Big Ten Thursday mailbag

August, 9, 2012
8/09/12
5:00
PM ET
I must admit, it's a little painful reading through the mailbag submissions these days.

As you might imagine, the vast majority of questions/comments concern Penn State, and let's just say there's a lack of rationality and civil discourse in many of those emails. There's also very little that's new in the questions, and like most of you I'm quite weary of the subject.

So I've decided that today's mailbag is going to be Penn State-free. Let's move on to football questions. Have at it:

Robert R. from Enlightened City writes: I must ask, why do we have to have a division format to determine a champion? It seems to me that this only brings no good. First, it splits the teams and pulls them apart, making potentially huge match ups between Wisconsin and Michigan or Ohio State vs Nebraska only happen 4 out of 10 years instead of potentially 8 out of 10 years. Second if you look at the other conferences in the past who have or had divisions almost always they seem to be completely unbalanced (SEC now, Big 12 when they had them, PAC 12 last year, and the Big Ten now). Why doesn't the Big Ten just instead have a scheduling format like they did in the past and if they insist on having a Big Ten championship (indoors, which no other Big Ten football games are played) then at least make it between the 2 best teams every year by actually picking the 2 best teams. Your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: There's very little question why the Big Ten has divisions, Robert. It's money. The divisions are necessary once you go to 12 teams and a championship game, which is a very valuable property. While I would love to see balanced schedules, there is no way the Big Ten is going to move to 11 conference games in a 12-game season. Your proposal would make it extremely difficult some, if not most, years to determine the two most deserving teams in the Big Ten title game. What would the conference have done in 2010, when Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin all tied for the league title? And without uniform schedules, it would be tough to know which teams were truly better. The only way to make it completely fair would be to go back to 10 teams and play a round-robin schedule. But that horse left the barn a long time ago.


Dave R. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I think what you're seeing with B1G players refusing to, first, select Bret Bielema as a coach they would rather play for and, second, select Bielema as a coach they would never want to play for probably calls out a similar vibe to B1G fans. There's something inherently unlikeable about Bielema. Whether it's his perpetual smirk, his whining about recruiting, or his propensity to run up the score on far inferior teams. What are your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: Dave, I can understand why Bielema was mentioned in some responses, because Wisconsin has become a big rival for a few teams and the Badgers have issued some pretty bad beatdowns in recent years. But I was really surprised in the lack of responses of those wanting to play for Bielema. He's a young guy who relates to the players very well, and he goes all out in promoting his guys for individual awards. Plus, if you're an offensive guy, you're going to put up stats. Bielema's players love him.


Drew from Milwaukee writes: Predicting that a team (any team) will go undefeated before a single down of football has been played is a great way to make yourself look foolish. That being said, if Wisconsin can get out of Lincoln with a win I really like their chances of running the table. They'll be fired up to avenge last year's loss at MSU and they get them at home where MSU has only won once in the last decade. The 2012 Badgers are a better team than the 2010 version that drubbed the #1 ranked Buckeyes in Madison. Wisconsin will be heavily favored in its remaining games against Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois and Penn State. What are your thoughts on this scenario?

Brian Bennett: What's remarkable about Wisconsin the past two years is that its five losses have come by an average of fewer than six points. You could argue that all but one of them -- Michigan State in 2010 -- could have gone the other way if one play had turned out differently. And, of course, all have come away from Camp Randall. So it's no huge stretch to think that maybe the Badgers could get a little more luck this year and actually go undefeated, but to do so they're going to have to win the big road games. So the games at Nebraska, Penn State and even Purdue become paramount. I wouldn't discount how fired up the Nittany Lions will be for that season finale in State College. But if Wisconsin gets out of Lincoln at 5-0, the undefeated watch will definitely be on.


Joe M. from Ann Arbor writes: With all the focus on Michigan's DLine, which features some untested but talented youth, I think people are missing the glaring issues that could crop up on the OLine. One injury means you are probably playing a true freshman and there is no experienced depth whatsoever. Do you think people are overlooking a thin OLine and do you think that is more of an issue than what happens on the DLine (which is backstopped by solid LB/DB's)?

Brian Bennett: That's a good point, Joe, and one that I have mentioned here on occasion. I think Michigan's starting five on the offensive line will be really good. It's what happens if there's an injury or two that is scary. People forget that, until last year's Sugar Bowl, the Wolverines were remarkably healthy on both lines. They may not get that lucky two years in a row. They have some talented freshmen coming in with guys like Kyle Kalis, and at least one of them is likely to crack the two-deep. But you don't want to be playing with true freshmen on the offensive line in the Big Ten if you can avoid it.


