Ohio State Buckeyes: big ten mailbag

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
5:00
PM ET
It's Wednesday. There's nothing good on TV (except for this). It's mailbag business time.

Ed from State of Rutgers writes: How would you rank B1G head coaches on the hot seat in 2014? Which assistants are in the best position for a head coaching job after this season?

Brian Bennett: Thanks for the question, Ed, and welcome to Big Ten country. We didn't see a single head coach get fired in the Big Ten last season, which was good news. But the way these things go, odds are the league won't make it two years in a row without any pink slips.

Let's answer your question by looking at this in tiers. Tier 1 includes the coaches who absolutely won't get fired this season unless there's some sort of unforeseen major scandal: Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Penn State's James Franklin, Minnesota's Jerry Kill, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz.

[+] EnlargeKyle Flood
AP Photo/John RaouxKyle Flood could face a difficult first season in the Big Ten, but it might not be enough to cost him his job.
Tier 2 would be the guys who are most likely safe but who could feel some rising temperatures if the season goes awry. That would include: Indiana's Kevin Wilson, who seems to have the Hoosiers on an uptick but who needs to get the team to a bowl soon; Purdue's Darrell Hazell, who almost certainly won't get canned after just two years but can't afford another season as awful as last season's 1-11 debacle; and Michigan's Brady Hoke, who isn't on the hot seat now but who would definitely feel the wrath of fans and boosters if the Wolverines have another 7-5 type year and lose to Ohio State.

Tier 3 covers the coaches actually feeling some heat under their chairs. Let's evaluate them individually:

  • Tim Beckman, Illinois: This should come as no surprise. The Illini showed improvement last season, but Beckman is still just 6-18 and has seen fan support fall off a cliff. Anything less than a bowl game in 2014 could make things really dicey.
  • Bo Pelini, Nebraska: This is a well-documented situation, and many people were surprised Pelini wasn't fired at the end of last season, though athletics director Shawn Eichorst remains hard to read. The good news is that Pelini could have a very good team in Lincoln this year, and he sure doesn't appear to be sweating things this spring.
  • Kyle Flood, Rutgers: He went 9-4 his first season as head coach but just 6-7 with a dismal finish last season. He also has a new boss in town, and the Scarlet Knights will face a very difficult schedule in Year 1 in the Big Ten. He's only making $900,000, so a change wouldn't be too financially painful. The question is whether embattled new athletic director Julie Hermann has enough juice right now to make that call.
  • Randy Edsall, Maryland: This is the toughest call of the tier, as Edsall might have bought himself some time with last season's winning record and has had to deal with injuries to many star players. Yet he's still just 13-24 after three seasons, and life in the Big Ten might not be easy for the Terps. A losing record in 2014 would make things very uncomfortable in College Park.

George K. from Pittsburgh: Brian, I'm disappointed in what you wrote about Joe Paterno winning [the Big Ten coaches' tournament]. There was way too much conjecture in what you said. Please think about it. Then issue a factual restatement, please.

Scott R. from Chadron, Neb., writes: Pretty sure there was voter fraud on that Osborne/Paterno matchup. Am I the only one who noticed there were as many international votes as domestic? And that those international votes were 87% for Paterno? Every other poll on ESPN.com is about 75% domestic, 25% foreign. This one was 50/50, and the international vote was OVERWHELMINGLY for Paterno. Seems a little suspicious.

Brian Bennett: File this one under "You Can't Please Everybody, Vol. 734." For the past two weeks, my mailbag was full of comments like Scott's, claiming some sort of voter fraud as Paterno got a huge international vote against both Tom Osborne and Woody Hayes. I have neither the technical expertise nor the time to figure out whether there was some sort of computer tomfoolery going on. But you'd have to be really naive not to raise an eyebrow at the fact that more than half the votes (17,000-plus) in the title matchup came from outside the United States and that those votes were wildly in favor of Paterno. Maybe there's a simple explanation why so many non-U.S. residents care about Big Ten football -- Italians for JoePa, perhaps?

The bottom line is that we placed no rules on this tournament, other than the most votes wins. If someone was ingenious enough to rig it, more power to them. Paterno certainly had the résumé and accomplishments that were deserving on their own. I had no personal stake in the outcome, and I found it to be a fun exercise to go along with March Madness. I hope everyone enjoyed it.


Andrew from Columbus, Ohio, writes: While it is still possible that Ohio State-Michigan State could be a night game, what prevented it from being in the first batch of announced games? Since it would feature the two most compelling teams in the league from last year, it seems to me that it would be the marquee matchup the B1G has been looking to highlight.

Brian Bennett: Andrew, I can't say I understand all the intricacies here at play, either, except that there are apparently some other details to iron out. That game still seems like a natural choice for a prime-time selection. It's still only mid-April. Stay tuned ...


Mike K. from Penn State writes: With Penn State losing Allen Robinson and Brandon Felder at the WR position, along with some great O-linemen to the draft, do you think the team can still succeed in the Big Ten solely based on defense?

Brian Bennett: I have great respect for what Bob Shoop and his staff accomplished at Vanderbilt and expect him to do a great job as the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator. From what I saw last year, however, I don't think there's enough top-shelf talent on that defense for Penn State to pull a Michigan State and simply dominate everyone on defense. At least not at a championship level. I don't worry as much about the receiving group, because I think with Geno Lewis, some of the talented freshmen and those tight ends, they can piece together people for Christian Hackenberg to target. My biggest concern is the offensive line, which is thin and has some troubling injuries. It's nearly impossible to win at a high level in the Big Ten without a decent offensive line.


Tommy from Savannah, Ga., writes: March Madness is one of the greatest times of the year, most people live for it. Why wouldn't the NCAA FBS decision makers want something like that with those ratings over the course of a few weeks? Definitely not 68 teams, but eight or 16 teams with a selection show, bracket challenge, Cinderellas, and endless coverage and hype. They already do it for FCS.

Brian Bennett: You'll find no bigger NCAA tournament fan than me, Tommy, and my wife is really happy it's over so she can see me again. Still, it's hard to compare the sports. Football simply is a much more physical game, and so adding more games to the schedule becomes problematic, along with the logistical problems caused by Christmas break and the semester changes. I do believe we will eventually have an eight-team tournament, with the five power conference champions getting an automatic berth along with the top champion of the other leagues plus two wild cards. That's a perfect setup. But it took us decades just to get to a four-team playoff, and that semifinal day on Jan. 1 (most years) will instantly become one of the best days on the sports calendar.

Besides, I could argue college football already has March Madness all fall long, and the ratings reflect that. Before the Final Four began, the NCAA tournament averaged a reported 9.8 million viewers, which was a big increase. By contrast, the Big Ten championship game drew 11.6 million viewers, while the Auburn-Alabama game attracted 13.8 million. The men's basketball final (aired on network TV) between UConn and Kentucky got 21.2 million viewers, compared to 25.6 million for the BCS title game (aired on ESPN) between Florida State and Auburn. We could see record ratings for the inaugural rounds of the College Football Playoff.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
5:00
PM ET
Sorry for the lack of a mailbag last Wednesday, but I was busy catching up with folks at Ohio State. Never fear: the Monday mailbag is back.

D.J. from Minneapolis writes: What happens to the union story if the Northwestern players vote no?

Brian Bennett: A great question, and based on media comments from several players -- most notably quarterback Trevor Siemian -- it sure seems like the Wildcats players are against the union and will vote no on April 25. But there might be a stronger undercurrent of support from players who are not as vocal in public. Given that the leader of the movement, Kain Colter, has already graduated and won't be eligible to vote, you wonder who on the team will take the baton and push for the union. All it takes, remember, is a simple majority.

So does a no vote mean this is the end of the story? I don't think it's that basic. Northwestern players would be able to try to unionize again next year. The regional National Labor Relations Board ruling has also set a precedent, at least for football players at private schools, and those who believe in the cause, such as CAPA president Ramogi Huma, would likely try to persuade players at other programs to follow Northwestern's lead. The school will continue to try to fight the original ruling, as well.

If the Wildcats' players vote no next week, we might not see any tangible results from the union movement for a while. If nothing else, however, it was another shot across the bow at the NCAA and another huge warning to the leaders of college sports that they had better make some changes before a judge or a legislature does it for them.


Kelly from Wilmington, N.C., writes: Brian, I know you said in your article that you don't think "The Game" would ever be a prime-time game, but do you think Michigan will gauge this year's game vs. Penn State to consider using Penn State and Ohio State every other year for a night game? They went from "never" to yes with Notre Dame and are now using Penn State. Yes, they get a great spot every year on ABC, but could you imagine if they moved to it a night game? Is it possible that they have realized that at least one night game a year is great in so many ways, not just for Michigan, but the Big Ten as a whole?

Brian Bennett: I shouldn't have written "never" to the idea of an Ohio State-Michigan night game, because so many things have changed in college football that anything is possible. I never thought we'd actually see a playoff, for instance. But both schools have said they're not in favor of moving "The Game" away from the afternoon and under the lights. Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon doesn't even want to play Michigan State at night and so I doubt he will budge on the idea of playing Ohio State in prime time. And I don't think this game needs any more attention, as evidenced by all the signs and reminders of the rivalry that I saw while visiting both Michigan and Ohio State earlier this month. So I wouldn't expect it to happen anytime soon, though never say never.


Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J., writes: Can any conclusions be drawn about the benefit of spring games based on some of the attendance numbers you guys have mentioned in your recaps? I'm not going to pull a Braxton Miller and brag about PSU's "domination" of spring game attendance in the B1G, but ... some schools can really use the spring game as a springboard for recruiting, while other schools ... under 10,000 at Maryland, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and more might only be hurting their own image? Weather wasn't much of a factor this weekend, so what is the reasoning for the rather paltry attendance numbers, or is the annual spring game at other schools not nearly the weekend long "festival" that the Blue-White game is in State College every year?

Brian Bennett: I've come to the conclusion that spring games just aren't as big a deal at some places as they are others. And that's OK. I don't have much of a tolerance for spring games and don't like watching them, because you learn less from those than you would from watching just about any other practice. Sure, it's a fun day for fans to see their teams and sit in the stadium and maybe get some autographs, and all that is great. But I also have no problem with people who feel like they have better things to do than watch football that often isn't really representative of the finished product, with many star players usually being held out.

I don't know if spring game attendance factors much into recruiting. It certainly can't hurt to sell that to recruits as evidence of intense interest and appreciation of your program. But Michigan hasn't gotten many big spring game crowds over the years and that doesn't seem to affect the Wolverines' recruiting very much. I doubt many prospects are basing their decisions on anything that occurs at a spring game, and if they are, that is misguided on their part.


Dalton from Cincinnati writes: I've had some different debates with some of my friends on why Michigan hasn't been able to rebound and compete for a Big Ten championship since 2006. To clear things up, do you think it is because Michigan State is no longer "the little brother" in this rivalry, or because Ohio State has won all but two meetings against them since 2001? Or is it the fact MSU hasn't had as much coaching turnover, has had better coaching and better development of their recruits and has had more winning seasons? I think MSU becoming more constant under Mark Dantonio has led to this occurring than anything else. What is your take on this?

Brian Bennett: I thought Michigan State clearly benefited during Rich Rodriguez's tenure in Ann Arbor, as the Wolverines' downturn and different approach to recruiting helped the Spartans begin to establish themselves. Certainly, the success of Michigan State and Ohio State hasn't done anything to help Michigan, and butting heads against both those programs now in the East won't be easy.

Still, in my view, the biggest thing holding back Michigan is not any external force but Michigan itself. The two coaching changes, and especially veering between very contrasting styles, caused some problems that current Wolverines coaches will tell you are still being felt today. More than anything, though, Michigan simply hasn't capitalized on its own enormous resources and fulfilled its potential. As noted a minute ago, recruiting has been strong under Brady Hoke, at least if you believe the scouting services. The Maize and Blue have never had much trouble attracting talent. Development of that skill has been an issue, though many of those players are still young.

Perhaps we overrate Michigan's history and tradition, since the program claims only one national title since 1948. But with the school's money, stadium size, fan support and access to players, the Wolverines have no one to blame but themselves for not winning a Big Ten title in what is fast approaching a decade's time.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
5:00
PM ET
I'm currently driving around Michigan, getting a close-up look at the Wolverines and Spartans this spring. I still found a little time during my Mitten State adventure to answer a few of your emails in this shortened mailbag. Keep those questions coming, and I'll try to do a longer one on Wednesday.

