- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Since tomorrow is the Fourth of July, my usual Thursday mailbag is coming at you a day earlier. Adam is on vacation next week, so if you have any questions you want answered in a timely fashion, send them to me here.
A.J. from Madison, Wis., writes: Brian, Phil Steele's projections gave me an interesting thought: If Wisconsin finishes with the same record as division winner Nebraska, who loses to an undefeated Ohio State that makes the BCS title game, does Wisconsin or Nebraska go to the Rose Bowl? On one hand, as you've written before, conference championship losers rarely make BCS bowls. On the other hand, I'm not sure how much the Rose Bowl would want Wisconsin due to the fact that they've just dropped three in a row. Also, is there a chance that the Rose Bowl skips out on them both?
Brian Bennett: Fascinating hypothetical there, A.J. It's difficult to provide a definitive answer since so many variables would be in play. Wisconsin and Nebraska would both have to finish in the top 14 of the BCS standings to qualify for an at-large Rose Bowl bid. The Rose would be free to select any team in the top 14 if it lost the Big Ten champ to the title game, but would there be a sizable difference in the rankings between the Huskers and Badgers, especially right after a Nebraska loss, in your scenario? With its schedule, I doubt Wisconsin would be in line for a high BCS ranking with more than two losses and would probably have to be 11-1. That means Nebraska would be 12-1 or 11-2 in your hypothetical; a close loss to an undefeated Buckeyes team in the Big Ten championship game could keep the Huskers in play for a BCS at-large, but history is against it. (Look what happened to Georgia after last year's heartbreaking loss to Alabama).
I believe there is some Wisconsin fatigue with the Rose Bowl and vice versa, and Badgers fans already seemed a little tapped out about traveling to Pasadena last year. Would they continue to be excited about a fourth straight trip, especially to follow a team that failed to win a division title? Nebraska fans would definitely travel, though there would be a hangover from the Big Ten title game loss (and more questions about Bo Pelini and winning the big one). Such a scenario could prompt the Rose to take a team outside of the Big Ten if there is a worthy marquee program like Texas or Oklahoma out there. Then again, with this being the last year before the playoff arrives and the Rose Bowl becoming a semifinal site in some years, it might want to assure itself of a Big Ten participant. So, so many variables at play here, which is why this is interesting.
John from Omaha writes: In response to your article about the new B1G teams MD and Rutgers: There will never be buzz about Maryland and Rutgers because no one in the current B1G footprint wants to watch their football teams. Even worse, I don't believe anyone in New Jersey or Washington D.C. care about college football, much less Rutgers and Maryland. The addition of Rutgers and Maryland is a money grab for the Eastern market, one that may not even work given the stranglehold professional sports have in New York, New Jersey, and D.C. I believe the addition of Rutgers and Maryland will water down the quality of football in the B1G. In short, the B1G's addition of MD and Rutgers represents all that is wrong with the direction of college football and expansion. I don't plan on watching the B1G games that are not competitive, just games I find interesting, like Nebraska-Penn State, or Nebraska-Wisconsin, etc. If it were up to you, would you honestly add Maryland and Rutgers to the B1G?
Brian Bennett: Some fair points here, John, and I've never been a fan of the Rutgers and Maryland additions. I understand what the Big Ten is trying to do with these moves, and I've learned to trust Jim Delany's vision when it comes to growing the conference and its reach. This could ultimately mean much more revenue, exposure and new recruiting grounds for the Big Ten, all of which are good things. As for the teams themselves? It's hard to get very excited. I do believe Rutgers has the potential to become a very strong program, and it appears headed in that direction already. There's no reason the Scarlet Knights can't compete right away with the likes of Purdue, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, etc. I'm much less enthused about Maryland's prospects, at least in the short term. Speaking of which ...
Jerry from Bethesda, MD, writes: Brian, in case you haven't noticed Maryland will be bringing a number of programs with a long history of excellence at the national level. With Mark Turgeon now recruiting top 5 classes, it's only a matter of time until Maryland men's basketball is again a regular top 10 program. Brenda Frese already has the women's basketball program there. Both programs will do very well in the Big Ten. Maryland's men's lacrosse program will dominate the Big Ten, and the Maryland's women's program will give Northwestern more than they may want. Maryland men's soccer program is and has been for many years a top 5 program that will make life very challenging for Indiana's program. And Maryland's women's soccer program has emerged in recent years as a viable top 10 program. Maryland's field hockey program will dominate the Big Ten. So, while it may take Maryland a few years to get its football program to a genuinely competitive level in the Big Ten, in many other areas it's the Big Ten programs that will be chasing Maryland.
Brian Bennett: That's great, Jerry. But the Big Ten didn't add Maryland because of the women's lacrosse team or men's soccer team. Expansion is all about football, and really nothing else. Plus, you might have noticed this is a football blog, so we'll concern ourselves about whether Randy Edsall can make the Terrapins competitive.
Dave from East Lansing, Mich., writes: It seems that everybody thinks that one of the few bright spots for MSU on offense will be the Offensive Line. With the reported loss of Skyler Burkland, does that change the optimism or is there depth to fill that potential loss?
Brian Bennett: There's still no definitive news about whether Burkland will play again for the Spartans. It would be a shame if Michigan State's projected starting right tackle had to hang it up because of injuries. Still, the line boasts experience and talent, especially if left tackle Fou Fonoti and center Travis Jackson are all the way back from last year's injuries. Their health problems last year allowed some younger players to see time, which adds to the overall depth this season. I'll be taking a wait and see approach with this group, as the offensive line has yet to really come together and be an elite-level unit under Mark Dantonio's watch. But the pieces do appear to be in place, and the Spartans now have two veteran assistants who know offensive line play in Mark Staten and co-offensive coordinator Jim Bollman.
Jayme from Wichita, Kan., writes: Regarding the email yesterday sent to Adam, Harvey Perlman didn't hire Bill Callahan, Steve Pederson did. So really you have to give Perlman a mulligan for Pederson (he did bring T.O. back too). I am also really tired of hearing about 10-4 seasons being unacceptable. I grew up watching the Huskers in the '90s, and still consider 10 wins to be a successful season. Yes, I cringe and want to kick anything that gets in the way of my meltdown after a terrible loss, but.............the bad losses to me are a result of a less then stellar recruiting class in '08 and '09, and a transition to a different league. (Think trying to fit a square peg in a circle whole). Maybe this year, maybe next year, but the defense will improve to the point of Blackshirt/ish. I'll put money on the offense continuing to have success. When all of that happens everyone will be talking about Bo Pelini, and what a good coach he is. We are graduating players, for the most part staying out of the bad press, and shouldn't have anything but pride in our program.
Brian Bennett: Sorry, Jayme, but the buck stops at the president's desk for every major hire, and besides, Perlman couldn't have made a much worse blunder than in hiring Pederson in the first place. I get where you're coming from on the state of the Huskers. Most programs would kill to have a nine- or 10-win season every year. I also get why Nebraska fans, who have been spoiled by great tradition and have only one program in the state to root for, are upset about not winning a conference championship since 1999 or going to a BCS bowl in more than a decade.
Can you blame some recruiting misses and transitioning to a new league for some of that? For sure. But who was recruiting those guys in 2008 and 2009, and why hasn't Nebraska developed top-flight defensive linemen of late, a position that translates into any conference when it's good? Pelini has done a lot of good things, and the perception of him would be much different if Texas didn't get an that second put back on the clock in the 2009 Big 12 title game. At the same time, the Huskers shouldn't be losing 70-31 to Wisconsin or 63-38 to Ohio State. Those kinds of results sap the goodwill quickly.
2dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman
3dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
4dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy