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Thursday, May 30, 2013
Big Ten Thursday mailbag

By Brian Bennett

Gods do not answer letters. But blogs do.

Andrew from Los Angeles writes: Greetings from Pac-12 country. I'm about to start grad school at USC, and I don't care for Lane Kiffin. In the event that we replace him in the next year or two, I would like to see us pull an Arkansas and poach a high-quality B1G coach. Meyer and Hoke are already in destination jobs, and other prominent ones seem to have compelling reasons for staying where they are (Ferentz = $) (Fitz = LOVES Shedd Aquarium) (O'Brien = awkward moments around Silas Redd). I might be okay with Pelini, provided he has documented proof of a rabies shot. Dantonio, on the other hand, seems like a quality coach who could have real potential if he got to lead a major program. So how much of Dr. Dre's money would it take for him to make the move from Sparta to Troy? Also, you've done coaching "hot seat" posts before; have you ever considered reversing it and discussing which schools are most in danger of losing their coaches to greener pastures?

Brian Bennett: Interesting question and amusingly presented, Andrew. Great job. The Bret Bielema move surprised us all because he was such a Midwest guy and Wisconsin seemed like a dream job. But you never know with coaches. I think you described the situation pretty well, and many observers believe Bo Pelini would bolt for the right college job. But when it comes to USC, I'm not sure that either Pelini or Mark Dantonio has the right personality for Los Angeles, which is a star-driven town that likes big personalities. There's little question in my mind that Dantonio could succeed at a lot of places, and the last guy to leave Michigan State for a bigger-name program has had a pretty good career. But Dantonio has deep roots in Ohio and the Midwest.

I still believe Penn State is in the most danger of losing its coach, especially given the never-ending flood of lawsuits and drama there. But Bill O'Brien is more likely to leave for an NFL job than a college one. Indiana's Kevin Wilson and Purdue's Darrell Hazell are up-and-comers, but both still have more to prove before they get into the mix for a USC-type of job. What about Gary Andersen? He says all the right things about wanting to make Wisconsin home, but his roots are out West. Never say never about any coach.

Boomer Sooner from Omaha writes: The Huskers have been in need of a great rival for a while now. Ever since the Big 12 North came into existence, Nebraska has lacked a game to circle on their schedule. Oklahoma vs. Nebraska was comparable to "The Game" in the 70's and 80's (minus the hatred). Now the Huskers find themselves trying to be one of the cool kids in a new school. Who is the next Oklahoma for Nebraska. This has been asked several times on the blog, and I would like to submit my candidates in order from best to meh ...1) Wisconsin --  With the new division line up this looks like what Missouri became for the Huskers in the Big 12 North. 2) Michigan -- this is a budding rivalry that will probably wilt with the new division line ups, but the last two seasons have come down to this game as far as division play goes. 3) Northwestern -- Two very close games and a 50/50 split. The battle of the NU's has so far been awesome. 4) Michigan St.--  new division = no rivalry. 5) Iowa -- get your act together.

Brian Bennett: Losing the Oklahoma series was an unfortunate result of, first, Big 12 division play and, later, conference realignment. I'm happy to see the two teams schedule each other for a future series, though the Huskers-Sooners rivalry will never be what it once was. Real rivalries need to be played every year, so you can discard teams that won't go with Nebraska into the Big Ten West next year. Obviously, the Big Ten has tried to push the Iowa game as a big rivalry, and the best thing that could happen for division balance and the Huskers' rivalries is for the Hawkeyes to get back to a 2009 level of play. Minnesota would also make a nice natural rival, but the Gophers have a long way to go. I agree with you that Wisconsin is the leading contender as Nebraska's new top rival, especially with the Badgers and Huskers destined to battle it out every year for the West title. There are a lot of similarities and some history between the two schools, and that should be a good series for years to come.

BCS Supporter from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Brian, I am one of the few people in the world who supported the BCS system, and was disappointed in the announcement of the playoff in 2014. However, I have warmed up to the idea because of its small size. Four teams seems just right at the moment, I know I'm not the only one who would have LOVED watching Oregon take on 'Bama for the title last year! When people talk about wanting more teams in the playoff, though, that troubles me. I don't think a two- or three- or four-loss team should have a shot at the National Title. ... In college, the champion should be a team who has been hot all season, not just during a few games at the end of the year. What do you think about the Playoffs and how many teams should be in it?

Brian Bennett: Is this Harvey Perlman? I'm perfectly fine with four teams and believe that most years, that's all you need to determine a true champion. I also like the small field because it maintains the importance and integrity of the regular season. However, I also think that the playoff is absolutely going to grow to eight teams. There is just too much money to be made off an expanded playoff, and attitudes will change once the four-team event proves a smashing success and the old-guard administrators move on. You wouldn't have to worry about three- or four-loss teams in an eight-team field, and a team like last year's 10-2 Texas A&M -- which was as hot as anybody down the stretch -- would have a chance to play for it all.

