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Thursday, March 21, 2013
Big Ten Thursday mailbag

By Brian Bennett

Thanks to Max in Toronto for inviting me to join the B1G Blog Group tournament bracket. My entry name is Hugh Juppside, and hopefully I won't embarrass myself too much. You can find the group here.

On to your emails ...

Brandon from State College writes: I'm glad there is some clarity on the issue, but I really wonder if it's a good idea to have MSU, UM, OSU and PSU in the same division, not to mention a Rutgers program that has had some very good teams in recent years. If protecting the IU-Purdue rivalry is so important, why can't it be the same with UM-MSU? I understand that these divisions can work in cycles, but will UM and OSU really ever go away? Or PSU post sanctions? Lastly, the fan bases bases in the east are already far bigger than the west (exception being Nebraska) so wouldn't putting MSU in the west help even that out?

Brian Bennett: Brandon, I think Michigan State should be in the western division, as I wrote a while back here. When the Big Ten first went to divisions, the league wanted to split up the four "brand name" schools -- Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska -- for balance. Now, three of those schools are in the same division, along with a Michigan State program that has won a division title and shared a conference title in two of the last three years. That seems like too much power in one division for me, even when you factor in the sanctions at Penn State. The proposed division alignment does a good job of preserving rivalries, but as you mentioned, a protected rivalry between Michigan State and Michigan would have done the same thing (and we won't have Michigan State-Wisconsin as a yearly game this way). I'm not as worried about the fan bases with teams like Iowa and Wisconsin in the west. But it will be incumbent on the Hawkeyes, along Northwestern and Purdue, to be highly competitive, or else I believe the divisions will be out of whack.


Ben L. from Chicago writes: What is it about the "east" division that appeals to Mark Hollis and MSU? It can't be about protecting the Michigan rivalry. IU and Purdue's guaranteed crossover puts that to bed. I hope it's not about the east-coast exposure and recruiting pipeline. If so, that's very shortsighted. Moving to the east means MSU could very likely play third fiddle to Michigan and OSU. If so, MSU makes an inglorious return to the middle. If so, MSU may never again compete for a Big 10 title. How appealing would that be to anyone?

Brian Bennett: Ben, our understanding is that Hollis lobbied for Michigan State to be in the west but lost out on that one. From a competitive standpoint, being in the west absolutely helps the Spartans. From an exposure standpoint, playing against Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State every year and getting access to the East Coast also makes some sense. No question it won't be easy trying to climb past the Wolverines and Buckeyes every year just to make it to Indianapolis.


BadgerGirl from Tennessee writes: Long time reader, first time commenter/questioner here. As a Badgers fan, I don't know whether to question the proposed alignment or thank my lucky stars! What are they thinking?!? Football OR basketball, the West seems a significantly easier path than the East. Will the competitive imbalance help or hurt the Badgers assuming we maintain some semblance of competitiveness in both sports?

Brian Bennett: Welcome to the 'bag, BadgerGirl. First, let's make it clear that divisions, at this point, are for football only. So don't worry about the impact on basketball and just root for Bo Ryan's boys this weekend. I think Wisconsin is a big winner in the proposed division alignment. The Badgers won't have to face Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State on an annual basis (though they surely will play one or more of those teams as crossovers in a given year) and really only have one powerhouse program (Nebraska) in their division. And Wisconsin has had more recent success than Nebraska. Being in the west also keeps rivalries with Iowa and Minnesota intact and should ramp up the potential rivalry with the Cornhuskers. Losing some visibility in the East Coast could hurt recruiting a bit, but I still think Wisconsin makes out well in this alignment.


David from Nashville, Tenn., writes: Glad to see the B1G get rid of (for the most part) the protected rivalries. With a 14-team conference, and possibly 16 soon, getting rid of those were the smart thing to do. Not only does it help even out cross-divisional schedule strength, but it allows teams to play other teams more often. It's already something slim like playing an opposite division opponent twice a decade. But if they kept the protected rivalries, a team would only play some of the non-protected non-divisional teams once a decade. That's just unacceptable in my opinion. Argue about divisional un-balance all you want, but kudos to the B1G for getting that (mostly) right.

Brian Bennett: Good points here, David, and the Big Ten seems to have done about as well as it could to protect most important rivalries in the proposed division alignment without any protected crossovers outside of Purdue-Indiana. There will still be some trophy games that will be affected, like Illinois-Ohio State, Indiana-Michigan State and possibly Purdue-Illinois if the Boilers do indeed go east. But none of those will be sorely missed, and the big rivalries will stay in place while there's plenty of variety in the schedules.


Bryson from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey BB! Thanks for taking the time to read my question. With the recent news of my Badgers playing a little school known by Alabama or roll tide or something annoying like that, during the 2015 season will we have our regular 7 home game season? That was a big issue for Barry Alvarez in years past.

Brian Bennett: Adam caught up with Alvarez yesterday for this video, in which the Wisconsin athletic director said he's intrigued by the possibility of more neutral site games. He said that may be a way to offset the need for seven home games. If the nine-game Big Ten schedule doesn't go into effect until 2016, then Wisconsin would have to play three nonconference home games in 2015 in addition to the Alabama game to get to seven, which probably means buying home games against lesser opponents. Of course, Alvarez has already said the Big Ten wouldn't play FCS opponents in the future, so we'll see.

The idea of using attractive neutral site games to make up for lost home gates is fascinating. Michigan reportedly was paid $4.7 million for its game against Alabama at Cowboys Stadium in last season's opener. That sounds like a lot, but Dave Brandon has said the Wolverines make as much as $5.5 million per home game, and of course that does not include any travel costs. We don't know yet what Wisconsin will get for going to Texas.


Brian K. from Sacramento, Calif., writes: With Nebraska's linebacking corps all new and unproven, who do you see stepping up and starting at those 3 positions by the end of summer camp?

Brian Bennett: I'll have a better idea when I visit Lincoln next week to check out the Huskers' spring practice in person. With Will Compton, Alonzo Whaley and Sean Fisher all finishing their careers after 2012, linebacker will be a very interesting position to watch for Nebraska. Bo Pelini has said that he had to make a major recruiting shift upon entering the Big Ten after using a lot of two-linebacker sets against the many spread offenses in the Big 12, so that's one reason Nebraska's linebacker corps is so young. I believe David Santos and Zaire Anderson are the best bets to earn starting jobs. They're the most experienced guys, even though they haven't played a ton. Freshmen Thomas Brown, Michael Rose, Jared Afalava and Courtney Love are all getting looks this spring. I'd say it's pretty wide open, but it's something I will be looking closely at next week.


WolverineMarine from MCAS Miramar, Calif., writes: Just a quick request, can you and Adam please do the "Contender or Pretender" articles like the ACC and B12 blogs are doing? Thank you for all your hard work. Also, how do you feel about UK's quick end to its season in the NIT?

Brian Bennett: That looks like a fun series, and it's one we'll try to incorporate into the Big Ten blog in the near future. As far as Kentucky, the best I can say is the Wildcats saved us all from having to watch that team play one more minute this year. And I'm pretty sure things will be much different next year, so get your shots in now.