It's Tuesday, and that means mail time.
Let's do this ...
Joel from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, writes: Has Big Ten expansion made the Big Ten worse? Specifically, is the Big Ten West the new Big 12 North? In looking at Iowa's schedule for 2014, it's likely Iowa will be favored in its first 10 games. If Iowa was to go 10-0, Iowa would be the most bad-mouthed team in the country due to our nearly indefensible schedule. While I doubt a 10-0 start, I am not as excited for the start of this year as in years past. Not because I have doubts about the Hawks' ability to be competitive, but a lack of marquee games on the schedule.
Adam Rittenberg: Joel, I asked Iowa players about the schedule and some, like defensive tackle Carl Davis, expressed disappointment about not facing Ohio State or Michigan. You're right that the new division alignment could create a Big 12 North situation, where all the attention would be focused on the Big Ten East. It's why teams like Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin have to remain competitive and win league titles. Iowa has yet to make the Big Ten championship game and last won a title in 2004. Although Iowa would take heat for its schedule with a strong start, it would have opportunities late in the season -- Wisconsin, Nebraska, Big Ten championship -- to prove itself.
Here's the good news: This type of schedule will be the exception, not the rule, especially when the Big Ten goes to nine league games in 2016. But the Big Ten had different variables when aligning the divisions, including the preservation of regional rivalries. Remember that the league's initial alignment was based on competitive balance and people still had complaints.
Bren from Pleasanton, Calif., writes: You're too good to wimp out with the ol' "sure the B1G stinks" type of banter. The B1G did not stink last year. MSU had one of the most dominant defenses in the game last year. OSU had a fairly prolific offense. Yet after two miracle plays Auburn was chosen to face FSU. Why? because of a perpetuated notion of the B1G being unworthy. Amazing that teams like Missouri and Texas A&M (two teams with no recent history of success) are suddenly dominant teams in the almighty SEC. ... Sorry, but there is no secret sauce that makes teams world-beaters simply by being in the SEC.
Adam Rittenberg: Bren, you left Berkeley? Why? Michigan State undoubtedly was an elite team in 2013, but the league overall continued to struggle, not just in relation to the SEC but other leagues. Ohio State played a soft schedule and lost to the two best teams it faced (MSU and Clemson). Wisconsin ended the season with a thud, falling to an average Penn State team at home and South Carolina in a bowl. While I agree that the SEC is often overvalued by ESPN folks and others in the media -- last year was not a great one for the league -- the Big Ten still has a long way to go to become an elite conference again. Beyond Michigan State, the Big Ten was meh.
David from Minneapolis writes: As a born and bred Husker fan now living in B1G country, I disagree with your statement that every fan wants a nine-game schedule. You know what I want more than playing OSU or PSU more often? Championships. The B1G made a huge mistake going to a nine-game schedule and it may be decades (or centuries) before the B1G wins another national championship. In 2018, Nebraska has to play at Ann Arbor and Columbus, with MSU coming to Lincoln. You can basically already give Nebraska two losses that year and count them out of the playoffs. Be honest and don't say the nine-game schedule is best for the fans, because the fans want championships, not losses.
Adam Rittenberg: David, thanks for your perspective, but you're in the minority. You really want to see Nebraska play a third weak nonleague opponent? I understand the concern about losses, but you're projecting way into the future and not showing much faith in your team. Doesn't Nebraska want to restore its position among the nation's elite and be in the spotlight more, not less? That's what I hear from most Huskers fans. They want to play Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State more often. The first step for any Big Ten playoff hopeful is winning a league championship. Nebraska should be in the running in most seasons.
Max from Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., writes: The Big Ten stinks? If so, why did Saban back out of the the series with MSU? We all know that the SEC requirement to schedule a power-conference team will lead to such epic battles as Bama vs. Indiana and Georgia vs. Purdue. Do you think that the selection committee will hold the SEC accountable? Will MSU be penalized for playing at Oregon? What happens to MSU if it wins the Big Ten but finishes 12-1? Do the Spartans get in?
Adam Rittenberg: Although it's disappointing that Alabama dropped the MSU series, Alabama has been one of few SEC programs to play Big Ten teams in the regular season. The Tide actually visited Big Ten territory (Penn State) in 2011. As for the selection committee, i is now under pressure to uphold the strength-of-schedule component. Michigan State absolutely should not be punished for challenging itself at Oregon and I believe if the Spartans went 9-0 in Big Ten games (including the title game) to finish 12-1, they would get in rather easily.
Matt from Bullhead City, Ariz., writes: Does the verbal commit of Gabe Megginson to Illinois signal a tide-turning event for Tim Beckman in his Illini rebuild, or is this just a case of a home-state farm kid staying home? The state's top lineman last year, Tanner Farmer, ended up at Nebraska.
Adam Rittenberg: It's a big addition, Matt, and potentially a good sign for Beckman and the Illini. Beckman's recruiting success was a primary reason Illinois hired him. But he still needs to win on the field this year. Beckman can't afford a third consecutive bowl-less season, and it needs immediate contributions from its 2014 class, especially the junior-college players.