Big Ten Friday mailbag

Things are a little light on the blog today, because it's our last chance to catch our breath before the craze of media days, the start of fall camp and the season (thankfully) descend upon us. There's always time to answer your questions, though. To the mailbag we shall go:

Alden from Chi-Spartan writes: Bennett, the blog often refers to teams making it to the top tier of the B1G. If Michigan State has another great season this year (10+ wins) will they be considered a top tier B1G team? If yes, why? And if not, how many more great seasons before they will be? Also, in general, how many years of consistent performance does it take for a program to be considered elite or top tier? Is there a difference between the two? Is elite a more permanent title (harder to get, harder to lose)?

Brian Bennett: Those are excellent questions, and I'm not sure there are definitive answers. "Top-tier" and "elite" are usually in the eye of the beholder and can vary wildly from one observer to the next. I'd have to say that if Michigan State wins 10-plus games again, it will be considered a top-tier Big Ten program. That's because we live in a now-now-now society, and recent success is the most important thing. There's a difference in my mind, though, between a program gaining top-tier recognition and becoming an elite one. That usually takes years and must include multiple conference titles, consistent success and major bowl victories. The real blue-blood programs like Ohio State and Michigan have done it over decades and are still considered elite because of their history, tradition and fan following. At least that's the view from this beholder's eyes.

Jon P. from Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Do you feel the Michigan/Ohio State game is still the game in the Big Ten? Does Michigan have a shot this year in the game?

Brian Bennett: It is still The Game from a tradition, history and rivalry perspective. It is not the premier game in the conference this year because Michigan hasn't beaten the Buckeyes in so long and the game hasn't had Big Ten title ramifications for the past few years. It's almost impossible to know what to expect in this season's game, because who knows where Ohio State will be at the end of the season, especially if the team has to deal with major NCAA penalties that are handed down in late fall. I'd say Michigan probably has as good a chance this year as it's had in the past half-decade or so because of that factor, but Ohio State is still more talented and on paper should be a heavy favorite.

Kyle from Saginaw, Texas, writes: My question deals with the revenue sharing plan in the B1G. As a new member, I remember hearing that Nebraska would not yet recieve an equal share of the revenue untill a later date. My question is why is this? Many people have said Nebraska was given games against OSU, Wisconsin, and PSU because they were marquee games and would bring a lot of attention (and revenue) to the league. Seems a bit unfair that the Big Ten people would give Nebraska such a hard schedule to bring in more money, and then also not give them an equal share of the pie this year.

Brian Bennett: Nebraska reportedly won't receive a full share until 2017. Call it a breaking-in period. The other schools obviously have more history and equity in the league. Don't worry, the Cornhuskers won't be hurting. And given the discord in the Big 12 right now over the Longhorn Network, the move to the Big Ten still looks like a brilliant one.

Andrew from Madison, Wisc., writes: Do you think any of the Big Ten teams have a legitimate shot at reaching the National Title Game? I think with Wisconsin, you have a real national title contender, and I think Michigan State might surprise the entire college football landscape. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: Teams like Nebraska and Wisconsin, and to a similar extent Michigan State and Ohio State, will start the season out with decent rankings and will move into national title contention if they go undefeated. But I think that's going to be difficult, given how balanced the Big Ten schedule looks. It's going to be awfully hard for a team to go 13-0, sweeping the conference games and winning the league title game. You can pretty much pencil in the SEC champ into one slot for the BCS title game (and deservedly so, given the past five years). That would leave only one spot left, and I think a team like Oklahoma has a better chance of going undefeated through a weaker Big 12, or Florida State in the ACC. It will be fascinating to see, if a 1-loss Big Ten team is competing with another 1-loss team for a BCS title shot, how much of a bump the league title game can provide.

Charlie S. from Indianapolis writes: I am a Boilermakers fan and I really loved watching Ralph Bolden's (quasi-)breakout '09 season. Is there a chance (if healthy) he could make strides this season to be a top-5 back in the Big Ten?

Brian Bennett: Bolden was a second-team All-Big Ten selection in '09, so he was certainly at that level when healthy. It will be hard to crack the top 5 this year since there are a lot of great backs in the league, like Edwin Baker, Montee Ball, James White, Rex Burkhead and the potential of Marcus Coker and Silas Redd, just to name a few. But Bolden is a major impact player when he's right. I sure hope he gets all the way back.

W.T. from Reading Pa., writes: If Notre Dame joins the Big Ten conference for hockey only, does that make them more likely to join for other sports (football) down the road?

Brian Bennett: Not one bit. The Irish are a member of the Big East in all other sports besides hockey and football, and that has no effect on their independent status. Something major would have to change for Notre Dame to seriously consider joining a conference.

Mike from Portland, Ore., writes: Wisconsin, Ohio state, and Iowa will all field new QBs this season. Which QB will have the largest positive impact on his team and which QB will have the most negative impact?

Brian Bennett: Interesting question, because all three situations are so different. James Vandenberg is taking over Iowa after serving as Ricky Stanzi's understudy and starting a couple of key games in '09. At Wisconsin, of course, Russell Wilson came in this summer after three years of starting for NC State. And Ohio State still has a quarterback competition, with Luke Fickell likely choosing between veteran backup Joe Bauserman or freshman Braxton Miller. I think Wilson has the biggest potential for both positive and negative. I believe he can add an extra playmaking dimension that will make that Badgers offense really dangerous. Of course, he's also in a new system and learning all new teammates in a short time, and if he struggles it could damage Wisconsin's title hopes. I think Vandenberg will be steady, and Ohio State will do as much as possible to make sure the team's fortunes don't ride too much on a new quarterback's shoulders.

Kevin from Alexandria, Va., writes: I have sent this one in before and I would like credit for the idea if it were to ever happen. Almost the exact geographical center between state college and columbus is Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a Western PA mecca of high school talent that has been good to both schools. My question is, with the growing "rivalry" between the two schools would it ever be a possibility for them to meet in Pittsburgh for a game like the Red River Rivalry or Fla-GA? (I miss the old nickname) I realize Heinz is smaller, but what about once every three years after a home and home exchange? Discuss.

Brian Bennett: I enjoy the atmosphere around those neutral-site rivalries you mention, but I doubt Ohio State and Penn State would be willing to give up a home game every other year. Especially since, as you noted, Heinz Field can't match the capacity of Ohio Stadium or Beaver Stadium. That would be the biggest roadblock.

Lael R. from Carolina, P.R., writes: With the new Bennett/Rittenberg combo, how do the fans will now who to complain about during predictions, comments, etc. After all isn't mauling your blogger part of the new college football experience?

Brian Bennett: I'm sure there will be plenty of complaints to go around. But if you're really mad about something on the blog, so mad that you want to make a personal attack, make sure to e-mail Rittenberg.