Big Ten Thursday mailbag


In two weeks, we will have football. But for now, it's another must-see Thursday mailbag.

Brad from Cleveland writes: Brian, with this being the last season of the BCS before the 4 team playoff let's run a hypothetical by you. Let's say that both Ohio State and Louisville run the table and go undefeated. Alabama wins the SEC again but has 1 loss to a top 10 team, and the Oregon/Stanford Winner wins the Pac-12 but also has 1 loss to a ranked team. Of those 4 teams who do you feel the BCS formula would rank 1 and 2? I would imagine a 1 loss SEC champ is in. But would a 1 loss Pac-12 Champ trump both an undefeated OSU and undefeated Louisville? And if not, who would have the edge of the 2 undefeated teams based on their schedule to take on the SEC champ?

Brian Bennett: I honestly don't think Louisville beats out any of those teams in your scenario. I mean, my goodness, have you seen that schedule? I also don't envision any way an unbeaten Ohio State gets left out. What the Buckeyes really have going for them is that they will start the season at No. 2 in the coaches' poll. As we've seen, voters have a real reluctance to move teams down when they keep winning. I also think a one-loss SEC champion -- especially if it's two-time defending champion Alabama -- gets the nod in every scenario against another one-loss conference champion, and rightfully so. Oregon's nonconference schedule (Nicholls State, Virginia, Tennessee) isn't that much better than Ohio State's, and outside of Notre Dame at home, Stanford's isn't all that impressive, either (San Jose State, Army). At least not impressive enough for the Cardinal to jump an undefeated Buckeyes team that would have won 25 straight at that point.

Ken C. from St. Louis writes: Jim Delany and the Big Ten desperately want to be elite again. And they believe the easiest way to accomplish this task is to have their better teams play dreadfully inferior teams through the month of September. Other than Michigan, who last year played both ND and Bama, no other strong Big Ten teams are willing to take a chance on playing a marquee game out of conference. Yet the voters will reward, for example, OSU if it wins all of its games regardless of its schedule ease. OSU and the entire Big Ten should be called out for this strategy, a strategy which was underlined when they added powerhouses Rutgers and Maryland.

Brian Bennett: Ken, I forgive you if you've been too busy following the Cardinals this summer to stay up on the news. Yes, this year's nonconference schedule is pretty dreadful. No one can successfully argue otherwise. But it's hardly the strategy of Delany and the Big Ten, which more than any other conference right now is taking the lead in scheduling very aggressively for the future. Take a look at some of the planned opponents for Big Ten teams:

Michigan: Arkansas (2018-19), Virginia Tech (2020-21)

Michigan State: Oregon (2014-15), Alabama (2016-17)

Nebraska: Miami (2014-15), Oklahoma (2021-22)

Northwestern: Notre Dame (2014 and 2018), Stanford (2019-22)

Ohio State: Oklahoma (2016-17), Oregon (2020-21), Texas (2022-23)

Wisconsin: LSU (2014 and 2016), Alabama (2016)

And again, that's just a sampling of some of the opponents the Big Ten has on the books. So get your shots in now at the league's nonconference schedules, because they're about to be as tough as anybody's. Speaking of which ...

Erik from Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Brian, as a Penn Stater living in Florida, I was really hoping to travel to Orlando for an away game at UCF, but it looks like Ireland was the best move for everyone. The non-conference slate has been looking more interesting lately, especially with the newest addition of Virginia Tech albeit a decade away, but the only match-up I'm really looking forward to in the sanction era is 2016 @ Pittsburgh. I know two years isn't that much breathing room in college football, but the addition of San Diego St. to finish off the 2015 non-cons seems a bit of a let down. How realistic would it have been to fit a marquee game into that spot, knowing it would either be a one game series, or the return trip wouldn't be for a while (a la PSU vs. Virginia)?

Brian Bennett: Just to be clear, you're not actually calling Virginia a marquee opponent, right? Anyway, the 2015 schedule (Temple, Buffalo, San Diego State) is pretty boring right now, but the Nittany Lions do still have an open date to fill that year since the nine-game Big Ten schedule doesn't kick in until 2016. Let's see if the school adds an interesting team to that mix. But if not, it's hard to blame Penn State for playing it safe with the 2015 schedule. That will be the second year of the 65-scholarship limit and the third year where the team can offer only 15 initial scholarships in recruiting. That's where we could see the effect of these sanctions kick in, and with the bowl ban lifting for 2016, there's no real need to try and schedule a headliner for 2015.

David from Minneapolis writes: There has been a lot of news and articles going around about scheduling in the Big Ten. The strength of the opponents the time between scheduling and playing. PSU just scheduled a series with VaTech for 2021. UW pushed it series back with them to 2019-2020. Will there come a time when we can see our schools make their non-conference schedules only a couple years out rather than almost a decade? I like that UW booked Alabama and LSU in the near future. I'd like college football to be able to schedule like this for more marque match ups for us fans.

