Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big Ten [Print without images]

Thursday, November 8, 2012
Big Ten Thursday mailbag

By Brian Bennett

Mail time!

David from Chicago writes: Hey, Brian. Suppose Northwestern wins out but misses a spot in the title game to Nebraska. What are the odds a 10-2 NU team makes a BCS bowl?

Brian Bennett: First, Northwestern -- which is No. 24 in this week's BCS standings -- must finish in the top 14 in order to be eligible for an at-large spot. That means that a lot of other teams are going to have to lose, and the Wildcats are going to have to get more support from the pollsters. Winning at Michigan this week would help a lot toward that cause, though beating a 5-5 Michigan State team and then Illinois in the finale probably won't do nearly as much to impress.

Remember that just finishing in the top 14 doesn't guarantee anything. Some BCS bowl would have to decide that Northwestern was attractive enough to take it over teams possibly ranked ahead in the standings. While a bowl might jump at a big brand name like Michigan or Nebraska and risk getting criticized for it the way the Sugar Bowl did last year, I don't think the Wildcats have the same cachet. So at this point, I'd call it a long shot at best.


Chad from Lincoln writes: You think there's any chance Nebraska could lose a tight game to Penn State, then smoke Minnesota and Iowa, and end up in the top 14 to possibly grab an at-large BCS bid? Obviously a lot of other chips would need to fall into place, but is it even conceivable?

Brian Bennett: I actually think Nebraska is better winning out and then losing a close game to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game for that scenario. By doing that, I think the Huskers could move pretty close to the top 10 by the time they got to Indianapolis, and since so few teams actually play on Dec. 1, they wouldn't be in danger of falling far in the polls and standings if they lost an extremely close game that weekend. But losing to Penn State this weekend could drop Nebraska out of the Top 25, and once that happens, you're kind of out of sight, out of mind for the pollsters, especially since wins over Minnesota and Iowa wouldn't be as impressive.


Ed from Michigan writes: Your response to two awful calls costing a team 11 points was "Play Better" which seems to be the generic media response to bad calls. However when Green Bay loses on a controversial last play call by the refs the media collectively says the game was stolen from them. Did you guys in the media suddenly change your minds again?

Brian Bennett: I like that we're all "guys in the media," as if I was somehow spouting opinions about the Green Bay-Seattle game. Anyway, the two instances are not similar. In the NFL game, we were dealing with replacement refs who made egregious mistakes on a call, with two different officials calling it different ways and the replay official somehow not overturning it. That was as bad as it gets. While I didn't like either of the calls against Michigan State, both were judgment calls by the officials, and watching those plays in real time you could see why an official might call it that way. Again, if you put yourself in a dangerous position, you could get burned by a pass interference call. That does not excuse the Spartans' defensive failures on that drive or their inability to pick up a first down on their last possession, and it ignores some questionable calls that went their way earlier in the game. Get over it.


Ashley from Jefferson City, Mo., writes: Brian, I love the blog. It keeps me sane down here in SEC? country (man, that still sounds weird). Anyway, regarding some of the responses to people's questions about hypothetical Rose Bowl opponents, I think you and Adam are missing a key factor. You've been stating that if Oregon goes to the title game, the Rose Bowl will certainly take another Pac 12 team to replace them. However, you're assuming there will even be an eligible Pac 12 team to take. A lot of the top teams in the Pac 12 still play each other. In fact, after breaking down the remaining schedules, if Stanford beats Oregon State this weekend, that will guarantee that Oregon winning out, will give every other team in the league at least three losses. In the history of the BCS, a three-loss Pac 12 team has NEVER finished in the top 14. So basically, if the Cardinal win this weekend, the Rose Bowl opponent will be either the Pac 12 Champion or a non-Pac 12 at large team. And honestly what true football fan wouldn't want to see a Nebraska-Notre Dame Rose Bowl?

Brian Bennett: I find it hard to see a scenario where at least one other Pac-12 team doesn't finish in the top 14. You not only have Oregon State (11) and Stanford (14) already there, but UCLA (18) and USC (19) are lurking. Someone will likely benefit from all the games between them down the stretch and finish in the top 14. And even if it's a three-loss team like, say, USC, the Rose Bowl will jump at preserving that tradition. Weirder things have happened: remember, Illinois made the Rose Bowl with a 9-3 record and No. 13 ranking in the BCS in the 2007 season. Honestly, though, if those are the choices for the Pac-12 representative, I'd much rather see a team like Oklahoma or Notre Dame in Pasadena.


