Big Ten: mailbag
Meanwhile ... you rang?
Jeremy from Columbus writes: The big problem with a 10-game conference schedule seems to be that it would force teams to play only weak teams out of conference to guarantee 7 home games, which is apparently necessary to make enough money to break even. But I feel like OSU playing Texas in Columbus once should be worth as much as playing Florida A&M in Columbus twice. Obviously they lose some ticket revenue, as a team like OSU will sell out no matter who they play. But OSU recently announced that tickets for "premier" games will cost much more in the future. Additionally, the TV has to be much better. An OSU vs. Texas type game is guaranteed to be nationally televised, and probably shown on BTN as a rerun many times. But when OSU plays some scrub, the game isn't even guaranteed to make it onto BTN live. Where's the money in that? I was hoping you could give some numbers, is playing a patsy at home twice really worth that much more than a big time program at home once?
Brian Bennett: Most Big Ten teams say they need seven home games to make their budget, which means additional conference games could be problematic. Even if the league only goes to nine Big Ten games, every team will be playing five road conference games every other year, and so they would have to schedule all three nonconference games at home to reach seven. That will make it difficult, at least logistically, to schedule strong home-and-home series. As for your question about revenue, teams depend on the money they get from filling their large stadiums. Michigan AD Dave Brandon told the Detroit News that the Wolverines generate more than $5 million for each home game. And for teams like Michigan and Ohio State, it doesn't really matter who they play, because fans will still turn out. It's hard to imagine how extra TV money can cover that potential lost revenue.
Tom from Fairfield, Calif., writes: Keeping a 9-game schedule 'fair' isn't that difficult with a 14-team league. In even years, all Legends teams play 5 home and 4 road. In the odd years, they all play 4 home and 5 road. It wasn't that simple (but was doable) with 12 teams.More conference games, and no protected crossovers are needed to make sure that everyone sees each other frequently enough. No kid should play for Iowa for 4 years and never get a chance to play Michigan.
Brian Bennett: That was Northwestern AD Jim Phillips' idea, and it probably is the most fair way to do things in a nine-game scenario. That still doesn't mean it's totally fair. The division that has more home games will obviously have an advantage, which could play into bowl selections and even the four-team playoff. And who you play from the other division on the road becomes even more important. But I agree that if you're going to go to 14 teams, then you should play more league games.
Mark R. from Cleveland writes: I think I'm the only person who doesn't think having Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State together is a good thing. The 90's are over, college football has moved on, Nebraska as the lone power out west is the same as B12 North. That is why Michigan must stay with Nebraska. Yes Wisconsin is a good program. However, It's Not a power program and has trouble recruiting and winning bowl games. Yes, I know the entire league has issues with bowl games. So just move Illinois out west.
Brian Bennett: You have a point, though I did chuckle a bit that you used the rationale "the '90s are over" before calling Nebraska a power. Let's face it, the Huskers haven't been dominant since that decade, either. In my proposal, I have Michigan State and Wisconsin in Nebraska's division (the one I have quite cleverly called "West"). I think that's pretty good balance, especially if Iowa bounces back and/or Northwestern stays strong. But if the Spartans and/or Badgers take a step back, you run into the danger of the other division being much stronger. The Huskers may like to have a bigger "brand" name in their own division, but grouping the teams geographically makes sense for rivalries. The division alignment could always be changed if the competitive balance proved out of whack.
Chuck N. from Houston writes: Brian, I enjoy keeping up with Purdue news through your lunch-time links; however, I am no longer able to view any links from the Journal-Courier due to a 30 article maximum before subscription. I live in Houston so I really don't want a subscription to the Lafayette newspaper. Is there any way around this?
Brian Bennett: Chuck, I understand the frustration as a lot of newspapers are going to the subscription model (about 10 years too late, in my opinion, but that's another story entirely). That's challenging for our links. Unfortunately, there just aren't a lot of mainstream sites out there that cover Purdue football on a regular basis, especially in the offseason. We'll keep that in mind as we search for Boilermakers links in the future, however.
Eli from New York City writes: You wrote: "In my re-alignment proposal, only Michigan and Michigan State would absolutely need to be a protected crossover game. And I think that's workable." I don't think Nebraska/Penn State fans would want to see their yearly game go away. Nebraska/Iowa is manufactured, just like Nebraska/Colorado was. Nebraska/Penn State actually has some history and hatred built in.
Brian Bennett: Some history, sure, but not a whole lot. And any "hatred" comes mostly from the early '80s, which many young fans don't remember. Nebraska and Penn State would still play, but in my mind it doesn't have to be a yearly rivalry, especially when the Nittany Lions can have two East Coast opponents in Rutgers and Maryland, while Nebraska could play Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota every year. A fascinating part of the upcoming athletic director talks will be which rivalries they decide are the most important to keep, and which ones don't need to be played every year.
Alex from Butler University writes: Your piece on future B1G neutral site games was interesting, but I'm curious about one thing. Of the Maryland home games that I saw this year, none were sellouts. While I'm sure their attendance will increase with them playing bigger teams (both in rankings and name), do you think they will end up selling out all of their home games? If not, would playing at FedEx Field actually increase their revenue enough to make it worth giving up any home-field advantage they may have? If they can't sell out 54,000, how will they sell out 91,000 besides the opposing team buying up tickets?
Brian Bennett: Maryland's attendance is not great, but of course going 4-8 a year after finishing 2-10 doesn't much help with that. The Terps drew only an announced crowd of 35,244 for their late-season matchup against Florida State. Maryland will need to play better to attract more fans, and it will be interesting to see how excited Terrapins backers are to see teams like Purdue and Illinois come to town. But when Maryland hosts Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska, I'm pretty sure the ticket demand will be much higher, and not all from the locals. The school's athletic department has a lot of financial problems, so the opportunity for a quick payday at a neutral site can't be overlooked.
Paul from Dodge City, Kan., writes: Brian, I am a Husker fan. This is the first year I have really paid attention to the recruiting and I have to say I am not impressed. On ESPN's Top 40, Nebraska ranks 32 and is getting out recruited by MSU, PSU, UW, MU, OSU, and several other inferior non Big Ten schools. I don't think that Bo needs to go; however, I think that there is no excuse for not putting together a better recruiting class and having to scramble and pick JUCO players five years into your coaching stand. Granted a few big signs in the next two weeks could put us in the top 25. But Nebraska is a very marketable school and maybe what Nebraska needs is a better recruiting scheme. Thoughts?
