gibbons no longer being affiliated with the university and the rumors that he may have been ineligible to play at Iowa and still played, how safe is Hoke's job and U of M from NCAA sanctions? Do I dare say that Nussmeier was brought in to possibly be a head coach if everything hits the fan?
Adam Rittenberg (12:10 PM)
I disagree with your last point. Why would Hoke hire Nussmeier then? Doesn't make sense. As for Gibbons' eligibility, the dates of the university rulings don't align with the Iowa game. If something else surfaced, then sure, Michigan could be in trouble. There were also rumors about several potentially ineligible players before the Northwestern game, but they still played. I can't imagine Michigan would take those risks unless it was sure the players could participate.
Rutgers fan here, wondering what we should expect from Philip Nelson?
Adam Rittenberg (12:11 PM)
He's a guy who came to Minnesota with a lot of attention, showed some decent mobility at times this season but wasn't accurate enough. He didn't have a great receiving corps by any means, but his accuracy numbers down the stretch were a bit troubling. I'm interested to see how he develops under new Rutgers OC Ralph Friedgen.
Are you as surprised as I am that Darrell Funk isn't fired as Michigan's offensive line coach? Al Borges was let go because of the inconsistent offense this past season but 80% of their issues was from the dreadful offensive line. They opened no holes for the running game and couldn't protect the quarterback. These men were highly recruited linemen, so the lack of player development falls squarely on him.
Adam Rittenberg (12:13 PM)
I'm a bit surprised, Ron. Clearly, a unit's failure starts at the top with the coordinator, but Michigan's line was the team's biggest problem all season. Not enough development there. Hoke must have felt Borges didn't put the unit in positions to succeed enough of the time, given the youth with the interior line. Funk is definitely under the gun entering 2014, as Michigan needs to see improvement from some of its highly recruited linemen.
Jose (State College)
Do you think James Franklin has the ability to get a top 5 recruiting class ? And If so would the big ten east division be the best division in college football?
Adam Rittenberg (12:14 PM)
He definitely has that ability, Jose, perhaps not right away but eventually. The Big Ten East still has a way to go to surpass the SEC West -- and possibly the Pac-12 North.
Drew (New York)
Prediction: The starting QB for Wisconsin will be . . . I say Bart Houston makes a big surge this summer, but wouldn't be surprised in any way if Stave played his last game against South Carolina
Adam Rittenberg (12:16 PM)
Stave definitely is in for a battle, Drew. Bart Houston has been waiting for this moment. He has the big arm, but can he show the consistency needed to run that offense? We'll find out more this spring. I also wonder if Tanner McEvoy re-enters the mix and makes some noise. It's clear Andersen wants more mobility at QB.
Marty (The Tundra)
Hey Adam! I was just curious what your takes are on which school has the overall coaching advantage? Dantonio and staff at MSU? Urban Meyer's staff at OSU or even Franklin's at Penn State or something else?
Adam Rittenberg (12:18 PM)
Meyer is still the only Big Ten coach who has won a national title (two, in fact), so I give him the nod over Dantonio, who has certainly made up ground. Ohio State's overall staff gets an edge against MSU's, although the Spartans have the best assistant of the bunch in Pat Narduzzi. Franklin and his staff are excellent recruiters, but they need to show they can win against the best Big Ten teams before I put them in the Meyer/Dantonio category. Vanderbilt made historic strides under Franklin but beat up on the bottom of the SEC.
Lance (Green County)
Kevin Wilson can put an offense on the field that can score points,but his game decisions sometimes are odd to say the least,Will this be something that will improve with more time as a head coach or is it just his nature to be ultra aggressive even when it doesn't seem to make sense?
Adam Rittenberg (12:19 PM)
Good question, Lance. I think Kevin is still growing into the head-coaching role, but coaches always say you need to be who you are, and Kevin is an aggressive coach. He's going to take chances -- some will work, some won't. But going away from that mind-set probably won't help him in the long run.
Otto (Baltimore, MD)
With Allen Robinson off to the NFL, is it possible Stefon Diggs could enter the Big Ten as the league's best receiver this coming season?