Kyle from Denont, Texas, writes: Is the winner of the Legends Division at a disadvantage? Think about it, if Wisconsin wins this week they are in the Big Ten championship game with 2 games left. Those 2 games are essentially friendlies because they are against PSU and tOSU. After winning this weekend Wisconsin could prepare 2-3 weeks for Nebraska or Michigan. I know that winning those two games would help their bowl bid case, but it's not like they are in National Title contention. Couldn't they just bank on preparing for those two teams for half a month or more and plan on getting to the Rose Bowl instead of a preparing for opponents that don't matter? Seems a bit unfair.

Brian Bennett: Kyle, I can guarantee you there will be nothing "friendly" about Wisconsin's games against Ohio State and Penn State. I've heard this argument before, but I just don't think college football works this way. There are only 12 regular-season games, and many of them are rivalries. Are you telling me if the Badgers clinch this weekend they still won't be fired up to play a top five Ohio State team at home next weekend? Or go to State College on Senior Day and close out with a win? I just don't see it. And wouldn't you rather be the Legends champ, knowing that you're going to play either a Wisconsin team that's 6-3 and breaking in a new quarterback right now or possibly Indiana in the title game? I sure would.


Kevin from Columbus writes: Why hasn't Ryan Shazier been recognized more? He wasn't on any major LB award watchlists and has better stats that Manti Te'o. He averages more tackles per game (9.7;9.67), tackles for loss per game (1.15;0.61), and over 10% more of his tackles are solo (60% to 50%)? Do you think he has a chance at being selected as an All American?

Brian Bennett: No, he's not an All-American, or even first-team Big Ten. Shazier has really played well the last few weeks. But as I wrote last week, he struggled a lot with missed tackles and overrunning plays in the first half of the season, which played a big role in Ohio State's defensive struggles. Shazier has turned things around, and the future is bright. He's only a sophomore, and he didn't play linebacker his last three years in high school. He could be a real star in Columbus before he's done.


Kirk from Ft. Drum, N.Y., writes: Please explain this to me....now mind you I'm not overly concerned with rankings; however how is USC ranked and Michigan not? Let's just look at this, USC lost to Stanford...Michigan lost to Nebraska, fair. USC lost to Oregon and Michigan lost to Alabama, fair. Lastly USC lost to Arizona and Michigan lost to ND....wait, what? Again, rankings are not everything, but what gives?

Brian Bennett: Kirk, I think you've hit on one of the fundamental flaws of polls: teams that start ranked high in the preseason don't fall as much when they lose, because people hold on to their preconceived notions. USC's best win this year was against Washington; the Trojans have failed in every big game and just gave up 62 points to Oregon, yet somehow they're No. 19 in the BCS standings (though lower in the polls). I think another factor, and one I discussed on a recent podcast, is that teams that score a lot of points seem to get more respect even when they lose and can't stop anybody than more defensive-minded teams do. USC also has more recognizable stars, like Matt Barkley and Marqise Lee, than Michigan. But put their résumés side by side, and it's hard to argue that USC has had a better season.


Concerned In The Cornfields of Iowa from Des Moines writes: Is it time for Iowa to finally give JVB some bench and play for the future giving Jake Rudock some much needed field time in preparation for next season yet? Iowa needs to do something to give fans some hope, and this season has not been pretty. Is it time to look to the future starters yet?

Brian Bennett: Not yet. This Iowa team, as frustrating as it is to watch, can still make a bowl with two more wins. I think you owe it to your seniors and the whole team to do everything in your power to try to reach the postseason when it's still possible. And so Kirk Ferentz needs to play the guys he thinks give the Hawkeyes the best chance to win instead of going to a youth movement. If Rudock were outplaying James Vandenberg in practice, then Ferentz would have played him, because he wants to win as much as anybody.


Dustin from Nebraska writes: I must correct you about a statement you made in today's edition of what teams have left to play for. You said Nebraska will have a chance to play for its first conference title since 1999. That is not correct. Nebraska played Texas in the Big XII championship game in 2009.

Brian Bennett: I got a couple of notes about this, and all I can say is: You're reading that sentence wrong. Nebraska hasn't won a conference title since 1999. If the Huskers win the Legends Division, they will have a chance to achieve that. There is no chance for a conference title without winning the Legends. If I meant what you're saying, I would have written that they have a chance to play for a title for the first time since 1999. End grammar lesson. (Hey, you're just lucky I didn't diagram that sentence.)