Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

What ya gobblin' about, turkeys?

Steve from Milwaukee writes: Time and time again, you and Adam have mentioned how the B1G has no elite teams this year, and I would agree. However, I think we have also destroyed ourselves with strong conference schedules while the SEC West looks good because of their very weak cross-divisional matchups. Yes, the top 3 all have to play each other, but none of them plays the SEC East champs (Georgia) and only Arkansas played their second best team, South Carolina. Conference play can and will be crazy and the SEC simply doesn't have the opportunities to cannibalize as much as the B1G. Without that MSU loss, UW is still in the title hunt and perhaps would have had enough momentum heading into Columbus. Without that UW loss, Nebraska may have had more momentum as well, or at least a chance at an at-large bid. How different do you think the perception of the B1G would be if their top teams had easier schedules this year?

Brian Bennett: Steve, I agree with you that the Big Ten is more balanced top to bottom than the SEC. There are only two bad teams (Minnesota and Indiana) and even the Gophers have improved. The problem is the Big Ten didn't do anything in the nonconference schedule. Alabama went to Penn State and won, LSU beat Oregon and West Virginia away from home and Arkansas has a better win (Texas A&M) than anything on the nonconference resumes of Michigan State, Penn State or Wisconsin. A simple eyeball test can tell us that LSU and Alabama are playing at a different level.

BT from Granada Hills, Calif., writes: Almost through your first season B1G blogging -- hope you're enjoying it as much as us readers. I'm curious about Urban Meyer considering taking the OSU job. He suffered health issues due to the stress of coaching at Florida. Is the OSU job, with NCAA penalties, going to be less stressful? Or, has he developed better stress coping skills? What's your take?

Brian Bennett: It's an interesting question and one that must be asked if Meyer actually does take the job. Did he figure out a way to balance work and home life better in his time off? Was it just the pressure of the SEC that forced him to get out of coaching for a year? Why does he think there will be less pressure at Ohio State? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do suspect Meyer wants to get back into coaching, as his non-denial denials indicate.

Nate from Council Bluffs, Iowa, writes: I think the question for Friday's game in Lincoln: Which teams are going to show up? Iowa and Nebraska have been so inconsistent this year. One week they look great and the next week turn in a subpar performance. What are your thoughts? What does each team need to do in order to come out with a win?

Brian Bennett: Both teams have been hard to figure out. At least with Iowa, you could say the Hawkeyes were a bad road team. But then they went to Purdue and won. Both teams are inconsistent in part because their defenses don't consistently stop people, and that should be a major factor again this week. I'm looking forward to seeing how Nebraska tries to slow down Marvin McNutt and Marcus Coker, and how Iowa can stop Rex Burkhead and the option game. I think we'll see a lot of points, and I wouldn't be surprised to see either team come out on top. But I still like Nebraska at home.

Matt from Chicago writes Quick question about the constant predictions of gloom and doom for Sparty in the B1G Title game. First, I think it's too bad that MSU is having their second very good season in a row (especially by our own historical standards) and it's being swallowed up in an odd BCS debate they have no control over. But second, a lot of pundits (you guys included) keep saying that you like Wisconsin's chances to beat MSU in the title game because "it took a Hail Mary to beat them when they went to East Lansing." Were you guys watching the game? MSU scored every way possible (safety, touchdown, field goal, 2 pt conversion) and led throughout the second half. Wisconsin rallied to TIE the game. They never led in the 2nd half of that game. Yet, I get the impression that the revisionist history is that Wisconsin had pulverized MSU the whole game only to see their national title dreams evaporate on a lucky bounce. Why not give MSU a little credit for what they did in October?

Brian Bennett: Matt, I give all kinds of credit to Michigan State for playing a great game that night in October. The Spartans deserved to win. However, it's a 60-minute game, so to dismiss Wisconsin's performance because it scored a couple of touchdowns late makes little sense to me. Fact is, the game was tied in the final seconds, and you have to think Michigan State had at least some advantage in that game because of home field. We make some assumptions in our bowl projections, but I want to see how both teams play this week before I would make an official pick on a potential Michigan State-Wisconsin rematch (and, of course, the Badgers have the very large task of beating Penn State still remaining). At this point I would lean slightly toward Wisconsin, but the Spartans are playing extremely well right now and would be a tough matchup for anybody.

