Big Ten Monday mailbag

I didn't have a mailbag last week because of all the craziness in State College, and I had to miss my Monday chat today because of a scheduling conflict. My apologies. To make up for it, here's a special Monday edition of the 'bag, and I'll be back Thursday with another. Keep your questions coming right here.

Dave S. from Bradford, Pa.: How about a trophy for Penn State and Nebraska with a "child abuse" theme? Each year, fans attending the game can be asked to make a donation to an appropriate charity?

Brian Bennett: David, I like where you're coming from, but I'm not sure a child-abuse themed trophy is the way to go now that Joe Paterno's name is off the Big Ten title game hardware. It's hard to merge that type of idea into a trophy without it looking ridiculous like the Iowa-Iowa State disaster. However, I do think the Big Ten should have a child-abuse awareness campaign and ask for donations at this year's championship game. It's the right thing to do, and I would be surprised if the league does not seize that opportunity. And as I wrote earlier, I firmly believe this should be the cause that defines the rest of Paterno's life.

Dylan from Concordia, Kan., writes: You said in earlier posts on your blog you think Nebraska has a good chance at getting an at large bid. What are the odds that if we do, we play a Big 12 team that gets an at large, and if we do what team do you see us playing KSU or OU if OSU were to win out?

Brian Bennett: How about Nebraska-Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl? Is that something you might be interested in? I could see it happening, whether the Sooners beat Oklahoma State or not.

Chris from Fort Wayne, Ind., writes: Hey, guys. How can the two of you "put" Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl for your predictions (last night), and then turn around this morning in your weekly Power Rankings and have Sparty ahead of the Badgers? So, only in a rematch is Wisconsin better than Michigan State?

Brian Bennett: It's a good question, Chris. I would explain it this way: the power rankings are supposed to be a snapshot of where we think the teams stand at that particular moment. We don't really project to try and forecast who might beat whom in the coming weeks, because that's just speculation by us. Rather, we like to look at the body of work a team has for the power rankings, especially once we've gotten this far into the season. Right now the Spartans have a better résumé with Wisconsin and that head to head win. But I'd pick the Badgers in a rematch on a neutral field.

Stan from Grendale, Wisc., writes: Is it wrong for us Michigan State fans to say WHY???? All the years we couldn't get to the Rose Bowl, a few times with tied conference records and losing out on tiebreakers, and now the FIRST year that conference record only wins your division, of course we will probably end the year with the best record in the conferene (1 loss vs everybody else's 2). And we will have to beat a team we are very close with for a second time in the same year ... again, I ask what did we do in East Lansing to anger the Rose Bowl gods?

Brian Bennett: I feel your pain, Stan, though I admit your e-mail made me chuckle a bit. Yes, in a different year, Michigan State would be sitting pretty for a Rose Bowl bid (and in every other year but this one the Spartans wouldn't have played Nebraska, which is their only conference loss). But the good news is the Pasadena path is still in their hands. Win three more, and the Rose Bowl is a reality. I think most teams would take those odds.

Jediah from Michigan writes: You wrote: "It's quite likely the catch of the year from the league's top receiver." I'm sorry, but Marvin McNutt's reaching catch was NOTHING compared to Michigan's game winning catch (vs. Notre Dame) and Michigan State's incredible Hail Mary ricochet (vs. Wisconson). You're getting caught up in the moment. Besides, that catch, although acrobatic, was like for 15 yards in a losing game. There's no comparison.

Brian Bennett: OK, Jediah, I'll agree that McNutt's catch didn't come close to those others in terms of importance. But I was talking about just the catch itself and the effort it required. He reached all the way behind his body to make a one-handed grab while running full speed. Probably the most amazing catch I've seen in the Big Ten in 2011.

Bernard D. from Philadelphia: Does OSU's loss to Purdue ensure Luke Fickell does not return next season? If so, who do you see as the best candidates out there for the job? Lastly, how does Gen Smith still have his job as AD? I would think the boosters are in absolute revolt right now.

Brian Bennett: I wrote a couple of weeks ago that Fickell was building a strong case to keep the job beyond this year. Back then, the Buckeyes looked like they were in good shape to make the Big Ten title game, but I didn't foresee a loss at Purdue. Now, Ohio State can't finish better than 8-4 in the regular season and needs to beat Penn State and Michigan to avoid going 7-5 or worse. Unless Ohio State gets help from a Wisconsin loss at Illinois and makes the Big Ten title game, I doubt Fickell will be retained. I would think Ohio State's first call has to be to Urban Meyer, and they might even gauge the interest of Bo Pelini. After that, it gets really interesting -- Toledo coach Tim Beckman might get some consideration. As for Smith, this latest NCAA mess does not help his cause, and even school president E. Gordon Gee expressed his disappointment last week in his athletic director. His future status could depend on just how harshly the NCAA decides to penalize Ohio State.

