Big Ten Thursday mailbag

This might be my favorite day on the calendar. It's another full year before signing day. Yippee.

It's also a Thursday, which is dear to my heart because that's the day I answer your e-mails. Let's dance:

Lance S. from Greensboro, N.C., writes: Hey, Brian, I recently saw an interesting statistic that shows what the B1G schools are really up against. In the last four years, Wisconsin has signed 80 recruits (5 less than the 85 scholarship maximum) while Alabama has signed 111 recruits (26 over the 85 max). That basically gives the Tide an entire extra class to build from. I think as long as the SEC continues to do this, there is no way the rest of the country will ever be able to beat them for BCS championships. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: This is the first year of the SEC rule which limits every team in the league to only 25 signees per class, so at least we won't see any more Houston Nutt super-sized classes down South anymore. Still, 25 times four is 100, which is 15 over the limit of 85 (I was a math major). I found Bret Bielema's comment in Adam's Q&A earlier today very interesting: "One thing that would be neat is if you really sat down and studied the amount of seniors graduating versus the amount of kids being signed. So if you’re graduating 13 and signing 28, there are 15 kids, you have to figure out where the heck they went." A lot of players at places like Wisconsin stay for four or five years. I'm not sure what kind of black hole exists in SEC land. But it means Big Ten schools have to do a great job developing the players on campus.

Chris from Bloomington, Ind., writes: It seems like no one ever talks about the walk on programs at universities during the recruiting season, but it seems like a critical piece to a team. Nebraska itself has had 29 NFL players start as walk-ons in the past 30 years. Bo Schembechler was a huge proponent of the walk=on program at Michigan, and those were the days with far more scholarships. Why doesn't the media do any significant articles in this area?

Brian Bennett: Chris, I wrote earlier this year about how the walk-on programs at Nebraska and Wisconsin in particular have been key to their success historically. We saw some very good players this year who started as walk-ons, like Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis and Michigan's Jordan Kovacs. Nebraska is bringing in nearly 20 preferred walk-ons this season. It's not as easy for schools to hoard good players as walk-ons as it once was, because there are so many schools out there that have good programs. And it's hard to predict which walk-ons will go onto success, because if they were more well-known, they'd probably be on scholarship.

Tye from Texas writes: Brian, love the blog. I think the B1G made out really well in the recruiting battle yesterday. With UM still awaiting a decision from Jordan Diamond, and assuming he picks the Wolverines, how closely matched are the UM and osu classes this year?

Brian Bennett: Well, if you just want to go by the rankings, it's very close. Ohio State came in sixth in our class rankings, while Michigan finished seventh. The Wolverines had 11 four-star signees, while the Buckeyes also have 11 four-stars and one five star (Noah Spence). Most importantly, both schools appeared to address some of their biggest needs. It will be fun to measure this again in four or five years.

Jeremy from Madison writes: As a lifelong Badger fan and current student, I understand that Wisconsin rarely signs true "blue-chip" players. Wisconsin tends to go for the players they can develop. That being said, I am just curious how they could lose out on so many players coming off back-to-back B1G Championships? Is it just the nature of the beast that schools like Michigan and OSU will always be able to "out recruit" schools like Wisconsin and Mich St?

Brian Bennett: I would have thought Wisconsin would have fared a little better given its recent success. That said, losing a guy like Kyle Dodson to Ohio State wasn't all that surprising since he's from Cleveland. The Badgers did get a well-regarded quarterback, a spot they really needed to fill. It's hard to know just how much the losses of so many assistant coaches hurt recruiting efforts, but that couldn't have helped. Yet Wisconsin has a system that has proven to be successful, so I'm not too worried about the Badgers' future.

Chad from Minneapolis writes: Brian, two things. One, we hear all this talk about how good Urban Meyer is doing, recruiting wise and how he got his class in the top 5/10. We also hear about how Michigan has benefited from what happen to Tressel and Ohio State. Hasn't OSU benefited from what is happening at PSU? Seems like they got a couple of high ranked recruits to switch and also pulled some out of Penn. I also believe Urban Meyer has an advantage because he has a 10-year history of success, give or take a few years. I see Hoke in the same position this year as Urban Meyer was when he went from Utah to Florida, however I think Hoke has done a better job because of the mess UofM was in when he got here as opposed to what Meyer did walking into a gold mine at Florida. How do you think the two compare at the same stage in their careers, Hoke now, vs Meyer then?

Brian Bennett: There's no question that Ohio State benefited from the Penn State mess and that Meyer walked in at a good time. On the flip side, though, you have to wonder whether those recruits would have originally said yes to Ohio State had Meyer been there all along. Bill O'Brien and his staff have their work cut out for them, not only in dealing with the scandal fallout but trying to keep Meyer from cleaning up in their backyard. As for Hoke and Meyer, I can definitely see the comparisons. But I think you're overrating the situation Meyer inherited at Florida. The Gators went 7-5 for Ron Zook the year before he arrived. Michigan was 7-6 in the last year under RichRod. Both are blue-chip programs that can always rebound quickly with the right leadership.

Kevin from Miami writes: Last year all the 'experts' said that MSU's defense couldn't be as good as it was the year before because it was losing Jones and Gordon and maybe a couple of others. This year's defense was improved over that defense. Now all the 'experts' are saying that MSU offense is going to take a step back. What will it take to prove to the 'experts' that MSU is a solid team that isn't going away? Maxwell has been in the system for 3 years now, he isn't a freshman coming out to save the program like some other teams are relying on in the near future.

Brian Bennett: Michigan State has already proved it is an established program with back-to-back 10-win seasons. But there's a reason people are expecting the offense to take a small step back in 2012. Andrew Maxwell could be very good, but there are almost always some bumps in the road when you're breaking in a new starting quarterback. And don't forget that the top two playmakers in the passing game, B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin, are gone as well. It's expecting a lot to think the Spartans can duplicate the production of three seniors like Cunningham, Martin and Kirk Cousins who all played together for a long time. But with what should be an improved offensive line and a strong running game led by Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State should still be able to score enough points to win.

Gregory from Fredericksburg, Va., writes: Hey Brian, I am sure you get many questions spawning from the many articles you write from many fans feeling upset because you have left their team or player out. I can appreciate what that must be like, but I did have a question and concern about the article stated above. My concern is why Braxton Miller against Wisky was not mentioned at all, much less not even in the top 5, of your best individual performances list? I know his passing numbers that game were not great, but he ran well and managed the entire game as a Freshman...and had the winning TD pass at the end, as a Freshman!

Brian Bennett: As you might imagine, it was tough paring down that list to just 10, and I wish I could have included more defensive performances. Miller was very good in leading Wisconsin to victory, but I felt like he had some great plays but not necessarily a transcendent performance for the entire game. Even with the game-winner, he only had 89 yards passing for the game, to go along with 99 yards rushing and two touchdowns on the ground. I was more impressed with his overall showing against Michigan, which made the honorable mention list. Though I bet if you asked him, he'd rather have the win over Wisconsin than the loss against his top rival.