Welcome to another edition of the Thursday mailbag. We're just three weeks away from actual football. Now on to your actual emails:
Andrew from Fremont, Ind., writes: I have to say I'm not shocked, but I am super disappointed that the Big Ten is going to nine conference games per season. I don't think this discourages eliminating the FCS opponent (basically a win, unless your Michigan) and it really discourages Big Ten vs BCS matchups. I also strongly feel that the nine-game schedule has led to the PAC-10's recent extreme mediocrity. Unless you were USC, everyone else banged each other up all season long, leading to USC's dominance. I also don't like the idea of some teams getting more home games one year, and as a former Big East Blogger I'm sure you'll agree that sometimes the home advantage gave some teams no true conference road challenges. I would just hate to see Purdue drop potential matchups versus say Oregon again in order to keep the hate alive and well with Western Illinois -- and the same goes for the rest of the Big Ten.
Brian Bennett: Andrew, your concerns are valid. Jim Delany said that the game that will be eliminated will be those types of FCS matchups, but unless the Big Ten dictates that, I'm not so sure. Schools that already have one BCS opponent every year (Notre Dame for Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue, Iowa State for Iowa) now have only two games left to schedule, and they need to maximize their home dates. It's hard for me to imagine they're going to go out and schedule another high-profile opponent in addition to those games. We already saw Purdue change a 2017 road game at Marshall to get ready for the nine-game schedule, and it's not like that was the most daunting challenge.
Ultimately, I think the nine-game schedule will be good for fans, but we'll have to see how it works in practice. It's still six years away, after all, and who knows if there will be more major changes in college football by then.
Michael from Los Angeles writes: I think the one aspect being overlooked here is the effect the 9-game schedule will have on conference perception. With the Pac-Ten, Big 12, and Big 10 all going to a 9-game conference slate, and with the SEC still largely unwilling to play anybody with a pulse OOC, it is going to be much easier for the Big media entities (looking at you ESPN) to influence conference perception. I fear this means the conferences with the strongest financial ties to ESPN will be pumped up to an even greater extent in comparison to our beloved, and perpetually underrated Big 10. Without quality OOC games against other BCS teams, it will be much more difficult to prove our strength relative to the rest of the CFB world.
Brian Bennett: There's some truth to that. We could be looking at fewer intersectional showdowns, and the ones remaining will take on even more importance. It also means that bowl game matchups will go a long way toward determining perception, which is not necessarily an accurate representation of conference strength.
Alden from Chi-Spartan writes: First: Now that the B1G is going to a 9 game schedule, they WILL move a conference game to September. The reason being that they're missing out on revenue and the B1G doesn't like that. B1G schools that don't play nationally relevant games early on in the season like other conferences (see SEC), are missing out on TV time. I can't imagine that sits too well with Delany. Second: When this happens, what would you say to Michigan State swapping one of the late-season in-conference games for the Notre Dame game? For example, playing Minnesota/Northwestern early on instead of late. The BCS has a short memory and respected late-season Ws count more than respected early ones. With Notre Dame back on the rise, I would much rather watch the Spartans play the Irish in late-October/early-November than in September and a win would boost BCS brownie-points more than a bottom tier B1G team. Given you also cover the Irish, what do you think of this idea and how do you think Notre Dame would receive this proposal?
Brian Bennett: I haven't talked to Notre Dame officials about this specifically, but I can't think of many reasons why they would oppose the idea. The Irish have USC as the final regular-season game when it's on the road, but they have some flexibility otherwise in their October/November schedules. I bet Brian Kelly would be all in favor of splitting up the Michigan/Michigan State games that come in Weeks 2 and 3 and have often put Notre Dame behind the eight ball early on in the season (including last year, when the Irish started 1-2 because of it). The Big Ten coaches favor playing some conference games in the first few weeks, and so do I. After waiting eight long months for football, it stinks to be rewarded with dog games in September.
Rick from Denison, Texas, writes: The 9-game schedule is a bad thing to move to (and I want my Big 12 to add two more schools to go back to 8 conference games), and it will be bad for the Big Ten's perception if the SEC doesn't switch as well. However, will this be good for each school and the Big Ten Network? Will the schools recieve more money from the Network now because of that extra game?
Brian Bennett: The key word now in college sports is inventory, and nine Big Ten games means more attractive matchups for the league to sell to the Big Ten Network and its other TV partners. That will help the league in its next round of TV negotiations, for sure.
