- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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I'm getting married in a little over a week. No wonder she looks so sad.
But it's happy time. Mailbag time.
A. S. P. from Boynton Beach, Fla., writes: Conventional wisdom has it that now with Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke in place, Big Ten football will return to an Ohio State-Michigan two-step in the coming seasons. That would return Wisconsin and the Spartans to the pack, after a moment in the sunlight. Granted this is a gross generalization, but what are your thoughts on the next five years in Big Ten football?
Brian Bennett: I think the next five years will be incredibly exciting, and I can't wait to watch and cover them. You're fooling yourself if you don't think Michigan and Ohio State are going to be really, really good -- as in, national championship contention good. But Michigan State and Wisconsin aren't going to roll over, either. And don't forget about Penn State and Nebraska, not to mention everybody else. This has a chance to be a very deep league filled with outstanding teams that all appear to be on an uptick right now. Combine that with the new playoff system that will make it likely that a Big Ten team gets in the Final Four most years, and this could be one of the most exciting eras ever of Big Ten football.
Eric from Arizona writes: Greetings from Northern Arizona! You've stated Michigan State's BCS chances as "a definite." You and Adam have agreed that MSU is the favorite as of now to go to the Rose Bowl. In the case Michigan or Nebraska get to the B1G championship instead, what are MSU's realistic chances, given the schedule and the team they are fielding in 2012, of reaching either the Sugar, Orange or Fiesta Bowls in January? If the Rose Bowl didn't work out, I would love to drive 2 hours to see Sparty in person in Glendale...
Brian Bennett: Michigan State is probably better off finishing second in the Legends Division than making it to Indianapolis and losing the title game for BCS purposes, since history has shown that championship game losers have a tough go of it. Michigan was a perfect example of this. While naturally a lot depends on what other teams across the country do, the Spartans might well have to be 11-1, with their lone loss to an undefeated (in conference play) Legends champ. A 10-2 Michigan State team would have a tough time ranking high enough in the BCS standings to guarantee a berth, and then it becomes a beauty contest. Remember that Michigan finished just 13th in the final BCS standings but had enough cache with its name brand to get selected for the Sugar Bowl. As painful as it is to hear, Spartans fans, Michigan State might not carry the same weight. That's why winning the Big Ten championship game, or somehow getting there undefeated, remains the best bet.
Drew from Milwaukee writes: Nice article on Michigan State's rise to national prominence, Brian. The obvious program in the B1G to compare MSU against over the last few years has been the Wisconsin Badgers - a program that I feel has broken into the national consciousness a lot more than the Spartans have despite nearly identical results on the field of play. I've got a four point theory to explain the difference that I'd like to get your take on. 1) Playing in back to back Rose Bowls, the most timeless tradition in CFB, 2) more nationally elite players, particularly on offense (Tolzien, Clay, Kendricks, Ball, Wilson etc.), 3) game day atmosphere. I seriously think that a lot of people fell in love with Madison when the Badgers beat #1 Ohio State back in 2010, and 4) Bret Bielema, a polarizing figure who is very media savvy. While I think inside baseball folks know that Michigan State is a top program nationally right now, the lack of the aforementioned is holding them back from making the big time. What do you think?
Brian Bennett: You make some very good points, Drew, and I think your first one is the really important one. Unlike Michigan State, Wisconsin has played in back-to-back Rose Bowls, and there's simply no substitute for making it to the sport's biggest games when you're talking about national relevance. Though the Badgers lost the past two years in Pasadena, they still have those three wins from 1992-2000 under their belts, while the Spartans haven't played in a Rose Bowl since 1988 and haven't played in a BCS bowl during the BCS era. Bielema is also a master at promoting his program and his players, while Mark Dantonio has a more low-key public persona. There's no question, though, that Michigan State needs to make a splash on the BCS stage to get to the next level.
