Chat with Adam Rittenberg
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, 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 Thursday at 4 p.m. ET!
Adam Rittenberg (4:00 PM)
Game on. Let's do this.
Chris (Chicago, IL)
As an Illinois fan, I'm a little disappointed about the possiblity of losing the Illinois, NU rivalry game beginning next year. Yea, I'm fully aware that nobody outside of Illinois cares whatsoever about this game, but its a longstanding rivalry with a lot of tradition. Come on, what other rivalry game has ever had a 0-0 tie. There's been a lot of buzz already about the game at Wrigley Field. Any chance this game can save the rivalry? Maybe a game at Wrigley Field every other year, and then rotate between Champaign and Evanston on the off years? Just a thought.
Adam Rittenberg (4:01 PM)
Chris, no one has declared the Illinois-Northwestern rivalry dead yet, so let's see what happens. I will say, however, that in evaluating which rivalries can go, this one might get cut. Although both fan bases care to some degree, they also care about other games as much, if not more.
Jason (Skeptical in Columbus, OH)
Adam, I sent you this question for mailbag but would love to get your take now instead. Jim Heacock WANTING to go on record stating this will be the the best defensive line in OSU history astounds me. Both b/c he is the most senior member of the coaching staff and because of some of the talent over the years, it has a chills up my spine effect. Anything you've seen to buy into this? Refute? Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg (4:03 PM)
Jim doesn't mess around, so it's a pretty bold statement coming from him. Sure, Ohio State loses some key contributors in Gibson, Worthington and Denlinger, but the young talent on the D-line is off the charts. I'm hearing Nathan Williams will be out for at least a few more weeks, which isn't good. But if Ohio State gets him back and stays relatively healthy up front, it could be a very disruptive unit. You already know my thoughts on Cam Heyward. Absolute beast.
What are you looking for in IU to make them a legitimate middle of the pack B10 team? What specific groups of players are key to their success?
Adam Rittenberg (4:04 PM)
I'd look squarely at the 11 guys lining up on defense, and specifically the secondary. Indiana's struggles on defense have kept it out of a handful of bowl games in the last decade. Look out for junior college arrivals Andre Kates (CB), Lenyatta Kiles (CB) and Jeff Thomas (LB). Coaches are also very excited about DE Darius Johnson, who was hurt for most of last season.
Adam, I am upset at the possibility of the Gophers being separated from Wisconsin or Iowa in the new alignment. In my opinion, those 3 programs need to be competing in the same division because of the history and rivalries. What's your take?
Adam Rittenberg (4:06 PM)
I think the Big Ten will find a way to preserve Minnesota's rivalries with both Wisconsin and Iowa. If I had to pick one to keep, it'd definitely be the Battle for the Axe. But you can keep the rivalries by putting all three in one division or putting Minnesota with either Wiscy or Iowa in a division and using a protected crossover for the other game. I wouldn't be too concerned.
Derek (Orange City, Iowa)
Does Iowa have a legitimate chance at beating Arizona in Tuscon when (to them) it will be 9:35PM and the last time Iowa played in Arizona it was their only regular season loss (2002) to Arizona State 44-7 under Kirk Ferentz with Brad Banks?
Adam Rittenberg (4:07 PM)
It won't be easy, Derek, and the start time concerns Ferentz, who remembers what happened in Tempe. That said, Iowa has more than a legitimate chance to win that game. I'll always take good defense over good offense, and Iowa boasts the superior defensive unit. One thing that can't happen is early turnover from Ricky Stanzi and the offense. Iowa can't expect to survive those miscues for another year.
Hey Adam, what do you think Bolden's odds are starting September 11th in Tuscaloosa? I find myself hopping aboard the Bolden bandwagon all of a sudden.
Adam Rittenberg (4:08 PM)
Jeff, I just watched the BTN tour stop in State College, and it's hard not to be impressed by Bolden. He's very impressive physically, makes good drops and has an absolute cannon for an arm. Will he play well in Tuscaloosa if he's the starter? Odds are definitely against it. But you have to play the best guy.
Do you think in the next couple of years we?re going to see more and more teams going to a tandem RB situation (like Saine and Herron at OSU) or a featured back set (like Ringer was at MSU a few years ago)?