Adam Rittenberg (12:21 PM)
Otto, I'm really excited to see what Diggs can do in the Big Ten. He might be the best returning receiver in the league. Michigan State has most of its receivers back, Indiana's Shane Wynn is a solid option and there are some others like Nebraska's Kenny Bell. But the league's top four receivers -- Robinson, Abbrederis, Gallon and Latimer -- are all gone.
Brad (South Carolina)
Hey Adam,Please finish this sentence for me.Malik McDowell will end up with............?
Adam Rittenberg (12:23 PM)
A Big Ten team? Sorry for the weak answer, but McDowell's destination seems to be a big mystery at this point. He has three BIg Ten teams -- Michigan, MSU, OSU -- in his top four with defending national champ Florida State. So the Big Ten's odds of landing him are pretty good.
Jon (Ann Arbor)
How come you all in the media covered up Gibbons' rape and Lewan's threats for three years? When are we going to hear something out of the national media? Things like this make me sick to be a Michigan alum.
Adam Rittenberg (12:25 PM)
Jon, when charges aren't filed in a sexual assault case, we have to be extremely cautious (remember Duke lacrosse?). Gibbons still hasn't been charged, and only recently has been disciplined by the school. We'll cover the story as it develops, but we're not covering it up by any means. It would help if the alleged victim came forward in this case, but that's her choice and I'm not going to question it.
Samuel (Iowa City, Iowa)
Adam, anything new or exciting about the Hawkeyes? Does Ferentz win COY in '14?
Adam Rittenberg (12:27 PM)
That might be tough Samuel as the award usually goes to a coach who had a bad year the previous season (i.e. Mark Dantonio). Ferentz in some ways would have been a better candidate this past season after the 4-8 clunker in 2012. Iowa likely would need to go 11-1 or something for him to win. ... As far as the team goes, I'm interested to see who steps up at linebacker and whether the offense can find some more explosive playmakers. I know Greg Davis wants to stretch the field more than Iowa has in his first two years.
Lance S (Greensboro, NC)
How on earth would a conference pick their title game participants without divisions? At least with a division schedules are somewhat comparable.
Adam Rittenberg (12:28 PM)
It could be tricky, Lance, although we've seen teams benefit from favorable league/division schedules in the past. The Big Ten made it clear that competitive balance didn't drive the most recent division alignment. Geography did. I don't know if the Big Ten would want the hassle of redoing how it decides title game participants.
Matt (St. Paul)
What sort of affect, if any, did the Bears move to Champaign while Soldier Field was being renovated have for the Illini? With the Vikings making TCF Stadium their home for the next two years, I am curious to how it will effect my gameday experience for Gopher home games...
Adam Rittenberg (12:30 PM)
Good question, Matt, and I don't have a great answer for you at this time, as I'd need to talk to some folks at Illinois who were around when the Bears played in Champaign. My sense is Minnesota will do all it can to keep the college game-day experience as normal as possible, even with an NFL tenant. The Bears played at Memorial before the recent renovations, so there were some negatives for the pro players.
Michigan goes 7-5 this upcoming season (ND, Utah, NW, MSU, OSU). Does Hoke get the boot?
Adam Rittenberg (12:31 PM)
He would have to. Dave Brandon is pretty loyal to Hoke, but another 7-win season would signal major problems after the way Michigan has recruited.
Are you surprised Narduzzi is still coaching at MSU? It seems a lot of guys can't wait to get a head coaching job. Is he not being offered or is he turning offers down? Or does he prefer being a coordinator? It is much easier than being the head coach.
Adam Rittenberg (12:33 PM)
He had an opportunity at Connecticut that wasn't very good, in my opinion, and chose to remain at MSU. He interviewed for the Louisville job, but Petrino always was the target there. He had a good shot at Cincinnati last year before Tuberville suddenly became available. So it's a matter of time, in my view. Pat is brutally honest and maybe not as polished as some head coaches, but he has matured in recent years and seems ready to lead a program. I'd be surprised if he's still coordinating MSU's defense in two years.
Eric (Los Angeles)
Adam, can any B1G team afford a loss and still make it to the playoff? The only two that have a chance off the top of my head is MSU (vs Oregon) or OSU (vs Va Tech)
Adam Rittenberg (12:34 PM)
Good question, Eric, and I'd say MSU is the only team that could afford a loss. An Ohio State loss to Virginia Tech likely would eliminate the Buckeyes from contention. If Michigan State plays well at Autzen, loses a close game and then dominates the Big Ten like it did a year ago, it would have a good shot at making the playoff. But an Ohio State loss to Va Tech, no matter how close, wouldn't look too good.
