Kenny from Cincy writes: Hey, Brian, it would be great to see every B1G teams' strength of schedule for this year (ranked from toughest to easiest). Thanks. Go Reds this weekend!
Brian Bennett: You mean the four-games-under-.500 Reds? They'd better start going sometime.
As far as strength-of-schedule ratings go, it's hard to calculate that in the preseason. The NCAA's way of determining that is simply to base it off opponents' records. If we did that, using 2013 records, the Big Ten strength-of-schedule ratings would look like this:
5. Ohio State
9. Michigan State
11. Penn State
Again, though, these are based on opponents' records from last season and don't really account for how good the teams might actually be in 2014. Still, you'd get little argument that Rutgers has an extremely difficult schedule, while Iowa and Wisconsin drew favorable slates. At least until we see the teams play this fall.
Chris V. from Grandview, Mo., writes: I saw ESPN just released the contenders for the college playoff this year. I also know you have the poll on Big Ten blog. My question to you, is who do you and Adam think will be the contenders from the Big Ten and nationally for the College Football Playoff this coming year? Do you guys seriously think a Big Ten team can make it all the way to title game and win it?
Brian Bennett: I'll stick mostly to the Big Ten side of things, though I suspect I'll end up ranking Florida State, Alabama and Oregon in the top three when it's time to do so. The most important thing for the Big Ten is just getting in the four-team field. Once you're in, of course, you've got a shot to win it. Getting there won't be easy, given the perception of the league vs. the SEC and even the Pac-12 and Big 12 and with Florida State giving the ACC a huge credibility boost last season.
Michigan State and Ohio State still look like the safest bets, and they both have marquee out-of-conference games (Spartans vs. Oregon, Buckeyes vs. Virginia Tech) that could help their cause. The big question is whether someone out of the Big Ten West, like Iowa, Nebraska or Wisconsin, can force its way into the conversation. The Hawkeyes and Huskers might need to run the table, while Wisconsin's weak schedule probably means the Badgers have to either beat LSU or play the Tigers extremely close in the opener.
I'm skeptical that any Big Ten team is truly national-title caliber in 2014. But it sure would be nice to see the league at least get into the field and have a chance.
Pat from Iowa writes: Let's say the Big Ten champion next year has two losses going into bowl season. Do you think they would still be selected into the new playoff system?
Brian Bennett: I'd say it's almost impossible, barring some wild chaos in the rest of the country. The perception of the Big Ten is too low right now, and probably only an SEC team, or one that plays an extremely difficult schedule, would even get serious contention for inclusion with two losses. Stanford last year would have had a compelling and fascinating argument as an 11-2 Pac-12 champion, but its nonconference schedule could have been an issue.
Aaron from Dubuque, Iowa, writes: Jake Rudock, better or worse next year? He returns an outstanding line lead by Brandon Scherff and three other returning starters. There is a running back corps that is deep (fingers crossed, there's no AIRBHG this season) led by Mark Weisman and Jordan Canzeri. Receivers are plentiful and talented ([Kevonte] Martin-Manely, [Tevaun] Smith, [Jacob] Hillyer, [Damond] Powell, [Derrick] Willies (more high hopes), [Ray] Hamilton, and [Jake] Duzey). But then there is Rudock's numbers, 18-to-13 TD to INT, 59% completion. With your professional opinion, how do you think Rudock will fair and where Iowa will go with their favorable schedule?
Brian Bennett: Rudock's numbers were fairly mediocre last season. But remember that he was in his first year as a starter, and the Hawkeyes didn't have a lot of deep threats for most of the season. I thought he made pretty good decisions in many games, and an extra year of experience can only help his cause. There is legitimate optimism about the receiving corps for the first time in a few years, as Iowa looks to have more speed and playmaking ability on the outside. I don't know that Rudock will ever be a 3,000-yard, 30-touchdown kind of quarterback in that system. But I see every reason to believe Rudock will continue to improve. If not, C.J. Beathard is waiting in the wings.
Greg M. from Bel Air, MD., writes: Big RU fan here ... so let me start with the saying "You live and die by the sword." I guess the B1G got what it wanted which was the NYC papers to notice Rutgers...unfortunately probably not the way they wanted...according to many of the B1G blogger sites. Rutgers is already the most hated University in the B1G (surpassing Ohio St/Penn St) and we haven't even played a game yet, but if we can become competitive on the field, pull the big upsets every now and then, ruin someone’s big payday, make the minor bowls, perhaps we can be the Alabama of the SEC, the USC of the Pac-12, the Miami Hurricanes of the ACC, the Notre Dame ... teams the fans love to hate because we can be both dangerous on the field and in the papers.
Brian Bennett: Um, OK. Let's back up on the Alabama/USC/Notre Dame comparisons. Rutgers simply needs to field a competitive team on the field and stop embarrassing itself off it. The Scarlet Knights have the resources to at least become a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten club that should be in the mix for bowl games. The fear from other Big Ten fans is that the program will dilute the overall product and cause nothing but negative headlines. Rutgers shouldn't aim to be hated but simply for now to be competent enough to blend in.