Brian Bennett: Paul, you'll probably live a healthier life if you don't pay close attention to recruiting rankings. If you read our recruiting rewinds on the All-Big Ten selections, you would have seen just how inaccurate some of those high school evaluations turn out to be. With that said, Pelini and his staff haven't been known as big-time, high-pressure recruiters in Lincoln. They've certainly developed great talent on the offensive side of the football, but the one area they've really lacked is high-impact defensive linemen since Jared Crick's last healthy year. You have to have those guys to win at a high level. Nebraska has some recruiting challenges because of its location, and it has had to change its focus a bit after moving to the Big Ten. But if the Huskers can get prospects to campus to see their wonderful facilities and fan support, they stand a chance against anybody.
Evan from Kansas City writes: Brian, it seems like there is an above average shuffling of coaches this year. What team do you think had the biggest hire/loss nationally? Who are you most exited to see join/saddest to lose in the Big Ten?
Brian Bennett: The coaching carousel never stops spinning. I'm not sure this year has been that much different, except it seems the timetable for coaches being fired has accelerated (see Southern Miss, Colorado, etc.). As far as best hired, I though Auburn did well to bring back Gus Malzahn, and, though Wisconsin fans won't want to hear it, Arkansas hit a home run with Bret Bielema. It's not often you can land a proven head coach from another power league who has three straight conference titles under his belt. Biggest loss was probably Florida International firing Mario Cristobal. Just ludicrous. In the Big Ten, I admit I'm going to miss Bielema. He may have driven some fans crazy with his game management and his cockiness, but he was a reporter's dream because he always was good for a quote and treated even dumb questions with respect. I'm looking forward to Darrell Hazell at Purdue from what I've seen and heard of him so far. He seems like an impressive guy who gives straightforward answers.
Lance S. from Greensboro, N.C., writes: How many consecutive B1G championships does Wisconsin have to win to be considered an elite program?
Brian Bennett: Elite in the Big Ten or elite nationally? League titles don't really matter from a national perspective, especially since the conference's reputation is on a down swing right now. Winning the Big Ten this year with a 7-5 regular season certainly didn't do much to make the Badgers an elite program. I believe that status is only earned on the biggest of stages. Wisconsin needs to win Rose Bowls and BCS games and eventually get into the four-team playoff to be considered elite.
Patrick from Cincinnati writes: When the B1G 10 adds Rutgers and Maryland will the B1G 10 add any extra bowl affiliations? On average year will the league have 1 or 2 more eligible teams or the same as last year?
Brian Bennett: Count on a whole lot of change to the bowl lineup. The Big Ten's current bowl tie-ins expire after next season, and there will be major shifts in the bowl contracts as college football moves to the four-team playoff. With the Big East potentially dissolving and the five power conferences consolidating their power, I think you'll see more Big Ten bowl affiliations. And this would be a good time for the league to think about getting out of those games in Texas against Big 12 teams, which are needlessly disadvantageous and don't offer a whole lot, and the Gator Bowl. Another game or two in California and most likely one in the East (Pinstripe Bowl) would be a good idea for the league.
Robert from Waialua, Hawaii, writes: I've never bought into the reasons given for Nebraska's not immediately receiving a full revenue share. While it's true that we weren't in on the Big Ten Network from the start, we did -- unlike any of the other expansion candidates being discussed at that time -- bring a national following to the table. We also, as the 12th member, immediately enabled the other schools to cash in on the conference championship game. Additionally, we played a murderers' row conference schedule set up in no small part to offer some attractive television matchups that previously would've only been possible in the occasional non-conference series or bowl game. After reading the Washington Post article you linked and becoming aware of Maryland's fuller share from the get-go, I can't help but be reminded of how all those 11-1 votes in the Big 12 felt. I still say we're better off in the Big Ten than in the Texas Ten. But I'd be lying if I denied the fact that the conference deems Maryland's perhaps exaggerated potential to sway BTN subscriptions in Baltimore and D.C. to be of more value than everything NU has brought to the table feels like a bit of an insult to my alma mater.
Brian Bennett: I get where you're coming from, Robert. There's no doubt whatsoever that Nebraska brought more overall value to the Big Ten than Maryland can probably ever hope to do from a football perspective. There are some key points here, however. First, the Terrapins had some leverage because Jim Delany wanted to move fast before word of the move became too public and because they had no burning need to leave the ACC. Nebraska was definitely wanting to get out of the Big 12, which had become nearly an untenable situation for the Huskers. The other factor is that Maryland, unlike Nebraska in 2011, is awash in debt and needs money now, especially if it has to pay the full $50 million-plus ACC buyout. It needs money now.
Maryland will get more of the Big Ten revenue up front, but my understanding is that it is basically borrowing that against future gains. Of course, there is value in getting paid today instead of tomorrow, and I can understand why Nebraska would be upset by this. Ultimately, though, the addition of Maryland and Rutgers should mean more money for everyone in the Big Ten when the new TV contract is negotiated.
Scott from Greenville, S.C., writes: Brian, why is it a no-brainer that Le'Veon Bell should turn pro? Most draft boards have him as a 3rd-4th round pick, so it seems like he could use an extra year to shed 10-to-15 pounds and improve his quickness and speed. There are multiple RBs who carried a heavy load in college and still succeeded in the pros (see Ray Rice), and it won't do much good for him to leave early to extend his NFL career if he doesn't make it in the league in the first place.
Brian Bennett: Running backs have short shelf lives in the NFL. There are only so many hits you can take before you start to decline, and Bell already has 350 carries this season. Now, he has the body and frame to absorb more punishment than average-sized backs, so that's good, but would it really suit him to come back and take another 275 or so carries for Michigan State? And what if he gets hurt next season in college? I think his stock is pretty high now after a really strong year and he'd be wise to go ahead and get started on an NFL career.
Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: As a Gopher fan, it's good to see the success that Northern Illinois had where Minnesota's staff worked previously. Not only did Northern Illinois make a BCS bowl game, they did very well in their academic performance. How much do you think that Kill and his staff should get accolades for Northern Illinois success?
Brian Bennett: A great deal of credit has to go to Kill and his staff for the Huskies' success. Northern Illinois was 2-10 the year before he arrived, and he took them to three straight bowl games. His last team there went 10-3 and, unlike this year's BCS bound Huskies, beat an AQ team (ironically, Minnesota). Kill also recruited current NIU star Jordan Lynch. That program's rise has to make Gophers fans feel optimistic about what Kill can do in Minneapolis.
Brian C. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: How long until these players share in the spoils? These conferences are poised to cash checks that will dwarf anything they have ever seen. I know all about the free ride and free education,blah blah blah. I used to be one of those guys, not now. Beyond a free education,these guys are working full time jobs that demand a 12 month devotion. Games will soon be played 7 days a week,the number of games will probably expand beyond the 12 most schools play now.How long will it take before someone forms a players union for football?
