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Big Ten Monday mailbag

6/17/2013

I like the way you work it. I got to 'bag it up.

A.J. from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Hey Brian, this is a question regarding the B1G and the SEC. Could part of the reason it's been so hard for the B1G to stay competitive on a national level with the SEC be weather? For instance, it wouldn't be ridiculous to think that recruits would want to choose a school where you almost always play in sunny and warm conditions, and could prevent recruits from wanting to be in the Midwest. Even lower tier SEC schools like Tennessee or Ole Miss continue to get highly-ranked players. Wisconsin has just as much tradition as those schools, and has even been better in the past few years, yet they never get some of the top recruits. Frankly, we see a lot of crummy overcast in the Midwest, and could a national contender like OSU or Michigan be more likely to be upset when the weather is not helping motivate the team? This could be ridiculous, but could this be another reason the B1G may never catch up with the SEC?

Brian Bennett: It's naive to think that weather doesn't play some factor. Big Ten teams always have to worry that it's going to be freezing cold or snowing when recruits -- especially those from the South -- come to campus on official visits. Weather certainly has played some role in the shifting demographics in this country toward the Sun Belt. And players can more easily train year-round outside when it's warm. So it's definitely something the league has to overcome. I still believe the biggest obstacle is simple geography; there are more big-time recruits in the South, and they're more likely to play their college ball close to home. Weather definitely can be a negative for the Big Ten at times, but it's not the only reason the league has fallen a step behind the SEC.


Bratwurst from Milwaukee writes: Rank your top 3 games including at least one B1G team that could appear on College Gameday. Conference or non-conference matchups?

Brian Bennett: Mmm ... bratwurst. Sorry, lost my train of thought there for a moment. We ran a poll last week on the most important Big Ten game, and not surprisingly, Ohio State at Michigan won out. That's always going to be huge, and if the Buckeyes are undefeated and Michigan is having a great season, it could very well be a "GameDay" selection. My top three would also include Nebraska at Michigan on Nov. 9 and Wisconsin at Ohio State on Sept. 28. Those two games could decide the division championships and should have great atmospheres, with or without Chris, Lee, Kirk, Desmond and the gang.


Alex G. from Ames, Iowa, writes: All this 9-game B1G schedule talk has me nervous about the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry game. I know in Friday's mailbag with Adam there was talk of VT / other major conferences filling in every two years or so, but I don't see how that will go down with fans in Iowa. Maybe the Cyclones and Hawkeyes will always be "middle-tier" teams on each team's schedule, but that's not what matters. Unless you live in the state of Iowa, you truly don't know how important this game is (this is coming from a born Hawkeye fan attending Iowa State). Do you truly see the Hawkeyes booting the Cyclones in favor of a SOS booster?

Brian Bennett: I'm a huge proponent of in-state rivalries and would hate to see Iowa-Iowa State lose its annual status. I think that series is good for the entire state and both programs. In the end, I think it comes down to what type of program Iowa sees itself as. Do the Hawkeyes view themselves as a team that can make mid- to upper-tier bowls on an annual basis and compete for the Big Ten title in most years? Or does Iowa truly see itself as a national title contender? If it's the latter, then upgrading the schedule is truly a must, whether that means adding another marquee opponent besides Iowa State or replacing the Cyclones with a big-name opponent in certain years. If keeping seven home games and just getting to bowls is the objective, then playing Iowa State and two mediocre teams is fine. I'd love to see Iowa challenge itself with Iowa State and another brand-name opponent, but I also understand the difficulty of doing so with a nine-game Big Ten schedule.


Mark from Arizona writes: I am so disappointed. How can you not put Mark Weisman in your top 5 running backs to lead the conference? He was impressive when he was healthy. He's a beast. Iowa may have some questions with quarterbacks, receivers, and defensive lineman, but not with running backs and an experienced and healthy offensive line. You gotta be crazy not to consider Weisman and Iowa's rushing game top 3 in the conference.

Brian Bennett: Mark, in case you missed it, I recently ranked Weisman No. 4 on our list of guys who could become new members of the 1,000-yard club in 2013. But that was in addition to five returning players who ran for more than 1,000 last year. It's not that I don't think highly of Weisman; it's just that he has a lot of competition in a league filled with really good running backs and talented running quarterbacks. Weisman had some big games last year but finished with just 815 yards. Granted, he was banged up for parts of the year and wasn't given a full load of carries early on. Still, Iowa has other options at tailback, including Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri, so there's no guarantee he'll get the full bulk of rushing attempts. And his physical style could make it difficult for him to stay healthy an entire year. I like his chances of getting to 1,000 yards, but it's probably going to take at least 1,600 yards to lead the league. I don't see Weisman getting that high.


Matt from Midway, N.C., writes: Brian, why is it that Brady Hoke is given several years to have his roster in place to succeed in his system, when Urban Meyer seems to already have the pieces he desires? Both coaches have come in running a different scheme than their predecessor. Did Rich Rod destroy TTUN that much or is Urban Meyer just that good?

Brian Bennett: I guess you've already forgotten the 2011 season, when Hoke led Michigan to an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl title. So both guys had great first years at their schools. The big difference when it comes to implementing systems is that Meyer -- while he lacked the athletes he wanted at receiver -- had the perfect guy to run his spread in Braxton Miller, while Hoke inherited a running quarterback when he wanted to use a pro-style passing game. And Ohio State still had plenty of talent and future NFL draft picks on the roster, while Michigan's overall talent level had noticeably dipped under Rodriguez.


Jay from Arlington writes: I wouldn't but Penn State very far behind Alabama if I were you. The two games they played recently were far closer than most of the simpletons in the media believe them to be and on a neutral field, the 2012 Big Ten champion Nittany Lions (The only rightfully undefeated team in league play) would have taken Bama to the wire. Once they got going, they were easily the best team in the Big Ten last year despite playing against a stacked deck all year long. Penn State will challenge the likes of Alabama before any other Big Ten team will.

Brian Bennett: I admire your optimism.