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Big Ten Monday mailbag

6/24/2013

Sure, Nik Wallenda might be able to tightrope over the Grand Canyon. But can he face the challenge of answering your emails twice per week?

Jason L. from Kansas City, Mo., writes: Brian, I would like your opinion on something. In your mind, what are the odds of the B1G going to a 9-game conference schedule and scheduling tougher opponents backfiring? I mean, to me the B1G is gambling that strength of schedule will be a greater factor than it is now. I remain very skeptical. I mean the perception is still there that the SEC is the best conference. So, I still see teams like Alabama or other SEC teams playing easier schedules (only 8 conference games and playing FCS teams) and getting the nod over a B1G team with the same record but a more difficult schedule. What are your thoughts on this? Are teams actually going to be rewarded for playing more difficult schedules under the new system?

Brian Bennett: It's an excellent question. There's no doubt that the Big Ten is gambling a bit by asking its teams to play tougher opponents and going to what could be a grueling nine-game conference schedule. As Jim Delany told me recently, "there would be a lot of disappointment if we're not rewarded for that." Delany firmly believes that the playoff selection committee will heavily weigh strength of schedule and conference championships when picking the four teams, and he's basing that off everything that's been said inside the league commissioners' meetings on the playoff. The thought is that this will resemble the college basketball selection committee, which rewards teams that play tough schedules and punishes those that do not.

But in basketball, that benefit is usually limited to seeding and the selection of bubble teams. We really don't know how this is going to play out for a committee that must differentiate between four teams who likely will be playing very different schedules. What if the Big Ten as a whole takes some lumps in those nonconference games? Will that reflect poorly on the league champion? What will the committee do with a team like Boise State that might go undefeated against a more questionable schedule but still win a conference title? Will the SEC claim two spots most years, leaving the Big Ten, the ACC, the Pac-12, the Big 12 and everybody else fighting for two spots. These are all questions we can't answer right now. But hopefully strength of schedule becomes a huge component, because that will encourage every team with title aspirations to beef up their schedules and will benefit the sport as a whole. Ultimately, the Big Ten is going to have to win its share of marquee games, or no one will feel sorry for the league.


Divine Wind from Tokyo, Japan, writes: I see people questioning OSU's ability to live up to the hype by stating they are now "playing for real." I don't understand the psychology. It seems to me if there was a year to mail it in, last year would have been it. Now, with the nation's longest winning streak, plus a chance to actually play for something, they're going to become timid? Why is that? Is it based on Auburn two decades ago?

Brian Bennett: I do find this train of thought that Ohio State was playing without pressure on probation last year to be a bit ludicrous. First of all, there's always pressure on the Buckeyes to live up to mammoth expectations. That team made going undefeated its goal in the preseason, and it had to withstand some late-season road challenges against Wisconsin and Penn State, not to mention the overtime game at home against Purdue. You don't think Ohio State felt pressure to beat Michigan and finish 12-0?

The one area where I think the Buckeyes benefited last year was that they weren't involved much in the national title conversation, so the national media wasn't following their every move and critiquing every weakness. We've certainly seen some teams, a la West Virginia in 2007, succumb to that kind of pressure. Maybe if Ohio State is in the championship hunt late this season and finds itself in a close game, then players start to get a little tight. But I don't see it as all that big of a factor, and the Buckeyes are likely going to be favored in every game they play.


Patrick from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Brian, I think I have a fair solution to the scheduling/not scheduling of FCS opponents. Why not just have teams that schedule FCS opponents fall in the post-season bowl pecking order, especially if they're tied with another Big Ten team? Seems like a compromise everyone could live with.

Brian Bennett: I see how that could work. By playing an FCS team, you'd also be pretty much taking yourself out of the playoff mix, unless for some reason you played two other tough opponents. But while there are certain instances where having FCS teams on the schedule makes some sense, as a whole I still think it's a bad practice for Big Ten teams. It usually does very little for the fans, weakens the entire league's strength of schedule and is often only noteworthy when there's an embarrassing loss. I've never understood the argument that FBS teams should somehow help support the athletic department of FCS schools by giving them a "paycheck" game. If you can't afford to play football and other sports at the FCS level, then go to Division II. Major League Baseball teams don't play Triple-A teams to feed their bottom line -- or when they do, they're rightly done as exhibitions.


