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Big Ten Friday mailbag

3/9/2012

I love college football, but my favorite days of the year are coming up: Selection Sunday and the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament.

Another of my favorite days is anytime I can answer your emails. So let's have at it before we get down to some serious bracketing:

Arun from Emeryville, Calif., writes: Hey Brian -- curious to hear your thoughts on something:It is interesting to think in the next few seasons, we will see four strong programs in the B1G that can compete with most anyone in the country: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Michigan. Do you recall a time in history where the conference was this good at the top?

Brian Bennett: I'd throw Nebraska in there, too, Arun. I know the Huskers haven't quite reached the elite level yet under Bo Pelini, but they've been really close. Odds are that one or more of these programs will have some hiccups, but all are built now to have sustained success going forward. And that's the key for the Big Ten: having multiple teams that can compete for national championships instead of just two or three. That increases the chances that one team breaks through for a truly special season and forces everybody else in the league to raise their game.


JoeQ from Lynchburg, Va., writes: With such an issue of a 4 team playoff detracting from the remaining bowl games, how about factoring in the League Bowl records somehow? Something like the conference with the best bowl game winning percentage gets to have the home field advantage for the first round. Would force all the bowl games to be played prior to the tourney and give teams motivation to represent their conference. It wouldn't help the B1G with their current bowl lineup, but it might help push Delany to switch things up and improve the league's image instead of trying to run the current bowl game gauntlet each year.

Brian Bennett: While your idea would be fun for fans to follow throughout bowl season, do we really want a 6-6 team playing in the Little Caesars Bowl determining seeding for the national championship? And teams are going to need some more advance notice to host a national semifinal to sell tickets, etc.


Jason from Grand Blanc, Mich., writes: Being an Ohio State fan and having to announce to the sports world I live in Michigan hurts. Anyways, onto my question. I am attending the Ohio State spring football game this year and was wondering what the spring football game attendance record for the B1G and all of college football is. Also, do you think there is a chance that Ohio State has a chance to break that record with Urban Meyer as our new head coach and changing some things up?

Brian Bennett: Ohio State claimed that record in 2009 with more than 95,000 fans at its spring game. The Buckeyes drew a little more than 44,000 last year, but the weather wasn't as good and obviously there was some offseason controversy. I would expect a huge turnout as fans are intrigued to see what Meyer is doing. The weather that will probably play a big factor in whether a new record is set.


Victor from Columbus writes: Do you think the SEC will ever agree to the Big Ten playoff format? I for one think that they won't. Its a clear advantage for Big Ten teams against SEC teams becuas half the players on SEC rosters have never been outside the south. I'd like to see some SEC speed when their feet are frozen by Big Ten weather. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: I was encouraged that SEC commissioner Mike Slive is at least open to the idea of using home sites. That's really not beneficial to his league, since many of the big bowl sites that could be used are located in the South, and the rabid fan bases in his league probably wouldn't mind traveling to two neutral sites to follow their teams. I have my doubts whether the SEC will actually support the plan. Then again, the way things have been going of late, the SEC would be hosting semifinals in their stadiums just about every year.


Ted N. from Spicer, Minn., writes: As a life long Gophers fan, I have dealt with many forgettable seasons. Last season was very tough but ended on a positive note. Do you think MarQueis Gray will make strides this season like he did towards the end of last year and become a solid quarterback? Do you think the Gophers have a chance of making a bowl game this year?

Brian Bennett: As I wrote on Thursday, Minnesota coaches are high on Gray and he's making strides as a passer and a leader. From talking to them, I feel like Gray is poised to have a nice year, and he could get a little more help in the backfield. The big question is whether the Gophers will be able to make major progress on defense, where they often struggled mightily last year. The good news is the nonconference schedule is very manageable, with games against New Hampshire, Western Michigan and Syracuse at home and the lone road game at UNLV. If the Gophers can win all four of those, they'll have a good chance of getting to 6-6 and making a bowl.


Ryan from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, writes: I'd like your thoughts on this compromise on the 7 wins for bowl eligibility discussion: In order to go to a bowl, you have to either have 7 wins OR have 6 wins and have not gone to a bowl in the previous season.I think if you put the extra condition on there, then bowl season can still include upstart, excited programs. Reaching a bowl for the first time in awhile is exciting for any fanbase, even with a 6-6 season, like Purdue this past season (and Iowa State basically anytime they make a bowl).

Brian Bennett: I've got no problem with that. Then again, I'm not really opposed to 6-6 teams going bowling. Some 6-6 teams are better than those who finish 7-5 but played a tougher schedule. If somebody wants to put on a bowl game with two 6-6 teams, hey, it's a free country.


