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Thursday, April 5, 2012
Big Ten Thursday mailbag

By Brian Bennett

Time to take a break from Day 2 of my Hoosier State adventure and answer some of your emails:

Brian from Atlanta writes: Why are you two always so wrong about every issue surrounding a playoff? Every system has problems, and the four team plus is no worse than the others in that regard. A 4 team playoff has lots of problems (EX. If a 1 loss team beats an undefeated team in the semis -- why does that loss count more?), and it hurts the Rose Bowl. You playoff proponents put blind faith in the system to accurately pick the top 4 teams and seed them, but somehow think that same system would fail after the bowls. That makes no sense. Either the system works all the time or none of the time.

Brian Bennett: Well, Brian (great name by the way), I can give you a very simple answer as to why the proposed plan to include the Rose Bowl in a playoff is dumb: It's being called, as you mentioned, a "four-team plus." How ridiculously convoluted does that sound? And that's the very point: We've finally gotten to a place where the powers that be are very open to the excellent idea of a four-team playoff and now there's an option that would muck up the whole thing.

No playoff system is perfect; there are those who would argue that the NCAA basketball tournament doesn't always crown the best team because of its single-elimination format (though the bracket did a pretty darn good coronation job this year). But a four-team, seeded football playoff where the best teams qualify is as good as we're going to get. Let's not ruin it before it begins.




Scott from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Brian, I think the talk about the Pac-12/Big Ten partnership making it harder for either of the conferences to reach the title game is unjustified. I think it would make it more likely that a team from one of those conferences would go. You need to run a stronger schedule to convince people to get into the championship game, and these match-ups would only make it more likely that the most dominant teams in both conferences could make it to the BCS title game. Am I right or are people seeming something I am not? Also, I am so stoked for the MSU/Oregon series!

Brian Bennett: What the Pac-12/Big Ten series does is potentially make it harder to go undefeated. And going undefeated is the surest way to get into a four-team playoff, because there's no way a team from either league that goes 13-0 would be left out. Adding another difficult game only increases the chances for a loss. Though it does add to a team's strength-of-schedule argument, that would really only come into play if a one-loss Big Ten or Pac-12 team was trying to lobby its way in against other one-loss or non-power-league teams.




Brian from Newmarket, United Kingdom, writes: I was curious on your thoughts regarding Don Van Natta Jr's article on Penn State? Do you feel differently about JoePa's firing? Seems like Joe may not have been as guilty as everyone says and there was some other shady things going on.

Brian Bennett: Cheers, Brian (great names in the 'bag today!). The story was a fascinating look at all the political and behind-the-scenes power struggles going on in the context of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. But it doesn't really change my opinion of whether Joe Paterno needed to be let go. I've said all along that virtually no one in this entire saga -- not Paterno, not Penn State administrators and trustees, not the governor, not the original investigators -- comes off looking good in this whole mess. I still believe Paterno should have done more and that he could not have been allowed to coach another game under the circumstances, though the way his dismissal was hired by the trustees was also handled very poorly.




Ben from Connecticut writes: OK, I give. Every article involving Jim Delany always -- always! -- refers to him as some flavor of "powerful." Just what makes him so powerful? Is it simply the title of Big Ten commish or something more? Chutzpah? Dirty pics of Mike Slive? I'd love to know how, if the rest of the world wanted to do something, he'd be able to stop it.

Brian Bennett: He has pictures of Slive eating Chick-fil-A on a Sunday. Actually, Chris, in some respects anyone who is the commissioner of the Big Ten (or the SEC) is going to wield enormous influence simply because of the league he represents. The Big Ten might not be winning national titles in football right now, but it still has a tremendous financial impact on the sport. That said, some milquetoast commissioner wouldn't have the same respect as Delany has. He's been extremely successful and is always going to be one of the brightest guys in any room. The rest of the power brokers need him and the Big Ten to make this playoff system happen.




Grant from Detroit writes: Thanks for your interview piece with Pat Narduzzi. From your experience with the B1G D-Coordinators, is there a better one in the B1G? And I don't mean that I want you to point out DC's whose teams are successful. I am asking if there is another DC in the conference who has done more with such unheralded recruiting classes. I don't think it takes a great coach to maintain the play of great recruits. I think a great coach sees the talent where others don't and grows that talent into true greatness.