Iowatvman from Cedar Rapids writes: With the vote to allow players to unionize, how does this affect Title IX at the universities? Now that they have to pay out for football, which pays for many other sports, will women's rowing, wrestling, men's and women's gynmastics, etc. go by the wayside?

Brian Bennett: It's important to note that the ruling by the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board applies only to Northwestern football players, and it specifically dealt with issues at a private university. Also, Kain Colter and CAPA have stressed that they didn't push for unionization in order to receive salaries. They have said they're looking for the right to bargain for their practice and living conditions and receive medical care protections, not to get paid.

Still, you'd have to think that eventually any college players' union would get around to asking for a bit more of the financial pie, and even some of the medical benefits the Northwestern effort seeks would cost money. There seems to be little reason why a non-revenue sport at Northwestern or another private school also couldn't petition for a union and use this ruling as a precedent, especially because those athletes also spend so much time working on their sports. And then what happens? It's clear that there are a whole lot more questions than answers right now on this union story, but it is fascinating.




Glenn K. from Leesburg, Fla., writes: Regarding your mention about Dan Wetzel's article revealing that Gene Smith received an $18K bonus for his victory (uh, I mean a wrestler's victory) in the NCAA wrestling championships, maybe you should rephrase your comment to read, "that tells you everything you need to know about OSU sports." In mentioning other examples of gross exploitation, Wetzel didn't name any other B1G school. Did Dave Joyner receive an extra bonus for having two national champions, as well as the team championship in wrestling? Are there other B1G schools whose AD gets similar bonuses? I would venture to say that there are probably bonus clauses in all of their contracts, as are also in coaching contracts. But I wonder if they are comparable to Smith's freebies that he gets for not doing one damn thing to earn it. Not to mention his obscene salary.

Brian Bennett: Glenn, I can assure you that these types of bonuses -- not just for championships but things like NCAA tournament berths and academic benchmarks -- are commonplace in athletic directors' contracts all across Division I. Smith is by no means alone when it comes to those bonuses, and as the CEO of one of the largest athletic departments in the country at Ohio State, his salary is commensurate with the demands and marketplace. I have absolutely no problem with Smith negotiating the very best deal he could get, just as any of us would do. But at a time when athletes are suing the NCAA over the use of their images for a video game, or when the cost-of-attendance stipend can't get passed, or when players are going so far as to unionize to protect their own rights, that bonus simply doesn't look good.




Kenny from Cincy writes: Almost baseball season, and your Cards are going down this year. I have a simple question, yes or no, because this seams to be the Big Ten's main question ... Is this Ohio State's year?

Brian Bennett: How dare you besmirch the birds on the bat. Vengeance will be swift. Anyway, I'm not quite sure what you mean by whether it's "their year" for the Buckeyes. I'm going to assume you mean a national championship, or at least a a College Football Playoff berth, because a Big Ten title isn't unexpected in Columbus (though it would actually be Urban Meyer's first). Ohio State has a lot of questions, which include four new starters on the offensive line, unproven backs and receivers and a defense that needs to make a major improvement without its two best players from 2013 (Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby). For me, those are too many questions to consider the Buckeyes a legitimate national title contender at this point. But as usual, they will have at least as much overall talent, if not more than everybody in the Big Ten. I trust in Meyer and his coaching staff. And having a great quarterback like Braxton Miller goes a long way. So I'm sure as heck not counting them out.




Arik from Chicago writes: I always find the back and forth on whether Maryland coming to the B1G is good for this side or that side, for this reason or that. Often the answer seems to come to this: The B1G gets a good market, Maryland gets a pile of money. I thought I'd share my thoughts as a double Terp (undergrad and grad school). Here's what won me over: the Big Ten Committee on Institutional Cooperation. As important as sports are to me, other than the money, the competition will probably stay about the same -- in the last decade, we've shown we're capable of beating or losing to just about any team at any time, no matter how good or bad a season either side is having. Now in academics, the B1G (with the CIC) has something unique that the ACC just can't offer. But the B1G wins, too -- bringing in a public ivy with huge research agreements with dozens of national and federal institutions (DoD, NOAA, NASA, FDA, NIST...) can't hurt.

Brian Bennett: Arik, you make some good points about the academic side of things here. Adding Maryland and Rutgers to the mix only adds to the league's brain power, and administrators from those schools are excited about the new research opportunities. Of course, football and demographics drove the train with this expansion move, or else the Big Ten would have been looking to raid the actual Ivy League, not the Atlantic Coast and American Athletic conferences.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
5:00
PM ET
Take your nose out of the brackets for a second and dive into this latest Big Ten mailbag.

Joe F. from Wrightsville, Pa., writes: Top three Big Ten games for 2014? Bottom three? How soon will PSU play into Big Ten title talk?

Brian Bennett: We'll probably do a list at some point of our best and worst games of 2014, but after going through the ultimate road trip exercise, this is a topic fresh in my mind. My top three games for 2014:

1. Ohio State at Michigan State, Week 11: This one's fairly obvious. It's the rematch of last year's Big Ten title game, and both teams should be ranked in the top 10 to start the season as the clear league favorites.

2. Michigan State at Oregon, Week 2: This is the most exciting Big Ten nonconference game in years, in my opinion. Sure, we had Michigan-Alabama a couple seasons ago, but most people didn't think the Wolverines were ready to compete with the Tide (and they were right). These two teams are not only legitimate national title contenders, but the extreme contrast in styles -- the Ducks' quick-strike offense against the Spartans' ferocious D -- is incredibly compelling.

3. Nebraska at Wisconsin, Week 12: The third choice could fluctuate between now and the start of the season. Wisconsin-LSU is really interesting, Michigan-Ohio State is always must-see and Iowa's last two games of the season could be huge if the Hawkeyes come through early on. That's just to name a few. But for now, I'll take what looks like the key showdown for the West Division title.

As for the three worst, I'm always going to pick terrible nonconference games for those. And my three snooze-fests right now would be Western Michigan (1-11 last year) at Purdue in Week 1, along with Week 2 weaklings Howard at Rutgers and Western Illinois (4-8 in '13) at Wisconsin.

Lastly -- and very sneaky of you to get three questions in, Joe -- I've been pretty consistent in saying 2016 is my pick for Penn State to contend for the Big Ten title. It's potentially Christian Hackenberg's senior season, and all of the sanctions will be gone. It wouldn't shock me if James Franklin moved that timeline up to 2015, however.


Taylor from North Platte, Neb., writes: Brian, love the blog! Question I ask people in "The Good Life" a lot is, would you rather see Nebraska play Wisconsin at the end of the year instead of Iowa? Many agree, the Iowa rivalry is forced (I personally cheer for Iowa over ISU in the Cy-Hawk Game) for Nebraskans, and many people have a bad taste in their mouth when talking about Wisconsin, just because the whippings they have given the Huskers two out of three times Nebraska has played them. Just wanted your thoughts on that.

Brian Bennett: The Nebraska-Iowa rivalry is forced, to a large degree. But I think the fact that the Hawkeyes won last year in Lincoln should help the Heroes Game grow, and it's possible the two teams could be playing for a division title on the final weekend in 2014. I believe the Nebraska-Wisconsin rivalry will grow now that the two teams are in the same division, but there really has only been one good game between them so far (the Huskers' home win in 2012). And I prefer having Wisconsin and Minnesota continue college football's oldest rivalry on the final weekend.


Tim from Raleigh, N.C., writes: I just read your article about the running game at Wisconsin with Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. In the article, you mention that there isn't depth besides those two. I agree that there isn't any "proven" depth, but that hasn't stopped Wisconsin recently. Just like every other year, Wisconsin starts the season with two good running backs and questionable depth. But the No. 3 RB always proves that the depth is there. White, Gordon and Clement all proved to be great players while only being third on the depth chart. I wouldn't be surprised to see Taiwan Deal or maybe Vonte Jackson (I know he has moved to safety, but want to see him at RB) provide the depth for the Badgers.

Brian Bennett: Tim, the depth situation is really more the concern of Gary Andersen this spring, which is why he's holding Gordon and Clement out of contact. There's a very good chance that Deal becomes that No. 3 back in the mold of Gordon in 2012 or Clement in 2013, but remember that he's not on campus yet. The only other scholarship tailbacks right now are senior Jeff Lewis and redshirt freshman Austin Ramesh. Andersen doesn't want to risk Gordon and Clement getting hurt this spring, and there's really no reason to have them get tackled right now.


Joelfr from South Brunswick, N.J., writes: Do you think that Rutgers will stick with experienced but inconsistent QB Gary Nova this coming season as Big Ten action starts, or will they go with one of their young QBs who have never started a game?

Brian Bennett: We'll start to get some answers when the Scarlet Knights open practice Monday, but I'd say every option is on the table right now, especially with new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen. Youngsters Mike Bimonte, Blake Rankin and Chris Laviano have a lot to prove, as none of them has taken a college snap. But Nova has thrown 39 interceptions in parts of three seasons, which helped lead to his benching last season. He has a huge experience edge, but it might be time to start over in Piscataway. The good news is that if anyone can fix Nova, it's probably Friedgen. If not, then one of the young guys will get a shot.


Andrew from Fremont, Ind., writes: Brian, as a Purdue fan, the 2013-14 athletic season was horrible, bottom of the league in both major sports. I believe things are going to be better in 2014-15. To find a ray of hope, I decided to look back at the Big Ten's worst since the turn of the century. The records obviously point to the Hoosiers being the worst (surprise!). IU has only had one season where they have finished at .500 since 2000, and in only six of those years has it won more than one conference game. Aside from Illinois, no one in the Big Ten has even been close to being that bad. Despite surprise trips to the Rose and Sugar Bowls, Illinois has done their best to match IU's level of awfulness with three zero-win Big Ten seasons during that time. As bad as Purdue was this season, history seems to favor that a crummy IU team or the Fighting Illini are destined to reclaim the basement. Which Big Ten team gets your honor in the preseason as the Big Ten's worst?

Brian Bennett: Andrew, I feel your pain. What a rough go of it this has been for Boilers fans. I actually wrote back in November about the worst Big Ten teams in recent years, and the 2013 Purdue squad ranked among the worst of the worst. And that was before the Boilermakers lost to Illinois and Indiana (by 20 points) to finish out a 1-11 campaign. Purdue lost by an average of 23.1 points per game last year and ranked at or very close to the bottom nationally in virtually every major statistical category. While I believe Darrell Hazell will eventually turn things around and that the schedule should help the Boilers improve a little this season, there's no doubt that they begin the year as the worst team in the league again, especially as Illinois and Indiana look capable of competing for a bowl bid.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
5:00
PM ET
Your second serving of my mailbag for the week has arrived ...

@JeffHurdaCow via Twitter writes: Do you think that the Big Ten will get a team into the playoff, and who is more likely?

[+] EnlargeAli Highsmith
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelOhio State was the last Big Ten team to play for the national championship, after the 2007 season.
Brian Bennett: That's really the key question for 2014, isn't it? It's bad enough that the Big Ten hasn't played for a national title since the 2007 season; from now on, getting to the final four will determine just how relevant any major league is. Football Outsiders recently looked at the top 10 contenders for the playoff and included just one Big Ten team: Ohio State, which they ranked eighth with a 34 percent chance of finishing 11-1 or better. You absolutely have to throw Michigan State in there, as the Spartans broke into the elite ranks last year and has a spotlight nonconference opportunity at Oregon. If Wisconsin can manage to beat LSU in the opener, the Badgers have a very nice schedule the rest of the way. Those would be my top three contenders.

But I think it's going to be tough. The SEC is all but guaranteed at least one spot in the field, and Florida State is a good bet to get back as well. A Big Ten team is likely going to have to finish undefeated or with just one loss against a strong schedule to get into the four-team mix. Not making the playoff in a year when the Rose Bowl is a semifinal would be a bitter pill for the league to swallow.