Adam from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Looking at Whitney Mercilus' numbers vs. Will Gholston's numbers from 2011, I'm wondering how important it will be for Gholston to be able to take the next step from being dominant to unstoppable, especially with the loss of Worthy. He wasn't that far off at times last year from Mercilus' numbers with 70 tackles, 16 TFLs, but only 5 sacks and 3 QBHs. Also, could MSU potentially have 2 DE's in your preseason player rankings in both Gholston and Marcus Rush? Rush had pretty good numbers too (58 tackles, 12 TFLs, 4 sacks, 9 QBHs, 5 pass breakups), especially for a freshman.

Brian Bennett: Gholston wasn't as consistent as Mercilus, but that's not surprising as it was his first year starting. Mercilus played with a nonstop motor, which is something Gholston needs to acquire. He can be more physically imposing than Mercilus because of his size (6-foot-7, 280) but may not have the same burst off the line of scrimmage. Remember, too, that because Michigan State likes to blitz from many different angles, Gholston doesn't always have to be the guy getting to the quarterback. If he can play like he did against Georgia on a consistent basis, he could be the top defensive player in the Big Ten this season. As for our preseason list, Rush is going to face a lot of competition from his own defensive teammates. I imagine Johnny Adams, Denicos Allen and maybe even Isaiah Lewis are going to get heavy consideration for the Top 25.


Ethan from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: I was wondering why there is such a disparity in the amount of times teams in the Big Ten spend in spring practice. For example Indiana began practicing March 3rd and Michigan doesn't start until the 28th and yet they both finish spring practice on April 14th. Are they doing the same amount of hours spread out differently? Is there a NCAA rule that comes into play? Great work on the blog, coming from someone who remembers your Big East days (I bet you're glad to actually have news to cover in the winter months)!

Brian Bennett: Every team gets the same amount of spring practice days, Ethan, but schools schedule that differently. For example, Indiana started early but will take off for spring break, while Michigan will have a much more compressed schedule.


Jim from Winchester, Va., writes: The tendency is to extrapolate and carry over thoughts about a squad from one year to the next, and folks seem out of sync with the Nebraska defense and offense. Last year the D was projected to be stouter than it was. This year it is projected to be mediocre. Any chance for a surprise?

Brian Bennett: I like some of the things I'm hearing out of Lincoln about the players taking more ownership and working harder on their techniques. Of course, you hear that a lot of places in the spring, but clearly Nebraska didn't perform at a level typical for a Bo Pelini defense last year. I think there is a chance the team refocuses and surprises a bit on defense next year. The question I have is whether the Huskers truly have the horses. They just didn't seem to have a ton of difference-makers on that defense outside of Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard last year, and now those guys are both gone.


Drew from Milwaukee writes: This trade idea is a pretty interesting one. With Montee Ball coming back and a bunch of young guys behind him, the Badgers could probably afford to deal James White (don't get me wrong, I love White). I feel like Ohio State could use White's speed and experience in the backfield, particularly under Urban Meyer's new offensive scheme. In return Ohio State could deal one of the many young studs they have at D-line. I think Wisconsin really missed having a playmaker up front last year and there aren't many guys looking to step up and fill that role any time soon.

Brian Bennett: I agree that Wisconsin has the depth to deal White, and they would want a defensive player in return. I highly doubt Meyer would give up any of his young studs like Noah Spence for White, though. Ohio State may have enough skill at running back with Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde and incoming freshman Bri'onte Dunn.


Chris from Williamston, Mich., writes: Brian, does it bother you that there is no MSU-Wisconsin game scheduled past the 2012 season? Any chance of a protected rivalry happening in the future? These past couple years have had some fun games in this budding rivalry.

Brian Bennett: If those two teams can stage games anywhere near as entertaining as the two we got last year, then they should play every year. However, it's not a protected cross-division game. Wisconsin has Minnesota and Michigan State has Indiana. Until the Gophers and Hoosiers get back on their feet, doesn't it make sense to switch those? I know Minnesota-Wisconsin is a rivalry, but it's been pretty one-sided of late.


Jacob from NW Wisconsin writes: You have been a B1G blogger for what has to be at least one year, correct? Have you moved north of the Ohio River yet? Last time I checked KY was SEC country, and Louisville, KY is Big East country.

Brian Bennett: The terms of my restraining order prevent me from moving north of the Mason-Dixon Line. And haven't you seen what's happened lately? The whole nation is Big East country.