A.J. from Madison writes: I disagree that Wisconsin's biggest need for improvement is its wide receivers. I won't disagree that they are the most inexperienced group by far, but I think the D-line needs to step up most, as the pass-rush was very poor last year. Look back to 2010, not a single wide receiver topped 500 yards receiving, and the Badgers still made it to the Rose Bowl. It's just not as big of focal point in the offense.
Brian Bennett: I agree with you that Wisconsin needs to improve its pass rush, A.J. I'm just skeptical of how much improvement that unit can make during the summer. I thought Ethan Hemer, Beau Allen and Brendan Kelly all had good springs, and the Badgers look like they will be fine up the middle. They still need a consistent pass rusher off the edge who can disrupt plays, and they're hoping David Gilbert can be that guy. Gilbert does need a home run summer, but the Badgers would settle for just him getting back fully healthy from a foot injury -- so maybe more like a solid double to the gap. I don't know that there are many other guys with those skills on the current roster. Wisconsin's receivers might not hold the key to the season, but they have a lot of athleticism and potential. And in my view, they have a lot more room to grow in a short amount of time.
Bryan from Denver writes: Best conference for uniforms, traditions and stadiums in the country? I'm a Big 12 fan, but really believe these distinctions belong to the Big Ten, though we are close.
Brian Bennett: I couldn't agree more, Bryan, especially with the addition of Nebraska. As you'll be able to tell later this summer when Adam and I unveil our Big Ten stadium rankings, no other league can really compare to the amount of venerable, history-laden stadiums. Same goes for uniforms, traditions and longstanding rivalries. The key for the Big Ten is that it can't simply rely on its tradition. The league has to get back to competing for and winning national championships, because teenagers aren't that interested in history class.
Steven from Baltimore writes: I have a question about the B1G's representation on the BCS oversight committee. While I respect Harvey Perlman's opinions and leadership, do you think he's a good representative for the B1G at this time? We've heard from Nebraska representatives multiple times how they still don't quite "get" some things about Big Ten culture, like the Rose Bowl. As a Badger fan, I feel like my New Year's home is in Pasadena and I'm quite concerned about the Rose's future (especially with this rotating semifinal talk).
Brian Bennett: While I disagree with Perlman's stance that the status quo or a plus-one would be better for college football, the Nebraska chancellor is rightly held in high regard among his peers on these issues. He has served as chairman of the Division I board of directors and the BCS presidential oversight committee and is as knowledgeable as any university leader out there. I have no doubt that Perlman is representing not just his own views but those of the entire Big Ten during this process. Like it or not, a whole bunch of Big Ten leaders agree with him that a four-team playoff is unnecessary.
Kevin from Ann Arbor writes: Hey Brian, did you notice that the SEC's rise to (mythical) dominance did occur until after the complex strength of schedule component had been removed? Coincidence? I don't think so. The simple fact remains that the SEC has always been a top heavy league and a few instances aside, the league has been averse to stronger out of conference schedule.
Brian Bennett: I wish it were that simple, Kevin, because then we could find a way to end this stranglehold. But I'm afraid it's not true. LSU played one of the toughest nonconference schedules you'll ever find last year, beating two teams that won BCS bowls (Oregon and West Virginia) away from home. Alabama went on the road and handled Penn State. While some SEC teams have definitely scheduled softly and have been highly reticent to leave their comfort areas (hello, Florida), the ultimate proof is in the national championship games. No computer or poll matters then, and SEC teams have continually beat the best the rest of the country has to offer.
Kyle R. from Salt Lake City writes: Love the blog! It's awesome reading different sides to everyone's thoughts and arguments for every topic brought up, and you guys do a great job with sharing the spotlight for each team. My wife and I are trying to have a baby (hopefully twins) but what do you think of the name, Maize? Yes, I am a big Michigan fan! :) It's been our life long dream to go to the BIG HOUSE, so hopefully with a boy named Maize we can eventually all go there.
Brian Bennett: I love it, Kyle. Maize actually seems like a pretty cool name. If you have twins, you could name the other one Blue. Of course, he'd have to deal with a lot of this.