Brian Bennett: Great question. It was disappointing to see the NCAA Division I Board of Directors delay the implementation of $2,000 stipends for players last January after that reform had gained support. With the report this week that the Big Ten was in line to make $91 million per year with the new football playoff -- not even counting Big Ten Network cash or the windfall of making a second contract bowl -- makes you wonder who will benefit most from all this new money. Higher salaries for coaches and ADs? More lavish facilities? Or do the players get to share in any of the spoils? I think we know what the answer is, but you do wonder if there is a tipping point somewhere for the players who do all the work for our Saturday entertainment.
Just Joe from Chicago writes: Just curious if what appears to be a downturn in Big Ten bowl ticket sales is part of a national trend? Just seems with a growing (and more trustworthy) secondary market, people are more steadily going to look for deals on tickets than go with their school's allotment, which are often the worst seats in the stadium. Thoughts?
Brian Bennett: Joe, it does appear to be a trend, as attendance at bowl games declined throughout the nation last year. You can blame a number of factors, including the glut of bowl games, the economy, the secondary ticket market, home entertainment systems, etc. I do think there are some special factors going on with the Big Ten this year, as Ohio State and Penn State likely would have been eager to travel to watch their teams, the league's Rose Bowl team is 8-5 and has been there the past two years, Nebraska and Michigan State fans are disappointed and Purdue fired its coach.
But to a larger point, these ticket allotments that bowls force upon teams are horrendously bad business deals for the schools. Fans are smart enough to find cheaper and often better seats, and the schools often end up eating the cost of thousands of tickets. It's basically like paying for the "privilege" of going to a minor bowl game to help boost tourism from some town that has no connection to the campus. Sure, makes perfect sense. I really wonder whether bowls will still be able to draw eyeballs and crowds once the four-team playoff begins. Then, more than ever, every other game will feel like the NIT.
One thing I can always do: answer your mail.
Joe from Denver writes: Hey, Brian, can you please pass this message on to my fellow Hawkeye fans who are so worried about the running game? CALM DOWN! Let's looks at a little history. Last year the team had just short of 1,800 yards rushing. In 2010, just shy of 2,000 yards rushing and a letdown of a season many would say. In 2009, nearly 1,500 yards and a historic year for the Hawks. Prior to 2009, the Hawks had solid years rushing each season. But my point, and one I would think most Hawkeye fans would remember very clearly, is. 2004. The year of the catch. And what is it that the Hawkeyes lacked that year? A running game! For the entire 2004 season the team, overall, had less than 900 yards rushing. the team pulled off one of the most magical seasons in the teams history with nobody running the ball. So please let hawkeye nation know that the team has been successful without a running game before so keep hope alive.
Brian Bennett: Some interesting points here, Joe. Clearly, there is more than one way to skin a ... bronzed pig. Can Iowa win big this year without an established running back? Quite possibly, since the passing game should be strong behind James Vandenberg, Keenan Davis, C.J. Fiedorowicz and others. I also think that between Damon Bullock and Greg Garmon, the Hawkeyes can manage to run the ball decently -- provided both stay on the active roster. I'm actually not as worried about the offense as I am the defensive line for Iowa.
Timmy from Cherokee, Iowa, writes: Will you please get rid of your Iowa running back voodoo doll? This is getting ridiculous...Go after some SEC players, or maybe some from Nebraska.
Brian Bennett: Wait, how is this my fault? I'm not the Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God.
John K. from Austin, Texas, writes: Nebraska having the best "Position Ranking Score" was a surprise (of course, the scores aren't weighted only in order). The other thing I find odd is the Huskers' lack of entries on the top players. If they actually do come out on top is this going to be the "no-name team"? Well, I guess that won't happen. As there is no way they win without Martinez and Burkhead having a really good season.
Brian Bennett: John brings up an interesting thought. One of the main reasons Nebraska scored so well in the position ranking summary is because the Cornhuskers don't seem to have many weak spots. They might not rank at the top of every position, but very few position groups look like sore points, either. This might very well be a team that succeeds with very few stars. Outside of Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead, Nebraska doesn't really have any household names. The defense lost big names like Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard and is a little bit of a no-name bunch, at least to start the season. It will be interesting to see if more Huskers players develop into stars this season, or if the team can succeed with more of a all-for-one approach.
Wayne from Minneapolis writes: Can you please clarify something for me? You have done the best/worst case scenarios for both Michigan and Michigan State. So far, you have predicted Michigan State to be the better team and the team that will win the division. You have also stated that Michigan's schedule is probably harder. Yet, when stating the best case scenario, Michigan wins the National Title while Michigan State wins only Rose Bowl? I think this is an example of the very reason why Michigan State's preseason ranking is lower than Michigan's. I believe that the power of school's brand (tradition) skews predictions and rankings falsely. Agree?
Brian Bennett: My reasoning has nothing to do with brand and everything to do with the schedule, Wayne. I simply don't see any Big Ten team going undefeated this season. And I don't believe that a league team that goes 12-1 will be able to get into the BCS title game unless it's Michigan with a win against Alabama. The Wolverines' victory against an SEC power would be hard to ignore if it came down to a debate about the best one-loss teams in America. While Michigan State also has a good schedule, beating Boise State at home wouldn't carry as much cache as beating Alabama at a neutral site.
Phil H. from Vancouver, Wash., writes: Hey Brian, good stuff as always. I just saw the Rivals 2013 top 100 HS players and to my surprise Wisconsin was not listed as anyone's college of choice. Oh wait, that is not a surprise. Will this ever change? I don't think the Badgers will ever make it to the National title game unless it does.
Brian Bennett: I'm not sure I totally understand Wisconsin fans' obsession with recruiting rankings. The Badgers have a proven method of evaluating and developing talent, and it's paid off with lots of success, including two straight Rose Bowls. The program was a couple of plays away from being in the national title game the past two years. That said, I do wonder why more top-flight talent, especially offensive linemen, wouldn't want to come to Madison. The team wins, the city and school are great, and players get to the NFL. I'm anxious to see if the Badgers' badly needed facility upgrades will have any effect on this.
Paul from Escanaba, Mich., writes: Your word to describe Michigan's defensive line depth was scary. Am I missing something, but what great depth did they have last year when everyone said their line was so good? Replacing Mike Martin is a huge question mark, but to me their defensive line is more athletic than a year ago and deeper with more young guys competing for spots.
Brian Bennett: There wasn't a ton of depth last season, but there were some players with experience in backup roles, like Will Campbell and Jibreel Black -- two projected starters this season. There's a whole lot of youth and inexperience in backup roles this season. And last season's team had an All-American type in Martin, plus solid seniors in Ryan Van Bergen and Will Heininger. Even the starters this season carry questions, such as whether Campbell can live up to his potential, whether Black is big enough to play inside and whether Craig Roh can handle the move to the strong side. Michigan did not have any major injuries on the defensive line last season until the Sugar Bowl. If it can get that kind of good health this year, the defensive line will be solid. If not, it might mean some very green players are trying to fill key roles.
