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Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

By Brian Bennett

November can't get here soon enough, so we don't have to keep getting questions about why one team is ranked and another isn't or who's ranked above whom. Pretty soon, they'll all play each other and it won't matter. But until then, let's go …

Tom from El Paso, Texas, writes: I understand the view that Wisconsin is underrated, and that Michigan shouldn't be ranked (they are on the verge of a huge win or a huge loss each weekend), but what gives about ranking Michigan State at No. 22 in your rankings? Let's be honest, if Michigan shouldn't be ranked, neither should Sparty ... looking beyond MSU's style points (or lack of), State has six wins against the bottom half of the Big Ten and three against lousy nonconference opponents. They also have a loss is to a "meh" Notre Dame team. At this point in the season Michigan may even have a better "résumé" due to a win over the "meh" Irish, and a 5-2 Golpher team. I agree with the pollsters here, what has MSU done to be considered a top 25 team?

Hunter from East Lansing writes Brian, can you please try to explain to me how Michigan once again has made its way back into the top 25, and even landed at 22 in the first BCS poll? Their only quality win is against Notre Dame, and really how good are the Irish this year? With narrow wins against Akron and Uconn, who may be two of the worst teams in the FBS this year (2-12 combined record), a loss to an ailing Penn State team, and a defensive meltdown against Indiana, one would assume that Michigan isn't a team who have proven themselves worthy of a number next to their name. Please enlighten me on why the voters continue to think Michigan is one of the top 25 teams in the land! GO GREEN!


Brian Bennett: You see what I mean?

Nebraska
Is Nebraska better than Michigan or Michigan State? We can argue all we want know, but it will be settled on the field soon enough.
Look, if anyone claims they truly know where Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska ought to be ranked not only in the Top 25 but in relation to each other right now, they're lying. All three teams have major flaws, and all have gaping holes in their résumés. Michigan looked terrible in barely beating Akron and UConn, and it lost to Penn State. Michigan State lost to Notre Dame and has offensive issues. Nebraska got blown out at home by UCLA and has defensive issues.

So who's the best out of these three teams? It's really impossible to say. I have Michigan State ranked highest on my ballot right now because I know the Spartans have an elite defense. I know what I'm getting out of that team every week, and if the offense can play even decently -- which looked like a real possibility before last week's backslide versus Purdue -- then I'm favoring Michigan State against Michigan and Nebraska in a head-to-head matchup. I have Nebraska second of the three on my ballot because I love the offensive potential of the Huskers and am cautiously optimistic that the defense has improved. But Nebraska doesn't have any wins that are as good as Michigan State's road victory at Iowa. As for Michigan, I'm still puzzled as to what exactly that team is, though the Wolverines can be explosive offensively when things are going right.

When it comes to these three teams, rankings at this point are all just opinion. But Michigan plays at Michigan State on Nov. 2, Nebraska goes to Michigan on Nov. 9 and Michigan State plays at Nebraska on Nov. 16. This will be settled on the field soon enough.


Matt from Callaway, Minn., writes: Looking back on the weekend, and how topsy turvy it turned out, do you think my Huskers probably had the best week in the league just by having a bye?

Bennett: I think Minnesota had a pretty good week, getting a Big Ten win and moving one victory closer to bowl eligibility by beating Northwestern. Nebraska did benefit in the polls and I ranked the Huskers after I said I wasn't going to do so in large part based on there being no one else to rank. I also think Michigan State's result against Purdue and Michigan's defensive problems signal that Nebraska can definitely win the Legends Division. Would have been nice if UCLA had beaten Stanford, though.


Mac from Ohio writes: People are constantly criticizing Ohio State's schedule and since the Big Ten is weak, they should have scheduled stronger nonconference opponents. I feel like people do not bother to check what the circumstances were 2-3 years ago when the schedules were made. In 2010, the final BCS rankings, the Big Ten had 3 teams in the top 10 and 4 in the top 25. In 2011, the final BCS standings had 5 Big Ten teams in the top 25. When their schedule was made, they probably did not have to worry about facing multiple top 15 or 20 teams each year. So would you blame Ohio State for being the odd man out in the National Championship picture or would you blame the rest of the Big Ten?

Bennett: No doubt, the perceived weakness of the Big Ten is hurting Ohio State. The Buckeyes' current best win is over Wisconsin, which is not even in the Top 25 of the BCS standings. But when you get down to comparing national title contenders, nonconference schedules are always going to factor in. Just look at Auburn in 2004, which went undefeated as the SEC champion but still didn't play for the title because it scheduled The Citadel, Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana Tech. Ohio State's schedule isn't that egregious, and the Buckeyes couldn't have known Cal would so drastically fall off when it made the schedule. Vanderbilt also backed out of a scheduled game, though I don't think beating the Commodores would have done much for the Buckeyes' case.

All that has been discussed to death. But Ohio State could be an interesting case study going forward. There's been a lot of talk about strength-of-schedule being very important for the four-team playoff, which is great. But if the playoff were in place now and these Buckeyes finish undefeated, they'd almost surely get into the field. So should the model be to schedule tough nonconference teams, or to follow this Ohio State's path and try to go undefeated? The Big Ten has chosen the former path, but this season may prove that the latter strategy works.


SSG Grant from Germany writes: I am a Huge Wisconsin fan, but for the 1st time in my life I actually am cheering for Ohio State. I am so Sick of the SEC. But what is better for the B1G perception wise. I would think having Ohio State to the Rose Bowl and crush the 2nd-tier team like a Stanford or an at-large team. That would put my Badgers unfortunately out of a BCS but an easier matchup at the Capital One bowl, and would have a trickle down of matchups, Giving the B1G a lot of marquee out of conference wins! As opposed to say OSU losing the National Championship, My Badgers getting a bad Matchup and losing the Rose, Nebraska losing the Capital One, etc. What do you think?

