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Q&A With ESPN Big Ten Blogger Adam Rittenberg

On February 10th, ESPN officially moved Nebraska from the Big 12 blog to the Big Ten blog, one more sign in the beginning of a new era in Husker football. Since then, ESPN's Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg has done a pretty good job of welcoming Husker fans, as well as teaching us things we need to know about the Big Ten conference. 

I didn't want CN to be left out of that conversation, so I contacted Rittenberg and asked him if he'd be willing to do a Q&A with us. He responded pretty quickly - even including his cell phone number so I could give him a call. A real media guy responding to us? Yeah. It's a part of the change I've already noticed between the two conferences. 

During CN's existence, the Big 12 conference never responded to a single email I sent them. The Big Ten conference? They've not only responded to emails, but they've been downright accommodating. It's going to be interesting to see what changes occur in the next couple of years. Very interesting. 

After the jump is our Q&A with Rittenberg, which I guarantee you will find interesting. 

1) What's your read on Big Ten fans with Nebraska joining the Big Ten. Are we spoiling the party, or are we allowing the Big Ten to become better (i.e. championship football game) rather than just bigger?  

There are always exceptions, but the large majority of Big Ten fans I hear from are extremely excited to have Nebraska in the Big Ten. They know the tradition Nebraska brings and the possibility for another national championship contending program. They also sense a connection through geography, style of football, type of fans, etc. They're excited to attend games in Lincoln and interact with Huskers fans at their own stadiums. 

Although there will be rivalries, especially with Iowa, Big Ten fans see the benefit in bringing a program with Nebraska's cache into the league. 

How do you see Big Ten fans reacting to Nebraska's performance during it's first year in the conference? Will they be more or less favorable if Nebraska has major success right away? (This is the "How Long Will This Honeymoon Last?" question.)  

This is a great question and one I'll probably steal for a few blog posts. Obviously, other Big Ten fans want to see their teams do well, but what if Nebraska wins the league in Year 1? What will it say about the Big Ten, which already has taken its share of national criticism? Especially when you factor in Nebraska's brutal schedule, a Huskers championship in 2011 probably wouldn't look too favorable for the Big Ten. 

That said, Big Ten fans will be pulling hard for the Huskers in non-conference play and especially in the bowl season. After the New Year's Day disaster, the Big Ten must rebound in the 2011-12 bowls and needs all the help it can get. 

The ideal scenario from a Big Ten perspective -- obviously not a Nebraska perspective -- is for Nebraska to win 8-10 games and win a New Year's Day bowl, preferably against the SEC. So a good season, just not too good right away. 

Most Husker fans are going to be taking a crash course on the Big Ten. There's a perception that the Big Ten is still 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football.  Does it still apply, or is there still some truth in that?

The Big Ten might have more teams than use the power run game and traditional pro-style offenses than, say, the Big 12, but the spread definitely has a place in this league. Both Purdue and Northwestern have run the spread for more than a decade, and teams like Indiana, Illinois, Penn State, Minnesota and Ohio State have used versions in recent years. You have three programs -- Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State -- that currently don't incorporate any spread elements and stick to traditional offensive sets. 

The three-yards ... reputation is there, but it's most often linked to the Big Ten being slow and plodding. I don't think anyone who watched Wisconsin's offense put up record numbers in 2010 would use those terms, but teams like the Badgers often feed the stereotype. 

Bottom line: Nebraska won't feel too out of place with its spread offense.   

We know that Nebraska's arrival in the Big Ten is going to be a big story next season. Besides the obligatory "JoePa retirement" stories and Brady Hoke at Michigan, what are the other potential story lines in the Big Ten in 2011 that Huskers fans should be aware of?  

Well, you have three new coaches in the league with Hoke, Indiana's Kevin Wilson and Minnesota's Jerry Kill. You also have the Ohio State suspension situation, which really could shape the Big Ten race depending on the appeal. The Buckeyes will be without starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four others for the first chunk of the season, which will provide a challenge. And if the five-game suspension is upheld, Pryor and the others will return to the field Oct. 8 in Lincoln. As if that game needed any more hype. 

I really think quarterback play could be a story line in 2011. You've got quite a few standout players coming back -- Michigan's Denard Robinson, Pryor, Northwestern's Dan Persa, Michigan State's Kirk Cousins -- and a few key competitions (Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State, maybe Nebraska). This will be a very interesting group to watch. 

Another interesting story line is seeing whether teams like Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State or Iowa can become a consistent league title contender. All three teams have made runs in recent years, but can they challenge Big Ten heavyweight Ohio State year in and year out?

Pure Speculation Time!  Do you see the Big Ten expanding further in the future, and if so, when? 

Not in the immediate future. The presidents are happy with this number. They want to let it breathe for a while, see how things play out with the championship game and the divisions, and then maybe reassess a few years down the line. Unless we see one of the real big fish make a move -- looking at you, Texas and Notre Dame -- I don't think the Big Ten is going to push the expansion issue. Nebraska is a fantastic addition, and I don't know how many other available programs would be. 

Nebraska fans tend to care about football first, second, and third. It appears that the Big Ten places more emphasis on "minor" sports (not including men's basketball) than we're accustomed to. Am I reading that correctly, and if that's the case, do you see it having any influence on how Husker fans consume sports?

Men's basketball is a big deal in the Big Ten, and so are sports like women's basketball, volleyball, wrestling, softball and soccer. The Big Ten Network has been huge for the non-revenue sports because so many more games are broadcast. Nebraska's other sports undoubtedly will benefit from BTN. One big question going forward is whether the Big Ten will form its own hockey league. Penn State is making a significant investment in its hockey program. The Lions will give the league six varsity teams (Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State are the others). 

The prospect of a Big Ten hockey league seems very appealing, so we'll see where this goes.