Matt from Ypsilanti, Mich., writes: I think this could be the year that starts the rise of the Big Ten and the fall of the SEC (short term). My reason is this: For the first time in a long time, I think it looks like QB play will be much improved. It could be a position of strength for the Big Ten in 2014 due to many experienced QBs returning and a lot of young talent as well. Many of the top teams in the SEC do not have their starters back, and although they will still have talented signal callers, they will likely see a drop in production for SEC QBs. Do you agree the Big Ten will have an advantage over the SEC -- and maybe all other conferences -- at QB next year?

Brian Bennett: I like your optimism. The SEC lost an astonishing amount of talent at quarterback with guys like Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray and Connor Shaw leaving. But while the Big Ten brings some good experience back at quarterback, including Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg and Michigan's Devin Gardner, the overall level of play at quarterback in the league has been lacking for a couple of years, in my opinion. It's great seeing talented young quarterbacks at places like Purdue, Indiana and Nebraska, but they all need to take steps forward. I think the Pac-12 has far and away the best group of returning QBs in 2014.


Andrew from Allentown, Pa., writes: What are your thoughts on the new coaching staff at Penn State? I am pretty high on the staff, but I worry a bit about the offensive coordinator and QB coaches. It looks to me like the defensive staff is pretty elite after what they did at Vandy, but the offense struggled, ranking in the 90s in total offense most of the time. Was this a lack of talent at Vandy or a product of their system?

Brian Bennett: I like Penn State's staff a lot. Not only are they energetic and big-time recruiters, they proved a lot by winning nine games in back-to-back seasons at Vanderbilt, which many people thought was impossible. That's really all I need to know. Yes, the Commodores were a more defensive-oriented team under James Franklin, but they also played against some stout SEC defenses. And I don't think he ever had a player nearly as talented as Hackenberg. I'm really interested to see what the Nittany Lions offense looks like under Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan. There are some concerns at offensive line and wide receiver, but I have confidence in this staff to figure things out.


@HawkFlies via Twitter writes: Is Iowa a dominant offensive line in 2014 with Scherff returning as well as OL coach Brian Ferentz?

Brian Bennett: I certainly think you could make a case for the Hawkeyes' line being the best in the league in 2014. Brandon Scherff is the only returning lineman in the league who made first-team or second-team All-Big Ten, and he's the early leading candidate to win the Rimington-Pace offensive lineman of the year award. Iowa does have to replace tackle Brett Van Sloten and guard Conor Boffeli, but has plenty of in-house candidates and a great history of success with the position group. I'd like to see the Hawkeyes get a better push up front with those big guys in 2014: Iowa finished just sixth in team rushing in the Big Ten last year, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. But with Ohio State rebuilding its line, the title of best O-line in the league is up for grabs this year (though Wisconsin will also have a lot to say about that).


Chris from Chicago writes: To what degree should injuries during the spring be a concern? I know in Spring 2013 that Northwestern's O-line was banged up, and then they struggled in the fall. Should I be similarly concerned now that the Northwestern D-line is banged up in Spring 2014? What do teams (not just Northwestern) do to overcome spring injuries, and not have them have a carry-over effect into the fall?

Brian Bennett: You always want position groups, like both lines, to get lots of reps together in the spring and build chemistry, especially if there are several new starters there. But as long as the injuries aren't serious or lingering, I don't think it's always a huge deal. Players still work out a lot together in the summer and then again through two-a-days and preseason practices, so there is plenty of time to jell. There have been lots of examples of players missing all or large parts of spring ball and having a strong season. The absolute worst thing that can come out of spring practice is a long-term injury, so having some players miss that extra contact isn't always a bad thing.


Alex K. from Decatur, Neb., writes: What do you think the direction if the Big Ten should be after the additions of Maryland and Rutgers? Should Notre Dame be a top target still, or maybe more East Coast? No change?

Brian Bennett: Ah, expansion questions. How I missed thee. Or something. Anyway, perhaps I'm being naive, but I think the expansion merry-go-round has stopped for a while, thanks to the grant-of-rights deals. I believe we'll see some stability for at least the next few years, and there aren't any schools that would fit the Big Ten profile who appear able to or interested in moving. Of course, it only takes one big domino to change everything. The league seems pretty intent on opening new markets and finding areas of population growth, so if there were going to be another expansion push, I would think the conference would try to look to the East and South. But let's hope we don't have to worry about that again for a while.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
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Let's beat a case of the Mondays and another depressing winter storm with this edition of the mailbag. Remember to keep your questions coming, as Adam and I are both doing two mailbags per week now. Or you can always tweet us your questions.

Kyle from Madison, Wis., writes: With spring games on the horizon, we once again see the difference between the BIG and the SEC; where BIG spring games are a moderately attended sideshow that might be fun for a family, SEC games routinely sell out. Is there any way to increase interest among BIG fan bases for these games, and is there any benefit (besides, in the case of Wisconsin, raising extra money for a cause) to doing so?

Brian Bennett: I wouldn't classify Ohio State's spring game as "moderately attended;" the Buckeyes led the nation in spring-game attendance in 2012 with more than 81,000 and set a record with more than 95,000 at the 2009 event. (That figure dipped to 37,000 last year, but Ohio State moved its spring game to Cincinnati in 2013 because of renovations at the 'Shoe). Nebraska got more than 60,000 people to come out to its spring game last year, which became memorable because of Jack Hoffman's inspiring touchdown run. Penn State had more than 60,000 two years ago, and I would expect a big crowd at Beaver Stadium next month to see the beginning of the James Franklin era.

Still, Kyle is right that the average spring game attendance in the Big Ten is typically less than that of the SEC. Just check out this list from last spring. But one of the main factors on attendance at those events is weather, and of course, April weather in the Midwest can be a whole lot more unpredictable (and sometimes downright unfriendly) than it is in the South. Unlike with real games in the fall, most fans and alums don't plan for weeks on making it to a game; they look at the weather and see if it's worth it to sit outdoors and watch a practice. Spring games are a great way for fans to get a glimpse of their team during the long offseason, especially those with kids, but they're not usually all that exciting, either. And with every team's spring game available on the Big Ten Network or elsewhere, I can't blame anyone for finding something better to do on an April weekend.


Andy from Beavercreek, Ohio, writes: Does Bo Pelini's raise signal a commitment to the coach, or is it a "Hey, recruits, don't run screaming when we lose a few games" raise?

Brian Bennett: It's neither, Andy. The $100,000 pay raise Pelini got was worked into his contract in 2011 and was nothing more than a scheduled formality. The more interesting question is whether he'll get a one-year extension to keep his current deal at five years. It hasn't happened yet, but it still could. Ultimately, though, we all know that 2014 is what's most important for Pelini's future. If Nebraska has a mediocre or subpar year, athletic director Shawn Eichorst might be inclined to make a change. If Pelini can finally deliver a conference title or at least maintain the nine- and 10-win plateau without as much off-the-field drama as last year, he'll likely be safe.


Jared from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Can you think of another year where Ohio State's defense would have accounted for 30 percent of the best offensive performances of the season? I've heard the excuse that the talent was down from the norm, but you can't tell me the Buckeyes had less talented athletes than many teams that outpreformed them on D. Are you surprised there hasn't been more talk about accountability of the coaches, especially with a guy like Urban Meyer at the helm?

Brian Bennett: It was by no means a vintage year for the Silver Bullets, though most of the bad Ohio State defensive performances came in the final weeks of the season. Depth became a major issue, especially in the Orange Bowl, and I was a bit surprised some younger players such as Vonn Bell didn't see more reps earlier in the year. (Though, to be fair, the Buckeyes were 12-0 and ranked No. 2 going into the Big Ten title game). Meyer has said over and over again that Ohio State's defense has not been up to standards, especially at linebacker. He has not really criticized his coaches or defensive coordinator Luke Fickell much at all publicly, and I'm not sure what purpose that would serve. The offseason hiring of Chris Ash from Arkansas to be co-defensive coordinator spoke volumes, however, and I'd expect him to have a big role in the defense this year.


Luke B. via Twitter writes: Do you think Indiana's two-QB system can work, or would it be in IU's best interest to pick one and stand by him?

Brian Bennett: I would argue that it can work and that it did work, for the most part, last season, as the Hoosiers fielded the Big Ten's top passing offense despite juggling Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson at quarterback. Sudfeld started off the season hot but faded a little down the stretch as Roberson took on a bigger role. Sudfeld throws it a little better than Roberson, but Roberson has better wheels. Conventional wisdom suggests that you need to pick just one guy, but Northwestern had success with a two-quarterback system in 2012 and used the same plan last season. Would coach Kevin Wilson like to see one guy totally separate and command the offense this spring as the clear No. 1? Probably. But part him probably also likes the idea of having two guys push each other constantly and knowing he has an option should one struggle on gameday.


LP from NYC writes: Brian: Nobody really talks about this but it feels to me that one the reasons the B1G made the decision to expand East was to protect one of their power brands, who at the time was just given the worst penalty in the history of college sports. Now that my Nittany Lions have shocked the world, including Jim Delany, do you think the B1G brass regrets this decision even a little bit? I mean, can you imagine if they went after Carolina and Duke instead of Rutgers and Maryland?

Brian Bennett: While there were rumors of the ACC courting Penn State and it's no secret the Nittany Lions felt isolated, I don't think the NCAA penalties had any impact whatsoever on the league's decision to expand East. This was all about opening up new markets, both for TV eyeballs, new fans and recruiting purposes. That's why the Big Ten chose schools located in the highly populated New York/New Jersey and Washington D.C./Baltimore/Virginia, even if the specific programs offered nothing extra special in terms of football. North Carolina and Duke would have given the league better "brands" (though not all that much in football), but they wouldn't have created as much potential areas for growth. It's also odd to me to suggest that league officials would regret the expansion decision when Rutgers and Maryland haven't even officially joined the conference yet.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

January, 29, 2014
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Coming at you from the United Mailbaggers Local 40205 …

David from Nashville writes: All Players United! Well except walk-ons, that is. I'm sorry, but Kain Colter is losing me. Personally, I completely understand wanting medical coverage for football injuries sustained while representing the university. But excluding walk-ons from having a ”'voice at the table,” as Colter calls it? Do they not sustain injuries, get concussions or have medical bills? And they don't even get the free education from a very prestigious, and expensive, school like Northwestern! Or perhaps, just like the NCAA, Kain Colter just wants “his,” and including your walk-on teammates will hurt his legal argument to get “his.”

Brian Bennett: Clearly, there are more questions than answers right now about the Northwestern labor union movement. Can students at a university really be classified as "employees?" How would such a union arrangement work with Title IX? How long would medical benefits last, and who would decide whether a former player's injury was football-related?

The issue of walk-ons is another one, although a minor point, in my opinion. Only those who are receiving scholarships can really argue that they are being compensated like an employee, and any walk-on who plays enough to merit post-career benefits would likely be put on scholarship at some point. It's also not fair to say Colter is looking to "get his" when he has already completed his eligibility and likely would not see any personal gain from leading this movement. On the contrary, he's risking a lot by agreeing to become the public face of this movement.

I question whether a labor union is the right way for the players to go, and it certainly was odd to see college football players standing alongside steelworkers' union members at Tuesday's news conference. But I also think it's way past time for players to organize in some way and make sure their rights and concerns are being considered. College football is a multibillion-dollar industry that's only going to get richer with the new playoff system, and everybody from head coaches to assistants to athletic directors are getting rich off the sport. Everybody except the players, who put their bodies at risk for our enjoyment, that is.

Yes, the players receive scholarships, and at a place like Northwestern, the value of that can exceed $250,000 over the course of a player's career. But the players in this movement aren't asking for cash. They're asking for things such as medical treatment beyond their playing days, better concussion prevention and care and a trust fund that can allow players to continue their schooling following their careers. (Many of their demands, by the way, are not that different from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany's own collegiate reform plan). Mostly, they are asking for a larger voice and a seat at the table in a system that too often treats them like disposable indentured servants. That seems a highly reasonable request to me.


[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsNebraska's Ameer Abdullah is a good role model for running backs looking to improve next season.
Zach from Southgate, Mich., writes: Brian, who will be 2014's Carlos Hyde in the B1G? By that, I mean a player who showed flashes of talent early in his career but blossoms into an all-conference type of performer his final season. Guys like Ohio State CB Doran Grant, PSU RB Bill Belton, and Northwestern LB Chi Chi Ariguzo come to my mind as possibilities.