Pete from Hartsville, S.C., writes: We in the South believe you have missed the point, Brian. Coach Saban's point is that could Ohio State have beaten 3 of 4 teams in the same season not on a neutral field and when every game counts, unlike the insignificant postseason bowl games. Do they have the depth? Please respond with the difficulty of schedule that THE OHIO State Buckeyes face this year and compare it to any of the four teams mentioned in the SEC this upcoming year.

Brian Bennett: I admit that I was a little too critical of Nick Saban's comments and understood them a whole lot more when I found out the entire context. And I will give Saban great credit for being the only SEC coach brave enough to vote for a nine-game conference schedule, which should absolutely happen. Yet I also believe Saban greatly overreached by asking how many of the six top-10 teams Ohio State would have beaten last year, since Alabama only played three of them. I salute the Crimson Tide for playing Michigan last year in the opener. Yet their only other games against top-notch teams in the regular season came against LSU and Texas A&M in back-to-back weeks in November, and they lost one of those games. Ohio State certainly wouldn't have sailed through the SEC last year, especially the way the Buckeyes played in the first half of the season. But the idea that they somehow would have had to play six top-10 teams in the SEC is just false.

Diamond G. from Detroit writes: I don't think anyone gives Michigan's defense the credit that is due. The defense returns a lot of young players that didn't start but played really great roles last year. Some of those guys will be starters this year and know the defense better then years past. The secondary will be one of the best in the country like last year, also with a improved D-line, (in my opinion that is better then what "OHIO" has now) and a strong middle linebacker in James Ross. Michigan's defense was in the Top 15 (better then OHIO ) last year and has a good nonconference schedule to started this year to help improve the defense to be better, maybe even better then "OHIO". I'm comparing Michigan to "OHIO" because that's who a lot of bloggers say is at top of the Big Ten. Michigan will have a better overall chance because they have a harder schedule to help develop players unlike OHIO's easy schedule.

Brian Bennett: A harder schedule? Michigan does play Notre Dame, but its other nonconference games are Central Michigan, Akron and UConn. The Wolverines look to be in the more difficult division than Ohio State, but that makes their Big Ten title chances tougher, not better. As for the defense, sure, Michigan has been extremely solid in that area the past two years and should continue to be under Greg Mattison and Brady Hoke. The defense has lacked a little bit of star power, and losing Jake Ryan was a big blow. But the Wolverines have recruited extremely well and should have more speed and athleticism moving forward. Last year's defense was good but also benefited from not having to play many teams who were overly familiar with the forward pass.

Eric O. from Madison, Wis., writes: I know it isn't official yet, but with all signs pointing to UW starting the year off in Houston against LSU, doesn't that leave the Badgers more wiggle room than if they just had USF and Wazzu on the schedule? I would argue that the Badgers could lose that game and easily make the CFB playoff. Even better, if they manage to win a game in SEC territory, then I would bet they could drop a B1G league game and still make the playoff. I know the weak crossover hurts with Maryland, Rutgers and Indiana (I believe?), but that LSU game should offset that. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: If Wisconsin were to beat LSU and then lose one conference game, or lose to LSU in a close one and then run through the Big Ten undefeated, the Badgers would have an excellent chance of making the four-team playoff. Assuming, of course, that LSU doesn't have a terrible 2014 season. Remember that Oregon lost to LSU in the 2011 opener in a game that wasn't all that close, and yet the Ducks remained in the BCS title picture until late in the season. What Wisconsin needs to avoid is a situation like last year's Michigan-Alabama game, where the Wolverines -- who entered the game (over)ranked in the top 10 -- were so thoroughly outclassed that it left a lasting impression in voters' minds. That's the danger of a game like next year's versus LSU or the 2015 contest against Alabama. Still, I love that the Badgers are willing to challenge themselves against the best on a neutral field.

Vasav from Anchorage, Alaska, writes: You wrote: "As for Detroit, well, there are casinos right by Ford Field, some nice Greek restaurants and, um, yeah. Let's be honest, that city is no one's idea of a great winter holiday spot." True -- but there is also the auto show and Winter Blast -- two unique events that make the winter in Detroit worth celebrating. A Wings game at the Joe is an experience -- as well as seeing some amazing skaters at Campus Martius Park (unlike the rest of the country -- everyone in Detroit can skate, and some are just lovely to watch out there). And winter or whenever, you can always enjoy the best Arab food in the country, and some unique historical sights (it is the birthplace of Motown, punk rock, electronic music, has a ton of old theaters, and is THE Motor City, after all). .... Maybe you  ought to find out what's going on in Detroit for yourselves.

Brian Bennett: Anyone else find it funny that a guy from Alaska thinks Detroit makes a great winter getaway? Look, I've spent time in downtown Detroit and enjoyed it there. But when it comes to bowl trips in late December, I'm pretty sure most people would rather go somewhere sunny and warm than fight through the cold air to go to an auto show.