Kyle from Denton, Texas, writes: My question deals with redshirts. Do you think the NCAA should change the redshirt rule to allow all student athletes to play in a set number of games (say 2-3) and if they haven't gone over that limit they can be redshirted? I ask this because a guy like Brion Carnes played in 3 games last season, in mop up duty, and that was it. Pretty much wasted his freshman year of eligibility and gained nothing from the year. Everyone knows that if a player doesn't redshirt his freshman year they probably aren't going to ever. The only way athletes get better is to take what they learn in practices, and apply it in games. Now that there are no JV games in college, players that are redshirted don't get this opportunity. By allowing them to play in a limited number of games this would allow these players to gain a little bit of experience without wasting a year of eligibility. It would also give the coaches a chance to see if the player can really contribute anything in a game situation.
Brian Bennett: I can't go along with your proposal, Kyle. The intention of the redshirt rule is not to give an extra year to a player who only appeared in a handful of games or plays and was not injured. That would open up a huge can of worms for all sorts of lightly used players and backups. A team could throw all of its freshmen in for the last two games and then redshirt them under your idea.
Bronko Nagurski's Ghost from Dinkytown writes: Brian, I am the greatest player in Big Ten history so my word carries weight. Two things:1) My Gophers are going to surprise people this year. The BTN guys are raving about JUCO guys and the Frosh that Kill has brought in. Also, remember, Kill's teams have taken a huge step forward in year two at all of his coaching stops. 2) Wisconsin will struggle this year. Bret Bielema has been unable to develop a QB, Danny O'Brien got benched last year, and the Defense and O-Line won't be as good as they were last year. Book it. Also, if anyone other than O'Brien has to play QB Wiscy is in BIG trouble.
Brian Bennett: I didn't really see a question in there, Bronko, but OK. I do like Minnesota to improve and possibly surprise people this season. But if you're relying on a bunch of freshmen and junior college players to step in right away and win in the Big Ten, that might not be the best plan. And I have to disagree about Wisconsin and O'Brien. His struggles were more about the change in system at Maryland, and I think he fits in much better with the Badgers' style of play. Are you really doubting Wisconsin's offensive line at this point?
Mike from Allentown, Pa., writes: Hey, Brian: In regards to Graham Spanier speaking out now, it's been widely regarded in Penn State circles that he was going to eventually be charged with perjury. It seems he's stayed quiet because he hasn't really had anything to go against, but now that the Freeh Report is out he can point out "inconsistencies" in it. Personally, even as a Penn State fan, I hope that if all of these guys were really as in on it as the Freeh Report suggests they should all rot in jail. So, I hope this maybe gives you a little better incite as to why he's speaking up now, and wasn't speaking up for the last 8-9 months.
Brian Bennett: I get that, Mike, and I can see why Spanier would exercise some caution. But it's also true that he was basically silent, other than a few statements and letters, for 10 months. If someone accused me of harboring a child rapist and I was innocent, I'm pretty sure I'd grab a microphone somewhere and scream at the top of my lungs about how unfair that was. But none of the Penn State leaders acted like you'd think most people would. In his New Yorker interview, Spanier couldn't seem to remember much at all. I think if I heard that my school's famed, aging defensive coordinator was seen naked in the shower with a young boy, that's something that would stick in my mind. Especially if I was told about a very similar incident a few years later. But maybe that's just me.
Jeff from Lansing, Mich., writes: I have been reading about positions that schools have to find replacements for this year and I am wondering why there has been no mention about Michigan state and there loss at the long snapper position. There 1st string player transferred this spring and the next in line as projected starter had a terrible accident that ended his football career (thankfully it sounds like he will be fine). I know it is not a popular position, but is it that easy to find a replacement for that position that we shouldn't worry? I would be surprised if a team regularly has 3 players deep in that role. I have seen plenty of games that went bad for a team after a poor snap or two.
Brian Bennett: Congrats, Jeff, you are the first person to ever ask about a long snapper in the mailbag. We must be getting close to the season. But in all seriousness, you're right in that it's a position that is often overlooked -- until there's a bad snap. It's not really a position we can properly analyze in the preseason, since nobody really talks about it or watches long snapping much in practice. I can tell you that the Spartans gave a scholarship in this year's class to Taybor Pepper, who had committed to walk on at Michigan. Pepper is only a freshman, but if a guy is good enough to get a scholarship for snapping, he must be pretty good at it.
Sam from Kalamazoo, Mich., writes: Are you getting a little ahead of yourself in annointing Michigan State as a Big Ten Superpower? The last time MSU saw Roses was 1988. Between that year and today, Michigan played in the Grandaddy of Them All 8 times, by far more than any other team in the Big Ten (yes, although it pains me I know this is at least in part to OSU playing in BCS games once that charade began). So MSU has had two relatively successful seasons in a row. .. who cares? Apparently no one, since folks are BEING PAID to wear green at the inaugural Irrelevant Bowl.
Brian Bennett: First of all, Sam, I wrote that Michigan State is developing into a superpower in the league. It's hard to argue with what Mark Dantonio has done. The Spartans won a share of last year's Big Ten title and finished with the best conference record this year while winning a division title. Dantonio has built a strong foundation in East Lansing, and the continuity ensures that the Spartans will be a year-in, year-out contender. That has little to do with what Michigan is or isn't doing. Also, the Big Ten seat-filling ad was exposed as a hoax. I'm amazed so many people thought that was true.
JonB from Houston writes: Michigan is good again. Ohio State landed a legendary coach. Nebraska needed a transition year. Michigan State and Wisconsin are forces to be reckoned with. I'm ready to usher in a new era of Big Ten dominance starting in 2012. Sorry, SEC, you've had a nice run. Please tell me I'm not dreaming.
Brian Bennett: I think you may have dozed off a little, Jon. I don't think the Big Ten is all that far off from the SEC, and the addition of more powerful teams can only help the Big Ten. But the SEC is closing in on six straight national titles. Somebody has to beat them first.
John from Au Gres, Mich., writes: I appreciate your faith in the Spartans, but I was in Indy for the 2000 Final Four. That National Championship Party was pretty big, not sure you can say this would be the all-time Sparty party. However, it has an awesome ring to it.
Brian Bennett: What's this sport with the round ball you're talking about? All right, I may have exaggerated. Still, if Michigan State wins Saturday to go to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1988 ... well, I expect there to be a lot of happy folks in green at the Slippery Noodle Inn that night.
Mike from Madison, Wis., writes: How in the world do you have Houston above Wisconsin in your rankings?!? For that matter how do you have Houston in your top 15? Have you seen their schedule. It's an absolute downright joke! Not only are all the teams from the C-USA absolute jokes, out of the 12 teams the played only 3 have above .500 records!!! They don't have a single win that is more impressive than any team's in the top 15 loss.