Brian Bennett: I'm not sure Hyde blossomed as much as he was healthier in 2013 and got plenty of opportunities after his early-season suspension. He did run for 995 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012 despite some injury problems, after all. I think a better example of someone who went from very good player to all-out beast in 2013 is Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. Belton could be a guy who takes a similar path, though he has some competition for carries with Zach Zwinak and Akeel Lynch around. Indiana's Tevin Coleman is another running back who could take it to the next level after running for 958 yards in his first season starting. Maybe Iowa's Jordan Canzeri, if he can get more reps (and stay healthy).

On defense, I'd say Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes could follow Darqueze Dennard's path into superstardom. And Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa could go bonkers on the league.


Dane from Akron, Penn., writes: Really, Brian? PSU/Michigan, 4-OT game at No. 6? This game had it all. A freshman QB drives 60-plus yards in like 40 seconds (two unbelievable catches on that drive), a clutch kicker missing three field goals... I repeat, 4 OTs!

Brian Bennett: The game had it all except quality of play, as I explained in my post. Just because a game goes long does not mean that it was well-played. You mentioned the missed field goals. The two teams each failed to score in two of the overtimes and there was only one touchdown in all four of the extra periods, which led to a lot of national writers poking fun at the Big Ten on Twitter during the game. There were also seven combined turnovers. It was exciting, no doubt, and a great win for Penn State after a tremendous regulation comeback. But it was also very sloppy.


John R. from Dubuque, Iowa, writes: Brian, am I the only Illini fan that's thrilled to see a new QB take the reins in Illinois? Sure the numbers were great, but the predictable interception always happened! I can't wait for Wes Lunt to play. The way the defense talked about his skills when he ran the scout team's offense is enough make any humbled Illini fan excited of something. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: You're definitely not alone, John. There's a big buzz about Lunt taking over and running Bill Cubit's spread offense. At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, he looks more like a classic quarterback than Nathan Scheelhaase did, and Lunt was a blue-chip stud coming out of high school. I'd caution you not to view him as the savior yet; remember that Lunt struggled a bit as a freshman at Oklahoma State, a program that usually makes quarterbacks look great. There are also questions at receiver for Illinois, and don't discount what Scheelhaase did last year in passing for more than 3,000 yards. Still, the talent is definitely there, and I'm also excited to see what Lunt can do in that offense.


Brutus from The Ninth Circle writes: I don't know about other people, but I've long held the opinion that Penn State underachieves. By this I mean that they are a national power in terms of fan base, facilities, revenue and name brand appeal. Just not a national power on the field. I felt this was certainly true for the last 10-15 years under Paterno. Under O'Brien, you had the sense that the game and team were being upgraded, but he himself didn't have a catchy personality. And I didn't even think it was important until I'm seeing Franklin and his recruiting. It's way too early to tell if that translates to success on the field. But it appears that the foundation is (hopefully) being laid for better results in the future. What I see is someone putting energy into the whole program. It certainly would seem like the program might actually start taking advantage of its assets and capability. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: I think you can make some parallels between Penn State and Florida State. Both programs were probably held back a little because their legendary coaches stayed on too long. Remember when Joe Paterno was doing his recruiting via Skype from his office? Now you have the almost manic energy of James Franklin, who along with his aggressive assistants will likely kill it on the recruiting trail. Of course, the toll of the NCAA sanctions can't be overstated, and Franklin has to prove that A) he's a championship-caliber head coach; and B) that he's willing to stick around Penn State for a long time. But you're right in that the marriage of Penn State's resources and Franklin's particular skills should prove very fruitful for the Nittany Lions.


Michael B. from East Lansing, Mich., writes: The East Division next season seems to be Michigan State's to lose. I understand that Ohio State will be in the picture, but can we really place Michigan in that race with their lackluster performances over the past few years? Seems to me that Penn State would be the next best in the division going into the season.

Brian Bennett: Michigan State and Ohio State appear to be the clear co-favorites for the East next season. While I expect Michigan to improve on its 2013 showing, the Wolverines still have a lot more question marks in my view than the Spartans or Buckeyes, and they have to play both those teams on the road in '14. Penn State is an intriguing contender because it gets both Ohio State and Michigan State at home, where the Nittany Lions played much better than on the road last year. But I think the Buckeyes and Spartans still have the commanding edge in talent and depth, and we should see one of those two in Indianapolis in December.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

January, 8, 2014
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Hey, everybody, I'm back in my usual Wednesday slot now that the holidays are over. Answering your emails always feels like a holiday, however. Let's get to it:

Pat from Iowa writes: With the new playoff system in place next year, will it help or hurt the Big Ten?

Brian Bennett: It's a good question, and I suppose it depends on how you look at things. The BCS was actually pretty good to the Big Ten as far as getting teams into the major bowls. The league had two BCS teams this year as it did for most of the BCS era, thanks in large part to the schools' massive fan bases and attractiveness to bowls.

We're about to experience a sea change, no doubt. I believe that every other game outside of the four-team playoff will lose relevance, with the possible exception of the Rose Bowl. But even the Rose won't be quite as special as it has been to the Big Ten. Say the College Football Playoff were in place this year, the Rose wasn't a semifinal and you were a Michigan State fan. Would you have been as excited to go to Pasadena, knowing your team got squeezed out of playing for the national title? I don't think so.

The flip side of that coin is the playoff will help the Big Ten have a better chance to compete for a national championship, something the league has not done since the 2007 season. The Spartans would have had a great shot at making the four-team field this season, and undefeated or highly-ranked Big Ten champions will always be right in the mix. It's really up to the conference to make sure it consistently places teams in the Playoff, and then to perform well once there. Ridicule will await any of the five major conferences that repeatedly miss out on the four-team event.

Alex from Cincinnati writes: Hey, Bennett, thanks for your good work. Orange Bowl: from what I saw the game could have ended either way, but Clemson happened to be up when the clock expired. Now the B1G narrative for the next 9 months will be vastly different than if Ohio State had pulled out the victory. Do you agree that we're often too quick to either anoint or admonish certain teams and conferences, when in reality there is quite a lot of parity at the top?

Brian Bennett: Thanks for the kind words, Alex, and I agree with you that the margin between winning and losing at the very top level is very small. Just ask Auburn. The Big Ten, save for Michigan, was highly competitive in most of its bowls this year and came close to winning six of the seven.

But for the second straight year, the Big Ten finished 2-5 in bowls. A few teams, like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State, actually entered their games as favorites but failed to deliver. Ultimately, they keep score for a reason, and it has become a trend for the league to end up on the short end of the scoreboard in recent postseasons. I really don't think the gap between the Big Ten and other leagues like the SEC is that large, as shown by the three Jan. 1 bowls in Florida. But it's a tougher argument to make without using victories as evidence.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyQuarterback Braxton Miller, who was banged up with shoulder and rib injuries, and the Buckeyes lost their final two games of the season.
Tom from DC writes: Hey, Brian! Can you explain why Braxton Miller was still in the game? The guy was injured to the point that his play was compromised. During those last few series, I kept yelling at the TV for Kenny Guiton. Miller is great, but he clearly wasn't firing on all cylinders. Despite that, he was still given designed runs and big throws ... WHY? I cringed every time. Despite all the mistakes, the biggest one, I think, was letting a severely injured QB play, while a stellar backup was fresh and ready to roll. Miller is a team player -- he would have understood if he was benched for Guiton due to injuries.

Brian Bennett: That's a fair and understandable question, Tom. I can tell you that offensive coordinator Tom Herman was asked if he ever considered putting Guiton in, and he quickly responded no. Asked if there was ever a conversation about it, Herman said the conversation went like this: If Miller can walk, he can play. So that shows you that Ohio State was firmly tying its sail to Miller just about under any circumstance. It makes sense, as Miller is the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year and a guy who has proven throughout his career that he makes big plays in the clutch.

But I also agree with you that Miller's passing was compromised by his shoulder and rib injuries, and that all those hits might have contributed to the final interception. And I think Ohio State relied too much on Miller in the final two games while forgetting about Carlos Hyde in the fourth quarter.

Josh in an empty office building writes: Hey B-ri, do you think the Spartans will struggle with complacency next year? They no longer have to prove themselves, and may be over-confident going into next year's Big Ten schedule.

Brian Bennett: If Michigan State is complacent, then it will be in for a long day in Week 3 at Oregon. I'd be more worried about the offseason practices and whether the Spartans rest on their laurels a bit. But the good thing is this program has always played with a bit of a chip on its shoulders under Mark Dantonio, and the staff has been around these players so long that it should be able to spot and eliminate any complacency right away. It also helps that several jobs will be open on defense, and competition usually fosters intensity. You always wonder how a team will handle a new level of success, but the fact that several players and coaches have already mentioned competing for a national title next year indicates that they are still striving upward.

Nathan from San Antonio, Texas, writes: Can you give us one final rundown of the new bowl tie-ins for the Big Ten next year? I know there were talks to add the Music City Bowl and Car Care Bowl, were those made official and are there still some bowls that could be a Big Ten tie-in next year?

Brian Bennett: Sure thing, Nathan. Let's start at the top. The Rose Bowl remains the main tie-in for the Big Ten, but the Rose will be a semifinal game next year. So unless a Big Ten team makes it to the Playoff, the conference may not have a team in the Rose in 2014. The league also shares a spot in the Orange Bowl with the SEC and Notre Dame; if the 2014 Big Ten champ fails to make the four-team playoff, it could wind up in Miami.

The rest of the lineup goes like this:

Capital One
Outback
Holiday
Music City/Gator*
Kraft Fight Hunger
Pinstripe
Detroit
Heart of Dallas/Armed Forces*

*- Rotating.

Remember, too, that the selection process will be based on tiers of teams, with heavy input from the Big Ten office in order to create fresh and attractive matchups.

Indra from San Antonio, writes: Hey, Brian, even though it's in the past now and what's done is done me and the handful of other UM fans down here in S.A. are really curious why Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith didn't get any carries in the Wings Bowl. I still doubt the outcome would have been different but it would have given them some much needed playing time/experience as it did for Shane Morris. Why do you think Coach Hoke opted to not utilize them?

Brian Bennett: I admit I was a bit baffled by that game plan, Indra. I thought Green had established himself as Michigan's best running option late in the season, and yet he received one carry -- one! -- for five yards against Kansas State. Smith saw four carries for seven yards. I get that the Wolverines' offensive line was a mess and that their best chance might have been to throw the ball more. But given that it was Morris' first start and that Justice Hayes came out of virtually nowhere to get four touches, I can't say that I have any idea what was going on with Al Borges' plan. It's safe to say that plan needs a thorough review and reworking this offseason.

Dave from Iowa writes: Does Jake Rudock get the starting nod for Iowa? Or would he get a leg up in a QB competition? Seems like C.J. Beathard has a stronger arm. Will Beathard get a shot?

Brian Bennett: Beathard said after the game that it was his understanding that he'll be given a shot to compete for the starting job in the spring. But Rudock is still the guy who beat out Beathard last offseason and started all 13 games for the Hawkeyes this season. Was Rudock great? No, but I thought he played very well at times. He's got a huge experience edge. Beathard will probably have to really outplay Rudock this offseason to actually unseat him, as Kirk Ferentz is not exactly known for making drastic changes.

Drew from Lincoln writes: Love the Big Ten blog, but I'm kind of confused about something. Can we finally put an end to the infatuation with Ohio State and Michigan? I'm not talking about publicity. A large fan base ensures publicity. I get that. I'm talking about the hype. Ohio State let down a lot of people in their last two games, and Michigan habitually underachieves and is way too inconsistent. Yet, Michigan State just finished the most successful season in the Big Ten since 2002, and it seems Wisconsin and Nebraska are just as competitive every year. Despite that, I'm sure Michigan and Ohio State will clean up recruiting again this offseason, and the hype will begin anew.

Brian Bennett: I get where you're coming from Drew, though I think there was less hype from Adam and me about Michigan and Ohio State's supposed "dominance" than there was from other corners. I didn't pick Michigan to win the Legends Division in 2013, for example. It's also true that Ohio State and Michigan remain the Big Ten's two most recognizable brands, for historic, financial and a whole host of other reasons. Because of that, those two teams are always going to receive a lot of attention, and if you're someone who really gets into recruiting -- in other words, someone very unlike me -- then you'll understand all the accolades those two teams will get around signing day.

