- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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By the time you read this, I'll be gorging myself on the latest hipster music and some Texas barbecue down at South by Southwest, proving there is in fact an adult spring break. But I found some time to answer some of your emails first:
Mark from Chandler, Ariz., writes: Hey, Brian, lifelong Huskers fan. I was just looking at Nebraska's schedule for 2013. It appears to be an easy schedule. There is only 1 team (UCLA) that beat us and no team that has been strong lately except possibly Michigan and Michigan State. Could this be seen as a detriment in the rankings if the Huskers run the table and getting into the BCS title game? It seems if they do run the table and go undefeated that there better not be two undefeated teams from SEC or even one undefeated SEC and another with one loss. Doesn't this hold true for Huskers if the undefeated is, say, Notre Dame and an SEC?
Brian Bennett: Whoa there, Mark. Let's slow things down a bit. Maybe skip that second cup of coffee this afternoon. Is there really a need to discuss Nebraska's BCS title possibilities with an undefeated record? Don't the Huskers have to, you know, finish a season without three or four losses first? Look, I like Nebraska's schedule this year. Getting UCLA at home is a plus, and Big Red misses Ohio State and Wisconsin from the other division. That said, road games at Michigan and Penn State won't be a picnic, and Northwestern and Michigan State have the ability to come into Lincoln and win. The bigger issue than the schedule is Nebraska's defense and whether Bo Pelini can fix the massive problems on that side of the ball we've seen the past couple of years, especially on the road. Until we see that in effect, there's no point in discussing national title hopes with this team. Certainly not in mid-March.
Brian from Portland, Ore., writes: Is it safe to say that the Nittany Lions have the most returning receiving talent in the league? If so, with the lack of experience at QB, do you think they'll be the most (or one of the most) productive?
Brian Bennett: If you count all the tight ends Penn State has, including Kyle Carter and Jesse James, then the Lions have an argument there. No doubt Allen Robinson is the top returning wideout in the league after his breakout sophomore year. But there aren't a lot of other proven receivers who scare you. Brandon Moseby-Felder is solid but not spectacular. Nebraska and Indiana have the top two sets of returning wide receivers in the Big Ten, though both lost highly productive tight ends. However, I think whoever wins the Penn State quarterback job -- and Steven Bench is the early favorite -- will have a whole lot of options at his disposal and will put up big numbers. I'm especially interested in seeing what Carter can do in a full season after a year in Bill O'Brien's system.
Joseph from Tipp City writes: Will Michigan State be able to replace Le'Veon Bell? How will Nick Hill do as running back?
Brian Bennett: You mean the guy who had 382 carries last year who accounted for 39 percent of the Spartans' total yardage? Yeah, that's hard to replace, especially by just one player. I don't see Hill as the every-down back for Michigan State. He's a little too slight, and he averaged just 2.3 yards per carry last year, albeit in limited duty. But he will get a shot this spring, along with Jeremy Langford, who's moving back to tailback. But the coaching staff has indicated that one of the three incoming freshmen -- Delton Williams, Gerald Holmes and R.J. Shelton -- might end up getting significant carries right away. I think you'll see more of a tailback-by-committee approach for the Spartans, at least early on, instead of one main guy like Bell. He did do the work of about three men, after all.
Christine B. from Charlotte writes: Following this past weekend's NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championship, Indiana's men's athletics program extended its lead in the overall Capital One Cup standings, which honors the best NCAA Division 1 men's and women's athletics program each year.
Brian Bennett: Glad you mentioned this. I enjoy following the Capital One Cup standings, which show how the entire athletic program is fairing. Indiana is having a great overall year (without a lot of help from football) and currently leads No. 2 Alabama by two points. Only two other Big Ten teams are in the top 62 of the men's standings -- No. 16 Wisconsin and No. 55 Penn State. Of course, some Big Ten schools could add points during the NCAA basketball tournament. You can find the complete standings, including the women's standings, here.
Rich from Des Moines writes: With the bowl contracts expiring soon, it seems the perfect time for the Big Ten and all the other conferences to finally free themselves from the shackles of the bowls and their shady executives. The conferences should ditch all the bowls with the exception of the Rose and maybe a couple of others that have not made it routine to rip off the schools with mandatory ticket purchasing. You'll have to tell me who those are, however. Why don't the conferences stage their own bowls? It seems like a rather simple proposition. They have experience with big events as each of them stages a basketball tournament. They wouldn't have to share any of the proceeds with a third party either. After the playoff participants are determined, everything else is open to negotiation. ... This would probably eliminate the concern of low-selling tix for a late December or Jan. 1 game played in Indianapolis, Chicago or any other northern city. Wouldn't Nebraska fans sell out Memorial Stadium if their 2nd place team hosted the 2nd place team from any other major conference? The same can be said for any other Big Ten location.
Brian Bennett: Some great points here, Rich, and it remains insane to me that schools still for the most part hand over their postseason to bowls, which are little more than tourism generators for cities that have nothing to do with those universities. It's an outdated tradition that's hard to break. Even with the new playoff system, which is a great advancement for the sport, the sports leaders couldn't wean themselves off of the bowls. Conferences don't seem to have a whole lot of interest in running their own games, and they sure as heck don't want the NCAA to run the postseason so they can keep more money for themselves. Athletic directors love to sell the idea of a bowl in a warm weather locale to fans, even if that's becoming a worse business plan every year. And to be fair, many Big Ten fans would rather go to Florida or California in the winter than sit through a cold and snowy game at home. I don't see the bowl model changing soon, but the fact that many schools are currently re-examining the economics and structure of the system is at least a good start.