Matt from East Lansing, Mich., writes: What is the logic behind sending UM to a BCS game? From the standpoint of an MSU fan, it seems as though they would be punished for playing an extra game (a league championship) and not to mention the fact that MSU handled Michigan quite easily. I know this probably wouldn't be an issue had MSU beaten Nebraska; but it would be a double punch in the gut if we go to the B10 Championship, lose, don't get into another BCS game but Michigan does after being what seems like overloaded with home games this year.

Brian Bennett: Matt, your first problem here is trying to apply logic to the BCS system. Remember that after matching No. 1 vs. No. 2, the BCS doesn't even pretend to be a meritocracy; the bowls can create the matchups they want from teams that qualify. The problem with Michigan State is that it won't finish in the Top 14 with another loss -- the Spartans are No. 14 right now. Michigan almost certainly would and is an attractive brand name. The same problem exists with Alabama, which is in a better spot than LSU despite losing to the Tigers because the Tide doesn't have to risk a loss in the SEC title game. I would say it's a flaw in the BCS system, but the entire system is basically one big flaw.

Christine from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, writes: Regarding Penn State and bowl games this year, I've heard people arguing that Penn State shouldn't be allowed to represent the Big Ten in a bowl game this year due to everything that's going on. But is that really fair? Did any of the players do anything wrong to not deserve to play in a bowl game that they have earned? It would be a different situation if the players were the ones who broke the rules, then maybe they shouldn't be allowed to play (ahem, Ohio State).

Brian Bennett: Christine, your problem here is trying to apply fairness to bowl selections. Let's remember that most bowl games are nothing more than exhibitions put on by cities to enhance tourism and fill hotel rooms, restaurants, etc. So bowl games want happy stories and teams with fans that would be excited to travel. They would not want the week of stories leading up to their game to be focused on a scandal. That's why Penn State might fall farther down the bowl pecking order than it should. However, I also think some bowls that wouldn't normally get a chance to take a program of Penn State's stature would jump at the chance. And the way the Nittany Lions players have handled themselves during these trying times has helped as well.

Red from Minneapolis writes: You wrote: "It's going to be a long process, but I like the path Jerry Kill is on. Tons of young players getting time this year, so improvement should come. I don't think a bowl game is realistic in 2012, but it should be a real goal by 2013." I'm gonna file this one away. If the Gopher team we've seen the last three weeks had been here in the first half of the season, they're a bowl team this year. They're as young a team as I've seen, and they're only getting better. I'm not saying a bowl is a lock in 2012, but 5-7 to 7-5 seems like a reasonable range to me.

Brian Bennett: I admire your optimism, Red, and I do think Jerry Kill will improve the Gophers next year. One thing that should help is the nonconference schedule lightens a bit with no game nearly as demanding as this year's opener at USC. Minnesota will play at UNLV and welcome New Hampshire, Western Michigan and Syracuse to TCF Bank Stadium in '12. That's pretty manageable, and if the Gophers can simply win three of those four then they would have a chance to meet the lower end of your projection.

RyanIsAGreenSpartan from Ozark, Ala., writes: If Michigan State plays Penn State for the inaugural B1G championship game do you guys think they might also play for the Land Grant Trophy? For us State guys that would be a cherry on top, and in my opinion with all the mess at Penn State I believe the fans and football players deserve to end their season on a high note. If you guys could shed some light on this that'd be awesome! Happy Turkey Day to you guys, also!

Brian Bennett: Ryan, it's up to the schools to decide if they want to put their rivalry trophies on the line. Since Penn State and Michigan State didn't play this year in the regular season, I can't see why they wouldn't to bring that trophy to Indy. Then again, wouldn't you rather hoist this instead of that?

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!