Brian Bennett: I've been impressed with his work since I covered Cincinnati over on the Big East blog, and many of the players that he coached played major roles in getting the Bearcats to BCS games under Brian Kelly. Narduzzi is very bright, a great motivator and one of the best in the business. You also can't discount the impact of Mark Dantonio, who's a defensive-minded coach (and a former brilliant defensive coordinator himself). I think it's the combination of those two guys and their working relationship that has made the Spartans' defense so good.




Cam from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Love the blog and all, but in your Week 9 road trip post, you said that Michigan State-Wisconsin has become the most exciting new rivalry in the B1G. With all due respect, I wholeheartedly disagree. I would say Ohio State-Wisconsin has become a MUCH more intriguing rivalry in recent years. Ohio State's only loss of the regular season coming in Camp Randall in 2010, followed up by a last-minute upset of the Badgers in the Shoe in 2011, and some poisonous feelings that definitely are felt in other sports too (see: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin basketball final seconds; timeouts BETWEEN last second freethrows? Cold.). Now that both of these teams are possible "elites" again, what do you think about their budding rivalry and its effects on the B1G as a whole?

Brian Bennett: I love college hoops as much as anybody, but I don't think you can include that in this discussion. Michigan State-Wisconsin gets the nod for me because they played two thrilling, monumental games last year; because the Spartans ruined Wisconsin's shot at a perfect season in 2010; and because the two teams staged very close games in the previous three years. Other than last year's barnburner in Columbus, the Wisconsin-Ohio State series hasn't been nearly as close, as four of the previous five games were decided by double digits. So Spartans-Badgers is more exciting, though this year's Ohio State-Wisconsin game could easily ratchet things way up.




A.J. from Madison, Wis., writes: If the Badgers had their 2012 schedule in 2011, would they have gone undefeated in the regular season? They would have gotten OSU and MSU, their two losses, at home but had to play Nebraska and Penn State on the road.

Brian Bennett: Really interesting question. Wisconsin absolutely pounded Nebraska and Penn State at home, so logically you could assume the Badgers would have won those games on the road, too. And Camp Randall would likely have provided enough of an advantage to change the outcomes against Michigan State and Ohio State. But here's why I say no: Wisconsin is simply so, so much better at home that the odds are the Badgers would have slipped up somewhere on the road, where they undid themselves with special-teams disasters and mental breakdowns in the two regular-season losses last season.




Brian from Warrensburg, Mo., writes: Can you please explain why you guys think Michigan St will finish atop Nebraska this season? Unless their schedule is considerably easier, I feel like they lost too much star power last year to compete head to head with a Nebraska team that only lost a couple good players and beat them very soundly last year.

Brian Bennett: Another Brian! This must be some kind of a record. I put very little stock in last year's Nebraska-Michigan State game when trying to forecast this season. While the Huskers deserve all the credit for playing a great game, I firmly believe the Spartans were emotionally spent from playing and beating Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan in three successive weeks before going to Lincoln. And didn't Nebraska lose almost as much star power as Michigan State, with Alfonzo Dennard, Lavonte David and Jared Crick? I know that Michigan State's defense is going to be great; I don't know how good Nebraska's defense is going to be or if the Huskers' offense can become more consistent in league play.

With all that said, it's not even tax day yet, so these early predictions don't mean a whole lot. I will form better opinions after spring practice. Adam has seen Nebraska up close, and I will be checking out the Spartans soon. Can't wait to compare notes.




Nate from Easley, SC, writes: I really like the idea of a spring scrimmage but, other than injuries, I have one major concern. The current system is slanted toward benefiting those with a good pre-season ranking, so, if voters took the results of a glorified scrimmage into account, wouldn't it further skew the pre-season rankings? (Granted, voters' pre-season ranking are already perception-based and not entirely accurate.) Said another way, do you think a scrimmage "Win" would take on more value than player development? Would two highly perceived teams want to to scrimmage if it hurt their stock going into the season?

Brian Bennett: That's an angle I hadn't considered. On one hand, maybe it's not so bad if voters took spring scrimmages into account, because preseason polls are mostly based now on what a team did last year and what it brings back, never having seen one spring or summer workout. If a voter actually paid attention to a spring scrimmage and how a team looked in an exhibition like that, that's probably at least as accurate as the way most voting is done now. I don't think preseason rankings are as big of a deal in a four-team playoff anyway, because the cream should rise to the top in most years.