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Big Ten Thursday mailbag

5/30/2012

I'm getting married in one month, so I'll be writing a lot of thank-you letters. As always, I thank you for your letters. Let's answer them.

Dave R. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I've been a rabid Buckeyes fan for a couple of decades. I supported John Cooper even after it wasn't popular to do so (though, toward the end, it was clear we needed a change) and I supported Tressel through everything. Even now, I don't hate the guy. It sucks what happened and how the team suffered. But that doesn't erase all the good things he's done -- on and off the field. So what will it take for those thousands of other fans who can't stand the guy to sing 'Kumbaya' with him? In your opinion, will it take only winning a few big games and, perhaps, a NC, for fans at tOSU to welcome back Tress?

Brian Bennett: Time plus winning can erase a lot of ill feelings. Ask this guy. I believe that if the Buckeyes start winning at a high level, either claiming a national title or at least getting to the national championship game multiple times under Urban Meyer, any lingering resentment toward Tressel will fade. I do sense that there are a lot of Ohio State fans like you who still like Tressel for all the good things he did as a coach and don't think his missteps were that bad, especially compared to what we've seen some other coaches do in recent months. So I do believe that one day we'll see Tressel welcomed back in Columbus.


Pat from Carmel, Ind., writes: I see a lot of optimistic Wolverines talking National Championship Game this season. Realistically I just don't see them coming away unscathed with matchups against Alabama (now technically in an SEC state), @ND, MSU, @Nebraska and @OSU. I can see at least two if not three losses from this group of games. As a Spartan, the schedule did us no favors either...especially with a similar stretch to last year. However, it would burn me if we wind up with identical records and Michigan once again ends up in a better bowl than us. Please bring the fans of that other school back to reality as you have so many times recently on this blog and tell them they will NOT be going undefeated (and that MSU will win the Legends division of course).

Brian Bennett: I don't see any Big Ten team going undefeated this year, and certainly not Michigan with that schedule. It's one of the hardest schedules in the nation, and even winning the opener would be considered an upset by almost every neutral observer. Throw in those tough road games, and it seems nearly impossible that the Wolverines can get through that grind unscathed. Of course, if they do, they will have truly earned a shot at the national title. And it's the kind of schedule that could even get them to a BCS title game with one loss if things break right in the rest of the country. But I think Michigan will stub its toe at least a couple of times this season and will likely end up with a worse record than last year's 11-2.


Jeremy from Marshalltown, Iowa, writes: I look at the changes that are taking place at Iowa (new OC and DC, new position coaches, loss of all their star RBs recently. loss of McNutt, etc). As we've seen with many teams that deal with similar situations, they either succeed because it's hard for opponents to prepare for or they struggle for obvious reasons. What are your expectations of Iowa this upcoming season and in the next 4 seasons?

Brian Bennett: It's a good question, and I really feel this is kind of a crossroads type year for Iowa. The Hawkeyes have had some great seasons in recent memory but have been rather mediocre the past couple of years, and now they're going through major coaching changes for the first time under Kirk Ferentz. Throw in a very difficult division with Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska not likely to fade away anytime soon, and Iowa can't afford much more slippage. I see the Hawkeyes as a bit of a mystery this year with such a young defense, but the schedule is very favorable. I have confidence in the program mostly because Ferentz is still one of the best teachers and developers of talent in the game. I think Iowa will stay around a 7-to-9 win type of team, but I'm not sure I forecast a Big Ten title coming to Iowa City in the next four years.


Nic from Vermillion, S.D., writes: I'm a huge Huskers fan who is glad to be in the Big Ten, but there's one thing in regards to scheduling that I think was better in the Big 12. Nebraska always played 3 of the South teams for 2 years and then switched to the other 3 for 2 years, therefore never having more than a 2 year hiatus between any team in the league. Although the B1G's protected crossover may complicate things, why not use the old Big 12 model?

Brian Bennett: It comes down to one thing, Nic: Ohio State-Michigan. The Big Ten is not going to mess with that game, for good reasons, and therefore that's going to affect the rest of the scheduling. Nebraska fans experienced the opposite of this when the Huskers stopped playing Oklahoma every year, which I'm not sure was the best solution for either party as that really affected the rivalry. A possible solution down the road would be to put Michigan and Ohio State in the same division, thus allowing more flexibility in crossover scheduling (and avoiding the potential of the two teams playing in consecutive weeks if they each won their division). But at least the Big Ten model is better than what's coming in the 14-team SEC, where certain teams will host cross division opponents once every 12 years.


Brian from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., writes: I've been saying for years now that we should just take the winners of the 4 BCS bowl games and put them in a plus 3. That would essentially give the top 8 teams in the country a shot at the title, plus you'd keep the BCS games intact. What issues would you see with this system? Would it just extend the season too long?

Brian Bennett: There aren't many issues with your plan except that almost no university president or athletic director wants an eight-team playoff at this time. It took us about 100 years to get them to tentatively agree to a four-team model. You could also have some issue with geography in your plan, if say USC and Miami were the No. 1 and No. 8 seed. Otherwise, it would work fine -- if the sport's leaders had any appetite for extending the season farther, which they don't.