The "hype," as you put it, is still very much deserved for Ohio State. Sure, the Buckeyes lost their final two games this year, but they went 24-0 before that and are still the gold standard for this conference for what they've done over the years. Michigan is the program that has vastly disappointed and has in many ways hurt the entire Big Ten by not living up to its own expectations. We're always going to talk and write a lot about these two teams because of their importance to the league. That said, if in 2014 you ever catch me writing that those two schools are going to pull away from the rest of the Big Ten, you have permission to flog me.

Jordan M. from Greenville, S.C., writes: I thought you said Ohio State was gonna win the Orange Bowl? Look how that turned out. Go Tigers!

Brian Bennett: Boy, I got a lot of grief from Clemson fans over my "Ten reasons Ohio State will win the Orange Bowl" post. To clarify, I was assigned to write that post, as every blogger was assigned to write one for BCS bowl teams in his or her conference. I tried to have a little fun with it and jabbed the ACC and Clemson a little. What good is sports without a little trash talk? I also said Woody Hayes would reach down from the afterlife and trip a Tigers player, so that tells you how serious I was. Let me remind Clemson fans that I visited your town in November and wrote nice things about you. Met a lot of friendly folks down there. And my official prediction was Clemson 38, Ohio State 35. I'd say that worked out pretty well for me.

Big Ten Christmas Eve mailbag

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
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Since Christmas is tomorrow, the normal Big Ten Wednesday mailbag comes at you a day early. Consider this your letters to Santa blog:

Matt from Tucson, Ariz., writes: I'll send my question to you since you chose Nebraska as your most improved bowl team. I'm curious why (as a whole) Nebraska is perceived as a bad team that didn't meet expectations? I was watching ESPN's bowl preview show and was disappointed that Mike Belotti called Nebraska "a bad team" while Georgia was declared a team that persevered through injuries. Didn't Nebraska persevere through enough O-Line, WR, and QB injuries to make it to an 8-4 record? The O-line was so beat up that Vincent Valentine was needed on the FG team by the end of the season. Why is there no love for the Huskers?

Brian Bennett: "Bad" is a very subjective word, Matt, and not one I'd use to describe this Nebraska team. It's true that the Cornhuskers did get a whole lot of crummy luck when it came to injuries, including losing senior quarterback Taylor Martinez and much of the offensive line. Nebraska did a great job of persevering and pulling out victories in tough games against Northwestern, Penn State and Michigan, the latter two of which came on the road. If there's a difference between Nebraska and Georgia, it's that the Bulldogs have marquee victories over South Carolina and LSU and came within a miracle play of beating Auburn on the road. The Huskers didn't accomplish anything close to that and suffered three blowout losses at home -- to UCLA, Michigan State and Iowa.

Tim from Raleigh, N.C., writes: Will the Capital One Bowl be the last game Joel Stave starts for Wisconsin? I want Bart Houston (#BartHouston2014 which I try to get trending on Twitter) to start next year. I've been excited about this kid since he committed. I thought Gary Andersen might not be as thrilled since he is a pocket passer, but I looked at Houston's stats and he had 338 rushing yards and 19 rushing TDs in his senior HS season. He's supposed to have the better arm and can probably run better than Stave. I respect Stave a lot being an in-state walk on, but I don't think he's the answer for the next 2 years. I'm also scared Houston could then transfer. I don't want us to be in a Nebraska type situation where get stuck with a QB that you started as a freshman. Also, Houston has to start, HE'S NAMED AFTER BART STARR!!

Brian Bennett: Well, he's got a good name and some nice high school stats. There's an airtight case that he should start. Ahem.

There's nothing quite like the love for backup quarterbacks among fans. A player is almost never as popular as he is before he plays a significant down. Hey, Bart Houston might wind up as a great player. We have no idea. I'll tell you who does, though: Andersen, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and the rest of the Badgers staff. They've seen Houston practice every day since they've come to Madison. If they thought Houston was better than Stave, he would have played more by now.

Maybe Houston progresses in the offseason and overtakes Stave, who simply missed too many throws in 2013. Or maybe Tanner McEvoy makes a move at quarterback, though his future may well lie on defense after he played well at safety. It's no secret that Andersen likes mobile quarterbacks. Right now, though, Stave still has a huge experience edge. It will be up to someone else to outplay him in practice.

[+] EnlargePat Narduzzi
AP Photo/Al GoldisCould Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi get a head coaching job soon?
Matt from SoCal writes: Do you see Pat Narduzzi as a real option to be the head coach at Texas?

Brian Bennett: I don't, Matt. It's not that I think Narduzzi couldn't do a good job at Texas. It's just that I don't believe the Longhorns will hire a coordinator. They've got more money than Scrooge McDuck and are going to shoot for the moon with this job. Narduzzi might, however, benefit from a possible coaching carousel resulting from the Texas hire.

Kevin from Rock Island, Ill., writes: Illinois has really been going after the Juco players. What are your thoughts on the strategy and some of the signees so far? It has worked for Groce and the basketball program, but when there are so many holes, it seems like a short term fix to a bigger problem.

Brian Bennett: No doubt there are some issues with signing a lot of junior college guys. Not all pan out, and you risk getting in the cycle of needing more and more to fill gaps. But Tim Beckman really needs more depth and experience on the roster, and I think he sees this mostly as a short-term fix. The guys Illinois signed last year weren't exactly superstars, but players like Zane Petty and Martize Barr contributed, and Eric Finney might have done more than that had he stayed healthy. I can't pretend to know how good these incoming 2014 jucos will be, but I do like that the Stone-Davis brothers both fill needs at receiver and defensive backs and have three years left to play.

Connor M. from Lima, Ohio, writes: Love the work you guys do for the Big Ten! Looking ahead to next year, let's say Braxton and Shazier both play well in the Orange Bowl, raise their stock and turn pro. How much will the offense and defense be affected and who do you see replacing those two in their respective positions, most specifically, the QB spot?

Brian Bennett: Thanks, Connor. I think Ryan Shazier is the more likely of the two to go pro, and Ohio State could more easily absorb that loss, even though it would be a huge one. The defensive line should continue to improve, and there's a ton of young talent at linebacker and in the secondary on the way. Losing Braxton Miller, however, would change the whole outlook for the 2014 Buckeyes, especially since most of the offensive line and Carlos Hyde also are seniors. The only experience at all on the roster at quarterback is Cardale Jones, and he's a freshman who has thrown four passes. Freshman J.T. Barrett and incoming recruit Stephen Collier would battle Jones for the starting job, but Ohio State would basically be starting from scratch. In a much more difficult division.

BUCKIHATER from Future Home of the BigTen, NYC, writes: If you look back starting from the modern era of college football (1960's- present), the school who loves to put the word 'THE' in front of its name only has two claimed national titles -- you can even argue they should only have one if it wasn't for a really bad call, while the other happened before Woodstock. If you compare the 'THE' to other traditional football powerhouses like 'Bama, Miami, even Nebraska who all have 5 or more since the 60's, its not even close. Why does 'THE' get so much love on being the savior for the Big Ten? I was shocked to see the lack of championships over the last 50 years and Michigan State just did what every team in the Big Ten wanted to do for 2 years: Beat the bullies from Columbus.

Brian Bennett: So I take it you're not an Ohio State fan, then? Listen, if you want to start talking about national championships won by the Big Ten since the 1960s, this is not going to turn out well for anyone. Since 1970, we've got Michigan's split national title in 1997, Ohio State's in 2002 and ... hey, look, at that squirrel over there! The Buckeyes have been the only Big Ten team to even play for a national championship in the BCS era as a league member, and they've done it three times. So if you want to hate on Ohio State, that's fine. But that makes the rest of the conference look even worse by comparison.

Doug from KC, MO, writes: I have a Hawkeye question stemming from some recent conversations I've had with Nebraska fans. They always talk about whether to get another coach or not because they want to be contending for National Titles like the old (90's) days. I tell them for most teams in the country, and especially the BIG, this is pretty unrealistic. CFB is at a point where a lot of the odds/rules/recruiting are stacked against northern teams and outside of programs with lots of tradition (Mich, OSU and even ND) it is going to be very tough for you to have a regular NCG contender. I hope for a BCS game or Rose Bowl for Iowa every 4-5 years but it is just too much of a stretch for me to think Iowa (and other mid-tier BIG teams) will make a NCG appearance. Do you think some BIG teams have expectations that are too high or am I on the Debbie Downer side of the argument?

Brian Bennett: Doug, can you talk to BUCKIHATER for me? Anyway, I'm not sure enough Big Ten programs are ambitious enough. The Rose Bowl is great, but too many league teams talk like the Big Ten title is the ultimate goal, and I believe that becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. How many times did you hear Urban Meyer talk about how much the Buckeyes just wanted to get to the Rose Bowl?

Anyway, as I just wrote a moment ago, the Big Ten hasn't exactly been reeling in the national titles. Here's the good news for the league, and for a team like Iowa: the forthcoming Playoff opens things up. Have a great year, win the Big Ten, and there's a chance you'll be in the four-team playoff. From there, who knows? Getting to that playoff, not the Rose Bowl, has to be the goal for every serious league team from 2014 on.

Chris from Northern Michigan writes: Happy holidays, Brian, and merry bowl season. I would like to get your thoughts on the MSU QB situation. Obviously it looks like Connor Cook has the job wrapped up for the next two years, barring injury or a huge year next year leading to NFL early entry. Would you expect Damion Terry or Tyler O'Connor to transfer? MSU just lost a QB recruit, and while it would be understandable that either current QB would want to play, a Cook injury could be catastrophic if either transfers.

Brian Bennett: Catastrophic? Well, you'd still have Cook and at least one backup. Not a whole lot of teams had to play three quarterbacks major minutes this season, outside of Nebraska. Cook will be hard to unseat after going 9-0 in the Big Ten and winning a title. I do think there will be some sort of role for Terry, because he's just too talented not to get on the field. Wouldn't surprise me one bit if O'Connor moved on.

And to your first point, Chris, Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
5:00
PM ET
One week until Christmas. My early gift to you all: this mailbag.

Grant from San Francisco writes: I couldn't be happier about the news that Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi are apparently staying in East Lansing, and with Dantonio's desire to turn the MSU coaching job into a destination position as Tom Izzo has done with the basketball coaching job. With our dominating defense last year, and some pretty good recruiting wins on that side of the ball moving forward, the perception of stability that this decision gives to the program will be a great motivation tool for the squad heading into the 2014 season.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner, Max Bullough
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsMichigan State loses several senior defenders in 2014, including linebacker Max Bullough.
My question is regarding the players that will remain on the defensive roster next year after the departure of seniors Max Bullough, Darqueze Dennard, Denicos Allen, Isaiah Lewis, Micajah Reynolds, and Tyler Hoover. That means that almost half of our defensive starters will be replaced by their understudies. Of that group, who do you think will be the toughest to replace, given the future candidates for those positions?

Brian Bennett: Grant, Michigan State will have the best coaching move of the offseason if Narduzzi stays. I say "if" because the coaching carousel is far from over, and if the dominoes fall he could still be picked to lead another program. But as of right now, it looks as if Narduzzi will come back because there's not a great fit for him out there.

As for the players departing, the Spartans do lose a lot on defense. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun says he won't leave early for the NFL, which is a boost. The great thing for Michigan State is that the program has been able to build depth and move forward when players leave. Look at how Calhoun filled in for William Gholston, for instance. Trae Waynes has a chance to be the next great cornerback. Young guys like Ed Davis, Joel Heath and Lawrence Thomas show a lot of promise.

This is a special group of seniors, however, so it won't be easy to simply plug in new guys. I think the biggest void will be left by Bullough. Narduzzi will tell you he's the on-field brains of the defense and makes checks and adjustments on his own before the coaching staff does. A guy like that is difficult to find. Maybe Riley Bullough, who's moving back to defense, can begin to fill his older brother's shoes.