TM from Kansas City, Mo., writes: Do you see B1G teams scheduling a 2nd BCS non-conference team to make up for the loss of the now defunct Pac-12 scheduling agreement?

Brian Bennett: That's a good question, TM, and I think the answer is yes. The Big Ten and others expect strength of schedule to be a key component of the new playoff system. In announcing that the league would stay at eight conference games for the foreseeable future at the league's media days last month, commissioner Jim Delany said that the Big Ten schools who are serious about competing for national championships will play "enhanced schedules" that will "not only demonstrate strength by winning Big Ten championships but also demonstrate strength relative to other conferences." It's clear that he thinks power schools from the league need to schedule up, and many already have two good opponents on future schedules (Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin among them).

That doesn't work for every league team, though. Does it make sense for schools like Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue to schedule two tough nonconference games every year? No. But those schools who want to be considered for the four-team playoff need to have impressive schedules.


@Boilers2006 (via Twitter) writes: If you were Coach Hope, who would you start and keep at QB? Marve or TerBush?

Brian Bennett: That's a very good question, and I would definitely throw Rob Henry into the mix as well. Though he might not have the best arm among the three, he's probably the most athletic and has excellent leadership skills. Purdue's practices have been mostly closed all offseason, so it's hard to get a good gauge for who's playing the best at quarterback. Danny Hope sounded confident after spring that Caleb TerBush, who started all last season, remained his No. 1 guy, though there's little question that all three will play somewhere. I thought TerBush really got better as the year went along and made pretty good decisions at the end of the season. Marve is still intriguing because of his pure talent. I wonder if trying to juggle three guys with so much starting experience will hurt the Boilermakers in the long run. I don't think any of the three is a bad choice, but someone needs to become the main guy.


Alex G. from Iowa writes: OK, I know you aren't done with your B1G unit rankings yet and I don't really know how you predict the teams to finish this year, but this has been bothering me. So far, Iowa has averaged being the 7th best team talent-wise (LB:8, DL:9, OL:7, WR/TE:4, QB:4, RB:11). Who would you have ahead of Iowa this year besides the Michigans, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Nebraska? Or do you think Iowa will be a better team as a WHOLE unit than as individual units?

Brian Bennett: I think you'll find that Iowa does pretty well in our secondary rankings. But to answer your question, I would put Iowa behind both Michigan schools, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin in total talent. I'd also say that Purdue is as good or better at several spots, way ahead on the defensive line and has more experience overall. Other teams like Illinois (defensive line, linebacker) and Northwestern (receivers) have some standout individual units. It makes sense that Iowa, whom I think is the fourth-best team in the Legends Division, would finish around seventh in those rankings. But it's also true that Kirk Ferentz and his staff have been outstanding at developing the talent on hand.


@GopherInWI (via Twitter) writes: There have been some encouraging reports of WRs for the Gophers, how vital is their improvement to MarQueis Gray's success?

Brian Bennett: It's incredibly vital, because although Gray did play receiver two years ago, he probably won't succeed throwing it to himself. Having more weapons around him means Gray won't have to run the ball every down and risk getting injured. Jerry Kill seems to be high on Devin Crawford-Tufts in particular, and Isaac Fruechte seems to be coming around. Minnesota needs a couple more receivers to step up this month.


@huskerwolfe (via Twitter) writes: Will Nebraska s D-line be more suited to hold up against B1G offenses with coach Kaz in charge? Schemes/ Technique wise?

Brian Bennett: There was an interesting article in the Omaha World-Herald today about new D-line coach Rick Kaczenski teaching the tackles brand new techniques. Kaczenski had great success with his defensive lines at Iowa. So I would expect there to be some changes there. But I think the most important difference will come down to much better depth. Nebraska had a lot of injuries up front last year and seems to have more healthy bodies going into this fall, especially in the middle. That has to help. The key, for me, is whether a guy like Eric Martin can become a consistently good pass-rusher from the edge. If so, the Huskers have a chance to be really good on that D-line, and that means good things for the whole team.


The Oregon Duck from Eugene, Ore., writes: So, are you going to be our starting quarterback or not?

Bryan Bennett: I'm working on it, though between Ducks practice and this blog I'm feeling a bit worn out. Then again, if I can do a Penn State-free mailbag, anything is possible.

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