Brian Bennett: I'll admit that Houston is the hardest team for me to rank every week. The Cougars are undefeated and have a great offense, but their schedule has been horrid. I have them ranked lower than most. I'd like to see Michigan play Houston in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. I think that would work out well for the Big Ten.
Ryan from Omaha, Neb., writes: There has been a whole lot of talk about how good or how bad Nebraska's quarterback Taylor Martinez is and I believe he will be great in his final two years in Lincoln. I posted a stat on Facebook saying "Taylor Martinez has 3,604 career passing yards and passed Tommie Frazier in that mark last Friday against Iowa." Tommie Frazier was considered one of the best quarterbacks in college football history and played for some of the best offenses in Nebraska history. Taylor broke his record in only his sophomore year and Martinez is playing for an offense that isn't even close to being as good as those offenses Frazier played for. So, on this note how good do you believe Taylor Martinez is and will be in his final two seasons? Honestly, every Nebraska fan wants to know the answer to this question.
Brian Bennett: First, I'm not sure the comparison between Frazier and Martinez is all that valid. Frazier didn't throw it that much and didn't need to with the strong option game Nebraska had in those days. The Huskers still run some option, but they try to be far more balanced in their offense with more passing. I'm not sure Martinez will ever be a great passer because he has such odd throwing mechanics. But we have to remember he's just a sophomore and has played for two different coordinators in his two years. I thought he really grew as a game manager and a leader this year, and he's still got breathtaking quickness when he gets out on the edge. On the list of things Nebraska has to worry about the next two years, Martinez is pretty far down.
Brandon from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Brian, way to dominate both the fantasy league and the weekly picks! Anyway, let's get down to business. Coach Brady Hoke has been named Coach of the Year in the MAC (2008), the MWC (2010), and now the Big Ten (2011). My question is: Are there any other coaches that have earned that award in three different conferences? Or even two different conferences in consecutive years?
Brian Bennett: Brandon, I was ready to go all rivalry on you by saying Urban Meyer, who was coach of the year in the MAC and the Mountain West before heading to Florida. But, remarkably, Meyer was never named SEC coach of the year despite winning two national titles. Really, SEC?
A-Duke from Waterloo, Wis., writes: If Montee Ball and Russell Wilson were playing for a team such as USC, don't you think they would BOTH be the touted "front-runners" for the Heisman? Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush had no problem getting hype while greatly benefiting from one another.
Brian Bennett: Key difference here, A-Duke. Leinart and Bush won a national title and then came back and led a team to an undefeated regular season. Like it or not, the Heisman has become about rewarding the best players on national title contenders. The problem for Wilson and Ball has nothing to do with where they're playing and everything to do with the Badgers' two losses -- even though neither of them play defensive back.
The Like Ninja from Parts Unknown writes: BB, Thanksgiving weekend was really rough for me. On top of the usual craziness that surrounds the weekend, the Lions lost, OSU lost, Toledo won but NIU clinched the MAC West, and the NBA is back (I was looking for nothing but hockey on "SportsCenter"). Now I see that Wisconsin fans are claiming that Ball is closing in on the TD record held by Barry Sanders. Could you please tell those people that he isn't? Sanders's record isn't 37 total TDs, it's 37 RUSHING TDs, and that's without counting his 5 TD performance in the Holiday Bowl (which would have pushed him up to 42). With 2 games to go (because unlike Sanders, Ball gets to count postseason games), Ball is only at 29. And if even if we DID go by total TDs (which would have to include passing and go to one of those Hawaii QBs who had 50+) Sanders had 39 total TDs (2 returning). And to say "Ball has fewer carries," while true, is misleading as Sanders had 7.6 YPC, whereas Ball has 6.5 YPC.
Brian Bennett: Let's clear a few things up here. There is a total touchdown record, and that's what we're referencing with Ball and Sanders this season. That does not include passing, because you actually have to possess the ball in the end zone to be counted in the scoring statistic. Ball, for example, also threw a touchdown pass this season, but that is not included in his 34 total touchdowns. The rushing touchdown record is a different statistic. I'll agree with you that Sanders had the more impressive season because his bowl stats did not count and he played fewer games. But Ball also has barely played in the fourth quarter this season, and his season has been fantastic as well.
Shareef from Knoxville, Tenn., writes: I think you're right that Ball should be in consideration for the Heisman because he puts up better numbers than Trent Richardson, but I have two things to bring up. 1. Would Ball have these numbers if Russell Wilson wasn't there at QB? Wilson takes a lot of pressure off of Ball, and Ball arguably can run more freely because the threat of Wilson's passing is there. Of course, Ball's running is also, arguably, why Wilson is so effective.2. The Penn State comparison is not accurate. Bama played Penn State in State College early in the season when Penn State had a lot to play for and no one had even heard of Jerry Sandusky. When Wisconsin played the Lions, it was in Madison and the ridiculous home field advantage that brings, and Penn State had completely fallen apart.
Brian Bennett: Let me shred your second point first, Shareef. If Penn State had fallen apart, how did it almost beat a good Nebraska team the first game after the Sandusky story broke and then go into Columbus and beat Ohio State the following week? The Lions had everything to play for at Wisconsin, as the winner of that game was going to the Big Ten title game. Sure, Wilson helps Ball. But after re-watching the first Michigan State game, I'm more convinced than ever that Wilson is so good because of the threat of play-action. I don't know why Ball is being penalized for having a good quarterback. Didn't Reggie Bush win a Heisman with Leinart as his QB? Didn't Sam Bradford have DeMarco Murray at running back when he won his?
Andres F. from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Wow, thank you for suggesting that Montee Ball is only behind Trent Richardson in the Heisman voting because of the conference he plays in. I needed a good laugh. Maybe Ball's numbers have more to do with the fact that he has a great QB to take some of the pressure off, something Richardson doesn't. His line is better, and let's be honest, those defensive rankings are misleading. The best defensive Richardson faced (LSU) is miles ahead of the best Ball faced (MSU) This isn't about conference bias, this is about voters being able to see past padded stats and realize who the best player in the country is. Please try to do the same.
Brian Bennett: So you're saying Alabama's offensive line isn't that good? I guess I'm supposed to be impressed when Richardson puts up big numbers against Ole Miss and Auburn. Hey, he's a great player and deserving of accolades. But Ball is, too.
Brent from State College, Pa., writes: Asking a PSU question from a purely football standpoint: with Paterno out of the picture now, what's the likelihood the PSU-Pitt rivalry resumes? Too early to tell?
Brian Bennett: Guess you missed it, Brent, but the schools announced this summer that they will play again in 2016-17.
