Let's all go to the mail:
Mike from Chicago writes: I can't begin to explain how utterly confused I am as to your stance on Big Ten expansion. My question is why can't the Big Ten just sit on their hands while every other conference expands to 16 teams. According to Adam, "Leagues would completely lack intimacy and commonality, teams would play even less often and there would be filler teams everywhere." As a fan of the B1G and Wisky, I would be livid if going to 16 teams meant Wisconsin would play Iowa even less than we do now and instead we had to play a Maryland team. Even if the league did get a bigger TV contract, it would still have to split the money evenly with an additional 4 members. And how in the world would the national image of your conference improve if you added teams like Rutgers or Maryland? And Notre Dame? Seriously?!?! The only thing Notre Dame is the Holy Grail of is being consistently nationally irrelevant for as long as I can remember.
Brian Bennett: You make good points, Mike, and as we wrote, the Big Ten isn't really interested in expanding beyond 12 at this time. Unfortunately, there could be some more major changes in alignment, and "sitting on your hands" is usually not the wisest business strategy in a changing marketplace. What superconferences could mean is even more massive TV deals, and the Big Ten doesn't want to be left behind. I totally agree that there are not many attractive candidates for expansion, but the options could turn out to be really poor if the league isn't ready to pounce. For now, the Big Ten simply needs to monitor the situation and have contingency plans in mind, as I'm sure it does.
Victor from Dayton, Ohio, writes: I was reading your and Adam's article on possible B1G expansion and I had a thought. Adam mentioned the idea of trying to get NC. My question is, while they may not add much to the football side of the conference (similar to Rutgers and Maryland that you mentioned) wouldn't it nice to see a Spartan-Tarheel shoot out multiple times a year in basketball? I think it has the possibility to turn into the basketball version of football's U of M-OSU rivalry. It would also make the B1G probably the best basketball conference out there. Thoughts?
Brian Bennett: It would no doubt be great for basketball, but basketball hasn't mattered one iota in this entire expansion circus. If so, Syracuse would never have left the Big East. That's why I think a team like Virginia Tech, which is a little worse fit academically and isn't great in basketball, is much more attractive. It's all about football.
Jeremy from Transplanted Cornfield in West Virginia writes: Much has been made of the scheduling hiatus, and let's be realistic the only concern is for the marquee teams in the League. I realize that scheduling is done years in advance, but why not schedule League games 2 years out and use a Premier League inspired method? During a given year note the standings of the member teams and for the schedule two years hence match the top teams against each other. The biggest problem I see is in maintaining home-away locations evenly amongst the B1G, but I am sure that there a lot of smarter people than I who could work it out. Basically, we as fans get to see more "move the needle" games, and the League perception just may increase nationally. ... I think that if the B1G were to commit to the top 4-6 teams consistently playing each other, the quality of the teams would increase through being more battle tested. Your take?
Brian Bennett: It's an interesting idea, and while football schedules are often made years and years in advance, this is actually fairly workable given that teams already have dates for conference games booked. I do see a couple of problems with your scenario.
First of all, even two years out, it's not always possible to identify who the top teams will be. For example, if you were doing the schedule for 2011 back in 2009, there's no doubt at all you would have pegged Ohio State as one of the top teams. And yet the Buckeyes went 6-6. The same could be said for Iowa. Secondly, by putting so-called marquee teams together, you end up with the same potential problem of huge gaps between games for some teams. Your plan would avoid situations like Michigan State-Wisconsin missing each other for four years but not necessarily help, say, Illinois and Iowa play. There really is no perfect solution for an eight-game schedule in a 12-team league.
Dan from Tempe, Ariz., writes: Love blog! I find it interesting (and sad) that it seems inevitable that we will have four 16-team super conferences. If this is case, what do you think about the idea of doing away with non-conference games all together and play an entire regular season (12-game) against conference opponents, with the division winners playing in a conference championship, and the four conference champions playing in a playoff for the national championship? While I think this situation is far from ideal, it creates a de facto 8-team playoff (i.e. winners of each division play each other) and it would be hard to complain that a national champion is undeserving.
Brian Bennett: I really like the idea of full round-robin conference play. However, I think you lose something with no nonconference opponents. Games like Michigan-Alabama are what get us pumped up for the season. And if everyone played in their own conference until the playoffs, the sport would be in danger of becoming too regionalized. I'd much rather watch Ohio State play USC than make sure it faces Northwestern and Minnesota, for instance.
Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J., writes: Brian, I'm very interested to hear your rebuttal to this theory. You recently wrote about the reasons that Urban Meyer is the most "hated" coach in the B1G (based on reader voting) without ever coaching a game. As a devoted B1G Blog reader, my theory, based on other mailblog and weekly chat questions, I think there has been an overwhelming feeling that Urban Meyer AND the Buckeyes have been hyped up "more than a tad" by you and Adam, based on Urban's track record and Ohio State's past dominance of the B1G, which has angered a lot of readers and thus led to this "hatred" of Urban Meyer. As a Penn State fan, I have no issue with Meyer as a coach, albeit I think he was lucky to have a few great players in his short time there, but I really think that a fair share of this reader sentiment has been produced through the many blog articles written by you and Adam that have made the Buckeyes instant favorites, somewhat rightfully so, but I do think that a majority of your readers have based their "hatred" on the overflow of Pro-Buckeye "propaganda". Brian, your witness...
