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Thursday, September 8, 2011
Big Ten Thursday mailbag

By Brian Bennett

What's on your mind today? Surprise -- it's expansion and realignment. OK, we'll talk about that a bit and then jump back into some real football.

Ben from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Do you think the B1G would accept Oklahoma? Seems like it would be another home run from a football standpoint (let's not lie, that's what it's all about), plus Jim Delany would then be known as the guy who reunited the Nebraska vs. OU rivalry. Can you imagine one conference boasting two of the most storied rivalries in college football history? Nebraska vs. OU one week then Michigan vs. Ohio State the next? That is some serious TV revenue right there.

Brian Bennett: I agree that the Big Ten should seriously consider Oklahoma, as I wrote in this week's Take Two. The Sooners are more likely to look west to the Pac-12, but they are exploring all options right now. The Big Ten understandably has some concerns about Oklahoma as a cultural and academic fit, as the school is not an AAU member. But after admitting Nebraska and then having some conference presidents vote the Huskers out of the AAU, I think the league has a lost a little bit of its moral high ground there. The bottom line for me is that the Big Ten is an athletic conference, after all, and of the realistic expansion candidates, Oklahoma adds as much athletically as anyone while still making sense geographically.


Michael from St. Louis writes: Lots of talk lately about conference expansion/realignment, but one name I haven't seen tossed around a lot is Kansas. They fit the academic culture of the Big Ten (AAU membership) and bring a great basketball power to the conference. Their football program is struggling, but they're only four years removed from a 12-1 season and a BCS bowl win. Turner Gill is a good coach (evidenced by his remarkable work at Buffalo) and he should have that program headed in the right direction. I wouldn't label the Jayhawks a home run, but if the Big Ten expands to 16, I really think KU deserves some consideration. What are your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: The problem with the Jayhawks is that Orange Bowl season looks pretty fluky, and I'm not sure Kansas will ever be a consistent football power, especially in a league as stacked as an expanded Big Ten. The school also doesn't bring a huge media presence outside of maybe Kansas City and parts of St. Louis. The basketball sure would be nice, though. I'd label Kansas as one of those schools that might be considered if the league went to 16 and was looking for a fourth team to fill things out, but certainly not at the top of the list.


Alex from Des Moines writes: So, all of this talk of expansion and teams that might be worth getting got me thinking. ND is an obvious choice that adds tradition and eyeballs but that leaves the BIG 10 with an odd number. What if the BIG 10 goes after an SEC team who might feel left out of the new big picture? I'm thinking a team with national prestige, tradition, and a new recruiting base for the BIG 10. Tennessee hasn't had much love in the SEC for a while, is now a second-tier team in that conference at best and they're being lost in the expanding league. The BIG 10 has its own network, would receive big paydays (as does the SEC), TN would be a top tier program, and could be competitive instantly.

Brian Bennett: While the Big Ten would love to reach more into the South, I don't see any SEC team leaving for another league. Not only does that conference rake in the dough (and should grow richer as it renegotiates its TV deals post-expansion), but there's a fervent, almost cultish loyalty to the SEC among current members. Tennessee fans would revolt if their school decided to SEC-ede.


Hawkeye Joe from St Joseph, Mo., writes: Brian, hear me out here and try not to laugh. On the topic of expansion, do you think that the B1G will ever consider Iowa State? I'm serious here. Iowa State is an AAU school and one of the top agricultural schools in the country. The B1G already has 90% of the population of Iowa as fans, might as well add the remaining 15 people. Iowa State may not be the most impressive football program as they're about 90 wins short of .500.... Just a couple years ago they beat Minnesota in the Insight Bowl. The Iowa State stadium is named after Jack Trice, who died after an unfortunate run-in with Minnesota. The Cyclones got their name after a beat down they laid on Northwestern back in 1895. Another advantage of adding Iowa State is it would free up Iowa to add a different non-conference opponent. Plus, adding Iowa State would mean I would only have to follow 1 ESPN blog instead of 2.

Brian Bennett: Hawkeye Joe, I'll let Jim Delany know about your blog-reading habits and see if that has any influence. But I just don't see Iowa State as a viable candidate. For one, it adds nothing in value to the league since the Big Ten already has those TV markets sewn up with Iowa and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes wouldn't support the move, either. Iowa State is one of those teams that is in serious danger of being left out if the Big 12 crumbles.


Greg from Norristown, Pa., writes: Brian, I love your take on conference expansion! I think Oklahoma would be a great addition, giving the B1G a huge name and Nebraska a long-time rival. The same would go for Missouri who has developed a good border state rivalry with Illinois. But my team is Penn State, and although they have developed some "rivalries" over the years (i.e. OSU, Mich, MSU, Iowa) they're not really the most organic and Penn Staters still kind of feel like an outsider in the conference. That's why I think Syracuse would be a great addition. People outside of Penn State may not realize the history PSU and 'Cuse have, dating back to the vandalization of our beloved Nittany Lion statue in the '70s. Plus, Syracuse would bring in the NY market (as much as possible) and they're a good fit academically. You used to cover the Orange, what do you think?