Adam Rittenberg (4:10 PM)
Matt, college coaches realize they need more than one running back. They see what's happening in the NFL, and they know the injury risk of riding a bell cow. There will always be guys like Ringer or Shonn Greene at Iowa in 2009, but even with guys like John Clay and Evan Royster this year, those teams have good No. 2 options.
Tate Forcier (Ann Arbor)
I'm sure you've heard the rumors....so, should I stay or should I go now?
Adam Rittenberg (4:12 PM)
I really think you should stay no matter what. See what happens this fall, even if you're not the starter. Michigan would rather not use Devin Gardner as a freshman, and you have experience from last year. Plus, you don't want to continue the transfer trend. So stick around, Tate.
Matt (Madison, WI)
How worried should I be about Jay Valai's injuries? On a crutch and a concussion...I'd hate to see the other guy knowing how hard Jay hits!!! Any word on what happened?
Adam Rittenberg (4:13 PM)
Yeah, I'm still trying to figure that one out, Matt. Concussions happen, and while they're scary, I was more concerned about Jay hobbling around on a crutch. We'll see how long he sits out, but Wisconsin needs him on the field for leadership after losing Maragos.
Hello Mr. Rittenberg. What do you think about OSU playing a thursday night game to open the season? Could more big ten thursday night games be on the horizon?
Adam Rittenberg (4:14 PM)
Dan, I like it. It puts your team in the national spotlight when there aren't dozens of other games going on. But the Big Ten likely won't do many of these aside from Week 1 (there are three Thursday games this year) or at the end of the regular season. It's too bad because some of the league's teams could really use the potential national exposure.
Todd (Henderson Rd)
You?ve said in past chats that QB play should be better this season in the Big Ten, and I agree. Do you think this is going to translate into more shoot out type games with higher scores this season or will defense continue to rule the conference?
Adam Rittenberg (4:16 PM)
Todd, great question. While I don't think there are a ton of elite QBs in the Big Ten, the group's overall level has gone up from 2009. The defenses are darn good in the Big Ten, but I'm not overly impressed with any of the secondary units, even Iowa's. So that combination (good QBs, iffy DBs) could lead to some high-scoring games this fall.
So next year.......how do YOU want the 2 divisions? What teams do you want in each?
Adam Rittenberg (4:18 PM)
I'll stick with what I wrote in June. Division 1 has Penn State, Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana and Purdue. Division 2 has Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin. Protected crossovers are Penn State-Ohio State, Nebraska-Michigan, Iowa-Minnesota, Northwestern-Wisconsin, Indiana-Illinois, Purdue-Michigan State. I'm also open to two protected crossovers with the nine-game league slate coming in 2015.
Mike (Saint Louis)
Given some of the recent chatter about protected rivalries and moving the Michigan and Ohio State game earlier, are we getting set up for Michigan and Ohio State in separate divisions?My latest is Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern, and Illinois in one; Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Purdue, and Indiana in the other.
Adam Rittenberg (4:20 PM)
Mike, it's very interesting how Ohio State officials are almost preparing us for the possibility of an earlier Ohio State-Michigan game or the two teams in separate divisions. They're clearly discussing all possibilities, but it wouldn't surprise me that much if the Buckeyes and Wolverines were separated.
Who did Brian Griese have the Bucks losing 3 games to?
Adam Rittenberg (4:20 PM)
Miami, Wisconsin and Iowa. I can definitely see a loss in there, but no way they lose all three.
Keystone Dave (Poconos, PA)
Hi, Adam... As a long-time Penn State fan, I certainly understand that it will take a monumental effort for the Nittany Lions to upset defending national champ Alabama on the road Sept. 11. But consider this: in Penn State's last four visits to Alabama, the Lions have given up a TOTAL of 17 points and ZERO touchdowns (0-6 L, 1984; 23-3 W '86; 3-8 L '88; and 9-0 W '90). Granted, these games were played 20-some years ago, but Penn State does have a head coach and a coaching staff who remember those games well and their defensive schemes have remained tried and true. And, you could argue that the Lions are faster and deeper than they were back then. Whether Penn State's revamped offensive line can open holes for Evan Royster and the young quarterback -- whoever it may be -- shows enough poise in a hostile environment, those are different matters altogether. But I really think PSU's defense will play well at 'Bama. Your thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg (4:22 PM)
Keystone, thanks for the history lesson. Great stuff there. But those games really are irrelevant now. Alabama is a lot faster, too, as my SEC pals remind me whenever they get a chance. I can't see Penn State's defense being blown out by anyone, but scoring points against Bama is going to be really tough. Lions have to win with defense and forcing a few turnovers.