Bennett: I think you make an interesting point, though I don't view Stanford as a "second-tier" team and am not sure Ohio State -- or anyone -- could crush them. Still, after watching Ohio State closely, I have my doubts as to whether the Buckeyes are truly as good as Alabama, Oregon and even Florida State. Even Urban Meyer admits this team has some flaws, and it has yet to dominate Big Ten competition. If Ohio State were to go to the BCS title game and get beaten soundly, I'm not sure that would do anybody any good.

It's also a fact that the Big Ten has played "up" in many of its bowl matchups, especially when it has two BCS teams. If the league could get optimal matchups where its best teams are on equal footing, that could result in a better record and bigger wins. Of course, I still think you base your reputation ultimately on national titles, and it's been too long since the Big Ten even played in one. But barring that, your scenario might deliver the second-best option.


JD from Washington, DC, writes: Brian, I'm dismayed by the "parity based scheduling." Not only do I not get to see my Huskers in Maryland for years, but I worry it might lead to a recruiting disparity. As Pat Forde, recently pointed out, Nebraska has a dramatic recruiting disparity based on its geography. Do you think parity based scheduling puts us at an even greater disparity because it limits our exposure to the east coast markets (Rutgers and Maryland), where as Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State get access every year?

Bennett: My concern is not so much with the parity-based scheduling as it is with the geographic setup. Teams in the East Division are by design always going to have more exposure in the new East Coast recruiting areas. I think it's very important for the Big Ten to remain aware of this and try to get the West teams out there as much as possible. I wonder if that will end up becoming a disadvantage for teams in the West. At the same time, I wonder how much Nebraska truly plans on recruiting those areas, which are very far away from Lincoln and haven't historically been any kind of pipeline for the program. The Huskers have reached into Ohio more under Bo Pelini, and they have to recruit nationally because of their location, but for the most part the current staff has focused on a 500-mile radius. I'm just not sure realistically how many kids from the D.C. or New Jersey areas would be going to Nebraska anyway. But the school needs to also benefit from the Eastern exposure, because the Huskers didn't sign on to join the Big Ten with the thought that they'd be playing in the same league as Rutgers and Maryland.


Lone Wolf McCaw from Syberia, USSR, writes: I wrote to you once about the idea of having a point system instead of a selection committee, which you scoffed at. I still think that would be the better choice, but I do think the committee favors the B1G, by a lot. Now, if you break down the committee there are more people with ties to the SEC than any other conference. But who in the committee has better résumés than the two men representing the B1G? Think about it, let’s say they were selecting the teams this year. And Dr. Tom Osborne thinks Ohio State should be part of the four teams, and let's say Condoleezza Rice (let’s use her, since her name struck the most controversy) thinks it should be Baylor. Now, I know Rice did all these things, but is she or anyone else in that room going to argue football with Dr. Osborne? A man that was part of five national titles, with 255 wins as a head coach, played both college football and in the NFL? Not even Archie can do that. And then the second strongest resume is Barry Alvarez (a Husker I might add). Add that both men did their share of recruiting, they know how to sell ideas. The idea of arguing football with any of them is the equivalent of arguing how to throw a 12-to-6 curveball with Adam Wainwright (see what I did there? now you have to use my email.) Not saying they will be biased to the B1G, but I am sure both would know that the B1G is actually a great conference with great teams that don't get their just due.

Bennett: Darn it, he reeled me in with that Wainwright reference! Resistance is futile.

Anyway, I see what you're getting at, and as Jim Delany recently put it, people always stop and listen whenever Osborne speaks. He's that respected. Alvarez has the same amount of respect and is never shy about voicing his opinion. There's no doubt that both are perfect additions to the committee, and they will represent not only the Big Ten, but all of college football, in the best possible manner. Will they be able to lobby a bit on behalf of the Big Ten? I'm sure that will happen, but I also hope the committee does not devolve into regional cliques all supporting their own conferences. I think Osborne and Alvarez have too much integrity to vote for a team simply because it's in their own league (Osborne would have to recuse himself from the room if Nebraska came up, while Alvarez would have to do so for both Nebraska and Wisconsin). But it sure wouldn't hurt to have two such highly-admired men argue the merits of Big Ten football, should they feel inclined to do so.


Andrew B. from Laingsburg, Mich., writes: You asked last week if the Spartans lost to Ohio State in the championship game but still got picked for the Rose, would it feel ... earned?? Back in 1999, MSU beat Michigan head-to-head and the two finished tied in the standings, but Michigan got the BCS at-large spot. When the B1G allowed OSU to postpone their discipline and accept the 2011 Sugar Bowl invitation, 11-1 MSU got shafted again. Then in the 2011 season, MSU won the Legends but UM (whom MSU had again beaten) backed into another at-large BCS invitation. So yes, it already feels like the Spartans have earned a Rose Bowl plus at least one additional BCS bowl.

Bennett: Fair enough. I honestly didn't know the answer when I asked the question but you make great points. As always, we should remember that most of the time, when it comes to bowl games, deserve's got nothing to do with it.


Adam from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I can't understand why you would include one deranged fan's letter in your mailbag just to cut it down in front of the entire readership, especially when question real estate is at a premium. You get crazy letters each week I'm sure. Seems like irresponsible journalism to lay out one letter from a fan you know doesn't represent the fanbase as a whole. I've been a loyal reader for years now and I lost a lot of respect for you and the Big Ten blog today.

Bennett: Adam, didn't you read the whole mailbag? I included letters from three deranged fans. Give me a little credit here.