Brian Bennett: Greg, I do think the Big Ten will look East if it decides to expand, whether that's Syracuse, Maryland, Rutgers or possibly UConn. While Maryland might bring more to the table with the Washington, D.C., market and Rutgers offers the tantalizing (and probably mostly imagined) prospect of New York City, Syracuse in many ways is a good fit. It's an excellent academic school with strong tradition and a natural rival for Penn State, which definitely needs an Eastern partner. I don't know if Syracuse is ever going to recapture its glory days given its location, but Doug Marrone has that program back on the right track.


T.C. from Scranton, Pa., writes: I know everybody is going crazy over the Penn State quarterback situation, and rightfully so, but I have some more important questions about who will be on the field Saturday against 'Bama. 1.) What's the status of Curtis Drake? This kid's a big time playmaker who can make any defense look silly, even Alabama's. 2.) Is Anthony Fera out of JoePa's doghouse and kicking this weekend? This game could be decided by a few points...if we're going to win we need a solid kicker. 3.) Is JoePa going to be on the sideline or in the booth? Something about Joe running (or maybe walking this time) out of the tunnel gives PSU an extra edge. Thanks!

Brian Bennett: Thanks for getting us back to on-field topics, T.C. As for Drake, Paterno said this week he is close to being ready to play. He'll be evaluated at the end of this week. Whether he's able to play against Alabama, I wouldn't expect a whole lot initially. Remember that he hasn't appeared in a game since 2009 and he's coming off two serious injuries. It will take some time for him to get back into the flow. Paterno also said this week that Fera should be back from his suspension, and the kicking game is something Penn State will need to dominate in order to have a chance. As for JoePa himself, he was still using a cane earlier this week but said he hoped to be on the sidelines. If there's any way he can do it, I think he'll be there, because he doesn't want to be upstairs for a game this big.


Sam from Iowa City writes: This is for you and Adam both. Would you explain to me why the blog is coming down so hard on Marcus Coker of Iowa for his play last Saturday? Yes, you're absolutely right that Coker fumbled the ball. But does weather not factor in at all? Did you and Adam not see the pictures of water rushuing down the steps of the stands? Did you miss the pictures of rain coming down so hard, the field was obscured? Guys, it was wet. Everyone was wet. The field was wet. Coker's arms and hands were wet. The ball was wet. And things are slippery when wet.

Brian Bennett: Was that a Bon Jovi reference at the end there, Sam? If Adam and I were hard on Coker, it's probably because we both expected huge things from him this year after his enormous bowl performance and the positive reports we heard about him all season. Not only did he fumble twice, but he only produced 41 yards on 11 carries. Mika'il McCall ran much better before his injury and didn't have any fumble problems in the same wet conditions. I'm willing to chalk up Coker's performance as one bad game in tough circumstances, but I'm anxious to see him do better things going forward.


Erik from Lincoln, Neb., writes: As a Husker fan, I watched a little bit of last Saturday's Notre Dame game and saw Brian Kelly going bonkers on the sideline. He was yelling and screaming at one of his own players and yet, the national media didn't go all over Brian Kelly but they did when Bo Pelini had his moment at Texas A&M last year. Is there a difference or is this a double standard?

Brian Bennett: Erik, Kelly was in fact criticized for his sideline demeanor (check out this column for proof). I don't know why Pelini's "moment" seemed to cause more of a national stir, except maybe that it involved the team's quarterback and it didn't happen on opening weekend when the focus is more scattered. Both coaches are fiery and willing to get after their players, but they have to understand that that doesn't always play well on television.


James from Toledo writes: It looks more likely that Ohio State will use some sort of a 2-QB system throughout the season. How effective do you think Bauserman/Miller system will be?

Brian Bennett: It will be interesting to watch. I think the Buckeyes will continue to give both guys snaps this week against your hometown team, James, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Joe Bauserman get most of the time against Miami if he remains effective. These early-season games provide an opportunity to get Braxton Miller some experience, but when the games get tougher I think you need to settle on one quarterback. I could see Miller coming in occasionally as a change-of-pace guy, or replacing Bauserman if he doesn't perform well or gets injured. Ohio State has often played two quarterbacks early in the season before turning the reins over to one guy.


Lincoln T. from Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., writes: Does Purdue barely beating Middle Tennessee State on Saturday help them, by showing they can win close games, or hurt them becuase they didn't play well against a Sun Belt opponent. I'm a huge Boilermaker fan (Alma Mater) and follow them no matter where the military sends me.

Brian Bennett: Honestly, I think just simply winning helps Purdue. If the Boilers had lost that game, it could have been a crushing blow to their confidence and really hurt their bowl hopes. With a new quarterback, Purdue just doesn't have a lot of margin for error right now and needs to collect victories any way it can. Finishing strong should also help Caleb TerBush's confidence going forward. Lastly, especially as we remember 9/11 this weekend, thanks for what you do, Lincoln, and stay safe wherever you go.