Rob from New York writes: After a legendarily humiliating season of nothing but complete failures and disastrous breakdowns in front of bleachers where tickets to the half-full first row cost a mere 40 cents at one point, just about the only thing Purdue fans have to be thankful for is that we didn't have any NCAA violation-related scandals this year, and that we managed to spend an entire year without one player tearing their ACL. Please give us Boilermaker fans some pointedly-lowercase hope: First, name one on-the-field task or position (other than punting, since Cody Webster is graduating) where Purdue's football team was at least able to consistently compete at the level that a Big Ten team is expected to do so. Second, if Purdue seems likely to win at least two games next year, name two reasons why this is so. Third, name three reasons why Morgan Burke shouldn't fire Darrell Hazell if he fails to garner a single victory against a Big Ten opponent or against Notre Dame next year.

Brian Bennett: Thanks for asking a Purdue question, Rob, since we haven't gotten many of those around here lately. I sense you're not exactly optimistic, and understandably so since the Boilermakers were just dreadful this past season.

The area of hope for the Boilers is in the passing game. Danny Etling showed a lot of promise as a freshman quarterback despite not having a great offensive line. He threw for 241 yards against Northern Illinois, 223 yards versus Penn State and a whopping 485 yards and four touchdowns vs Indiana. Granted, none of those defenses were actually very good against the pass, but for a 19-year-old to do that in his first collegiate season was still pretty impressive. Purdue also has some decent young receiving targets in DeAngelo Yancey, B.J. Knauf and Danny Anthrop. This program needs to get back to the Joe Tiller days of being able to chuck the ball all over the field.

You should expect some improvement in 2014, though it's probably going to be a slow process. Purdue has Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Southern Illinois on the nonconference schedule, so that's much easier than this year's tough slate. Hazell's team will also compete in the West Division, which looks a little bit easier than the East on paper (though missing Rutgers and Maryland is a bummer).

This was Burke's hire, and much like Mike Thomas at Illinois, he's going to give Hazell every chance to succeed. Two years is too early to bail on any coach unless there's some sort of scandal or gross mismanagement. Hang in there, Rob.

Benny N. from West Palm Beach, Fla., writes: In regards to the Selection Committee next year, how will the season rankings be determined? Will the committee determine rankings from week 1 on, or similar to the BCS will the committee come in midway through the season and give the "official" rankings? Yes, my Buckeyes still have a game to play but my mind can only think about next season.

Brian Bennett: At least your Buckeyes are playing close to your home, Benny. I'm excited about going down there and enjoying some warm weather and what looks like a pretty fun Discover Orange Bowl.

Anyway, according to what the committee has said, it will release a collective Top 25 every other week during the second half of the season. I find this wholly unnecessary. Why do we need to know who the committee thinks is ranked No. 25 when the members will only select four teams? Why does the committee need to start forming opinions about how to rank teams in October when it should consider a team's full body of work in December?

We've seen how the pollsters become entrenched on teams they ranked higher than others earlier. The basketball selection committee does not release any kind of poll and picks 68 teams for its tournament. This seems like a bad idea that will only serve to generate controversy and fodder for sports columns and blogs.

Wait. I mean, it's a great idea!

Bob N. from Grand Ledge, Mich., writes: You don't think the Coach's Poll is valid because "there still would be inherent conflicts of interest involving teams in a coach's own conference, his opponents, friends, etc." That may be true, but I trust coaches' knowledge of football far more than I do sports writers' knowledge. In fact most AP voters vote for teams they have never seen play and, therefore, have zero knowledge of more than a few teams. The writers are also obviously extremely prejudicial also about the conferences they write for,e.g., the SEC and ACC writers are all in for teams below the Mason-Dixon Line, but have disrespected the Big Ten all year, especially MSU. If sports writers knew what they think they do, they would be football coaches.

Brian Bennett: Bob, I've never pretended to know anywhere near as much about football as the coaches. Nor do I want to be a coach, because I like sleeping for more than three hours per night. If the coaches spent time watching lots of games from around the country, they would do a great job voting in a poll (although there would still be ridiculous conflicts of interest).

But the fact is coaches have insane tunnel vision. They know their team, and they know their opponents, and that's about it. This has happened many times before: A reporter asks a coach about another team in his own conference during the season, and if that team either isn't on the schedule or doesn't appear on the schedule for several weeks, the coach will say he hasn't seen that team and knows nothing about it. The only time coaches really ever watch anyone outside of their own schedule is on bye weeks, and it's a known fact that many coaches have their sports information directors or operations guys fill out the ballot for them.

All polls are horribly flawed. The coaches' poll just happens to be the most flawed. And its usefulness has ended.

Dave from Columbus, Ohio, writes: If you had to a pick a "Freshman Future All American" team right now, who from the B1G would be on it? In other words, which freshmen can you see being All Americans in the next year or so? Joey Bosa just turned into a beast this year. Michigan's Butt seems like a really good player, too. Anyone else?

Brian Bennett: Bosa would be up there. I'm wildly impressed with him, and it's hard to not get a J.J. Watt/Ryan Kerrigan vibe while watching him. The obvious name here is Penn State's Christian Hackenberg. He could wind up setting a bunch of career records if he stays four years with Bill O'Brien as his coach. His teammate, Adam Breneman, also has all the tools to be one of the nation's best tight ends if he keeps developing.

Watch out for Wisconsin's Corey Clement as well. If Melvin Gordon goes pro early, Clement would likely have the Badgers' starting tailback job next year, and that usually translates into big numbers. It was a solid year for freshmen in the league, as highlighted on our all-freshman team. And that doesn't even count the guys who redshirted this year.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
5:00
PM ET
The weather outside is frightful. But your emails are so delightful. Well, except for the guy who sent me repeated missives in all caps about how Braxton Miller should have been suspended for the Big Ten championship game. Dude, give it a rest.

Anyway, on to the mailbag:

Scott M. from Charlotte, N.C., writes: Will we ever know why Ohio State felt two carries were plenty for Carlos Hyde in the fourth quarter? The game turned in the third quarter because of the bruiser. Braxton Miller is the driver of the car but those two calls late in the game were just awful. How anyone can say I have third-and-three for the game and my 230 pound, 7-yards-a-rush running back will not touch the ball really needs to look at themselves in the mirror.

Brian Bennett: Should Carlos Hyde have gotten more than 18 carries against Michigan State? Probably. But don't forget that the Spartans defense specializes in loading the box and daring teams to throw deep. Plus, Miller was the more effective runner of the two most of the night and finished with more yards and yards per carry than Hyde.

The fourth quarter began with an Ohio State punt. Then Michigan State drove for a field goal. On Ohio State's first real possession of the fourth, Hyde ran for four yards on second-and-10, setting up a passing situation on third down. Miller then threw an incomplete pass. The series you're talking about started with 7:36 left. The Buckeyes had Miller run it on third and fourth down, and he was stuffed both times. Urban Meyer said it was his call to give the ball to Miller on fourth-and-2.

And it's hard to fault him for that. We're talking about the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year who ran for 142 yards vs. Michigan State. A running quarterback is one way to counter the Spartans defense. It didn't work out, mostly because Pat Narduzzi called the right blitz and Denicos Allen made a great play. After that, Michigan State scored a touchdown to go up by 10 points, and the the time to run the ball was over for Ohio State.

Bottom line is you have to be successful passing the ball to beat the Spartans. And Ohio State went 8-for-21 for 101 yards through the air.

Tommy B. from Savannah, Ga., writes: Brian, as a Buckeye fan it's crazy for me to think that after the 2011 6-7 disaster that I'd be so disappointed after the team would go 24-1 under Urban Meyer so far. I'd almost forgot what it felt like to lose on a Saturday (emphasis on almost, it felt terrible in case you were wondering). The problem has obviously been complete inconsistency with the defense. They have big name veteran stars with gaudy numbers and at times (including in the B1G title game) they've been dominant. But in the Michigan game and for some big game-changing plays against MSU they've had complete breakdowns. They have the talent to be better than they are. In your opinion, what's the problem? Fickell? Key injuries (Bryant)? Fickell? Youth in key positions? Fickell?

Brian Bennett: It's a good question. The place we thought Ohio State's defense might be vulnerable to start the year was up front because of all the youth there. Yet that was arguably the strength of the defense, with guys like Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. The problem really seemed to be at the linebacker positions other than Ryan Shazier and at safety, especially when Christian Bryant got injured. Michigan State exposed the Buckeyes' safeties early on last Saturday.

It's kind of hard to believe that Ohio State would find itself so thin at linebacker. The Buckeyes recruited some highly-regarded defensive backs last year, but guys like Vonn Bell didn't have much of an impact this season. They're still young, so that's to be expected, but it was disappointing that some of the more veteran players didn't have great seasons (relatively speaking, because Ohio State did go 12-0).

The Buckeyes' defensive coaches all have strong track records, so I have a hard time believing it's simply a coaching issue. But Ohio State clearly needs to develop better depth in its back seven, especially if Shazier decides to leave for the NFL.

Randy from Waukesha, Wis., writes: I just learned that Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis won an award for the national best walk-on player-of the-year in CF! Did I miss your guys' article on this? If not please tell us more..... B1G can use all the kudos it can get, especially at this time of the year!

Brian Bennett: Yes, Abbrederis won the Burlsworth Trophy, which is award to the best player who started his career as a walk-on. We didn't write a post about it, mainly because there are seemingly thousands of college football awards now, but we did tweet it. Abbrederis was a slam-dunk choice for that award, and it's hard to believe he ever was a walk-on. He'll be on an NFL roster next fall.

King from Los Angeles writes: I agreed with you about the silliness of the coaches' poll. I am a Huskers fan and I do not believe we deserved a top 25 ranking even though Bo thinks so. I think they should change the way coaches vote by making a rule that you cannot vote for your own team. That could take away all the biases. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: That would only solve part of the problem, as there still would be inherent conflicts of interest involving teams in a coach's own conference, his opponents, friends, etc. The good news is it won't matter at all as part of the national championship provess next year, so the coaches can be as silly as they want to be. And given how little most coaches want to deal with the hassle, I'm not sure why there should even be a coaches' poll next year.

Greg from Lansing, Mich., writes: In giving conferences more power on selecting bowl match-ups should we just assume Ohio State/Michigan will always occupy the better bowl games? (If they aren't already in the play-off).

Brian Bennett: I can understand why there's a feeling in some quarters that Ohio State and Michigan get preferential treatment from the league office. But the truth is that the biggest brand-name schools already get preferential treatment from bowls. Is there any reason why Michigan at 7-5, should be in the Big Ten's No. 3 non-BCS bowl this year? Or why Ohio State went to the Gator at 6-6 in 2011? Only one: drawing power.

What the new system will basically do is allow the leagues more input on the process so as to avoid teams going to the same destination over and over again and to create better matchups. Had it been in place this year, however, I doubt we'd see Nebraska going back to Florida for a rematch with Georgia. Bowls are always going to want big-name teams as long as they are businesses. But better matchups and fresher destinations should help fans.

Greg from Atlanta writes: As an Iowa fan living in Georgia, I'm wondering how an 8-4 Georgia team gets ranked and an 8-4 Iowa team doesn't? Now, I'm not saying Iowa deserves a ranking, because 4 wins shouldn't get you in the top 25. But, Georgia lost to Vandy and needed double OT to beat Ga Tech. They also struggled with teams they should have throttled and fell far below expectations. Iowa played two teams tough that will both play in BCS bowls. Is this just more bias against the Big Ten? If so, will that bias ever go away?

Brian Bennett: I don't think this is a case of anti-Big Ten bias as much as it is probably pro-SEC sentiment. Iowa is a tough case and a team I debated putting in my final Top 25 for a while before ultimately deciding against it. Barely. The Hawkeyes' four losses are all highly respectable -- Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. But you shouldn't get credit for just losing to good teams. Iowa's best wins are over Minnesota, Michigan and Nebraska, with two of those on the road. Very solid, but not spectacular.

Georgia's in a similar boat in terms of "good" losses, including Clemson and Missouri. The Dawgs also lost on the road to Auburn thanks to a miracle play at the end. They have also beaten South Carolina and LSU, two wins better than anything Iowa can claim, and the team was decimated by injuries this season.

