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Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

By Brian Bennett

What's rattling around in your noggins this week?

Adam from Columbus writes: I (an OSU fan) was chatting with a few Northwestern friends earlier and we were wondering if it's in the Wildcats' best interest to lose to Ohio State on Saturday? I know this sounds crazy but hear me out! In making these arguments I'm assuming: 1) even with a loss to Northwestern, Ohio State will win the Leaders; 2) Even with a victory on Saturday, Northwestern will most likely have to run the table or only suffer a sole loss to the right team to take the Legends; 3) in all likelihood Northwestern does not have a shot of making the national championship; 4) Two-loss Northwestern with both losses to future National Title contender OSU would still get Northwesten a Rose Bowl invite.

So the way I look at it is this: Northwestern's best hope for the season is to go to the Rose Bowl and the only way that will realistically happen is if OSU goes to the national championship. If OSU losses on Saturday, their hopes at a national title are essentially gone.  ... Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: Well, that's one way of looking at it. We've talked in the past about how teams that don't win the division may have a better shot at an at-large BCS bid than those who lose in the conference title game, a la Michigan in 2011. Still, I don't think it's in Northwestern's "best interest" to lose. For one, this is an incredible opportunity for exposure for the school, with "GameDay" in town and a primetime audience. A victory would register as one of the best in school history and would enhance the prestige of Pat Fitzgerald's program, which can't be overlooked.

And if the Wildcats win, they could creep toward the Top 10. Even with another loss somewhere along the way, they might still put themselves in position for an at-large bid, though the school is not as attractive to bowl partners as those with larger alumni bases. There's also no guarantee Ohio State goes to the BCS title game, even at 13-0. So the scenario you present might provide a little hope should Northwestern lose on Saturday, but it's not exactly something for which they should be aiming.

Jacob L. from Iowa City writes: How do you feel about Iowa's chances to go 9-3 or 10-2 to finish out the season? Michigan hasn't looked too good, leaving Wisconsin (which we should definitely win), Northwestern, and Ohio State as the toughest teams left on our schedule. Although Nebraska is usually good, I have to give them lack of credit this year for giving up 537 yards to Wyoming.

Brian Bennett: Iowa is definitely beating Wisconsin, eh? Not so sure about that, as I suspect the Badgers might be the Big Ten's second best team. The Hawkeyes' remaining schedule is difficult, but the only game I see on there as a definite loss is at Ohio State. Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin all come to Iowa City, and as you said Nebraska has issues defensively (although that's more against spread and passing teams than versus pro-style, power offenses like Iowa's). I like the way the Hawkeyes are playing, and they are gaining confidence for sure. But they have also yet to get into the meat of their schedule. I'm thinking more like 8-4 if things continue to go well, but we shall see. Big one this weekend, obviously.

Seth from Chicago writes: I was hoping to get your opinion on this week's polls. Wisconsin drops out after their second close loss, but they're not your normal 2-loss team (refs blew a call and then a 7 pt. loss to #4 OSU). Meanwhile, there are four 1-loss SEC teams in the top 13. With the exception of UGA, the only games that A&M, LSU, and USC have played against tough competition, they've lost. How can teams like OSU and Michigan drop for winning (and Wisconsin drop out after a close loss and getting hosed) while these SEC teams only drop 3-4 spots after a loss and stay so highly ranked? No wonder there are 18 SEC teams in the Top 10 to finish every season.

Brian Bennett: Seth, it all comes down -- once again -- to conference perception. I know you guys get tired of hearing about it, and we get tired of writing about it sometimes. But this is why that stuff matters. The SEC gets the benefit of the doubt in these cases, and in many ways deservedly so. The Big Ten suffers from its lack of marquee wins out of conference, and while a rising tide lifts all boats (SEC), a lowering tide also sinks ships (Big Ten). I ranked Wisconsin No. 20 this week, but people who don't follow the league closely probably just see a two-loss Big Ten team and assume it is struggling. The only way to change it is by going out and beating teams from the SEC and other power leagues.

Rob from New York writes: Brian, after yet another close loss, I'm starting to wonder if the Badgers are cursed. Is this some karmic revenge by an angry God or is there some greater reason Wisconsin keeps losing close games like this?

