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Big Ten Thursday mailbag

There's a lot going on, even for May. Let's get to your emails and talk about it all.

Andrew from Brooklyn writes: I know you've been over this ad nauseum, but can you explain one more time, how [Jim] Delany and the ADs justify allowing the bowls to host semifinals? I can't think of a single advantage in such a situation for Big Ten institutions or their fans. 1. It takes tourism dollars out of the region. 2. It enriches the bowl committees, perhaps the most corrupt element in all of college sports (not only the indictment of John Junker, but also the excessive compensation of directors, the kickbacks involved in room guarantees, etc). 3. It puts Big Ten teams at a locational disadvantage. 4. It forces Big Ten fans to potentially travel long distances three weeks over the course of a month. Is this really just about a sentimental attachment to the Rose Bowl?

Brian Bennett: Well, there is one advantage: Bowls allow people to get out of the upper Midwest in the winter and enjoy some sunshine. But other than that, I agree with everything you wrote. I simply don't understand the illogical attachment to an outdated bowl system that is neither financially nor competitively advantageous for the league. Then when you see comments from Ohio State's Gene Smith saying he doesn't think teams should be playing in cold weather, well, frankly that's mind-boggling. (And even more so as the Big Ten says basically in the next breath that it would like to play a bowl game in New York City, well known for its tropical late December climate.)

I get that bowls are rewards for players, but this isn't Little League. On the plus side, improvements to the college football postseason have traditionally come at such a glacial pace that we should be happy that so much positive change is coming. Set up a good system now for selecting the four teams, and then the debate over where to play the games can be revisited in the future, especially if it becomes obvious that the bowl site situation is too much of a burden on fans.


Dan from Lincoln, Neb., writes: What are the chances that when all is said and done, the B1G will have nothing to show for all the posturing it has done during the playoff debates? We've given up helping fans not have to travel three times (twice to somewhere south) to see a team play the NC, given up on any advantage for the local team/area (financially, weather wise), and at this rate the Rose Bowl will go strictly to the four-team event. No wonder the SEC and Pac12 have just sat back and let the spoils fall in their lap...

Brian Bennett: Delany piqued interest with his comment that, "It will be demonstrably clear how flexible and how open the Rose Bowl has been in this process." I'm not sure what that means just yet, but the Big Ten had better come out with a good deal involving the Rose Bowl, given how much it has staked its future to that game. It appears as though the league's priorities have been protecting that game and securing a playoff model that rewards conference champions as much as possible. The ACC has come out in support of the same idea, which bolsters the Big Ten's case there. Ultimately, regardless of where the games are played or what the Rose Bowl's status is, the Big Ten's goal has to be getting teams into the Football Final Four (or whatever it ends up being called) as consistently as possible. The champions model no doubt benefits the conference in that regard, because it would be tough to omit a Big Ten champ most years.


Mike from Denver writes: With the upcoming Pac12/B1G series, I haven't seen anything anywhere regarding how the lineup will be set. Is there any possibility we can get a set-up similar to the B1G/ACC b-ball series where match-ups are set only a year in advance based on anticipated strength of the teams in the coming season? I know it is more difficult with football, but if they lock a date and designate home/away years in advance, why wouldn't it work?

Brian Bennett: Well, we know one matchup, as Northwestern-Stanford already have agreed to a series that will take place during the start of the agreement. (How smart do the Wildcats look, locking up one of the potentially more attractive Pac-12 opponents already?). I doubt we'll see the games be set only a year in advance, because football scheduling simply doesn't work that way. With games being held on different weekends and teams needing to fill the rest of their schedule, it becomes too impractical. Even with just a year lag time, you can't always accurately predict teams' strength. The best bet will be to create compelling matchups based on programs' name value. I'm pretty sure we'd all watch Ohio State-USC, Michigan-Washington, Penn State-Oregon (just to name some random potential examples) regardless of how good the teams in the game actually were.