I think the Hawkeyes are good, and they have some nice momentum after winning their final three games. That's why I'm really looking forward to seeing how they play against LSU. Iowa definitely ends the season in the Top 25 with a win over the Tigers in the Outback. And given the wide-open nature of next year's West Division, at least on paper, Iowa could emerge as one of the preseason favorites in that division in 2014.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

December, 4, 2013
12/04/13
5:00
PM ET
How many of you will be milling around downtown Indianapolis this weekend? Maybe we'll see you there. For now, let's correspond via email:

Alex from Denver, N.C., writes: Please tell me how the two OSU players can avoid being suspended for an entire game, while Will Gholston in 2011 is suspended for what he did in the Michigan game. Watching the OSU player exit the stadium was ridiculous and the OSU community should be ashamed of that behavior. The Big Ten should be ashamed of condoning that behavior. If you don't discipline it, then you allow it.

Brian Bennett: The argument from the Big Ten is that Marcus Hall and Dontre Wilson were ejected from the Michigan game, and that satisfied the requirement of revoked playing time. William Gholston was not ejected from the game against Michigan in 2011 but was suspended by the league for the following game. There is some logic to that argument, especially as it applies to Wilson. As for Hall, I believe some additional punishment was warranted for his double-bird salute as he walked off the field (Urban Meyer said he has handed out internal discipline to Wilson and Hall and another player). And there were other players involved in the scrum who could have faced suspensions.

My big problem with the ruling is that the fight was an ugly scene in the league's most high-profile game, and it looks as if the Big Ten is protecting its two marquee teams and its championship game. Handing down even a smaller suspension like one quarter would have carried some symbolic weight. Instead, the completely meaningless "public reprimand" comes off looking extremely weak and does nothing to curb incidents like that in the future.

Victor from Columbus, OH, writes: Is it just me or does this Ohio State team have that underdog destiny feeling about them? This team reminds me a lot of the 2002 national championship team. OSU isn't dominating opponents, many people nationally aren't giving them a shot, but most importantly, this team refuses to lose! Even with a decisive win (if OSU wins) this coming Saturday, I believe OSU would still be a relatively large underdog in the BCS championship game. Last time that happened OSU won the national championship and shocked the country. Do you feel the destiny or is it just us OSU fans being over optimistic?

Brian Bennett: Ohio State as underdog? That's something you don't hear much. It's hard to say a team coached by Meyer coming off an undefeated season is in any way an underdog; remember that the Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 in some preseason polls. The 2002 team was coming off a 7-5 campaign and was not ranked in the Top 10 to start the year, and those Buckeyes had a lot of close, low-scoring games.

Ohio State does, however, figure to be an underdog in a potential BCS matchup with Florida State. But it won't be anything like that scenario against Miami and its roster full of future pros in the Buckeyes' last national championship game win. Things have broken right for Meyer's team this year in that other contenders like Alabama, Oregon, Baylor and Stanford have all lost. And it goes without saying that Florida State has a possible major issue on its hands. So in that sense, perhaps the Buckeyes are a team of destiny.

Justin A. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: First of all I'd like to say that as a Michigan fan living in Columbus, Ohio life can be rough. Attending The Game this past Saturday, felt like a dream that was ended by a rude awakening. It was a heartbreaking loss and I am proud of my team yet I am sure I will hear plenty of smack talk at work on Monday. As for my question, what does more for the Big Ten's perception: Michigan State beating Ohio State in the B1G CG and MSU playing Stanford in the Rose Bowl and OSU getting matched up with Missouri or Alabama and then both B1G teams beat those teams in their bowl games, or OSU winning the national championship against a Florida State team and hearing about how the SEC didn't have a chance to defend its title streak? I think both scenarios would greatly boost the Big Ten's image, yet I can't decide which scenario would boost it more.

Brian Bennett: I feel for you Justin, and for Michigan fans everywhere. I can imagine it's not too fun to see your two biggest rivals play for the Big Ten championship on Saturday. As for your question, I'll go with the national championship. Sure, there would be some griping from the SEC that Ohio State lucked its way to a title, and even more so nationally if Jameis Winston weren't available for Florida State. Still, when people talk about SEC dominance, do they bring up BCS bowl wins? No, they brag about national titles. That's the ultimate prize, and it's been 12 years since a Big Ten team held the crystal football. People would forget in time the circumstances around the championship, but -- as they say -- flags fly forever. A national title from the Big Ten would also give the league a nice boost heading into the playoff era.

Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J., writes: I understand the annual awards are individual based, but how can a Michigan offensive lineman POSSIBLY win a conference award? Again, I understand this is an individual award, and Taylor Lewan won the award last year, but let's look at some of the stats that directly relate to the offensive line. Team Sacks allowed -- 3rd worst in B1G. Rushing yards per game -- 2nd worst. So the offensive line couldn't pass protect very well (even with a very mobile QB) and couldn't open up running lanes (again includes yards Gardner earned when protection broke down). What exactly did Lewan do to earn this award?

Brian Bennett: Michigan would tell you that Lewan graded out higher this year than he did a season ago when he was a first-team All-American and the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year for the first time. They'll also say that he didn't give up a sack this year. I feel for Lewan, and offensive line is one area where every single player has to be in sync or the whole thing breaks down. The Wolverines' well-documented blocking woes weren't Lewan's fault. Still, I think some of that lack of team success has to be factored in, and I saw Lewan lose his composure in the Michigan State game. My pick for offensive lineman of the year in 2013 would have been Ohio State's Jack Mewhort.

Brutus from The Ninth Circle writes: Hey, Brian, not sure how to read the Penn State win against Wisconsin this past weekend. Do you think BO'B squad exceeded their potential, or did they finally just live up to it? I'm thinking it's the latter, in that the talent was there all season but just hadn't been working together at the same time. Seems like they may have a a brighter future than some predicted.

Brian Bennett: Keeping in mind the obvious depth and talent issues that Bill O'Brien faced, there were definitely times that Penn State underachieved this season. The Nittany Lions lost by 20 to Indiana, probably should have lost to Illinois at home and got smoked by 49 points at Ohio State. The defense was a major problem, as was inconsistency on offense. Don't forget that the Lions played with a true freshman quarterback. I saw Penn State as team with some very good players that was capable of putting together strong performances at time. It just happened that its best performance came at the end.

Kevin from Evanston writes: With Northwestern being a Top-5 APR school can't they go bowling at 5-7? If they were to go to the Little Caesars Bowl in Detroit, plenty of fans would travel.

Brian Bennett: There is a way that Northwestern could get into a bowl. I wrote about this last year when the NCAA approved a new bowl waiver. Basically, if there aren't enough 6-6 teams to fill all the postseason slots, the bowls can pick other teams in this order:
  • Teams that finish 6-6 with wins against two FCS opponents;
  • Teams that finish 6-7 by losing in their conference title game;
  • Teams that finish 6-7 but normally play 13 games (so, basically, Hawaii);
  • FCS teams in transition to the FBS that are at least 6-6
  • FBS teams that finish 5-7, but finish in the Top 5 of the NCAA's academic progress rate

Northwestern ranked No. 1 in the APR so would be eligible under that fifth clause. But it's not going to happen this year. There are 35 bowl games, and more than 70 teams are already at least 6-6 with more possibilities to come this weekend. So the Wildcats will be staying home.

Jim from Albuquerque, N.M., writes: I think Bo Pelini is right. You take all the media hype about whether or not he is on the hot seat, and it's not right. I am glad he stood his ground. The media is not into "equal harassment." As for the refs, they made a bad call on a block NU's wide receiver made on a PSU defender. I would have been angry as a head coach too. That was a reasonable block; and the receiver's head was in front of the defender. The media is ruthless and should be censured for damage they can inflict on a football program's image. And there should be legal implications.

Brian Bennett: Sure, Jim. It's the media's fault that Nebraska gave up 70 points in the Big Ten championship game last year and had a whole bunch of fans ready to make a change. It's the media's fault that Pelini has lost four games every year. It's the media's fault that Pelini hasn't delivered a conference championship or a BCS bowl. It's the media's fault that Nebraska continually shoots itself in the foot with turnovers and has the same volatile personality as its head coach. It's the media's fault that Pelini nearly hit an official with his hat and then cursed in his postgame press conference that was broadcast live, just the latest in a long line of examples of Pelini failing to control his anger.

Yep, all of that is on reporters, because certainly no one else had ever talked about or considered that Pelini might get fired. To borrow another man's words, If you want to arrest me, go ahead and arrest me.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
5:00
PM ET
What you gobblin' about, turkeys?

Daniel from Enemy Territory, Ohio, writes: Brian, what can Michigan do (short of a miracle or swapping teams with say, Alabama) to pull off the major upset against OSU this week?

Brian Bennett: Well, the Wolverines should be praying the rosary and searching for a Zoltar Speaks machine. That's still their best bet in a game in which they are -- and should be -- heavy underdogs.

[+] EnlargeJake Ryan
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJake Ryan must play well if the Wolverines are going to hang around with the Buckeyes.
The good news, if there is any, is that Michigan is at home, and the team really has nothing to lose. So if the game is close in the second half, the pressure will be all on Ohio State. The Wolverines will have to find a way to create turnovers and then do something with them -- remember, they were plus-three in turnovers last week at Iowa to no avail. They've got to short-circuit that Ohio State offense somehow. Maybe Jake Ryan has the game of his life. And on offense, Michigan should throw something at the Buckeyes that they haven't seen on film all season. Forget the running game, which hasn't worked all season and won't work this week. Line up with four- and five-wide, run the hurry up and try to get something going in the passing game, which is still probably the best way to exploit the Ohio State D. If Al Borges is going down, why not in a blaze of glory?

But in all likelihood, it will be a blaze of gory for the Maize and Blue.

John from Au Gres, Mich., writes: Are you on board with the idea that MSU can pass Wiscy with a more impressive victory of Minny this weekend? Be prepared, I have a feeling the Spartans play for style points, which is out of character. However, we are still stuck with the BCS, and perception matters. Coach D has already said he thinks the Spartans are playing for a BCS bid this weekend.

Brian Bennett: I assume you mean in our power rankings and on my own personal ballot, since Michigan State is already ahead of Wisconsin where it actually matters. And sure, I'm on board. I'll be in East Lansing on Saturday and am greatly looking forward to seeing the Spartans in person. I already think this is a fantastic team that can play with any team in the country. My only reservation about the Spartans, and it's a slight one, is that the schedule has been highly favorable.

But I just saw Wisconsin play Minnesota last week so should have a great comparison this week. I've said all along that this is basically a flip-a-coin, 2A and 2B situation. I'm totally willing to switch the teams based on what we see this weekend.

Bob Noble from Grand Ledge, Mich., writes: What am I missing? You continue to have Ryan Shazier and Chris Borland rated 1 and 2, respectively as Big Ten defensive POY, while Darqueze Dennard is at No. 3. Which one of the three is a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award as the NATIONAL Defensive POY? Oh yeah, that would be Dennard of MSU. So how is DD lower on the list of Big Ten POY when the two players listed above him aren't even being considered for NATIONAL POY?

Brian Bennett: First of all, nobody loves Dennard as a player more than me. If he doesn't win the Thorpe Award or make first-team All-America, I'll scream. He is absolutely tremendous and deserving of any honor you want to give him.

Secondly, let's not put a whole lot of stock in whom one award names as its finalists. There are approximately 1.2 million college football postseason awards, and as we've seen over and over again, the voting for those can often turn out inexplicable and wacky.

Finally, while all three are great players, I have Shazier and Borland rated a little higher because I think a linebacker makes a little more overall impact on a defense than a cornerback. And while Dennard has other stars around him such as Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Shilique Calhoun, Borland and Shazier are the unquestioned focal points of their defense.

Paul W. from Dodge City writes: Do you think if Nebraska was 10-1 or 11-0 right Ameer Abdullah would be in the Heisman hunt? I know that he has a lower touchdown total than other running backs but a good game Friday and he could surpass Mark Ingram's rushing total from his Heisman season.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
AP Photo/Nati HarnikAmeer Abdullah has topped 100 rushing yards in 10 of Nebraska's 11 games. The Huskers' only loss came when he didn't reach the century mark.
Brian Bennett: I think you're on to something. Nebraska in a lot of ways has really been out of the national spotlight since the UCLA loss. A lot of people around the country probably don't realize exactly what Abdullah has done, or how he has done it through a spate of injuries around him. Abdullah also hasn't had nearly as many carries as the three Doak Walker finalists have gotten this year. He'll have to settle for likely winning the Big Ten running back of the year award, and, possibly, offensive player of the year.