Ryan (Ferndale, MI)
Let's say Northwestern's team successfully forms their union. Would the university make them sign a 4 year contract preventing players from leaving early for the NFL?
Adam Rittenberg (12:35 PM)
Ha, touche, Ryan. I can't see that happening.
Craig (Braintree, MA)
What's your prediction on the Gophers getting Jones, the running back from Washburn (same school as Hageman)? He would be their only 4 star to this point.
Adam Rittenberg (12:37 PM)
I think they get him, Craig. It seems like others have backed off a bit, and Jones can be a star in his home state and possibly challenge David Cobb for the top job right away. I think it'd be a great situation for him to stay home and play for the Gophers.
Johnny C (EL)
Will the offense improve enough for MSU to negate the losses on defense next year?
Adam Rittenberg (12:38 PM)
I think it will, Johnny, and MSU's defense has shown the ability to reload. This has been a very good unit for three straight seasons. It might not be No. 1 nationally in 2014, but I don't see a major step back, especially with Pat Narduzzi remaining as coordinator. The key spots to me are defensive tackle, cornerback and middle linebacker.
Why is everyone excited about OSU's 2 defensive coaching staff hires? It seems like people are excited like we just hired the Seahawks' DC. Michigan's OC hire was something to be excited about. These two guys have me skeptical.
Adam Rittenberg (12:39 PM)
Expand on that thought, Armond. Why does Nussmeier excite you more than Johnson and Ash? Because he came from Alabama? A lot of coordinators could have success with Alabama's personnel. Larry Johnson has been an exceptional defensive line coach for more than a decade. Chris Ash is a rising star who specializes in defensive back play, where Ohio State struggled so much a year ago. Nussmeier is a good hire, too, but I don't understand your concern about Johnson and Ash.
Samuel (Iowa City, Iowa)
Adam, I've read some rumblings in fan comments in response Iowa's new parking scheme on game days. Donors close to the stadium; average fans, not close. With so much emphasis put on TV deals these days, could college football see a dropoff in attendence like the NFL?
Adam Rittenberg (12:41 PM)
I'm not familiar with Iowa's plan, Samuel, but attendance already is a concern in college football, especially regarding students. The Big Ten has a league-wide mandate to create better game-day experiences through enhanced replay, Wi-Fi, social-media areas of stadiums and possibly places where you can watch other games. So it's definitely a concern nationally.
Grant (San Francisco)
Who will be MSU's leading receiver next year? I think Kings is poised to have a break-out season. Lightning quick with great hands, though a bit undersized. Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg (12:42 PM)
I agree completely, Grant. Kings has star potential. He's an explosive player who should only improve with experience. Tony Lippett also made strides this past year, but I think Kings has a higher ceiling. Great athlete.
Ben (Naples, FL)
Adam, blunt question here; Which group needs to make the most progress for tOSU this offseason: Young but talented Seconday/LB's OR new OL?
Adam Rittenberg (12:44 PM)
I think it's the secondary, Ben. So many issues with that group last year. The offensive line is a concern, too, but I trust Ed Warinner to get those guys ready. There are bigger issues in the back seven and particularly the back four.
There were no charges filed in the Gibbons rape case because the victim was threatened and pressured into dropping them. If everyone "covers the story as it develops" it will never develop. Do you plan on doing any investigative journalism, or will you let the real journalists at the Michigan Daily (a student paper) do all the work?
Adam Rittenberg (12:45 PM)
Dave, I can't get into every detail, but we've been looking into this as well, including reaching out to the people we believe were involved. The Michigan Daily has done a great job with the story.
Are you surprised Pelini ended up keeping his job last season? With the way the year started and with his comments about the fans, it seemed like he was for sure gone.
Adam Rittenberg (12:47 PM)
I thought he was gone after the Iowa game and the blowup at the press conference. But I also wonder if Nebraska had concerns about who it could get to replace Pelini. There weren't that many big-time candidates out there this year. Would James Franklin have come to Nebraska? Maybe. But from talking to folks in and around that program, I don't know if there was a great list of replacements. It's not as if Nebraska is going 5-7. That said, Bo needs to perform better in 2014 to keep his job.
