Big Ten Monday mailbag

Answering a few e-mails before the big basketball clash ...

Joe J. from Tipp City, Ohio, writes: Will Tyler O'Connor or Connor Cook replace Andrew Maxwell as the starting QB for MSU?

Brian Bennett: Well, that's kind of the story of the offseason for the Spartans, isn't it? Adam was at Michigan State last week, where not much has been decided yet. All three quarterbacks are getting looks with the first team this spring, and Mark Dantonio is putting the pressure on the candidates by allowing the defense to hit them during practice. I don't think anyone knows for sure how this is going to play out. Maxwell still has a big, big edge in game experience, though Cook gained some momentum in the bowl game. O'Connor and incoming freshman Damion Terry present intriguing options with their athleticism and running ability. I find the idea of a two-quarterback system very interesting and perhaps the way to go. A bold prediction: Maxwell begins the year as the starter, but he's not the only quarterback who starts a game this year for Michigan State.

Jeff from Whitewater, Wis., writes: With the videos I've seen this winter/spring about the Badgers, I feel like the players are very comfortable with Gary Andersen. That being said: do you think that this transition will be a lot better than last year's? Even though they had to replace more as a coaching staff?

Brian Bennett: We won't really know, of course, until we see it. But I've got a feeling the transition could go more smoothly, even with completely new systems on both sides of the ball. I have two reasons for that assumption. No. 1, I think Andersen really relates well to the players, and everything I've heard out of Madison is that the players have really responded to him. And No. 2, which might be even more important, is that the Wisconsin players should be more accepting of change now. When you have the same head coach and virtually the same systems but different position coaches with different ideas of how to do things, I think that can cause some confusion and resistance. Now, the Badgers know that it's basically a clean slate and an entirely different way of doing things, and they have no choice but to get with the new program. Sometimes it's hard for players to accept change after they've had a lot of success, but I think the Badgers are used to that by now. We shall see.

Zach T. from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I am absolutely sick about hearing how everything in the SEC is better than the other conferences. The SEC brags about 7 consecutive national championships when a middle of the pack Big 12 team comes into their league and drops 400 yards of offense on their unstoppable defense. Two 4/5-loss Big Ten teams play close games against 2-loss SEC teams that could have gone either way while the league's best team is home for the holidays and Wisconsin is 6-points behind Stanford despite their HC bolting for the door. Also since the Huskers' spring game is Saturday I feel like I have to ask: With much of the offense returning, who would you watch the most to step up and make plays on defense? GBR!!

Brian Bennett: I agree that the SEC love-fest is over the top, but until somebody beats them when it matters, it won't stop anytime soon. That's the unfortunate reality. I didn't get to your question before the Huskers spring game, where defensive playmakers were a little hard to find. But I can tell you from talking to defensive coordinator John Papuchis that the guys he likes that we haven't heard a whole lot from before include: defensive linemen Greg McMullen, Avery Moss and Aaron Curry, linebackers David Santos and Zaire Anderson, safety Corey Cooper and cornerback Josh Mitchell. He also thinks Thad Randle can be a force on the defensive line if Randle can just get healthy. Papuchis also acknowledges that more playmakers have to develop for the defense to succeed.

JT from Newark, Del., writes: With the recent events at Rutgers and Auburn, what do you think the NCAA will do in terms of investigation? As a lifelong Penn State fan, I can't help but think the NCAA would be incredibly hypocritical if they didn't impose some penalty on both schools, especially considering both incidents are directly related to the student athletes.

Brian Bennett: The Auburn situation is way more likely to get the NCAA's attention, as accusations of abusive treatment of players by a coach has never seemed to be on the NCAA's radar. Rutgers broke no NCAA rules that I am aware of. Of course, the NCAA has also not shown a lot of interest in pursuing Auburn despite some pretty inflammatory accusations in the past few years. But you make a good point about the Penn State case. Mark Emmert's actions there created a precedent for the NCAA to A) punish a school without doing its own investigation and B) issue major sanctions for administrative missteps that did not break specific rules. As a Penn State fan, you're justified in asking why the NCAA would do that for one school but not others.

Rich from Des Moines writes: Way back on last Monday's mail you answered a question about conference loyalty and how there seems to be less among Big Ten fans than SEC fans. I get the same sense. And I want to weigh in as a Michigan State alumnus. I will never, ever root for Michigan to win anything. The rest of the conference? I want them to win all their non-conference games. But, I wish Michigan would lose every game in every sport in perpetuity. I grew up a Buckeye fan (Dad graduated from there). I wanted badly for OSU to beat UM when they played. But, I rooted for Michigan out of conference, especially the Rose Bowl and the NCAA tournament, for the sake of conference pride. That changed when I went to MSU in the Fall of 1984. I lived in Michigan from 1976 to 1995. Michigan fans treat MSU with contempt and disrespect. Most of the media favored UM and treated MSU as a joke or a glorified MAC team. I understand why. Michigan has a better tradition of winning. But when MSU would break through and win, especially in football, it was never that MSU was better. It was ALWAYS because Michigan played below par or gave the game away.

Brian Bennett: Some interesting points, and of course it's much harder to root for your conference brethren when they're also your biggest rival and you have live next to their fans 365 days a year. So I have to ask all of you non-Michigan fans, especially Michigan State and Ohio State supporters: Will you be pulling for the Wolverines tonight? Or does conference pride only go so far?