Excited for my first trip to Minneapolis this weekend. Gophers fans, where should I go on Friday and Saturday? Hit me up with some suggestions.
I suggest you read this mailbag first:
Doug from San Diego, Calif., writes: Can you please explain the math/stats behind Baylor being so close to tOSU in the BCS? Both teams have beaten one currently ranked team, both teams played lame non-conference schedules (with tOSU arguably playing a slightly more respectable one), and both teams are statistically ballpark (except for tOSU's passing stats). Is it the polling that is keeping tOSU close or is it math/stats in the computer stuff? And on the same hand, why is FSU so far ahead of tOSU? FSU's wins against Maryland & Miami do not seem impressive right now, and with those teams current rankings FSU have beaten only one currently ranked team (albeit a Top 10 team).
Brian Bennett: Doug, asking a journalist to do math is always risky business. But I think I can pull it off here. The polls are not to blame for Ohio State's miniscule .0013 lead over Baylor in the latest BCS standings. The Buckeyes are No. 3 in both the USA Today coaches' and Harris polls, while the Bears are No. 4. It's the computers where Baylor makes up some ground, as it is tied for No. 3 in the computer average, with a high of No. 3 and a low of No. 5. Ohio State is fifth in the computers, behind both Baylor and Auburn, with a high of No. 3 and a low of No. 7.
Baylor's computer numbers should rise with a win over Oklahoma State this week, but Ohio State will get a boost if Wisconsin and Michigan State keep winning. As for Florida State, the Seminoles have a healthy lead over the Buckeyes in the polls and are No. 1 in the computer rankings. They haven't been criticized enough for playing a weak schedule, but that win over Clemson still carries weight. At the end of the season, Ohio State could have two better wins -- Wisconsin and Michigan State, should the latter occur -- than Florida State. But the 'Noles' utter dominance all season long gives them the edge.
Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J., writes: Bennett-o! This is very much a biased comment but I'd still like your rebuttal. How can you guys possibly leave Allen Robinson off of your B1G Offensive Player of the Year list? I understand his TD total is low and he isn't playing on a championship contending team BUT...here is where he deserves consideration. He is by far the best WR in the B1G the past two years. This year in particular he is catching passes from a true freshman QB, on a team that has not proven to have many other consistent receivers (so the focus of defenses is on him). He is CLUTCH!!! ... I'm not saying he is deserving over Miller, Hyde or Abdullah to win the award but he needs to be in the conversation.
Brian Bennett: Robinson has very much been in the conversation all year long, as he has consistently ranked in the top five of my weekly awards race tracker for offensive player of the year. He is a tremendous player and the best of a really good class of receivers in the Big Ten this year. It's just really hard for wide receivers to win these types of individual awards because they're so dependent on their quarterback. While Christian Hackenberg has been outstanding for a freshman, I'd love to see what Robinson's numbers would be this year if he were playing with an experienced quarterback (say, the new starter for the Oakland Raiders, for example).
The lack of touchdowns also hurts Robinson's case, as does Penn State's also-ran status. A big finish in the last two games could move him up in the race, but he'll likely have to settle for his second straight Richter-Howard receiver of the year trophy. Not a bad consolation prize.
David C. from Davis, Calif., writes: Again it seems that Michigan State will be penalized for making it to the B1G Championship game when considering possible at-large BCS bids. Isn't it unfair to consider wins and losses when one team plays more games, and if you compare only the regular season schedules, one team has a better record? Granted, this is not nearly as unfair as 2011, when Michigan State beat UM and made it to the Championship game, and UM got a BCS bid solely on their fan base. But still, comparing an 11-2 team to a 10-2 team that didn't make the Championship game, when it would be comparing an 11-1 team to a 10-2 team otherwise, doesn't seem analytically honest.
Brian Bennett: Let's leave the word "fair" out of the discussion, because it is mostly a foreign concept in the bowl system. Michigan State's first concern is finishing in the Top 14 of the BCS to be eligible for an at-large bid. Remember that the Spartans did not do so in 2011 and therefore could not have been selected for a bid over Michigan. Michigan State is No. 13 right now and should move up a bit in the next two weeks if it wins out, but a loss to Ohio State would knock the team back down and make things close.
Here's the other problem for the Spartans in that scenario: if Wisconsin beats Minnesota this week, Michigan State would not have a single win over a ranked team. Now, I happen to think Mark Dantonio's club is really, really good, but the résumé would be viewed as lacking by some folks. Wisconsin is six spots behind the Spartans in the BCS standings but could jump ahead by winning out and finishing with a seven-game win streak. The body of work for Wisconsin and Michigan State at that point would be pretty similar, with both losing to Ohio State, beating Minnesota and losing their one high-profile nonconference game (thanks to help by officials in both).
Of course, the Spartans can make this all moot by simply winning the rest of their games and not leaving it in the hands of voters, computers and bowl committees to decide.
Nat Parduzzi from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Hey Brian, I'd like to get your take on something: Max Bullough is the unquestionable leader of the nation's top defense at MSU. He's a coach on the field -- you'll see him make adjustments to DL gap assignments and even audible out of blitzes like a QB when he sees something he doesn't like -- I've only seen it constantly done successfully on Alabama's national title teams. While MSU's D has no shortage of praise, Bullough seems to be left out in the cold when it comes to individual accolades -- he's not even a semi-finalist for the Butkus award. What gives? Is it a lack of mind-blowing stats? Stats are for losers. Don't the pundits realize that my... I mean Pat Narduzzi's defense probably doesn't have as high of stats because they're on the field so little?