David from Chicago writes: I have been a Jerry Kill fan since he was at Southern Illinois and thought the Illini should have replaced Zook with Kill two years ago. Obviously he is unavailable now. What are the chances that Illinois hires someone that is a better fit than Kill would have been?
Brian Bennett: You make a good point, especially since Kill knows the state of Illinois so well and that's where the Illini need to make hay in recruiting. At the same time, though, Kill is a program builder that a team like Minnesota really needs. I don't think Illinois is that far away, and that school needs someone to come in and build some excitement among a disinterested fan base. While winning ultimately is what sells tickets, I think hiring an offensive-minded coach such as Wisconsin's Paul Chryst would be the quickest way to create a buzz again in Champaign.
Jeff from Harleysville, Pa., writes: Brian, I enjoyed Michigan's "grenade" celebration after finishing a strong season by breaking the streak against OSU. Can we expect any special celebrations from you after your fantasy and picks domination over Adam?
Brian Bennett: I found Ohio State's objection to that celebration amusing, since I saw the Buckeyes do that exact same routine late in one of their August practices. I can't pull that off by myself but I am working on my own victory dance for this weekend in Indianapolis. If you're there on Friday night, be on the lookout.
Let's see what's on your mind today:
Illini Mike from Chicago writes: Hey, Brian, I had a question about your analysis that Illinois could win 10+ games and still not be all that great. I don't want to sound like I'm biting your head off for that statement like most people who write in. I understand and respect your opinion and was curious what you would need to see from the Illini to consider them a great 10-win team? And before you say "proving they can play on the road" remember their road schedule is on the easy side with Purdue, Indiana, and Minnesota. Shouldn't they be rightfully concerned with winning at home against OSU, Wisconsin and Michigan?
Brian Bennett: Mike, what I meant from that is Illinois benefits greatly from its schedule and has not looked like a dominant team. The Illini won their last three games by three points each, and while a win is a win, it makes you wonder how much home field played a part. Combine that with the fact Ohio State is having all sorts of issues, and I think it's possible Illinois goes 10-2 while losing to Wisconsin and Michigan. That would leave a lot of questions for a 10-win team. There's a whole lot of season left, and I like this team's talent and mental toughness. I just said that was a potential outcome.
Phil from Madison writes: I'm willing to admit that Wisconsin's non-conference schedule was soft, but I'm sick of hearing about the fact that they haven't played a road game yet this season. The Northern Illinois game was supposed to be played at NIU but was moved to a neutral site, and NIU was still considered the home team. And they have no control over the Big Ten schedule, which started them with two home games and a bye. Yes it's unfortunate and yes the road games may be more difficult, but I wish people would stop acting like the Badgers chose to wait until Oct. 22 to play a road game.
Brian Bennett: Phil, whether it was by choice or circumstance, it remains a fact that Wisconsin has not played a true road game. Interestingly, the polls don't seem to be punishing Michigan for not leaving Ann Arbor. It won't really matter for the Badgers, either, unless there is a debate between undefeated teams for a spot in the BCS title game. Even in that instance, whether Wisconsin played Northern Illinois in Chicago or DeKalb probably wouldn't matter much, anyway.
Yooper from Minneapolis writes: I've heard (or read) you say a couple times that you think LSU and Alabama are playing above anyone else in the country. My question is, how can you say that so unequivocally given the difference in schedules and really not knowing how opponents will end up? I've seen LSU and Alabama play and nothing has indicated they're heads above Wisconsin, especially given this latest WI win. LSU has a great D, but lacks a bit on the O. There certainly is no way someone unbiased could not include WI at the absolute top level right now, given what we've seen. I've heard a lot of talking heads say how bad Neb looked; well they were ranked 8th...maybe WI had a bit to do with them looking bad?
Brian Bennett: Yooper, it's the defenses that cause me to say that. Both Alabama and LSU have absolutely smothered people, and we've seen through the past several national title games that those SEC defenses, especially up front, usually make the difference. I disagree with you about the schedules; LSU has already blown out Oregon and West Virginia away from home, while Alabama has gone on the road to crush Penn State and Florida. A team like Wisconsin could certainly beat either of those teams in a one-game situation, and I would love to see the Badgers' offense take on those defenses. But my opinion, based on what I've seen so far, is that Alabama and LSU are a notch above everybody else right now.
Colin from NYC writes: Can you please explain the disparity of MSU's rankings in both polls?
Brian Bennett: I wish I could. I would usually say the coaches are crazy, but in this case, I think they're closer to being right by having the Spartans No. 20, while the AP voters have Michigan State at 26th. Beat Michigan next week, and the polls will adjust accordingly.
Ryan from Cedar Rapids writes: Notre Dame in your top 25? What are you smoking and can I have some? How can you honestly put them in there, I would love to hear this explanation.
Brian Bennett: Sure thing. First of all, you could probably put about 15 teams in a hat and draw them out randomly for the bottom spots in the poll and have just as much chance as being accurate. I happen to think the Irish are very talented and are starting to round into shape. Yes, they have two losses, but one of those was on the road in a last-second thriller to the current No. 12 team in the country. They also beat Michigan State, who I have near the Top 20, and handled a Pitt team that nearly won at Iowa and then blew out the same South Florida team that beat Notre Dame in the opener. I was impressed with Notre Dame's performance in the Purdue game and think the team might finally have solved its turnover issues. I could be wrong, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
FFXlion from Our Nation's Capital writes I'm a Penn State fan, and I will be in Happy Valley for the Iowa Game. It's well known in Big Ten circles that Iowa "Owns" Penn State. They beat us no matter what, though I hope this year is different. However, it also seems that Northwestern has an equal knack for beating Iowa. Which do you think is more inexplicable?
Brian Bennett: They're both very strange. If I had to pick, I'd say Northwestern's dominance of Iowa is weirder. At the risk of offending Wildcats fans everywhere, I have to ask: how many upper-tier Big Ten teams Northwestern has ever gotten the upper hand on this consistently?
Michael from St. Louis writes: You and Adam are projecting Nebraska to make a BCS bowl (as an at-large, since you have Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl). I'm a Husker fan, but I'm going to have to disagree with you. To get in, Nebraska will likely have to go undefeated until the Big Ten Championship, and after watching them play Saturday, that seems very unlikely. It's possible to get in as an at-large with three losses, but it's only happened once before, and it was in a year with a two-loss national champion. If I had to pick a most likely candidate for a second BCS spot, I'd peg Illinois. They get Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan at home, and have a pretty favorable road schedule. Even if they lose that Wisconsin game, they have a decent shot at 10-2 -- possibly even 11-1. Most importantly, unlike Nebraska (unsafely assuming they make the championship game), they wouldn't have to face the best team in the conference twice, likely resulting in two losses.