Two things. Iowa's only regular season loss in 2002 was to Iowa State, not Arizona State.Secondly, the more I hear about the potential of a late November weekend of Michigan v. OSU/Penn State v. Michigan State/Northwestern v. Illinois/Indiana v. Purdue/Minnesota v. Wisconsin/ and Iowa v. Nebraska, the more I absolutely love it. Can Delaney just use this as a starting point and go from there with all of the divisional alignments? What a fantastic day of B10 football that would be.
Adam Rittenberg (4:24 PM)
Good call, Gary. The Arizona State game was in 2004, not 2002. I also love that lineup for the final regular-season Saturday. Minnesota-Wisconsin means more than Minnesota-Iowa in my book, and Iowa fans would go nuts about the Nebraska game. While this could be a starting point, there's much more involved in determining the final product.
I don't know the realistic depth for UM and their secondary. After the latest news of injury, is it 1 left and then throw in the mascot? As if things couldn't get any worse for RR, seems like this might be the worst news of all...
Adam Rittenberg (4:26 PM)
Troy Woolfolk's injury is a major blow, no doubt. Michigan should have arguably the Big Ten's most talented group of cornerbacks. Instead, the Wolverines will be playing J.T. Floyd and most likely a true freshman, Cullen Christian.
Adam, more of a team question than a ?who?s the better player? question. Which team would have the harder time replacing the loss of their defensive star: Iowa losing Clayborn or Michigan State losing Jones?
Adam Rittenberg (4:28 PM)
Anthony, thanks for giving me an idea for an upcoming blog post. I owe you a beer. ... Both guys do so much for their teams. It's a tough question to answer without seeing Michigan State's younger linebackers on the field for games. But I have to go with Jones. He's in on more plays than Clayborn, and without him, a mediocre MSU defense could have been just awful last year. Clayborn is a huge playmaker for Iowa, but Binns and the others could pick up the slack. Let's hope both men stay healthy.
Eric ((RI, wishing I was in Columbus))
Out of the three Ohio State games you talked about (Miami, Iowa, Wisconsin), you said Ohio State probably won't come out unscathed; What game do you think is most likely to give them a loss?
Adam Rittenberg (4:29 PM)
One of the Big Ten road games. Miami should be very good this fall, but I don't see Ohio State losing that one. If I had to pick right now, the trip to Wisconsin concerns me most. Not a lot of teams win in Madison, and Wisconsin will be very motivated after seeing a somewhat close game slip away because of mistakes last year in Columbus.
How can the Iowa secondary get so much love when we lost Amari Spievey? I'm sure the 'next man in' will do fine, but I don't think he'll be as good as Spievey.
Adam Rittenberg (4:31 PM)
Totally agree, James. While I ranked Iowa as the Big Ten's No. 1 secondary, that speaks more to the weakness of the other teams. Spievey could be a major loss because of what he did to the opponent's top wideout. There aren't many shut-down corners like him. It'll be interesting if Tyler Sash is used more to help the corners this year, or if he can continue to freelance and do what he does best: make plays.
How about some love for the assistants/coordinators?! Which newcomer is going to help his squad the most this season and which guy is going to be the next to bolt for a head coaching gig?
Adam Rittenberg (4:33 PM)
Joe, I think Vic Koenning will really help Illinois' defense this fall. He's a veteran coach with a no-nonsense approach who doesn't care how many stars a guy got in the recruiting rankings. I also like Gary Emanuel coming back to Purdue to help the league's worst rush defense. As far as a future head coach, he's not a Big Ten newcomer, but Wisconsin DC Dave Doeren will get a top job, soon. Ohio State co-DC/LB coach Luke Fickell, too, if he wants one.
Adam, Any word from Minnesota on how the offensive line is shaping up? If they could just get the big fellas to block, the offense might just win a couple games!
