Big Ten Thursday mailbag

November, 3, 2011
11/03/11
4:00
PM ET
I appreciate all the good questions you guys have been submitting, and I'm enjoying the suggestions for places I should hit on the road. Loyal Twitter followers helped me find a great place to watch Game 7 of the World Series last week. As always, keep your questions and comments coming. Send them here.

Let's roll.

Dan from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Enjoy the blog. Heard Zooey is available. ... Anyway, was Nebraska's defensive stand v. Sparty a show of how much they've matured and learned this year or a one-time show of talent against a top-rated team?

Brian Bennett: That's a good question, and in many ways I think Michigan State was an excellent matchup for Nebraska. The Spartans don't like to stick to their running game as much as some teams, and Kirk Cousins is not a guy who's going to make a lot of plays out of the pocket. Remember that the Huskers were hurt by teams with mobile quarterbacks earlier this season. I do believe the defense has gotten better, especially in the secondary. It will be an interesting test this weekend against Northwestern, which is a little bit like some of the spread teams Nebraska faced in the Big 12.

Greg from Norristown, Pa., writes: Brian, why no love in your fashion report for Penn State's new look?! I think getting rid of the trim was by far the most shocking uniform changeup this year! What's next, names on the backs of their jerseys? White shoes? When will the madness end?! But no seriously, everyone else can have their spiffy new threads. Penn State is perfectly happy keeping it classy in the valley.

Brian Bennett: Very nice, Greg. I almost included Penn State in my uniform poll for enjoyment purposes -- my god, they removed a stripe! -- but didn't want it to skew the results. I am lukewarm about all the uniform madness in college football but definitely like it more when less traditional teams try something new. I hope Penn State never changes the classic look that is so much a part of its identity.

Dennis H. from Harrisburg, Pa., writes: Big Ten Football, who is the division winner? I saw the tie-breaker criteria, but I'm not sure if it is breaking ties based on the division record or the conference record? As an example, if 2 teams have the same conference records, but 1 team has a better division record, does that team go to the conference playoff game or do they use the tie breaker criteria based on the same conference record to determine who goes to the conference championship? It's not the division record but conference record, correct?

Brian Bennett: We've been over this a few times, but it's worth repeating. First, overall conference record is the first determining factor. If there are two teams tied, head-to-head will solve it. If there multiple teams tied, then the records against one another will be used to try and break the tie. Then it would proceed to conference record as the next potential tiebreaker, and so forth. It's complicated, but we should all have a better understanding of how this works after the first season of division play is over.

Kyle from Aspen, Colo., writes: Living outside B1G country I love the blog. As a die-hard Penn Stater I have to ask: If Penn State wins out, how high can/do they climb in the standings, and does Joe have any shot at playing in the BCS Title game? How much help would they need to get there? I think it would be a great way to potentially send Joe out as National Champion. I'd love your thoughts on this.

Brian Bennett: I can't foresee any scenario in which Penn State plays for the national title. The Lions are so far back in the BCS right now at No. 16 that it would be nearly impossible for them to get into the top two, barring supreme chaos in the final five weeks like we've never before seen. But it's interesting to wonder how high they could climb. Penn State is not getting a lot of love from the pollsters right now, but that should change if it beats Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin to end the regular season, followed by a Big Ten title game win over, say, a top-10 Michigan team. And if Alabama beats LSU and goes unbeaten, Penn State's only loss would be to the No. 1 team in the country. It still wouldn't be enough, in my opinion, to climb into the BCS title game. But JoePa would certainly have an argument at that point, wouldn't he?

Mochila from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Whoa, whoa, whoa, Brian. "Simply put, Still is the most important defensive player on the league's best defensive team." I won't deny that Penn State is a great defensive team, but can you please explain this? Three weeks ago I posed the question of which team has the better defense: MSU or Penn State. Since then they stuffed Michigan, created enough big plays to beat Wisconsin (safety and two picks against the best QB), and had a solid effort against a potent Nebraska offense on the road (yeah, 190 yards rushing, but at only 3.3 ypc). Adam usually says, and I'm paraphrasing, don't just tell me why your team is the best, tell me why their team isn't. So here's my rational: MSU's B1G opponents are averaging 413 ypg and 35 ppg this season, versus Penn State's B1G opponents, which are averaging 398.5 ypg and 28 ppg. In conference games, MSU defense allowed an average of 19 ppg (not great admittedly) and 285 ypg. Penn State's defense allowed 12.4 ppg and 309 ppg. Points are big factor, but Penn State's numbers were not overly impressive against inferior opponents. I still give the edge to MSU's defense, by a hair only, but I'd love to know why you're so clearly on the side of Penn State (and don't say record!).

Brian Bennett: Glad you brought that up, and we have debated which defense is better the past few weeks. The reason I said Penn State was the best defense right now is because they're leading in points allowed, which is the ultimate standard. You're right, though, in saying that the Nittany Lions' competition hasn't always been as fierce. Let's see what happens when the two have more common opponents with good offenses, like when Penn State plays Nebraska and Wisconsin. Then I think we'll have our final answer.

Andrew from Chaska, Minn., writes: With Wisconsin's run to the Rose Bowl last year, there was talk on this blog about how their program was on the rise nationally to the point of being considered among the elite. However, after their last two last-second defeats just recently, do you believe the Badgers have blown that opportunity and are back in the "second tier" status behind Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska?

Brian Bennett: Wisconsin has a hard time claiming national elite status now, after having lost the Rose Bowl and with only one truly good win (at home over Nebraska) this season. Badgers fans may end up really regretting this season, seeing as how it's the only year in Madison for Russell Wilson and how the path to the national title game is starting to open up a little bit. As Adam wrote, Wisconsin needs to start winning big games on the road before it can be considered truly elite.

