Reader Mail: Looking Back & Looking Ahead
You have questions, I have answers in the latest installment of my Big Ten reader mailbag. And this week, you want to discuss the bombshell developments out of the Freeh Report at Penn State in addition to some questions about the college football playoff and football schedules scheduling in the wake of the Big Ten/Pac 12 alliance dissolving. Read on and send me your thoughts and questions at the bottom of this post.
Thank you, Mr. Dienhart, for saying in a more eloquent way what I and so many other sports fans have been feeling in your column on Joe Paterno. As a Husker fan, my respect for Paterno was on a par with coaches like Tom Osborne, Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and others. I relished the times we played Penn State, win or lose. Do me a personal favor: Find some positives in this unholy mess. Make people focus on the efforts of a new coaching regime doing the impossible–helping lift the spirits of the athletes who are working their tails off to rebuild the legacy of a football team that is in disarray. And pray the NCAA cannot find a way to flex its muscles and hurt the innocent more than they have already been hurt. – Robert Bly
Some interesting thoughts. Thanks. In the midst of this tragedy, it seems we all too often forget about the victims and seem to be worried about how the Nittany Lion football program will be impacted or how or Paterno will be remembered. In time, the football team will be fine. Paterno and his legacy? Not so much so.
As for the NCAA, no one seems to know for sure if it will get involved. Some pundits make the case it should—others say this is outside its jurisdiction and to let the courts handle and met out punishment. The death penalty? No way. In the end, I think the NCAA will feel pressure to hand out some type of punishment. But I don’t think it will be crippling.
Joe Paterno’s legacy will never be tarnished. His legacy will be forever. Ask any and all of his players. But a sports writer like Tom Dienhart will never know. – Paul
How can the fact Paterno was named in the Freeh Report as a central figure in the worst scandal in the history of college sports NOT tarnish his legacy? I don’t care how many players he helped get jobs, how much money he gave to build libraries or how many games he won. The fact JoePa valued himself and his football program over innocent children is reprehensible. And anyone who feels differently should be ashamed. But, Paterno always will have his sycophants who refuse to accept the truth. How sad. How pathetic.
With the loss of a lot of talented Hawkeyes, do you think Iowa has a chance to enjoy a winning football season this year? – R .J. Wilson
Yes, Iowa lost some good players, headed by wideout Marvin McNutt. And the transfers of running backs Marcus Coker and Mikail McCall also hurt. But there still is reason to be optimistic. I like the direction that new coordinator Greg Davis has the offense pointed in. And I think he’ll make James Vandenberg one of the top signal-callers in the Big Ten. The defense? That’s the real key, especially a line that needs playmakers. New coordinator Phil Parker has his work cut out for him, but he has a good back seven to build around.
What kind of offense will Tim Beckman run at Illinois? Will he force Nathan Scheelhaase into more of a traditional pocket-passer role or let him run in a spread offense? – Steve
Beckman is going to run a spread scheme that he executed at Toledo with great aplomb. The offense will allow Scheelhaase to use his considerable athletic skills inside and outside of the pocket. But the attack also will require him to be precise with his throws in what is an offense that will require exact execution in the short-passing game. No doubt, Scheelhaase has the skills to make this offense hum.
What do you make of the Big Ten and Pac-12 canceling their scheduling alliance? – Joey
It’s too bad. But I do think this could lead the Big Ten to adopting a nine-game league schedule. That was in the works prior to the announcement of the deal with the Pac-12. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see if revisited and perhaps adopted. Yes, a nine-game league schedule would mean teams would have five conference home games some seasons and while others had four.
The Pac-12 has been doing this for a few years and it hasn’t suffered for it, has it? Plus, a nine-game league menu would give more uniformity to schedules and make them more equitable than what we see today with four non-league games that vary widely in quality from team to team.
How many games will Michigan win? – Scott Sheppard
Here is how I break down the Wolverines’ schedule. There are seven likely wins: Air Force, UMass, at Purdue; Illinois; at Minnesota; Northwestern; Iowa.
The other five games will determine how great of a season Michigan enjoys: Alabama (neutral field); at Notre Dame; Michigan State; at Nebraska; at Ohio State.
Bottom line: This is a TOUGH schedule—much tougher than last season’s slate. And there will be no surprising teams in 2012, as expectations will be high in Ann Arbor. A 9-3 record vs. this schedule would be very good. If the offense is clicking and the defensive front develops, Michigan could be an 11-win team again. But it will be a tall order.
What are your impressions of Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada after your interview with him? – Jacob
I came away impressed. He’s a smart coach who has a system that he knows works and believes in. And history has shown he’s a good guy to work for, and he has succeeded offensively at some schools were he rarely had a plethora of blue-chip talent. Bottom line: Canada was a good hire by Bret Bielema.
Will the Minnesota Gophers ever have a chance to be an elite Big Ten team in football, or should they find a new conference to play in? – Mike Miller
Have a little faith! It won’t be easy to become an elite program. And I don’t think Minnesota can be a legit Big Ten contender every season. But the Golden Gophers can rise up every few years and challenge for the Legends title. And Jerry Kill is the perfect coach. He’s a blue-collar mentor who has come up through the backwaters of the sport. Kill has been handed nothing and learned how to be wildly successful at every level despite not having great resources or talent. Kill doesn’t look for reasons why he can’t succeed. He focuses on his assets and moves forward—no excuses. It’s really refreshing.
What did the Big Ten get out of the new playoff agreement? Any chance an outdoor facility in the midwest or north would ever be used for a title game? – Tim
The biggest thing the Big Ten got was preservation of the bowl system as part of the playoff format. In particular, the Big Ten was able to maintain its tie to the Rose Bowl. That was very important to the conference honchos. As for the title game, I think we could see the championship tilt played in a cold-weather city. Remember, we have seen Super Bowls in cities like Minneapolis, Detroit and Indianapolis. If the NFL can do it, why not college football?
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