Ethan from Abbottstown, Pa., writes: The PSU special teams has been awful this year, and it is one of the major impacts of the sanctions. Do you attribute this special teams downfall to the fact the former only special teams specialists are now being used to fill out the offense and defense? Or the fact that PSU must now recruit only must-need positions and not players who could find a home on kickoff and kick return?

Brian Bennett: Special teams have been a problem, really, in both seasons so far for Bill O'Brien. But they have been particularly glaring of late. The sanctions certainly have played a role; it's hard not to notice that Anthony Fera, who transferred from Penn State after the NCAA free pass, is a Lou Groza Award finalist. O'Brien is also forced to play some walk-ons in key spots in the kicking game.

But I don't think you can blame all the problems on scholarship reductions. Coaching still has to enter the equation, and there have been some obvious breakdowns in coverage and returns. And Penn State's special teams weren't very good last year when the scholarship numbers were much higher. So while I continue to believe the sanctions will have an impact on special teams in the near future, I also think the Nittany Lions can do a better job than they have of working around those depth issues in the kicking game.

John from Lima, Ohio, writes: As a Buckeye fan it has been very frustrating to hear all year how bad their schedule is and that being the sole reason they should be held out of the title game, never mind how good they actually are. Especially when you see a team like Clemson sneaking back up the rankings when they have zero wins against currently ranked FBS teams, all their FBS wins are against teams with at least four losses, and they played not one, but TWO FCS teams this season. So while OSU's schedule might not be murderer's row this year, why does the media single them out when other teams have the same issues?

Brian Bennett: Let's not kid ourselves: the negative perception of the Big Ten is weighing down Ohio State. And the Buckeyes are also paying a price for losing by double digits in two BCS title games in the previous decade, which is ridiculous. I also believe not playing in a bowl game last year hurt Ohio State. Clemson got a significant perception bump last year by beating LSU in a bowl game, allowing the Tigers to start out high in the polls. Then they began the year by beating a Georgia team that was ranked in the top 5. That has been enough to keep Clemson ranked high, even though Georgia has since fallen apart because injuries. Ohio State has nothing out of conference to hang its hat on from the past two years.

Pat from Iowa writes: Who would you consider the biggest surprise team this year for good or for worse? Northwestern's down spiral, Minnesota's amazing year, or perhaps a great Iowa rebound year? Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: The biggest positive surprise has been Minnesota. No one thought the Gophers would be 8-3 at this point, especially after Jerry Kill took his leave of absence in the middle of the season. That's been an unbelievable story. Northwestern has to be the biggest negative surprise. This was a Top 20 team earlier in the year that most people thought could contend in the Legends Division. If the Wildcats don't beat Illinois, they'll end up 0-8 in the Big Ten. Unreal. No. 2 on both my lists would be Iowa on the positive side and Michigan on the negative.

Martyn from Cuenca, Ecuador, writes: I read the Big Ten blog religiously. Moved from Madison to Ecuador this year. Miss the atmosphere at Camp Randall & the Kohl Center. On your recent blog about Big Ten linebackers you mentioned Borland's 14 forced fumbles tying the B1G record. I believe it is the FBS record? I will prepare myself to apply to be a guest predictor next year. I catch a few broadcasts on my computer. Keeps my Badger jones in check. A little early, but Happy Holidays.

Brian Bennett: Vaya con Dios, Martyn. Do they have cheese curds in Ecuador? There was a little confusion in regards to Borland's record. He came into the year needing one to tie the FBS record. But Buffalo's Khalil Mack had three forced fumbles in his last game to set the new FBS career mark of 16. Borland is now tied for second and tied for the Big Ten career mark with Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan.

One last note: Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
5:00
PM ET
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.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

November, 13, 2013
11/13/13
5:00
PM ET
I'm flippin' out down in Clemson right now but still have time to answer your Big Ten emails. Bring it:

J.R. from Houston writes: If either Alabama or Florida State loses, who do you think has the best chance of moving up: Baylor or Ohio State? I looked it up, and Ohio State falls behind the Bears in every category except rushing yards, for which Buckeyes are eighth, only one spot ahead. Also Baylor has three ranked teams on its schedule (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas) while Ohio State only has one (Wisconsin). Not to mention the Big 12 is third in the conference power rankings with an overall rating of 73.9. The Big Ten is fourth with an overall rating of 66.8. If both teams win out, does the Big Ten blog think that Baylor would pass Ohio State and secure the No. 3 spot? P.S. The College Football playoffs can't come soon enough!

[+] EnlargeDontre Wilson
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesFreshman Dontre Wilson and the Buckeyes will need style points down the stretch.
Brian Bennett: Great question, J.R. Right now, Ohio State does have to worry about winning with style points to make sure it stays ahead of Baylor -- and Stanford. Things are getting very, very close.

The good news for the Buckeyes is that Baylor is currently No. 5, not No. 4. Stanford is only .237 behind Ohio State, but I don't believe a one-loss team will pass an undefeated Big Ten champion. So the Bears have some work to do. But Baylor is only 25 points behind Ohio State in the coaches poll and 69 points back in the Harris poll. And it has some marquee matchups still to come by playing at No. 12 Oklahoma State on Nov. 23 and No. 24 Texas on Dec. 7.

If Baylor beats Oklahoma State, that will be a very good win that should propel the Bears in both the polls and the computers. Ohio State could suffer in the next three weeks as it plays Illinois, Indiana and a down Michigan team. That's why having Michigan State win out and play in the Big Ten title game could really boost the Buckeyes. And if Wisconsin wins out, Ohio State's wins over the Badgers and Spartans will look just as good if not better than Baylor's over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Baylor cannot criticize the Buckeyes' nonconference schedule, either, since it played the murderer's row of Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana Monroe. Ohio State should still worry, because Baylor wins with so much offensive flair that voters could become more sympathetic toward that team. But the best thing the Buckeyes have going for them is that they started out higher in the polls than the Bears, and that poll inertia will be tough to overcome.

John from Newark, Del., writes: Just a quick note about the BCS computers. The Colley Matrix--which has disliked Wisconsin the most all season -- allows you to add and remove games at will. Reverse only the Wisconsin/ASU result and take a peek at what Colley's computer results would look like if Wisconsin had taken and made the FG.

Brian Bennett: John, I like the cut of your jib. Excellent find. You can go here to that function on the Colley Matrix site and reverse the Arizona State result for the Badgers. What happens is that Wisconsin jumps to No. 10 in the hypothetical Colley Matrix rankings, all the way up from No. 26 in the real life ratings. (It also helps Ohio State, which moves up from No. 4 to No. 3).

Now, you could argue that maybe Wisconsin misses that field goal, because the Badgers' special teams have been suspect. And this is just one computer ranking system out of several used for the BCS. But the point about how much Wisconsin is getting punished by that terrible officiating crew is still valid. It makes 16 spots' worth of difference in one major computer ranking, and voters who still aren't giving the Badgers enough credit would likely have them ranked much, much higher. Wisconsin would go from being criminally underrated at No. 22 in the BCS to a an extremely strong candidate for an at-large bid.

There's only one word for it: Injustice.

M.V. from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: If Iowa finishes 8-4 and so does Minnesota, does the tie go to Iowa for beating Minnesota or does Iowa "traveling well" give them the go ahead? In all fairness the better bowl goes to Iowa no matter what. Wouldn't it?

Aaron M. from Purcellville, Va., writes: I'm starting to get upset with the perception of Gophers. Everyone seems to think that they are just an average football team, and that they don't deserve a good bowl because the fan base apparently doesn't travel well. Let's be real: Minnesota hasn't been to a halfway decent bowl game since 2003 when they went to the Sun Bowl and played Oregon. Michigan is self-destructing. Wouldn't the bowl gain more interest if they took the Gophers especially with Coach Kill's leave of absence? That should provide more storyline.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cobb
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsDavid Cobb and the Gophers already have posted eight wins, but will their reward be the best bowl it could be?
Brian Bennett: I can understand why Minnesota fans are worried. If we were just talking about merit, the Gophers would be in line for a really nice bowl destination right about now. But a lot of things go into bowl selection, including fan support and team momentum. If all things are relatively even, Iowa could very well get the nod over Minnesota because of its fan base. Michigan could do the same because of its brand name.

But the Gophers could also have momentum on their side, if they end up with six straight wins or five of their last six. The Jerry Kill story is a great one, and bowl games love that kind of positive publicity. So all of that is good news. Here's my main concern: Minnesota has yet to draw sellout crowds to its own stadium. Last week against Penn State, the announced attendance was 48,123, or more than 2,000 below capacity at TCF Bank Stadium, and there were even more empty seats than that, according to media reports.

I'm not sure what else Gopher fans are waiting for to get all the way behind this special team. If that stadium is not absolutely full next week against Wisconsin -- and not because of visiting Badgers fans -- then Minnesota can't complain if it gets passed over for a bowl slot.

Mike R. from Camp Lejeune, N.C., writes: While Michigan has certainly gotten better under Brady cHoke they clearly are still far and away from being elite again. I honestly feel that cHoke's Year 1 win against one of the least inspired/worst coached Buckeyes teams in recent memory, is the only thing keeping him off the hot seat at this point. What do you think it will take for Michigan fans to start calling for his replacement as he has said all the right things but continues to not produce?

Brian Bennett: It's an interesting hypothetical, at the very least. Let's say Michigan doesn't beat Ohio State in 2011 (it was a three-point game with two minutes left, and Braxton Miller missed on what could have been a game-tying touchdown pass on the Buckeyes' final drive). Michigan finishes that regular season at 9-3 and does not go to a BCS game. Hoke would have a two-game losing streak to Ohio State with a likely third loss pending this year.

I still don't think that would put Hoke on the hot seat. He has built up a lot of goodwill by being a Michigan Man and by not being Rich Rodriguez, and his recruiting prowess provides hope for the future. But he'd be on a much shorter leash, and I think Maize and Blue fan anger would be much hotter right now without that win. You can do a lot of things right at Michigan or Ohio State, but if you don't win The Game, it's never enough.

Marcus from NY, NY, writes: Is it time for Michigan to just start playing Shane Morris? I know this sounds crazy, and I am not advocating that Shane Morris will get Michigan out of its funk. Quite the opposite. Michigan will stink with Shane Morris out there. However, the future is now at Michigan, look at the offensive line and the secondary, it's a lot of freshmen and even Hoke has admitted its necessary to get the offensive linemen going to get some experience now. Morris' redshirt has been burned, so get him out there and get some experience. Gardner is completely lost and getting battered, and he's going to struggle from now until whatever pizza bowl Michigan gets to play in. At the very least a somewhat experienced Morris can push Gardner during the offseason and provide another QB for 2014.

Brian Bennett: Marcus, I think if Morris were ready, he would have played more by now, because Gardner has had his troubles. But Hoke and Borges obviously don't think he's ready. You also run the risk of putting a young quarterback in there behind a bad offensive line and having his confidence shot (along with possibly some of his limbs).

Since Michigan doesn't have a whole heck of a lot to play for this season -- by Hoke's standards, the season is already a failure -- then it wouldn't hurt to get Morris some experience. At the same time, Michigan will be in a dogfight its final three games, and its best chance to win those is still probably with Gardner. I think the bowl game would be the perfect time to work Morris in, especially after he gets those extra bowl practices to develop. An open quarterback competition next spring would be good for everybody.

Steve from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Brian, love the blog, just wondering why the media isn't pushing for an Urban Meyer-Nick Saban BCS finale. Seems like a journalist's dream, dozens of storylines. FSU is pretty good but no one wants to see another freshman quarterback get worked again. Your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: Call me naive, but I think most journalists have the integrity to "push" for the two teams they feel are the most deserving. And Alabama and Florida State have that edge right now in a big way. There would still be plenty of storylines in an FSU-Bama clash. And have you seen Jameis Winston play? I'm not too worried about him "getting worked." He's a special player, and quite possibly this year's Heisman Trophy winner.

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