Kenneth Faried (Denver, Colorado)
Who do you think should be starting at quarterback for the Northwestern offense next year? Siemian tends to struggle with pass coverages and broadcasts a majority of his throws. Can you see an inexperienced Zack Oliver taking over or maybe even another inexperienced, but mobile, candidate in Matt Alviti?
Adam Rittenberg (12:49 PM)
I think Northwestern should hold a true competition this spring, but I'd be surprised if Siemian doesn't start the season. He struggled last year but battled injury and has much more game experience than either Oliver or Alviti. If it is Siemian, Northwestern should run more of a pass-first offense like it did from 2007-09 and avoid the two-quarterback system.
How does Chris Ash compare to someone like Harlon Barnett? MSU has had a pretty solid secondary for some time now. I'm not bashing Ash, I just feel like Chris Ash's resume doesn't scream "secondary guru". It almost gives me the post USC OC Lane Kiffin feel. A lot of show and no go.
Adam Rittenberg (12:51 PM)
Barnett is an excellent secondary coach, Armond, but I'd look into Ash's background as well. He improved Wisconsin's secondary during his time there. The group made major strides in 2010, his first year, when three starters earned All-Big Ten honors. He hasn't been at a ton of big-time programs, but from talking with coaches, I know he's highly respected in the business.
Nate (Carbondale, IL)
What do you think of the huge project ND announced?
Adam Rittenberg (12:54 PM)
Mixed feelings, Nate. I understand why they're doing it and recognize the need to enhance the game-day experience and make even more money. But Notre Dame Stadium also has great charm because it lacks the bells and whistles of other venues. I love the simplicity of watching games there. It will be interesting to see how things change with the renovations.
Steve (Ann Arbor)
I the wake of the Richie Incognito issues. Do you think the news that Tyler Lewan threatened a rape victim will impact where he's drafted?
Adam Rittenberg (12:55 PM)
I think he'll face some tough questions at the combine about the incident and other on- and off-field issues he had at Michigan. Great player, but has some potential red flags around him.
Will there be any more Big Ten bloggers with the new schools being added?
Adam Rittenberg (12:55 PM)
Not to my knowledge, but you never know!
Phillip (ATL (Shut Down))
Hi Adam, can you explain Philip Nelson's eligibility? I thought you had to sit out a year after transferring, but he changed conferences, so he doesn't. I'm lost.
Adam Rittenberg (12:57 PM)
Nelson must sit out a year because of NCAA transfer rules, but he can use that season as a redshirt of sorts since he didn't redshirt at Minnesota. He still would have two years left. If Rutgers already was in the Big Ten, he would lose a year of eligibility for transferring within the league. But Rutgers doesn't become official until July 1.
If the B1G ten doesn't end up with an undefeated team, chances they have a representative in the play off next year?
Adam Rittenberg (12:59 PM)
Jim, we addressed this a bit earlier. It all depends on what happens elsewhere, but I don't see too many 1-loss Big Ten teams making the playoff. Michigan State certainly could. Perhaps Ohio State or Wisconsin another team that racks up some impressive wins despite one setback. It would need to be a close loss, ideally early in the season, for a Big Ten team to overcome and still reach the playoff.
Adam Rittenberg (12:59 PM)
OK, last one for the day ...
It was nice to see the Illini improve on offense last year. Is there reason to believe that the defense can improve enough to keep the games competitive? It has been a long time since the Illini have had a "signature win" over a conference opponent. Maybe the comeback against Northwestern at Homecoming a few years back. It would be nice to see a win over one of the blue blood programs for a change.
Adam Rittenberg (1:01 PM)
Any Big Ten wins would be nice for Illinois, which finally snapped its long league losing streak but still has a lot to prove in conference play under Tim Beckman. You're right that it starts with the defense, which will be more experienced this year but has some question marks, especially up front and in the back end. We saw too many complete breakdowns last year. Big year for coordinator Tim Banks to get things tightened up, but he shouldn't be dealing with quite as much youth. Illinois also needs some of those jucos to make immediate impacts.
Adam Rittenberg (1:01 PM)
OK, time's up, everyone. Thanks for the questions. Let's do it again soon.