Alex from Venice, Calif., writes: I was reading your Big Ten Spring Wrap piece, and I wanted to bring something up. I have to disagree with you about Michigan (or any team) being too modest when they say that their top goal is to win a Big Ten championship. You can't play in the National Championship without first taking care of business in your conference (unless, of course, you're in the SEC). The conference championship is something that is in your control. Of course schools want to play for the National Championship, but they know in order for them to do that, they must take care of business within their conference. Rich Rodriguez, shudder, was lambasted over stating that the Big Ten championship was their priority. He got the "why are you not aiming higher -- this is Michigan and we expect more!" His response was that in order to be in that discussion you better be tops in your conference. He was right, Brady Hoke is right and Bo was certainly right.

Brian Bennett: Alex, you make some good points, and I have no problem with Brady Hoke making the Big Ten title the main goal this year, especially given the Wolverines' recent Big Ten title drought. Winning a league championship is clearly the next step for the program to truly be "back." I just find it interesting that the league hasn't had a national champion since 2002 and hasn't been in the BCS title game since 2006, yet only Nebraska is really openly talking about getting to that level this year. The Big Ten needs to aim higher than just the Rose Bowl.


Peter from Seattle writes: Why is it that whenever Taylor Martinez's name is brought up, people also bring up his completion percentage and how low it is? Denard Robinson had a lower completion percentage and people don't talk about that being an issue every time his name is brought up.

Brian Bennett: Well, I don't know about "people." But we're always saying on this blog that Robinson has to improve his accuracy and cut down on the 15 interceptions he threw in 2011. Robinson's completion percentage in 2010 was actually pretty good. For comparison's sake:

Martinez 2010: 59.2 percent completions

Robinson 2010: 62.5 percent

Martinez 2011: 56.3 percent

Robinson 2011: 55 percent

Both players' percentages went down in 2011, but remember both were in the first year of new offensive systems. They should each improve upon that with an extra year in the respective systems.


Alex H. from Louisville writes: I appreciated the Spring wrap up article on the Hoosiers. Our football program is the easy target for kicking and it is nice to see fresh eyes on the product. If you didn't cover the Hoosiers much the last few years, we are to put it mildly "under construction." Last year was actually a huge year for us because we flushed 30 years of complacency out when the new staff ran everyone out. Some agree and some don't on this subject, but I do know that what we had been doing didn't work. Our coach indicated last week that there is still probably a few hanger-ons still, but he thinks he has flushed most of it. ... I really believe we have the ingredients finally to make noise in the Big Ten in the next 5 years with our best coaching staff, facilities, and Athletic Director that wants to win the right way. Perfect Storm???

Brian Bennett: I'm happy to get a Hoosiers question in the mailbag. Frankly, it doesn't happen very often. Anyway, I feel like the Indiana program was starting to turn into something under Terry Hoeppner, but his tragic death was just a terrible setback. After visiting Bloomington for the first time in several years, I was impressed by the facilities improvements and commitment the school has given to football at long last (that Big Ten Network money sure helps). The program seems like it now has the tools to compete, but it still must overcome the lack of tradition, a small fan base and the difficulty of recruiting head to head against bigger Big Ten teams. I like what Kevin Wilson is doing, and it would be a lot of fun to see Indiana become a factor. But there is much work still ahead.


Mike from Apple Valley, Minn., writes: Hey, Brian, barring major surprise, the Vikings will not be moving from the Twin Cities. Does that help or hurt the Gophers? On one hand, the Gophers would have had more attention and may attract more of a following in the area, look at any other Big Ten team not in an NFL market (about all of them). But on the other hand, it could hurt recruiting because there would have been one less amenity in the Twin Cities. Or is there something else I'm missing? Thanks!

Brian Bennett: Mike, we did an interesting series last summer looking at the challenges faced by college programs in NFL cities. I suggest you check it out. It's not always easy, but schools like USC, Miami, TCU and Washington have made it work. The Gophers are never going to get all the attention in their city or state because of the pro teams in the Twin Cities. But as you mentioned, the benefits of living in a big city with pro teams can help in recruiting as well. Ultimately, I think there are certainly enough fans who will support the program if it starts winning big under Jerry Kill and that players won't really care whether they're in a pro or college town. It all comes down to leadership and success.