Winner of the 23rd annual "mother-Boy" from Washington, D.C., writes: Love the blog, guys! Do you think that Wes Lunt will start at Illinois during his first year of eligibility? Since Beckman may very well be on the hot seat next year (some people even believe his seat is warm this year) do you think it would have made more sense for Lunt to have gone to Indiana, Purdue or even Northwestern?

Brian Bennett: Had to pick this email for the name alone. You're killing me, Buster! Anyway, Lunt has less competition at Illinois than he would have had at Indiana (which brings back Cameron Coffman, Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld next year), Purdue (Danny Etling and Austin Appleby) or Northwestern (Trevor Siemian and incoming freshman Matt Alviti). But that's not to say he has no competition in Champaign, as Aaron Bailey was regarded as one of the jewels of this year's recruiting class for Tim Beckman. It's hard to believe Beckman would have worked so hard to land Lunt if he wasn't intent on giving him every opportunity to play, and Lunt will have a leg up because of the experience he gained last year at Oklahoma State. So while it's highly likely that he'll start in 2014 for the Illini, he still has to earn the job.


Chris from STL writes: It is getting annoying to hear all this hype for Michigan's resurgence under Hoke due to recruiting. Player rankings don't take into account; character (legal issues), leadership, dedication, injuries, and team work. With that in mind look at MSU under preforming last year. MSU's highest rated class was 2009. Wasn't their best thought once they showed up at state. Sims (legal and injuries)-Maxwell (under preformed)-Baker (out preformed by Bell)-Caper (injuries)-Barrent (medical DQ)-Gainer (under preformed/transferred)-Spencer (under preformed/transferred)-Klatt (under preformed/injuries)*Plus five start Will Gholston that never reached his potential. Players are kids, make dumb decisions, don't have the work ethic, have egos. To anoint future success based on recruiting success is lazy. Coaches, Strength and Conditioning, facilities, tutors, Director of Personnel/Player, fan base, university support, and getting the "right" guys is what matters. Previous success is an indicator as long as the foundation is still there.

Brian Bennett: Chris, you make some good points about relying too much on recruiting rankings. Heck, I've said over and over that those rankings are wildly overrated, and we've written numerous times about the players who went unheralded on the recruiting trail but turned out to be some of the Big Ten's best players. That said, I think there is definitely value when a team and a coaching staff recruits class after class of highly-touted prospects, as Michigan is doing. Even if the Wolverines miss out on several prospects, they have a lot of other blue-chippers who could come through. And this staff has shown that it can develop talent, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Since Hoke seems to have all the foundations in place, matching that with upper-level if raw talent should equal success. Of course, Hoke and Michigan still have to prove they can win big games and championships, and that will be a fascinating story to follow.


Paul K. from Sun Prairie, Wis., writes: Two quick ones ... will Gary Andersen's history more on the West Coast hurt or help UW's recruiting? Will his more aggressive defense hurt or help a team that in the past has seemed to be more interested in staying in games, rather than dominating them?

Brian Bennett: Well, Andersen's ties in Utah have already paid off with a couple of commitments from that state, including 2015 quarterback Austin Kafentzis. I think it's safe to say Utah wasn't a huge recruiting area for the Badgers in previous years. Andersen's roots out West should open up some new pipelines for Wisconsin, but ultimately he will have to find talent wherever he can, since there aren't a ton of FBS-level recruits in the Badgers' home state. It will be interesting to see how the program utilizes the East Coast in recruiting with the Big Ten's new focus in that region, especially since Wisconsin will be in the West Division. As far as the defense, I think you'll see Andersen try to get a little bit more athletic in the front seven. That's easier said than done. But he and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda are smart enough to build a scheme based around the personnel they have, and their background leads me to believe Wisconsin will continue to field a very good defense.