Brian Bennett: Nat -- I see what you did there -- you make some really fine points. But I'll let you in on a little secret: most of the people voting for these awards (and full disclosure: I am a voter for several of them, but not the Butkus) simply don't have time to watch every team in the country closely. They may see some highlights or catch a game here and there. But for the most part, they follow one particular team or conference or region. In other words, they don't get to see the nuances of a certain player like Bullough and what he means. That's why stats take on a bigger role, and Bullough -- who's averaging 6.1 tackles per game and has just one sack this season -- isn't going to leap off the page.
Excuse me for using a baseball analogy here, but as someone who watched well over 100 St. Louis Cardinals games this year, this situation reminds me a bit about the case for Yadier Molina as MVP. People who watched that team closely saw all the amazing things he did for the pitching staff and defense. But those things can't be found in a box score, which is why he didn't win. Same thing, I think, goes for Bullough.
Victor from Norfolk, Va., writes: Brian, with Ohio State having its Senior Day this Saturday against Indiana, I personally believe that Kenny Guiton should get the start. He is a captain on the team and this is his last time playing in the 'Shoe as a player. I know it probably won't happen but I think it would be a great thing to do for a player who has played exceptionally well when called on and is a great leader on this team.
Brian Bennett: Victor, I like the thought because of what Guiton has done for the Buckeyes. But any time you're in the hunt for national and conference titles, I don't think you mess with things at quarterback. Remember that Indiana only lost by three points to Ohio State last year and kept things close well into the second half two years ago in Columbus. I don't think Urban Meyer wants to risk anything, especially after his defense gave up a lot of points to a spread team last week, and Braxton Miller is still his best option. But Guiton should get a nice ovation when he is honored on the field before the game, and if things go the way they should, he should get some playing time in the second half.
Scott from Barron, Wis., writes: I see that a lot of Gopher fans think they have a chance against Wisconsin. They are delusional. I have watched all of Minnesota's games. The Gophers are overrated. They beat Northwestern without Mark and Colter, Nebraska WITH Martinez (subtraction by addition), an impotent Penn State, and got a gift from IU. Also, they do not match-up well with Wisconsin. Their strength is running the ball, Wisconsin's strength on defense. Their weakness on defense is stopping the run. .... The Badgers will roll The Goophers, and I will be in the stands cheering when they do.
Brian Bennett: I don't necessarily disagree with any of that, Scott. Wisconsin is a heavy favorite, and it should be. But you have to admit that there's something special going on with this Minnesota team. The Gophers have some mojo and are playing with a lot of confidence right now. They also have shown an ability to run the ball and control the clock, two things that will be crucial this Saturday. A much worse Gophers team went to Camp Randall last year and trailed by just 11 points heading into the fourth quarter.
Minnesota also has had an extra week to prepare because of its bye last week and will be at home. I'm not saying the Gophers will win. But it wouldn't shock me if they did.
Mark from Az writes: Seems to me like the real bowl battle in the Big Ten is for the 4th place spot. OSU, MSU, and Wisconsin should all win out. OSU could win the title game and Wiscy is getting closer to an at large berth, which may happen. Or MSU wins the title game and OSU would be mostly certain to get an at large berth. Leaving MSU or Wisconsin for the Capital One bowl. But then who goes to the Outback?
Brian Bennett: There's still a lot to be decided, obviously. Everything hinges on whether the Big Ten can get a second BCS berth this season. Right now, I'm still leaning toward no on that question. If not, you can comfortably slot Michigan State and Wisconsin into the Capital One and Outback bowls in some order.
But if there are two BCS bids, then things open up a bit. The Outback just had Michigan last year, so I think it would be doubtful that the Wolverines end up there again -- especially since Michigan likely will be no better than 8-4. A potential 9-3 Nebraska team would be attractive to the Outback folks. The Huskers have been to Florida in back-to-back years, though, and may prefer Arizona, though it's hard to say no to the Florida recruiting possibilities.
Iowa and Minnesota are potential Outback teams as well. If the Hawkeyes were to win out to finish 8-4, they could leap Nebraska and Michigan -- both of whom they would have beaten -- and have some momentum that bowls like. Minnesota has the great story with Jerry Kill but also has to battle its poor traveling reputation. And the Gophers have two tough games remaining with Wisconsin and Michigan State.
So I'd give the edge to either Iowa or Nebraska for that spot if the Big Ten gets two in the BCS. But that remains a big if.
Anthony from Worcester, Mass., writes: As a Michigan fan, I think I would prefer to play in the Gator Bowl rather than the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The Gator Bowl is in recruit-rich Florida, is on January 1st, and is against the SEC. We'd also be playing the #6 SEC team, so we might be favored. I'd rather play an SEC team on NYD than a Big 12 team in late December. Am I wrong?
Brian Bennett: You're not wrong. The Gator Bowl is still a higher-profile game, and it would likely mean an easier and cheaper trip for most Michigan fans. But have you been to Jacksonville in January? On that front, I'd prefer Arizona.