Adam Rittenberg (4:35 PM)
KJ, I talked with offensive coordinator Jeff Horton last week, and he really likes the way center D.J. Burris is leading the group. There's a ton of experience there, and I imagine they'll be a lot better in Year 2 working with Tim Davis. Minnesota also should have better depth up front with young guys like Olson and Michel in the mix.
Adam Rittenberg (4:36 PM)
Just a tip: if you type your question in 100 times in a row (David from Chicago), there's no chance I'll answer it.
Jason (Saginaw, Mi)
Adam, Great chat as usual. My question is, Do you believe the Michigan front seven will be able to generate enough pressure to give the extremely young secondary a little relief this year?
Adam Rittenberg (4:38 PM)
They'll have to, Jason. I'm very interested to see how Craig Roh performs this year, as he goes from being a defensive lineman to more of a lineman/linebacker hybrid who can obviously blitz the quarterback. It'll be imperative for Mike Martin to stay healthy and have a big year. There's no reason why he can't lead that D-line along with Van Bergen. But Brandon Graham will be missed, mark my words.
Jerry (Cedar Rapids)
Which is/was more deadly? Stanford's set up last year with Gerhart + O-line beastly fullback, or Wisconsin's set up this year with Clay O-line?
Adam Rittenberg (4:39 PM)
Ah, great question, Jerry. I wasn't as familiar with Stanford's O-line, but Gerhart was a freaking beast with the ball. While I love John Clay, he's not at Gerhart's level yet. The good news is he has the nation's best offensive line, provided they stay healthy, entering the fall.
Eric (RI, wishing I was in Columbus)
How would you rank the Big Ten this year compared to the other conferences?
Adam Rittenberg (4:40 PM)
Like most people, I have the Big Ten at No. 2 nationally, behind the SEC. Until the Big Ten's best starts beating the SEC's best, you can't claim the top spot. And, in fact, the Big Ten had better start performing a lot better against the Big 12 in bowl games. The Big 12 has owned the Big Ten as of late.
Mike Paterno (Pittsburgh)
Adam, great blog... I like your divisions and your protecteds except I'd swith NW and Ill which would provide some sort of geographical sanity - N/S. The other point I'd like to make is that a Mich v. OSU - PSU v. Nebraska doubleheader on the final Saturday would be amazing... The Big Ten would own the day! Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg (4:43 PM)
Great last name, Mike! I'd be open to moving Illinois and Northwestern in the same division, but not at the expense of other rivalries. You make a great point about Nebraska-Penn State following Ohio State-Michigan on the final Saturday. Although Nebraska-Iowa would be good, too, Nebraska-Penn State has a lot more reach nationally.
Who do you think steps up as the Buckeye's 3rd WR? Taurian Washington has been around forever, but I here Corey Brown is making some noise.
Adam Rittenberg (4:44 PM)
Steve, Chris Fields is a guy I heard a lot about entering camp, but Washington appears to be the No. 3 WR right now. My take on the whole thing is that TE Jake Stoneburner should be used as the No. 3 option in the passing game. He could be really good for Ohio St. this fall.
Mac (Huntington, WV)
Hey Adam, sorry for the long question, but here goes. In B10 play last season, Michigan was flat out awful in the red zone on both ends. They ranked dead last in both RZ offense (with a 60% success rate and a whopping NINE turnovers) and RZ defense (with an opponents? success rate of 96.8% and only ONE stop in 31 trips). Two part question: 1) Clearly they need to improve on both sides of the ball in the red zone, but if you could only pick one side, which improvement is more vital to their success this season, RZ-O or RZ-D? And 2) Which side do you think is more likely to actually make that improvement?
Adam Rittenberg (4:45 PM)
Mac, as always, great stuff from you. I'd definitely pick red zone defense for Michigan. Only one stop in 31 opponent attempts just won't cut it in the Big Ten. And while I think Michigan's offensive line will be good, I'm not sure if there's a power back to punch it in. The defensive line, led by Mike Martin, could improve in this category.
Adam Rittenberg (4:47 PM)
I just missed a call from Brian Rolle to keep chatting with you guys. See how much I care!
Adam, Which one of the scenarios would you likely bet on; 1. ND begins the season 0-3 or 2. The Lions, Hawkeyes and Bucks win all 3 of their key Out of Conference match-ups?
