Let's take another summer dip into the ol' mailbag:
Chris V. from Grandview, Mo., writes: I have been reading the ideal Big Ten schedules, and I noticed one comment made that no one else made. Make the teams come north. If the Big Ten can't get good, favorable conditions for bowl games in our region then make the schools come north. I don't mean come up north in August, make the visiting Big 5 Power conference schools come up in October or November. Make them feel the cold, wind, and snow. Let us have an advantage compared to playing in August when we as Big Ten fans know it's hot down South. What are your thoughts and comments on this, Brian?
Brian Bennett: I sure love it in theory, but I have serious doubts about its practicality. For one, how do you "make" schools from other leagues do anything? The Big Ten doesn't exactly have a lot of leverage when it comes to forcing the SEC to bend to its will. The conference could simply refuse to schedule Southern schools without the promise of a home-and-home, but then those schools could just look elsewhere. And the fact is that most nonconference games, barring some of the end-of-year rivalry games, happen in September. October and November are typically reserved for league games, and it's hard to schedule an out-of-conference matchup years in advance given the league demands. So while your idea is great in theory and I'd love to see Big Ten teams use cold weather to their advantage, I don't see how that can easily be accomplished.
Nick from Washington, D.C., writes: Hey, Brian. A lot of the talk around Maryland's transition to the Big Ten has been about how they are moving to a tougher conference. As an OSU fan who is used to people insulting the B1G, this is a bit of a surprise for me. I thought the ACC was considered equal or better. Who is right? Is the B1G the third-best conference behind the SEC and Pac-12? Also, how much did MSU's wins over OSU and Stanford improve the perception of the conference?
Brian Bennett: I would say most of the talk about Rutgers is how the Scarlet Knights must deal with a much tougher overall conference. I don't hear that as much about Maryland. For several years, the Big Ten could claim to be at least equal and most times a better league than the ACC, especially given the latter conference's postseason foibles. That's a much tougher argument to make after last season, when Florida State won the national title and Clemson beat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. The bigger issue with Maryland, I think, is that the Terrapins have mostly been a mediocre or worse team in the ACC, except for a few notable exceptions. The level of Maryland's immediate competitiveness in the Big Ten will provide a nice litmus test on the relative strength of those two leagues.
As for your other question, I don't think Michigan State beating Ohio State did anything for the perception of the conference since they're both in the same league. The Rose Bowl win was very important, especially given the Big Ten's struggles in recent years in Pasadena. Depth at the top has been a major problem with the league of late, and having Michigan State emerge as a potential national power is a major development for the conference, assuming the Spartans can stay there.
Rick from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, writes: I figure Iowa for 9-3 (6-2 or 5-3 in the B1G); 4-3 in their games with ISU, Pitt, Northwestern, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. A typical good Iowa team ... a year away in some positions and now in others. Say I am correct; what would 9-3/6-2 earn them for the postseason?
Brian Bennett: You're a little less optimistic than some other Iowa fans this offseason, Rick. I wonder how happy Hawkeyes fans would be with 9-3 given the schedule. Anyway, it's extremely difficult to project a bowl game just based on one team's record without knowing how the rest of the league shakes out. Does the Big Ten have a team in the Playoff as well as another major bowl, for example? Iowa fans do travel well and made a strong impression last year in the Outback Bowl. But that may hold less sway now that the Big Ten office will have a much bigger input into who goes where in the postseason, and bowls won't simply pick the team they think will sell the most tickets. The league wants to keep things fresh with postseason destinations, though, and I would think the Hawkeyes would be an interesting candidate for the new slot in the Holiday Bowl in your scenario. San Diego in late December? I hereby volunteer to cover that game every year.
Enrique from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: I noticed there were no Spartans receivers in your list of guys who might hit the 1,000-yard mark this season. I understand this omission as no Spartans receiver eclipsed 700 yards last year, but I think Tony Lippett definitely has the potential to break out this year. He was maligned for his tendency to drop passes, but as the year went on, he became a clutch, go-to guy for Connor Cook. And as Cook gets better, I think we'll see more games from him like we did in the Big Ten Championship and the Rose Bowl. We have a lot of options at receiver, but Lippett could be the guy to reach the 1,000-yard mark in 2014. What do you think?
Brian Bennett: I considered Lippett, but as you mentioned, Michigan State has a lot of options at receiver. The Spartans really spread the ball around last year, and even with Bennie Fowler moving on, Cook will still have a lot of weapons. Tight end should be a much stronger position, while DeAnthony Arnett could finally make an impact at wideout. I think that will make it difficult for any one player to reach 1,000 yards this season, though Lippett is definitely a guy to watch.
Jerome from Toronto writes: What do you think about FCS opponents being scheduled for spring games? This would require the approval of the NCAA, but it could be something worth looking at. We know that we don't want Power 5 teams to schedule games against FCS opponents, but we also know how important these home games are for schools to generate revenue and also to help these FCS schools with their budgets. We don't want exhibition games in the fall as we don't want to extend the season so why not have an exhibition spring game against an FCS opponent? This would be much better than the current spring games and would give teams a better opportunity to evaluate players one last time as they finish up the spring. Thoughts?
Brian Bennett: Your idea is pretty intriguing. There are a few issues. For one, coaches probably wouldn't want to risk injuries by having a competitive game in the spring. Of course, injuries can come at any time, and players might not be at any more risk in an exhibition spring game than they would in a regular practice or the current spring game format. But the competitive juices do flow a little differently when you line up against another team. Coaches likely also wouldn't enjoy the idea of actually losing one of these games; sure, it would only be an exhibition, but imagine the embarrassment and perception problem when your team's loss against an FCS opponent popped up on ESPN's Bottom Line. FCS teams would probably be a lot more fired up for these exhibition games.
Also, just how profitable would these exhibitions be? Some teams, such as Penn State and Ohio State, draw like gangbusters for their spring games, while others -- Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, etc. -- struggle to get anything resembling a normal fall Saturday crowd. Would that really change with an exhibition game against a possible no-name opponent, especially with a price tag for admission now attached? I have my doubts. But I agree that spring games the way most teams now run them are incredibly boring and stale, and in many cases, it's a waste of one of the 15 practices programs get. I'm all for changing them up in a more productive way.