Brian Bennett: We already have the Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God (AIRBHG). Is there also a Wisconsin Close Loss Inflicting God (WCLIG) as well? Something weird seems to be going on. One tip for the Badgers: don't let receivers get free in the end zone late in halves.

Bill from Genoa, Ohio, writes: Brian, love the blog. I however take issue with the article you wrote on the Ohio State win over Wisconsin. At one point in the article you say that critics may not look so kindly on a narrow seven-point win over Wisconsin, but then the critics would be underrating the Badgers (not in so many words). Then, at the end of the article you basically say that not winning big could cost Ohio State in the long run. I'm sorry but I thought Wisconsin's coaching staff did an excellent job of adjusting their game plan in the middle of the first half. They knew they couldn't run so they took to the air. The disappointing thing was how bad Bradley Roby looked 90% of the night. Wisconsin is a GOOD football team, and so long as Ohio State beats the good football teams, I could care less by how much, they should be fine. Ohio State's issue will be playing down to their competition, i.e., Purdue last year, and not beating those teams by as much as critics think they should.

Brian Bennett: Bill, you weren't involved in that phony "Newsroom" Genoa scandal, were you? Look, you and I both know Wisconsin is really good. But as we just discussed a few lines above, most of America apparently doesn't. If Ohio State wants to finish in the top two of the BCS standings, it probably is going to have to win the PR campaign against teams from other leagues. You just know there will be critics dying to knock the Big Ten champ down (especially if the SEC champ has one loss). That's where this stuff comes into play. When voters and pundits start comparing schedules, they'll see a seven-point win at home. Ohio State was up 17 at the end of the third quarter and got conservative at the end. Which is all well and good, and Wisconsin made things tough. But if you think style points don't matter, you haven't paid attention to the BCS era.

Jeff from Minneapolis writes: With what looks like an 0-8 conference season or at best 1-7, Minnesota continues to be a doormat in the Big Ten and has been for 5 decades. Would Northern Illinois or even NDSU be suitable replacements? Indiana has a proud basketball program in the Big Ten so even though they struggle at FB, they are top notch in the other major sport.

Brian Bennett: Wow, that's some doom and gloom up in the Twin Cities. Has winter already hit there? The loss to Iowa was very disappointing in how it played out, but that was one game. Don't give up on Jerry Kill yet.

Drew from Swansea, Ill., writes: Have to say that I respectfully disagree about there being nothing for Illini fans to be pumped about in regards to future schedules. We can be excited for wins! For the longest time with Ron Guenther making the schedule, we had one of, if not, the toughest non-conference schedules and where did that get us? I feel the Big Ten schedule is hard enough already, so there's no need to top the schedule off with even more difficult games, at least for a program like Illinois. I'd rather see Illinois beat nobodies, than lose to somebodies, but that's just me.

Brian Bennett: I see where you're coming from, Drew. There's not a lot of incentive for Illinois to play an extremely challenging nonconference schedule, especially when the Big Ten goes to nine conference games, because the program isn't exactly aspiring to national titles. I think every team ought to play at least one decent opponent from a power league or its equivalent, and adding North Carolina is OK but not exciting. Still, I see little need for the Illini to play FCS teams in 2015 and 2016, and the 2017 schedule (Ball State, at South Florida, Western Kentucky) looks deplorable. If you're fine paying regular prices to see those types of teams, so be it. But it does send a message that the Illini aren't interested in a whole lot more than making bowl games.

Jake J. from Terre Haute, Ind., writes: In your list of potential award winners, you omit Jonathan Brown of Illinois from the possible defensive player of the year awards despite his leading all Big 10 defenders with 11.8 tackles per game. Why is he not listed as a contender?

Brian Bennett: Two Illinois questions in one mailbag! Last year, I was struggling to find any. Progress. Anyway, Brown is a really good player, but tackling numbers alone don't tell the whole story. Iowa's Anthony Hitchens led the league in tackles last year and wasn't voted to either the first - or second-team All-Big Ten. Brown is definitely on the radar, but with only 2.5 tackles for loss so far and no takeaways, he hasn't made enough high-impact plays yet to be strongly considered for defensive player of the year.