Robert R. from Enlightened City writes: I am sure that I am not the only person who has thought of this idea for a 4 team playoff format but to me (a hardcore college football traditionalist) it is the best one. Go back to how you had the BCS before 2006 where there were only 4 BCS bowl games and the 4 main bowls rotated for who hosted the national title. The only difference is instead of the bowl hosting just the national title game have them host the whole entire final 4. That way fans don't have to travel to more than one place, the bowls remain relevant if not more relevant then they are now, and you get a great final 4 environment that you get in college basketball. The only thing I can think of that would make this plan obsolete is if the grass fields like the Rose Bowl can take 3 games of football in a one or two week period. Your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: I kind of like this idea in theory, but it wouldn't be quite like the basketball Final Four, where the games take place over the course of three days. You couldn't expect fans to stay in a city for a full eight days, especially if they didn't know they'd be playing in the title game until after the semifinal. So you'd more likely end up with fans trying to travel back to the same city a few days later. Having both semifinals at the same site would be fun, but you could have major issues with hotels and tickets; unlike the basketball national semifinals, I have to believe a separate ticket would be required to both those games. BCS leaders in fact want to do away with the current so-called "double hosting" model -- where the same city hosts its regular BCS bowl plus the BCS title game a week later -- because of some of those same headaches. And having two games on the same day or over the course of the same weekend could very well wreak havoc on grass fields.

Still, I like that you're thinking about fan convenience, Robert. It seems like too few of the sport's leaders are doing the same.


Mike from Madison, Wisc., writes: First off, let me say that I think expanding beyond 12 would just be plain dumb for the B1G. But, if it comes to a situation of "keeping up with the Jones'," I have an interesting solution to the problem of a 16 team super-conference. Let's run the show like they do in the English Premier League. Split the 16 teams into two 8-team divisions. The top division of 8 play for a chance to win the conference title. The bottom 3 finishers in the top division are sent down to the lower division, and the top 3 finishers in the lower division move up to the top division. This way, bottom league teams can work on building, and when they reach that threshold, they can step up and play against the top teams. I know, schedules have to be made 6 decades in advance and people would get confused keeping track of who's in which division...but if people in England can keep track of near 20 teams in each division, I think we can handle 8. Just a thought from someone who loves watching college football, but thinks soccer has it right.

Brian Bennett: Mike, I love the relegation system and wish it could be used in every sport. If you'll recall, we had a lot of fun with the idea of relegation in college football a few years ago during an ESPN.com summer series. Your solution is as good as any to keep a 16-team superconference actually feeling like a real league, though I seriously doubt the Indianas and Minnesotas of the world would support such a plan.

This is getting off topic a bit, but after thinking about expansion and superconferences last week, I realized I missed an obvious point. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already aligned with their scheduling agreements in all sports, including football, and those two leagues have so much in common. In fact, officials from both conferences said at the time they announced their alignment that it was like having the benefits of expansion without the actual expansion. And we have talked about how the Pac-12 doesn't have many obvious candidates for addition in the near future. The two leagues could easily join forces for the world's first super-duper, 24-team conference. If it ever had to come to that.


Daniel Y. from the Arabian Sea writes: Brian, just wanted to say a big thanks to you and Adam for keeping the blog so loaded with information even in the offseason! I'm currently deployed and if it wasn't for the B1G blog, I think that I would go crazy. Keep up the good work and don't forget about Penn State!

Brian Bennett: You're welcome, and more importantly, thank you for your service, especially in a week where we observed Memorial Day. We'll keep the coverage coming, though things will undoubtedly be a little lighter in June and early July. But media days and the start of fall camp are just around the corner. And believe me, we haven't forgotten Penn State. Speaking of which ...


Joe A. from Denver writes: Love the blog, but can you tell ESPN that the weekly of "news" regarding Penn State are boring and overdone. It's like the boy who cried wolf. No one needs daily updates on Paterno salaries, pensions, pointless comments by people or every single thing that happens during a trial. We've stopped paying attention. That is all.

Brian Bennett: I understand that this constant drip-drip-drip of small news can feel a bit exhausting, and we have tried to avoid much of it in the blog to keep from overwhelming you (and us). At the same time, this might have been the biggest scandal in the history of sports, so it's an impossible story to ignore, even in the seemingly small details. With the Sandusky trial scheduled to begin next week, you can bet that there will be an explosion of news, and we'll have little choice but to cover it in the blog. On the plus side for those tired of the story, we'll have plenty of other content as well.


Jerry from NYC writes: Brian, it seems to me that you never miss a chance to deliver a subtle dig at Northwestern. The latest: comparing NU with Minnesota in response to Dan from Tempe in the Thursday mailbag. NU is clearly a middle of the pack BIG program and whose success on the field since the end of the "dark ages" is something to be proud of, not to mention its players academic successes at one of the nation's top-rated universities.

Brian Bennett: Hmm. Maybe it's just my way of poking fun of Adam. Really, I have nothing against Northwestern. The point I was trying to make in the mailbag last week was that Northwestern just isn't as big of a brand name as a program like USC or Ohio State -- which, by the way, you could say the same thing about, oh, 105 or so FBS programs. The Wildcats have indeed done some good things in recent memory, though they've only exceeded seven wins twice since 2001. And a bowl win would be nice. Dang, that sounds like a dig again, doesn't it?