Matt from Midway, N.C., writes: Brian, let's say for instance that Michigan and Ohio State somehow both make it to the B1G Championship Game. Would that not be the very thing the B1G was hoping to avoid; a rematch of these two teams in consecutive weeks? Would it weaken the hype of the inaugural Championship Game?

Brian Bennett: I don't think it's very likely that will happen this year. Ohio State can't really afford to lose another game and still win the Leaders Division, so it would have to beat Michigan to make this scenario happen. And that would mean the Wolverines have another loss, and that it would make it tough for them to win a crowded Legends Division race. What would be even worse than a simple rematch would be a rematch between two teams that had multiple losses and weren't ranked in the top 15. If Ohio State and Michigan both become powerhouses again and the situation occurs, I don't think the league will mind too much.

Tina from Philadelphia writes: I noticed that Derek Moye is not on your awards tracker for Receiver of the Year. I was thinking about this and I was wondering if you would label this year as a disappointment for him. He was poised to break some PSU records this year, but I feel his production has been seriously hurt by the QB situation and his broken foot. Can he get back on the radar with strong performances in the final three games? I feel that he is still one of the best -- you could see his immediate impact when he entered the game vs Illinois.

Brian Bennett: Tina, I agree that Moye is one of the most talented receivers in the league and a real difference-maker. Just his presence made a huge impact at the end of last week's game. As you said, though, Penn State is just not a big passing team, and that has hurt his numbers. I would love to see what Moye could do in a more pass-happy system.

Drew from Yankton, S.D., writes: What are Nebraska's realistic chances of winning out the rest of the way? I feel like Penn State is very overrated with a soft October schedule. Even Michigan, for that matter, hasn't had a tough go at it yet. Those are clearly the two hurdles left for Nebraska if it wants to make it to Indy. Yeah Iowa is left too, but it's at home and after losing to Minnesota ... cake walk?

Brian Bennett: I definitely wouldn't call it a cakewalk. Nebraska will soon learn how hard it is to win in Happy Valley and the Big House. The Huskers haven't won in a tough road environment yet this year (granted, Wisconsin was their only real opportunity). And Big Ten teams have really struggled away from home in general. Nebraska is good enough to win those road games, but I suspect it will drop at least one.

Nate from Council Bluffs, Iowa, writes: In response to all the upset Iowa fans: I think we have become accustomed to having success. Well let's face it; we have the past 10 seasons. We have never been a powerhouse, legendary football team, but we are starting to act as if we have. Kirk Ferentz has done a fantastic job at Iowa. This is a coach who took a potentially dying program and turned it around to what we know today. Did you know his first three seasons (99, 00, 01) we were 1-10, 3-9, and 7-5? In his 4th season he went 11-2 and led us to a BCS game? How many coaches can do that? You know how he did it? His best talent, recruiting. There is no better judge of raw talent in college football today. He has a way to see what a player's true potential and get them into their true role. Just look at Marvin McNutt Jr, who will be the all-time leader in touchdown receptions and remembered as one of the greatest receivers that Iowa has ever had. This was a quarterback recruit turned receiver because Ferentz knew his potential. How many walk-on and 2-3 start recruits are playing in the NFL because of his coaching ability? The majority of our seasons are 7-8 win seasons, sprinkled with some seasons with 9-10-11 wins. I do believe this will be the coach to lead us to a National Championship, and with the young talent on this team I'm excited to see what we can do next season.

Brian Bennett: Well said, Nate, though I might add that player development is a stronger skill for Ferentz than recruiting. Look, it's not easy to get top-notch players to come to Iowa City, unfortunately. Ferentz has had some really strong years and is an excellent coach. I also understand why the loyal Hawkeyes fans expect better than the past two years and are frustrated by some puzzling losses. We all knew this year's team had some holes to fill, particularly on defense. I still think Ferentz is the right man for the job, and that he'll have Iowa back in Big Ten title contention soon.

Steve from Milwaukee writes: With the wild nature of the B1G race this year, do you see the B1G coach of the year going to anyone that doesn't win the championship game? Could Luke Fickell get it with a loss in Indy due to all the off-the-field issues and a strong recovery from the early season woes?

Brian Bennett: Yes, without any team qualifying as a huge surprise right now (except possibly Penn State), the coach of the year award will likely come from one of the two championship game contenders. I think if Fickell just gets to the title game, he'd have to earn strong consideration, based on how he held the team together through such difficult circumstances. Wouldn't be odd if he won that award in his first year after Jim Tressel was denied so many times?

Jeremy from Los Alamos, N.M., writes: Why is it that only Nebraska is mentioned as controlling their own destiny in their division? Sure if they win out, they go to Indianapolis. But the same holds true for Michigan. If Michigan beats Nebraska, then there is a three way tie for the division winner and at least the way I interpret the tiebreaker, Michigan will win the tiebreaker because it will have the best overall record (assuming they beat Ohio State). How come Michigan isn't ever mentioned as controlling their own destiny?

Brian Bennett: Michigan does not control its own destiny, because if the Wolverines win out, that means Nebraska has at least two conference losses. If Michigan State also wins out, it would be tied with Michigan and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker. Overall record is not much of a factor because it is the sixth tiebreaker, behind BCS standings.

Devin from Indy writes: So what's your game plan now that Zooey Deschanel is back on the market? Pray that Northwestern makes the Rose Bowl and hope that you two accidentally run into each other on the sideline?

Brian Bennett: I might be waiting a while for Northwestern. It sure isn't going to happen this year. And seeing how quickly she left her plum World Series seats, I'm guessing she's not a huge sports fan. My best bet seems to be to start a band and up my hipster quotient. If you start seeing me with longer hair, corduroys and plaid and earnest expressions in my videos, you'll know what I'm up to.

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