Big Ten Thursday mailbag

This is my last mailbag before Christmas. And remember, like Santa, I see you when you're sleeping. (Just kidding. Creepy.)

On to your letters:

Patrick from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Brian, are Darrell Hazell and Gary Andersen comparable coaches? If so, what does it mean that Wisconsin is only able to hire a coach of the same caliber as Purdue?

Brian Bennett: Interesting question. Both guys are coming off one big year at a mid-major, Andersen at Utah State and Hazell at Kent State. Andersen has a longer track record as a head coach than Hazell, five years to two, though Andersen didn't really have a major breakthrough year until 2012. Andersen gets an edge for being a coordinator for four seasons at Utah, including an undefeated season in 2008. Hazell had not been a coordinator at a major program before becoming a head coach, though he was the assistant head coach at Ohio State and Rutgers. Hazell is also more familiar with Big Ten turf than Andersen, who has spent the majority of his life in Utah.

It's been reported that Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez had at least some interest in Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson and Toledo coach Matt Campbell. I have to think he would have at the very least kicked the tires on Hazell had Hazell still been available when the Wisconsin job opened. Ultimately, Andersen has a little bit more of a track record, but I think both coaches were excellent hires and good fits for their respective schools.

Jon from Colorado writes: Brian, would the rankings for assistant pay look different for 2011? I assume part of the reason Luke Fickell is at the top of the list is due to his time as interim coach, seeing as he's a first-time coordinator. Also, Wisconsin would have been much higher with Paul Chryst (who was a very-well-paid assistant). It's somewhat understandable that Wisconsin is lower on the list for 2012 with Chris Ash (a first time co-coordinator) and Matt Canada (a real step up from previous jobs) isn't it?

Brian Bennett: It would have looked somewhat different, yes. Chryst was reportedly making $361,000 at Wisconsin in 2011. This is actually Ash's second year running the defense in Madison; his reported salary at Arkansas is $550,000, double what he's making in Madison. Even if Canada and Ash were making what Chryst was pulling in, they would rank about fifth or sixth in the league in coordinator pay and wouldn't match what the SEC is handing out to assistants. Experience definitely matters in what an assistant makes, although the marketplace is the ultimate deciding factor.

Willie from Minneapolis writes: Brian, I don't understand the discrepancies in the assistant pay. I thought the BIG schools shared the wealth. Doesn't this give all BIG university's the ability to pay the same wages? Also, being a Badger fan and recognizing their recent success, I am surprised they aren't even in top 5.

Brian Bennett: Big Ten teams share TV and bowl money, but schools keep their own ticket revenue and other forms of income. Athletic departments like Ohio State and Michigan are as about rich as you'll find anywhere. Different schools also place different levels of priority on other sports. Big Ten teams do rake in a lot of dough from their TV deals and will soon be getting richer. They will have to decide where to best use that money.

Tyler L. from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Brian, I have a question about B1G expansion (just like everyone else). Looking at all the teams that are suggested by other readers, teams like Iowa State, Pitt and Virginia appear often. However, I've always wondered why Kansas is never considered by anyone? They are in the AAU, which is always important, and while their football team is abysmal, it does add a strong program in other sports and a new market for the B1G to spread into. Besides Kansas, which is more likely to be added, North Carolina or Virginia?

Brian Bennett: You do get a new market, but I'm not sure how valuable it is. Kansas City is rated the No. 31 TV market in the country, so that's something. But there aren't a lot of people in Kansas, and it doesn't open up a whole lot of new, fertile recruiting ground for the league. The Big Ten is interested mostly in demographics, and the population is shifting to the Sun Belt and the West. That's why more southern schools would be better targets for the league. And if you thought Rutgers and Maryland didn't add much to Big Ten football, could you stomach Kansas coming on board?

Dave from State College, Pa., writes: Since Penn State has been reduced to 15 scholarships for the next few seasons (besides their early enrollees this year) they will be relying heavily on their "run-on" program. I was wondering if you could explain how offering recruits to be a "preferred" walk-on works? Is there a limit to how many preferred walk-ons that you can have?

Brian Bennett: Dave, the only real difference in being a "preferred" walk-on is that means the coaches have guaranteed you a spot on the roster and that you will be on the team, at least for your first year. A regular walk-on can be cut at any time and may have to try out just to get a roster spot. Sometimes, preferred walk-ons join with the understanding they will eventually gain a scholarship if they perform well, but Penn State will have a tough time promising that right now. Since there is a 105-player roster limit in college football, you can do the math on how many preferred "run-ons" Penn State can carry.