Brian Bennett: If I may approach the bench ... Well, first of all, I certainly haven't made the Buckeyes "instant favorites." I have them ranked No. 25 in my preseason poll, behind four other Big Ten teams. (As for Adam's ranking, well, you'll have to talk to him.) I get that there has been a lot of hype about Meyer, not just from this corner but from all over the place. Which I think is justified, given Meyer's track record -- two national titles and an undefeated season at Utah cannot solely be attributed to luck and "a few great players" -- and Ohio State's vast resources. I would also argue, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that fans of other teams wouldn't be bothered by the hype nearly as much if they didn't believe most of it themselves, deep down. And the defense rests.
Eli from New York writes: "There's little doubt that Meyer is going to win at Ohio State, just as there's little doubt many won't like him because of it."How about a little wager: $5000 that he doesn't win the B1G in 2013? I'd wager for having the best record this year, but we all know you don't have to have the best record to win the league.
Brian Bennett: I wouldn't bet large sums on any one team to win the conference in 2013, both because there's still enormous parity in the league and a lot can happen -- injuries, suspensions, etc. -- between now and then. If you offered me a bet that Ohio State would win the league at least once before 2015, I'd definitely take it. I also believe the Buckeyes will be playing for a national title by then. What kind of odds can I get on that?
Trotter from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Phil Steele doesn't have JVB on any of his 4 B1G teams ... OK? He has Keenan Davis as one of his top receivers. ... Hmm, QB's throw Receivers the ball still right? 3000+years last year is pretty good right? Unproven on the road, but c'mon! Out of all B1G QB's from last year coming back, JVB is the obvious first choice, no? Which QB would you take first in you and Adam's "fantasy" CFB teams?
Brian Bennett: I have a lot of respect for Phil Steele, and his preseason magazine is a must-have resource for any serious college football fan. But simply put, he blew this one. No way James Vandenberg shouldn't at least be on one of the top three teams. He's the best pure pocket passer in the league, hands down, and I think Iowa will lean on him heavily in lieu of a proven running game. Now, as far as fantasy goes, I'd still take Denard Robinson. Big running stats from a quarterback are immensely valuable in fantasy. Of course, given Adam's fantasy acumen, he'd probably draft an offensive lineman first.
Matt from Minneapolis writes: Minnesota came really close to pulling off some pretty big upsets last year against USC and Michigan State. With a team that looks to be improved from last year, do you see any scenario in which the Gophers pull off an upset against a team eyeing a conference championship? If so, what game would it be?
Brian Bennett: I would expect the Gophers to at least scare the bejeezus out of a league contender. How about the Nov. 3 home game against Michigan? Minnesota wasn't remotely competitive against the Wolverines last year and will be looking to atone for such a poor performance at the Big House. Michigan will be coming off two straight tough games against Michigan State and then at Nebraska and could be physically beat up. Not saying Minnesota will pull that upset, but I could see a close game.
Shawn J. from Scranton, Pa., writes: You questioned whether Rob Bolden made the right career move by staying at Penn State. It's doubtful that Bolden will ever play in the NFL. So any career move should prioritize his post-football plans. With that in mind, what's his best move? Keeping his full ride at a premier research university.
Brian Bennett: Sure, that's a totally understandable option, and being a backup at Penn State might be preferable to starting for an FCS school. We have no idea of what Bolden's priorities and personal goals are. But it has been my experience that most players want playing time, first and foremost. I'm not sure how much he's going to get with the Nittany Lions going forward unless he shows radical improvement.
Malcolm from Del Mar, Calif., writes: If Michigan's coaching staff does what they do best and get the two sides of the line playing close to last year's squads, would that make them the favorite in the B1G Legends Division?
Brian Bennett: It would make them at least the co-favorites. The lines are definitely the biggest worry spot. But don't forget that last year's team played great and still didn't win the division. And that was with a favorable schedule. This year's schedule is much more difficult, with road games at Nebraska and Ohio State, plus the always difficult Michigan State game.
Jim from Winchester, Va., writes: Which game, and what kinds of things will you see in the nonconference schedule that will make you think to yourself..."Nebraska's defense looks like it may sneak up on the BIG, and is actually pretty good."
Brian Bennett: I see what you did there, Jim. Making me agree with your point and only asking me when I will agree with it. Crafty move. Anyway, I'll be optimistic about Nebraska's defense if it shuts down its first two opponents. Southern Miss finished 14th in the nation last year in scoring more than 36 points per game, and even though the Golden Eagles will have a new quarterback and a more defensive-minded head coach, they still have plenty of weapons. Then Nebraska goes to UCLA, which resembles an offensive juggernaut the way I look like Brad Pitt. But the game is still on the road, and new coach Jim Mora will likely have some tricks up his sleeve. Strong performances in both those games will signal good things for the Huskers. Still, I'm way more interested in how they are going to handle Wisconsin and Ohio State to start Big Ten play.