Brian Bennett: David, it's difficult to do because there are so few open slots and so many teams. For example, many Big Ten schools have their schedules mostly set for the next 3-5 years, with a couple of holes to fill. But I share your feelings on the timing of these scheduling announcements. It's hard to get too excited about a Penn State-Virginia Tech series that starts in 10 years. Who the heck even knows who will be coaching those teams, much less whether either will be good? Plus, all it takes is for one school to change its priorities or head coach or go through a downturn and suddenly the series is bought out or postponed. I'm sure Ohio State thought it was getting an interesting series with Cal when that was set up a few years back. One of the best benefits that would come with a potential breakaway into a new division by the larger schools is the pool of teams would be shrunk, and perhaps more sanity with future scheduling could result.

Thomas from Omaha, Neb., writes: So Maryland can't afford to give its athletes three meals a day but somehow they are so valuable the Delany had to snap them up? The preferential treatment that Maryland is receiving a few short years after Nebraska left a long relationship with the Big 8/12 is quite frankly disgusting and has a lot of folks in this area questioning Nebraska's move to the B1G. Hopefully the SEC will decide to form a Super Conference and NU can leave the B1G. Which would be too bad because I like you and Rittenberg.

Brian Bennett: Don't go, Thomas. Nebraska in the Southeastern Conference? Now that would really be stretching the definitions of geography. Anyway, I couldn't blame the Huskers for being a little upset that Maryland is getting some Big Ten welfare while Nebraska still waits to receive a full share of revenue. But remember that the reason the Big Ten added Maryland (and Rutgers) had far less to do with the actual programs and much more to do with their locations. The league is betting that expanding into the D.C. market will help its existing schools get better exposure and access to new recruiting grounds. Whether that was a sound strategy remains to be seen. But if Maryland were located in, say, Idaho (I realize that sentence makes little to no sense), the Terrapins would never have been invited.

Jason from Seattle writes: Hi, Brian. Illinois alum... concerned it may be a tough watch this season. From what you have seen, could we get to mid-pack Big Ten in 2013?.. Or is there true hope on the horizon for 2014 & 2015?

Brian Bennett: Jason, I'm glad you wrote in. Haven't had many Illinois questions here for a while. I can understand why Illini alumni might be laying low, but it's always good to hear from you. I do believe that Tim Beckman's team will show improvement this year. I like that an offensive identity is being established under new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit; I think some of the jucos will help and the offensive line simply can't get much worse. But there's still a talent deficit at play here, and the schedule is rather unforgiving. I think Illinois will be better and more competitive than it was in 2012, but we could still be looking at something like a 3-9 record. Perhaps Wes Lunt can lead the program back in '14, but it's a long climb.

Mike from Cincinnati writes: Looking at the UM backup QB situation, if the race is so tight what do you think of just giving the nod to Brian Cleary and red shirting Shane Morris? If Devin Gardner comes back for his 5th year and we burn Shane's redshirt this year he really only has 2 years of eligibility left. I don't think it's any secret that a lot of the hype around Shane is on pure potential. Why not give it an extra year to develop?

Brian Bennett: It's an interesting question, because if Gardner stays healthy there's really no reason to play Morris and you could potentially redshirt him. On the other hand, we have no guarantee that Gardner will actually come back for his fifth year, and if he bolts for the NFL, you face a situation in 2014 where Morris has no game experience. That's why I think it's probably best to get Morris a little bit of work this year and get him ready just in case. Yeah, you might lose a year of development, but you've got to play for now in college football. And the way Brady Hoke & Co. have been recruiting, they can always find a successor to Morris down the line.

Ian from Tacoma, Wash., writes: Hey Brian, during a recent article regarding the end of the 15-year BCS era, your colleague Mark Schlabach made a comment regarding Ohio State's "futility" in BCS games. Now, I realize the Big Ten is down and that Ohio State did lose a couple of clunkers in 2006 and 2007, but has everyone forgotten the fact that Ohio State has more BCS bowl wins and appearances than ANY other school, including those from the almighty SEC? It seems a little disingenuous to recall 2006 and 2007 while ignoring several high profile BCS wins and Ohio State's strong overall BCS record.

Brian Bennett: We've been talking a lot about perception this week, and here's a case where perception trumps reality a bit. Ohio State has played in more BCS bowl games (nine) than any other team and is tied with USC for the most BCS bowl wins with six. Yet all anybody seems to remember are the two national title game losses, in 2007 and 2008. Of course, winning one out of three appearances in a BCS title game isn't too shabby, but our friend Schlabach rarely misses a chance to jab the Big Ten.

Andy from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Looking at your player rankings, I can't help but notice that you put Devin Gardner right behind a guy named "Dennard." Was the irony intentional?

Brian Bennett: Ha. Totally unintentional. But kind of funny. I asked Darqueze Dennard at Big Ten media days whether he pronounced his last name "De-NARD" or "DENN-ard." He said it was fine either way and that most people used "DENN-ard" now but that he pronounced it "De-NARD" growing up. Isn't that ironic for a Michigan State defender?