Ben H. from Charleston, S.C., writes: Both you and Mr. Rittenberg have been commendably fair with Penn State during the season. However, with all due respect, your linked tease sentence, "The Nittany Lions are recognized for academic achievement" is painfully vague and ambiguous. Please consider dedicating a completely separate blog post with some paraphrased or highlighted quotes from the story. In my opinion, a complete story about the recent recognition of PSU Academic All-Americans is more interesting and noteworthy than a story about Michigan's bowl uniforms. You would receive very positive feedback.

Brian Bennett: Ben, we have written about Penn State's academic success from time to time and like to publish good news about any academic achievements by players and teams. But the bottom line is that this is a football blog first, and while those accomplishments are noteworthy, we usually don't have a lot to add to them. And you'd be surprised at how little attention such posts get. Whenever we write about even small uniform changes, the response far outstrips any academic item. That's the world we live in.

Blake F. from Washington, D.C., writes: For full disclosure my father-in-law is a PSU graduate, and I grew up in Oklahoma as a Sooner fan. However, your assertion that Ohio St. would play for the national championship if they were not ineligible is so delusional. I am not trying to be disrespectful and I understand you are writing for and to Big 10 constituents and alumni. However, you Big 10 guys keep comparing yourself to and keep competing with in your minds the SEC. The truth is the Big 10's bowl record is not even close to the Big 12 over the past decade and now you are asserting Ohio St. should play in a national championship game over a one-loss SEC team? Please explain. I am all ears.

Brian Bennett: Delusional? What's so delusional about it? I look at history. No team from one of the five true power conferences (sorry, Big East does not count) has ever gone undefeated and been left out of the BCS title game in favor of a one-loss team. Never. The only time a team from the five power leagues went undefeated and did not play for the title was Auburn in 2004, but that was because there were two other undefeated teams from those same leagues (USC and Oklahoma) that were chosen instead. So I have a hard time buying that Ohio State could go 13-0 (with the league title game) and yet be left out for one-loss Alabama, though I would love to have lived through that debate.

I've seen some of the BCS projections on Ohio State others have done, notably the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises, who wrote that the Buckeyes would have been tied for third in the final BCS standings. But it's virtually impossible to project what really would have happened since two-thirds of the BCS formula is comprised by polls. Ohio State definitely suffered from an out-of-sight, out-of-mind phenomenon this year, as the Buckeyes didn't gain a lot of attention since everyone knew they were ineligible. But just imagine the hype that would have started when the Buckeyes got to 6-0, 7-0, etc.. I have to imagine that the coaches would have voted Ohio State high, and surely all Big Ten coaches who voted would have fallen in line and put the Buckeyes No. 1 or 2. (OK, maybe not Brady Hoke).

In the end I think there would be too much pressure not to include the nation's only undefeated major-conference team in the BCS title game. It's a fun debate and I respect your right to disagree, but it is anything but delusional.

Lorenzo from Boulder, Colo., writes: Do you believe the comments from the Capital One Bowl that they weren't pressured? I find the "excuses" somewhat specious. I'm not offended that the "real" NU (not Nebraska) didn't get invited; just wish the bowl committee admitted it was about money and league pressure. Second comment regards the ticket sales for bowl games. Northwestern doesn't divulge sales. A good reason why. They are likely doing poorly, as the Gator Bowl is a disappointment. I got a call from NU because I went to the 1997 Citrus Bowl (with Peyton Manning as QB at Tennessee) and they wondered if I wanted to buy tickets for the ridiculously named Taxslayer.com Bowl. It was 15 years ago I went to an NU bowl game. They are digging deep.

Brian Bennett: Big Ten officials and the Capital One people have adamantly denied that there was any pressure or influence put on by the league to get Nebraska into that game. We had other people tell us otherwise. It seems to me leagues would have in their rights to have a say on matchups since they are partners with the bowls and provide the teams, but that's just my opinion. As for Northwestern not divulging ticket sales, I don't understand the school's policy there. It hasn't done so the past couple of years, but the Wildcats sold out their allotments for the past few bowl games, so the policy does not appear to in place to avoid embarrassment. Several other schools had no problem reporting their low sales.

Richard from Des Moines, Iowa: With Rutgers moving to the B1G, it got me reminiscing about Brian Leonard/Ray Rice. Could Mark Weisman at Iowa end up like Leonard, relegated back to fullback, if another back takes control this spring/fall? I love watching Weisman play, but if we can find a Ray Rice, I'd love that even more.

Brian Bennett: Rutgers fans still adore Brian Leonard, but every team would love to find a Ray Rice. Leonard did a little bit of everything for the Scarlet Knights, a role I'm sure the unassuming Weisman would be happy to adopt if asked. One bright spot for Iowa is it should have whole lot of competition at running back next year, assuming they are not all stricken down by the curse. If the Hawkeyes can keep two of them healthy and get Weisman and, say, Damon Bullock going in the backfield at the same time, that could help improve a dreadful offense. Haven't you proved your point by now, AIRBHG?