Josh from Nebraska writes: I have a loaded BCS question that I am curious about. First, I am wondering if the National Championship game counts as 1 of the 2 teams each conference can have in BCS bowl games. Secondly, I have heard Boise State will be ineligble for a BCS game unless they are at least co-champions of their conference -- is that accurate? Basically I am wondering if teams like Kansas St & Arkansas could be ranked in the top 14 in the BCS and not get a BCS bowl because of 2 others teams in their conference already in BCS bowls, which would improve the Big 10's chances of a second BCS bowl.

Brian Bennett: Yes, having a team participate in the BCS title game does count as one of the two representatives for a conference. A league that has a national title participant usually is in good shape for getting a second bid. As for Boise, here's how it works for the non-AQs: one automatic bid will go to the champion of either Conference USA, the Mid-American, the Mountain West, the Sun Belt or the WAC if one of those champions is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS standings, or is ranked in the top 16 and its ranking is higher than the champion of an AQ conference (hello, Big East!). So Boise State is still very much in contention for that, as is Houston.

Ted from Charlottesville, Va., writes: If Northwestern and Purdue both get 6 wins and become eligible for bowl games and the B1G only gets one team into a BCS game, is it possible that some B1G teams could be left out of a bowl game?

Brian Bennett: It's quite possible, Ted, because the Big Ten is guaranteed only eight bowl slots, and in your scenario (which I think will happen), there would be 10 bowl-eligible teams from the league. However, there are 35 bowl games and there are usually a couple of at-large spots available. Many bowls would happily gobble up a Big Ten team because of the league's large fan bases and propensity to travel.

Steve from St Louis writes: Is the move to a nine-game conference schedule going to happen for sure? It seems like after seeing how the Big Ten teams eliminated each other this year, if we ever want have a chance at a BCS title shot, adding another conference game will make that difficult. Also I think teams will shy away from challenging nonconference games if they have 9 conference games, which will further dilute the big 10 computer rankings.

Brian Bennett: Yes, Steve, the nine-game schedule is coming, but not until 2017. You make good points, but I also think this year was less about the schedules and more about having no truly dominant team in the league. Besides, the SEC and ACC will have 14 teams soon, so they will have their own difficulties having an undefeated team, and one-loss teams have made it to the BCS title game several times. I think it could hurt the Big Ten's chances of getting a second BCS bid often, but I also think the BCS process will look a lot different by 2017. We'll have to wait and see how it goes, but I'd rather have more league games than some of the bad nonconference games we have to watch.

Shady from Findlay, Ohio, writes: A blocked extra point! Are you kidding me, Brian! This is the worst year that could have happened for the Buckeyes. Yes, the Wisconsin win was big, but our defense loves letting up in the fourth quarter or giving up early leads; we are just lucky that our true freshman quarterback is there to put the team on his back for half our wins. At this point I am just wondering if it is enough to blame it on us missing our top 3 recievers, our best rush end, our starting right tackle, only senior starter on the defense leaving in the second quarter, and a new head coach and a freshman quarterback. I mean what does this season mean for the Buckeyes??? Bad luck? Karma/dharma for 6 (7) straight B1G champs?

Brian Bennett: Funny how quickly the mood can change, since things looked pretty good for the Buckeyes before Saturday. Given all the reasons you mentioned, not to mention the constant distractions and suspensions, it can't be surprising that Ohio State has failed to live up to its previous standards. There are a lot of young players making plays right now, though, and I love what Braxton Miller is doing. It won't take long before that program is back at or near the top of the league.

Ben from Nashville, Tenn., writes: Does this week's win over OSU take Danny Hope off of any type of hot seat? I know he's had a lot of injuries to deal with, but before the Illinois game (not looking as good after their collapse) and OSU, a lot of Boiler fans were tired of what he had to offer. I think we'll beat Iowa and IU to get to a decent bowl, and if this happens Hope should/will keep the job. If it doesn't turn out this way and Purdue isn't bowl eligible what would Hope's status look like?

Brian Bennett: Absolutely, Ben. Hope will only be in trouble if he loses to Iowa and Indiana to end the season, and if Purdue can't get at least one win in those games, then maybe Hope isn't the coach the program needs. But I think the Boilers will win at least one of those and quite possibly both and go bowling. That has to be considered progress, and you can count on Hope coming back in 2012.

Kevin from Boomtown, USA, writes: What is love?

Brian Bennett: Baby, don't hurt me. Great, Kevin. Now I've had that terrible song stuck in my head all afternoon.