Eric from Waterloo, Iowa, writes: Brian, I can't wait for football season!! I'm getting as giddy as a school girl. I have two questions. First, is anyone else feeling like that? And secondly; As I watch replays of Iowa games from '05, '07, '08, '09, and '10 on the BTN, I notice that many more players are now playing in the NFL (or have had opportunities). The question is, when does the label change from a team that "rebuilds" to a team that "reloads?" Also, if the Hawkeyes have good success this year, would that encourage a label change?
Brian Bennett: You and me both, Eric (though I'm not sure about the school girl thing). Iowa has done an excellent job of producing NFL talent, and Kirk Ferentz can sell that with the best of them on the recruiting trail. NFL scouts know they have to stop in Iowa City every year. As far as being known as a program that reloads instead of rebuilds, that comes when a team consistently puts up double-digit wins and conference titles year after year. Since the Hawkeyes went 8-5 last year and 6-6 in 2007, they're not quite there yet.
Tim from Columbus writes: The QB battles at OSU and PSU are intriguing and I can't wait to see who is leading the Buckeyes to failure this year! Another battle I would like some perspective on is for the QB spot in Ann Arbor. It's easy to say this job belongs to Denard Robinson given his breakout 2010 season, but Devin Gardner is a pretty good QB and appears be a better fit for Al Borges' offense (i.e. the spring game). Do you think there is any chance we see Gardner win the job or see No.s 7 and 16 on the field at the same time?
Brian Bennett: I like Gardner's skills, but I can't envision any way that Robinson isn't the starter for the Wolverines. You saw what he did last year, right? Whether he turns out to be a great fit for Borges' offense remains to be seen, but there's no way you don't give Robinson every chance to prove himself. Plus, in talking with some Wolverines in Chicago, their respect for Robinson as a leader is readily apparent. I'd love to see some ways to get Gardner involved as well, but Michigan will need to make sure he's healthy and ready as the backup should Robinson get hurt.
Tyler W. from Eden Prairie, Minn., writes: In one of your entries Tuesday you discussed QB competition. I know no one is talking about him, or even acknowledging there is a competition, but Brion Carnes for Nebraska will play important snaps this year. He is a more complete passer than Taylor Martinez is. He is also more than adequate running the ball. The perfect comparison for him would be Tyrod Taylor. More of a pass first run second QB who is still a great threat on his feet.
Brian Bennett: I'm interested to see what Carnes can do, but much like at Michigan, Martinez has more than earned the right to be the starter. Though he's only a sophomore, he's now the experienced vet in that quarterback corps. And like at Michigan, Carnes had better be ready. Robinson and Martinez both run a lot and are susceptible to injury because of it.
Derek from Omaha writes: In regards to your answer that Nebraska will have to get used to the more physical style of play and teams that run the ball more in the Big 10 because of Big 12 teams having more wide-open styles of offense, I have some 2010 rushing stats to throw at you. Run-first Big 10 teams averaged 38.8 attempts per/g, while pass first Big 12 teams 38.7 attempts per/g. Over the total course of the season, Big 10 teams combined averaged 465 attempts between them, Big 12 teams averaged 472. The physicalness of the Big 10 yielded an average of 6 more ypg rushing then the Big 12, 178 ypg to 171 ypg. Let's also not forget that Bo's defense worked fairly well when he was at LSU against a run first conference in the SEC. I think the notion that NU is going to get run over is a bit overblown, Bo is arguably a top 5 defensive mind in the country, and will put NU's defensive players in the best position to succeed.
Brian Bennett: I acknowledge that my assertion that the Big Ten is a more physical league is based more on perception than any real statistical information. I've watched teams from both leagues play and just get the sense that there's a harder-nosed style of play in the Big Ten. Let's also acknowledge that running the ball from the spread is not the same as lining up in an I-formation and pounding between the tackles. I have no doubt that Pelini will be well prepared. Will Nebraska actually have to adjust to a different style of play? That question, to me, is what makes this season so fascinating.
Commodore C. from East Lansing writes: Brian, in Wednesday's article on Big Ten Heisman Hopefuls you refer to the Heisman as the most celebrated trophy in sports. While the Heisman is certainly celebrated, I think we all know that the Stanley Cup is by far the most celebrated trophy.
Brian Bennett: You're right. I meant to put the word "individual" in there, as there is no more celebrated hardware for individual achievement. But until they find a way to drink beer and baptize babies out of the Heisman, the Stanley Cup takes the cake.
Brandon C. from Manteno, Ill., writes: From "Key Stretch: Ohio State"..."If the Buckeyes are going to win at least a share of their seventh straight Big Ten title..."I thought the Big Ten decided that starting this year they don't like to share titles anymore. They only share revenue. :)
Brian Bennett: A big duh on my part. Of course there will be no shared titles this year, only division crowns and a Big Ten champ. Old habits die hard, I guess.