Adam Rittenberg (4:49 PM)
Great question, David. Neither are likely because of the Penn State-Alabama game. I'd go with Notre Dame starting 0-3. Purdue can put up big points and big yards, while Michigan will be desperate for a win and MSU has played well against ND for a while. Do I think ND will go 0-3? No.
Hey Adam - How does Nebraska falling out of the top 100 of the US World News Rankings look for the Big Ten?
Adam Rittenberg (4:50 PM)
Meh. It's not surprising to me after Nebraska tied for 96th last year. Listen, just being in the Big Ten and having a stake in the CIC will help Nebraska's academic profile. While I doubt UNL will rank among the Big Ten's top-rated academic institutions, it should climb into the top 100 soon.
Dan (Springfield, OH)
Tressel has always said the most important play in a game is the punt. Ive heard that Buchannan might end up being the punter, but what about true freshman Drew Basil platooning between both punter and place kicker?
Adam Rittenberg (4:53 PM)
Dan, I doubt Tressel wants a true freshman having so much on his plate. Buchanan should be the guy at punter, and you can't forget about Devin Barclay at kicker. Barclay redeemed himself a bit in the last kick scrimmage, and he has a very big kick on his resume (vs. Iowa last year).
Matthew (East Lansing, Mi)
Is 9 in conference games an inevitability at this point? And if so, wouldn't 9 games hurt the big ten's chances of filling all its bowl slots?
Adam Rittenberg (4:54 PM)
Nine conference games will definitely happen, Matt, most likely beginning in 2015. It certainly could hurt the league's bowl chances, especially at the bottom, but it'll be more exciting for fans in the long run.
Mike (Lawrence, KS)
Suppose the Big Ten placed a team against Nebraska in a BCS bowl game or the national championship this year. What's the better outcome for the Big Ten long-term?
Adam Rittenberg (4:55 PM)
A Big Ten win, no doubt. Nebraska isn't in the Big Ten until 2011, and leagues get judged on what their current teams do. A Big Ten national championship goes much longer than a Nebraska title.
Adam, I just don't see how Iowa, who struggled to put up points on nobodies last year with an All-American offensive lineman, is going to be able to put up enough points to win some games this year. Stanzi + 3 new lineman = disaster. What's your take?
Adam Rittenberg (4:56 PM)
Duke, I don't think the situation is as dire as you present. I'm a big Bryan Bulaga fan, but a lot of folks thought Riley Reiff was a better lineman at points last year. And while Dace Richardson was excellent, he also struggled to stay healthy. There are certainly question marks up front for Iowa, but history shows us that Ferentz usually gets what he wants from that group. We'll see.
Dan (Springfield, OH)
I saw an article yesterday on Ohio State weaqring the Nike Pro Uniforms for The Game again this year. Of all the games that couldve been picked, Nike seems to want to have the biggest one. My concern is that the Buckeyes and the other schools that are wearing the Nike Pro Unis may eventually turn into another Oregon team and end up having new unis every game. I know money is driving this but I also hate the fact that tradition is being messed with. Your thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg (4:58 PM)
I agree with my pal Ken Gordon and others on this issue. Fans will never really understand it, but playing big-time college sports costs a ton of money, especially when you have as many sports as Ohio State does. You need revenue streams, and this is one of them. Sure, it might not sit well with fans, but it's just one game. I can't see Ohio State ever becoming Oregon with its unis. But would you rather endure one game with throwback jerseys or see several varsity sports cut?
Adam Rittenberg (4:58 PM)
Got time for one or two more
Right now, Gerald Hodges isn't projected to start at LB for PSU, with Mauti, Colosanti, and Gbadyu taking the starting spots. Do you think that will change before/during the season, or is Hodges still a bit too young?
Adam Rittenberg (5:00 PM)
John, Hodges might have been the most impressive player on the Big Ten Network's Penn State preview show. He looks the part and he brings it with his hitting. While he might not start, I can't see anyway he doesn't play significant snaps for Penn State this fall. Too valuable to leave on the sideline.
Adam Rittenberg (5:00 PM)
OK, guys, time's up. Great chat, as always. Two weeks until kickoff!