Brian Bennett: Michael, you make some excellent points, and I can tell you Adam and I have wrestled with this very same argument. Will the Big Ten even get two BCS bids this year? It will be interesting to see if the division setup ends up hurting the league in that regard. The Legends Division looks so balanced right now that it's nearly impossible to predict, but we're sticking with our Nebraska call for at least another week. I agree, though, that the Huskers could win the division but have three losses after the Big Ten title game, perhaps opening the door for a team like Illinois or even Michigan to get a BCS bid instead.
Lucas from NYC writes: As an Ohio State fan and alumnus, is there ANYTHING you can tell me to give me hope that the Buckeyes won't be 3-5 at the end of the month? They look bad from top to bottom. MSU seemingly blitzed with 9 in the box on at least 60 of the 64 plays when OSU had the ball, yet we ran ONE draw and threw ONE screen pass. Can our qb's not even throw screens? Is the coaching staff that inept? WHAT IS GOING ON?!?!?
Brian Bennett: Lucas, I feel your pain and I couldn't believe the lack of creativity in the offensive game plan last week while sitting in the press box. Granted, Jim Bollman is limited in what he can call with a green quarterback, few proven receivers and an offensive line that couldn't block any Spartans. But I couldn't understand why they didn't try more screens, rollouts, Wildcat stuff -- anything to slow that rush and or put Braxton Miller in a better position to make plays. Right now, Ohio State will be the underdogs in all of its remaining October games (at Nebraska, at Illinois, Wisconsin). It's quite possible the Buckeyes will go 0-for-October if they don't improve on offense, and that's amazing to consider.
Sam from Iowa City writes: To answer your question, I would say the Legends is the deeper division, rather than the stronger division. Wisconsin looks GOOD right now, but as it seems pretty clear, the Leaders is a little light on competition. On the other hand, the Legends, as everyone has said by now, is open and a lot of teams that are good and could still be great by the end of the season. Which leads me to a question of my own: Any chance the Big Ten comes back to review the divisions in say ... five or ten years, regardless of any conference expansion?
Brian Bennett: The league will definitely be open to changing divisions around if something is not working, because these are not set in stone. However, I fully expect the Legends and Leaders to stay the same the next few years, if for no other reason than to build some consistency and let everyone finally figure out who's in what division. So far, the competitive balance has been pretty good, but it's cyclical. And if we're really lucky, maybe they'll change the division names, too.
Dan N. from San Marcos, Calif., writes: I liked your post on the Buckeye QB situation. I'd like to take this opportunity, however, to disagree with one item you mention. I am a Buckeye fan, and I have complete tolerance for grooming Braxton Miller and accepting the potential losses, rather than seeing Joe Bauserman out there. As a high school coach once said to me, "Don't lose with seniors." In other words, if you are going to lose anyway, at least make it a gain by getting experience for guys who will play next year. As I see it, Bauserman is pretty much a loss everytime he takes the field.
Brian Bennett: Dan, I completely understand your point. And if you'll recall, I'm the guy who wrote, way back on June 8, that Ohio State should be bold and start Miller from the get-go. (Adam disagreed with me). I think now for sure, it's time to see what the kid can do. However, Luke Fickell and the Buckeyes are in a tough spot here. Miller is going to make mistakes -- he turned the ball over twice at Miami in limited time -- and those could cost Ohio State wins. Remember, Fickell is on a one-year contract, so he's not exactly in a position to practice patience and accumulate losses. That could result in him and the entire staff getting canned. Also, the Buckeyes may have looked bad against Miami, but Big Ten play hasn't started. Who's to say they can't turn it around and win the Leaders Division or make it to a BCS game? You can't just throw in the towel at this point. Miller will start this week, and the best thing that could happen is for him to play really well. But I think they're still going to need Bauserman in case the youngster struggles or gets hurt.
James from Geneva, Ohio, writes: With the dissapointing loss to Miami and the lack of motivation that Fickell showed at the end of the game, is it pretty much set in stone that he won't be back next year? And why are people getting on the Bucks so much this year, even the fans, we have a HC who dosnt know what he is doing, 22 FR. along with 17 Sophomores playing, this team is really young. Do you think the Bucks will be back to dominate next year?
Brian Bennett: It's way too early to make any judgments on Fickell. Yes, that was not a great performance in Miami by any stretch, and his time management was curious (though I still don't think it made any difference, since Ohio State couldn't move the ball anyway). You said it yourself, James: Fickell is dealing with some difficult circumstances, including the suspensions and a couple of key injuries early. I don't think you can judge him until after the season is complete and after we see how Ohio State plays with all its players available. As for next year, there are just too many unknown variables to make any predictions. But barring any unforeseen NCAA penalties, this program is never going to be too far from the top.
Masada Roy from Omaha writes: After looking at these first 3 games, how do you expect the Big Ten to get any respect for a national title shot? With Neb/Wis the only two teams left undefeated in the top 10, there will only be one team left after their Oct 1. showdown. If one of these teams goes all the way unbeaten, how will they stack against an unbeaten Big 12 school and an unbeaten SEC school in a three-way race for two spots to play for it all?
Brian Bennett: The Big Ten's early struggles won't help the league's perception. In your scenario -- and I'm assuming that unbeaten Big 12 team is Oklahoma -- I feel confident that the Big Ten would be left out of the BCS title game. The SEC is all but guaranteed to get in with an unbeaten team, and Oklahoma is already No. 1. The Big Ten would certainly howl about it, but that's how it is. I continue to think it's going to be difficult for any Big Ten team to go undefeated in such a balanced league, though Wisconsin is making a stronger case by the day. Well, not everyone agrees with that ...
Mac from Omaha writes: You are so high on Wisconsin -- just wondering if they snuck an AQ win against a team who didn't lose to an FCS school in there somewhere that nobody noticed? Oh, they didn't? They don't next week either? I guess their first real test will be Nebraska, where we'll see if they are good or a mirage like so many other teams who play nobody.
Brian Bennett: You're correct in criticizing the Badgers' schedule, Mac. Wisconsin hasn't had to break too much of a sweat, and the Nebraska game will bring a huge step up in competition level. The reason I still like this team, however, is the way in which they've beaten their first three opponents. The offense is mind-numbingly efficient, and the defense has steadily improved. There have been no hiccups or scares like other teams have experienced. I'd be more skeptical if we'd never seen this from the Badgers, but since they went to the Rose Bowl last year, we can trust that this team is actually really good. How good? Ask me next Saturday night.
David from Phoenix writes: All right, Brian, who in your mind starts off Big Ten play on a shakier base; OSU, Penn St, Mich St, or Iowa? All of these teams have taken a gut punch in their first weeks, and the argument could be made that they're all better than they have appeared. But with one loss for each team, where is the fire burning the hottest? Come B1G play, they will all be looking for strong performances. Which ones will deliver?
