If you haven't found Adam Rittenberg's Big Ten Blog over on the WWL, you should. In fact after you read TDG it should be your second stop on the interweb super highway. Adam was kind enough to answer several questions we had for him about how the world outside of Minnesota views Tim Brewster and the Golden Gophers.
(TDG) The two major stories surrounding the 2008 Gophers are their head coach and their (lack of) defense. I'll start with coach Brewster. When Tim Brewster was hired he entered the scene with guns blazing talking about Rose Bowls and winning immediately. We all know how 2007 turned out but what are your thoughts on his initial approach? Was this a classic over promise and under deliver, was he just not prepared to handle the situation a head coach?
(AR) Minnesota has to aim higher, and Brewster does that. There are teams in the Big Ten that would be satisfied with seven wins, the Sun Bowl and some terrible nonconference schedules, but Minnesota shouldn't be one of them. The resources are there, the high school talent certainly is there in the state and now the stadium is there, so there's no excuse for Minnesota not to be competing for league titles. Tim believes in that message, and it doesn't really matter if fans buy in, as long as recruits continue to do so. When the three coaches came into the league last year, I thought all were spot-on. Indiana needed a stabilizing force in Bill Lynch, Michigan State needed a non-nonsense guy in Mark Dantonio and Minnesota needed a bit of a dreamer and got it in Brewster
(TDG) The local media was rather negative towards Brewster's optimism. From a national perspective do you think people have also written him off as too "green", optimistic or just plain nuts?
(AR) He's got some pockets full of sunshine, and that can get a little annoying after loss No. 9. He's a very on-message coach, so I don't know how I'd feel if I dealt with him on a daily basis. His coaching abilities are kind of hard to rate after only one season, and obviously with not much to work with at Minnesota. I know this: he's very respected as a recruiter. People are noticing the talent he gets. Now he's got to coach 'em up a bit.
(TDG) Everything he does is done as the coach of his team, which means keeping his players motivated and confident as well as viewing everything through the lens of recruiting. But with all of the rhetoric does he actually have any credibility when he is talking about his football team?
(AR) He has credibility in bringing in some solid recruits but he won't get any as a coach until they start winning, which should be soon. As far as being the coach 24-7, he's not alone in that regard. I've seen a lot of guys start to open up more as people once they start winning.
(TDG) Gopher fans in Brewster's corner (I lean towards this camp) will quickly point out that many great coaches struggled in their first couple seasons as they brought in better talent and integrated new systems. Ron Zook, Mack Brown at UNC, Barry Alvarez and Kirk Ferentz come to mind. Is Brewster capable of adding his name to this list of coaches who eventually became rather successful?
(AR) Absolutely. When there's talent, and Brewster will get it, there's always a chance for a breakthrough. You saw that at Illinois last year. Mike Dunbar's spread offense worked at Northwestern, and it should work at Minnesota with Weber at QB. The defense obviously needs a serious upgrade. I doubt Tim wants to dip so heavily into the junior college well every season, but this year he had to.
(TDG) In your opinion, will end the Big Ten's longest Rose Bowl drought (not this year but in the near future)?
(AR) It will be tough. Michigan won't be down for long and both Illinois and Michigan State are already on the rise. Wisconsin is always right there, a notch below the BCS. And Ohio State is Ohio State. So the Rose Bowl won't happen this year and probably not next year or the year after, but as long as Tim keeps bringing in talent, they'll make a run soon enough.
(TDG) Let's move on to the defense which we all know by now was last in the country in 2007. I don't know how much you were able to see of this defense but was this a case of adjusting to a new staff that had some unlucky breaks or was it really as bad as the stats show?
(AR) I saw them against Northwestern. They were very, very bad. Totally lost confidence midway through the third quarter and couldn't stop C.J. Bacher at all. It was a sad display on defense on both sides, but Minnesota did nothing to let me believe lack of luck caused those unsightly numbers.
(TDG) From what you have read and people you have talked to, is the infusion of talent good enough to make this defense respectable?
(AR) Tramaine Brock has gotten rave reviews from everyone I've talked to. He adds an edge they didn't have last year. I like how the junior college guys (Brock, Simmons, McKinley) are pushing the returning starters, making them earn their jobs back. The chemistry element might not come right away, but the talent is definitely better on that side of the ball. I still have Minnesota finishing in the bottom three or four in the league in defense this season, but there won't be any new records set for futility.
(TDG) He has new talent, which should help but will Ted Roof truly have an impact on this season?
(AR) That's more than he had at Duke. Roof has a history of turning things around, and the best part is he loves challenges like this. I think he was a really solid hire, even if it doesn't show this season.
(TDG) The offense has far fewer question marks than the defense, how good can this offense be? Will it be good enough to keep them in some Big Ten games?
(AR) I love Adam Weber. Everything about him. His skill set, his personality, his willingness to take accountability and lead. I saw Dunbar's offense at Northwestern and know what it needs: a running threat with the ability to make short throws and passes on the move. Brett Basanez evolved into the prototype as a senior, but Weber is much further along. Decker is a stud and though losing Wheelwright will hurt, I like the freshmen they have coming in, especially Brandon Green, a kid I knew about since I live in Chicago. The running backs have to do more to help out Weber, but my real concern here is the offensive line. People outside Minnesota forget that was a pretty good line last season, one of the few areas that couldn't be labeled terrible, so I don't know how the new group will mesh.
(TDG) A few of non-football questions. Tell me about your experiences thus far covering the Big Ten for ESPN's new blog? When did ESPN approach you? What are your and ESPN's expectations for this new feature? What have been some of the surprises or challenges that you were not expecting?
(AR) The blog has been nuts, but fun. The schedule is crazy and the midweek trips during the preseason have made it crazier. But we'll settle into a nice routine now as the season gets going. I freelanced for ESPN.com ever since I interned there back in 2001, first covering the Sun Belt Conference, then the MAC, then the MAC and Conference USA and finally all the independents (including Notre Dame) and the non-BCS teams. I was fortunate to be hired full-time in February, and I'm having a blast covering the Big Ten, the league I know the best. Our goal is to be a national site with a local feel, and the blogs are a huge part of it. We've hired journalists and taught them how to blog, which in my opinion legitimizes the type of reporting we're doing. My hope is that coaches and sports information directions see what we do and start to feel differently about blogging, which is the wave of the future. The biggest challenges have been trying to be equal to every team in the league, which can't always happen, and time management. Definitely time management.
(TDG) You are writing for a main stream blog, but share your thoughts on the rest of the blogging world. What kind of an impact has it had on college football and where do you see this medium headed?
(AR) I love reading blogs, but where it gets tricky is the legitimacy factor. Bloggers who just throw out information without proper sourcing and confirmation are just ruining it for the rest of us: newspaper reporters, online reporters, other bloggers. As much as I think college sports blogs will continue to increase and do well, I'm concerned about the reporting standards. Coaches have closed practices because of "bloggers," which is a blanket term but sort of makes sense when you look at it from their perspective. So it's a slippery slope.
(TDG) Finally, we at The Daily Gopher are very excited for basketball season. If you were meeting with Tubby this afternoon, what would be the first two things you would ask him?
(AR) I would ask him how it feels to be at a place where every game isn't life and death. And I'd ask him if Ralph Sampson III can dunk on his dad.
Thanks to AR for taking the time to answer these questions. It really is time consuming to type out well though out answers to insightful questions like you saw above. And it's not as if the weekend before the football season is "down time." So thank you, Adam and we look forward to more excellent work on the B10 Blog.