Big Ten mailbag: Alabama or Oregon bigger for B1G?


It's Wednesday, so that means it's mailbag time. Can we really still call it a mailbag when all the questions are from Twitter? I guess it sounds better than a Tweetbag.

I digress. What's on your mind?

Brian Bennett: Very intriguing question. The Big Ten no longer really has to prove it can beat these teams, since Ohio State took down both the Crimson Tide and the Ducks during the playoff last season. OK, so everybody but the Buckeyes still needs to prove it, but we live in a time when whole leagues often get credit for one team's performance for some reason.

Anyway, I gave this one a lot of thought, and ultimately I believe Wisconsin beating Alabama would be better for the entire Big Ten.

Of course, knocking off Oregon would do wonders for Michigan State and immediately announce the Spartans as legitimate national title contenders. But I think the Spartans have already proved themselves on the elite level, having won the Rose and Cotton bowls the past two years while finishing each season in the top five. This program has already been validated. Plus, a loss to Oregon -- even at home -- doesn't necessarily doom Michigan State's playoff hopes. As long as they lost a relatively competitive game, the Spartans could still work their way back into the top four by winning at Ohio State and taking the league title. Remember that Ohio State lost to a much worse Virginia Tech team at home last September and still won it all.

Wisconsin, on the other hand, has been on the brink of reaching the elite for several years but has come up short in many big contests. Beating Alabama on a neutral field in the opener would likely skyrocket the Badgers well into the Top 10 and put them on the radar for the playoff. Because of their favorable rest of the schedule, they could stay in that conversation for the remainder of the season, thus giving the Big Ten perhaps three legitimate playoff contenders instead of two.

Building more depth at the very top is crucial for the Big Ten's long-term well-being and viability, and even though Alabama hasn't won a national title since way back in the 2012 season, the Tide remain the gold standard against which most programs are judged these days.

Brian Bennett: Of course, it's impossible to predict without knowing what happens elsewhere in the country. But I would say that, given the precedent set by the CFP selection committee in Year One, Michigan State would likely be out of luck.

Selection committee members made it clear last season that conference championships matter. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez emphasized that last week at the Big Ten meetings when he said the Big 12's lack of an actual champion played a role in that league's exclusion from the playoff field. In your scenario, the Spartans wouldn't even have a division title to claim.

Sure, an 11-1 Michigan State team with a win over Oregon and a close loss to the defending champs would have an impressive argument. But to actually win that case, the Spartans would probably need at least two other conferences to have underwhelming, two- or three-loss champions.

Brian Bennett: This is an important year for Kirk Ferentz, as fan dissatisfaction is rising in Iowa City and is being reflected in sluggish ticket sales. However, Ferentz is still under contract through 2020, and the school would have to pay more than $13 million to buy him out right now, plus whatever it would cost to hire his replacement. That's what you call job security.

The really interesting timing could come after the season, when Ferentz will be down to just four years left on his contract. For recruiting purposes, most schools like to have coaches signed to five-year deals. Will Iowa athletic director Gary Barta want to extend Ferentz's contract in January? Let's just say another disappointing season for the Hawkeyes this fall would be poorly timed for all parties involved.

Brian Bennett: It wouldn't surprise me in the least to see Minnesota make it to Indianapolis. But as I wrote earlier this week, I'm making Wisconsin the favorite in the West Division. I still need to see the Gophers actually wrest that Axe back from the Badgers for the first time in 12 years until I can fully believe in them.