Brian Bennett: Excellent questions, and all four teams have at least one major issue. At Penn State, it's the offense. Michigan State has offensive line injuries and inexperience to deal with. Iowa has some problems in several areas that need to be fixed. Everybody knows the deal at Ohio State by now. I'd say the Buckeyes are the shakiest right now just because of all their issues combined with a first-year head coach and a tough schedule. They could really improve as the season goes along, however. I think Michigan State bounces back the best. I don't know how exactly the line will get solved, but there's a whole lot of talent elsewhere.
Josh from Portland, Ore., writes: Less expansion talk more football!!! I know its easy for us fans at home to "couch coach" but hear me out. Michigan has started the last two games trying to implement too much pro and not enough spread. The run game feeds off Denard, especially the spread option. I feel like they may have to work in the pro style a little later in the game like, WHEN THEY HAVE A LEAD. Change is good, and I love my team, but can you tell em to slow it down a bit???
Brian Bennett: Amen, Josh, and so far we've been expansion free in this mailbag. As for the Wolverines, I doubt Al Borges would listen to my suggestions. He's got a bit of a conundrum, though, because he wants to implement his system, but clearly Michigan is at its best when it lets Denard Robinson do his thing. When the Wolverines fell behind big against Notre Dame, they sure looked a lot like last year's team with Robinson going nuts. Borges has to balance now and the future. But given how poorly Michigan has started in games this season, that balance may have to be tipped a little, because falling behind in Big Ten play is not a recipe for success.
Isaac from Parts Unknown writes: Do you think Taylor Martinez has to have good passing numbers to be a Heisman contender? Obviously quarterbacks like Troy Smith, Cam Newton, and Tim Tebow were better passers than Martinez. However, Eric Crouch had unimpressive passing numbers, and solid numbers rushing the ball which was to be expected with how much he ran, about 15-20 times a game. His numbers weren't that amazing but he was able to win the Heisman by making several highlight real plays while leading a top 5 team. Do you think it's possible for Martinez to get into the Heisman race if Nebraska is a top 5 team with some highlight reel plays, and decent stats?
Brian Bennett: I think it's possible for Martinez to win the Heisman without huge passing numbers, as long as his running continues to be great (he's leading the Big Ten in rushing) and the Cornhuskers keep on winning. But I'd point out a couple things. One, Crouch completed 55.6 percent of his passes (granted, in only 189 attempts) during his Heisman season. Martinez is under 50 percent right now. Another thing is that passing numbers are so inflated right now, Martinez is going to have some tough competition among Heisman contenders like Andrew Luck, Kellen Moore, Brandon Weeden, etc. And I worry about Martinez's ability to stay healthy if he keeps running so much and takes hits. We saw what happened last year.
Brent from Silver Spring, Md., writes: Obviously all is not happy in Happy Valley. But how about this? I think the offensive game plan needs to be more conservative. Yeah, I can hear the naysayers right now, "JoePa needs to be more conservative?" But the game plan always has a run in each of the three downs and more often than not that run is for 2-ish yards on 2nd down after an incompletion on 1st down. It routinely sets up 3rd and long. If Army and Navy can be competitive running the ball almost every play, surely PSU with its talent could be competitive too. At least they would be setting up 3rd and short versus 3rd and long. What do you think?
Brian Bennett: While the running game behind Silas Redd and Brandon Beachum is clearly the strength of a rather punchless offense so far, I don't think Penn State can get by just with pounding it on the ground. And that's because I'm not sure the offensive line is good enough to dominate anybody. The Nittany Lions simply must make plays in the passing game to keep defenses honest. Right now, Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin are both way too inconsistent for that to happen.
Rob NitLion from Trenton, N.J., writes: Brian, more of a comment, than a question for your mailblog, but, can we PLEASE just stop with all of the B1G "what if" scenarios for who should be added in this whole conference realignment circus? Its very clear after reading responses from both you and Adam as well as hundreds of other media commentary that only ND can add any value to the conference (who wants the headache that Texas brings with its own network?) Is anyone else tired of seeing the same questions posed and answered on the mailblog about who should be considered? Unless you can give us a substantial reason (other than money) that would cause the B1G to expand, such as how realignment may possibly give every other surviving conference besides the B1G the all important exposure in the recruiting hotbed of Texas, I'm pleading with you to answer other questions (I'll even accept you not responding to this...since it's only a comment).
Brian Bennett: How ironic that my only expansion-related question in this mailbag was asking for an end to expansion-related questions. You got your wish, Rob. (Or did you?) Let's all get back to football on the field this week, please.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Sorry this is coming in late. Got bogged down with a Mitch King feature and another upcoming story. Let's see what's on your mind this week.
John from Chicago writes: What's the deal with the Hawkeyes? Three losses by a combined 9 points, and then a 36 point blowout. I'm not saying the Hawks should be 7-0 but they're clearly better than their 4-3 record would indicate. What do you think the rest of the season holds for them?
Adam Rittenberg: I completely agree. Iowa is better than its 4-3 record, and it really needed a breakthrough win like the one at Indiana. If the Hawkeyes can limit mistakes from quarterback Ricky Stanzi and get continued production from running back Shonn Greene and Jewel Hampton, there's no reason to think they can't finish in the top half of the league. A win Saturday against sputtering Wisconsin would be big.
Lars from Pleasanton, Calif., writes: It has already happened to Joe 4 times in his career, but could we see another undefeated Lions team get hosed at the end of the season in favor of a BCS title game matchup of a 1 loss SEC team and 0 or 1 loss Big 12 team? I figure USC won't get in ahead of them, but is that a possibility too?
Adam Rittenberg: The only way an undefeated Penn State team doesn't go to the national championship is if Alabama and a Big 12 team finish the season undefeated. So the chances are very good if the Nittany Lions take care of business the rest of the way. Penn State has satisfied the much-discussed style-points requirement of being a highly ranked and respected team. No way USC jumps ahead of the Lions, not in such a weak conference.
Derek from St. Louis writes: I take back everything I said (complained) about Illinois not being ranked. I still beleive whole heartedly that Illinois has top 15 talent and is either number 2 or 3 in talent in the Big Ten (behind Ohio State and maybe Penn State). Is this loss to Minnesota a testament to those who beleive that Zook is a great recruiter but can't coach himself out of a wet paper bag?
Adam Rittenberg: I think both of us underestimated what it meant to lose J Leman, Antonio Steele, Chris Norwell, Justin Harrison and Kevin Mitchell. Illinois' defense just isn't the same without those guys, and the results aren't pretty. The offense has been fine, explosive at times, never unproductive. But special teams and especially defense have been disappointing. Part of that falls on Zook as a defense guy, but it could just take a little longer for Illinois to reach powerhouse status. His in-game coaching will always be questioned, but a lot of the struggles can now be attributed to personnel losses in the middle of the defense.