Big Ten Thursday mailbag

I'm a man of letters.

Well, emails, actually. Let's see what's on your mind:

Patrick G. from Alexandria, Va., writes: That "coach you most dislike" poll was a terrible idea. Despite your plea to keep it sportsmanlike it (predictably) offered another opportunity for child-like sniping in the comments section, as could have been predicted. Worse, it focuses on exactly the wrong thing. You really couldn't think of anything else for a Big Ten blog item?

Nik from Colorado Springs, Colo., writes: Love the "hated coach" poll! Have to be a winner to make that list it looks like. (I picked the Cheesehead).

Brian Bennett: Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. Look, we were having a little fun with the idea during a pretty dead period, and clearly it resonated with some people as we got more than 27,000 votes in our poll. There is "child-like sniping in the comments section" every minute of every day, so what's the difference? And as Nik mentions, every coach on that list is a big winner, so it's an honor just to be nominated as "disliked." No fan dislikes an opposing coach who never beats his or her team.

Mark from NYC writes: Hypothetical...Bill O'Brien has Penn State back in the top 15 in the next 3-4 years, PSU starts grabbing recruits from outside their traditional recruiting footprint and the offense transforms into an exciting/high-scoring (dare I say flashy) squad. What does this do to Joe's legacy? I can see non-Penn Staters, especially people outside of the Big Ten, using that scenario (and the scandal) as an excuse to take away from Joe's legacy, specifically the latter years.

Brian Bennett: Interesting thought. I feel like Penn State has in many ways underachieved in recent years. The Nittany Lions have great facilities, a huge fan base and good high school football in their area. If Bill O'Brien can win big early, especially with the handicap he was given to start with, then that definitely underscores the point that Penn State could have done more in Paterno's final years. Does it take away from his legacy? Maybe a little, but you can't argue with all of Paterno's accomplishments on the field.

Rexcellent from Louisville writes: Great blog, gets me through my drudging day at work. So what do you think about the possibility of Braxton Miller taking a Heisman this year? With all the talent Ohio State has surrounding him (including our underrated wide receiver core in my opinion) and the great coaches he now has to mentor him. I know I may be dreaming a little, but the voters usually go with a guy on a winning team. Ohio State has a great chance, this year, to be undefeated.

Brian Bennett: Never say never, because who would have thought a Baylor quarterback would win the Heisman this past year? Yet I disagree with your assessment of the receiving corps. It is still largely unproven, and Urban Meyer has said he doesn't have enough speed. Combine that with the fact that Miller will be adjusting to a whole new system and coaches, and there will be some bumps in the road in his development. That said, I really like his chances to contend for the Heisman in 2013 and 2014, especially because the Buckeyes should be national title contenders themselves those years.

Mark R. from Hamilton, Ohio, writes: No pretending here, I'm a Michigan Man to a fault. My question is this; Why is Ohio rated so high in all the "way too early" polls? They weren't that good last season, and this season have a a complete change of system and coaches just as Michigan did when R.R came to town. Yes they have an excellent class coming in, but their QB doesn't throw that well, not to mention no returning WR has more than 14 catches. That combined with HUGE concerns at the RB position do not translate in to the Top 20 realm. Please explain why all the optimism surrounding the Bucks next year. Thanks ...and GO BLUE!!!

Brian Bennett: Two words, Mark: Urban Meyer. Justly or not, Ohio State is getting a lot of love because of Meyer's track record. But dig a little deeper, and you can see why there should be optimism. Miller will be in his second year of starting and should be a lot better, and he seems like a perfect fit for this system. Ohio State returns 15 starters, and that doesn't include defensive lineman Nathan Williams, who missed all but one game last year with a knee injury. Several of the incoming freshmen will have a chance to make an immediate impact. The Meyer factor might have the optimism running a bit too high, but with a very manageable nonconference schedule and an experienced team, the Buckeyes should be a Top 25 club.

Kevin from Arlington writes: Penn State's defensive line No. 3? Michigan #2? I have learned not to expect much from you guys given your limited knowledge but really? Are you sure Adam's bias hasn't infected you? Look, Michigan made huge improvements from the previous year but no way. Mike Martin is a nice player but no Wolverine linemen (or any other defender) would have started for Penn State. Simply put, Penn State had the best line in the league, the best linebacking corps and best defense.

Brian Bennett: I agree that Penn State's defense was excellent and that its front was outstanding, led by All-American Devon Still. But Michigan's defensive line was terrific as well, and you can't tell me Martin wouldn't have started next to Still. We also took into account how both lines finished up. Penn State seriously faltered against Wisconsin and Houston in two blowout losses to end the year, while the Wolverines had a great performance up front against Virginia Tech.

Kevin from Chicago: With March Madness coming up, Northwestern needs to win games. Which is worse, the basketball team being in the Big Ten and never making a March Madness Tourney or the football team being in the Big Ten and not winning a Bowl game in 63 years?

Brian Bennett: Easy call. Not making the basketball tournament a single time is unforgivable. At least the football team has gone to bowl games and even made a Rose Bowl. How a school located in Chicago cannot ever win enough games to get into a 64- or 68-team basketball tournament boggles the mind. Sadly, Adam was convinced in the fall this would be the year for his Wildcats.

Peter from Wisconsin writes: As a Wisconsin fan, I am frustrated with recruiting. I realize that recruiting is only half the battle, the other half is developing which Bielema and Co. do a great job of, but our lack of athleticism on the defensive side (ie vs Oregon) was evident and that reflects on recruiting. I feel like we could be a championship contender if we brought in a few more four-stars every year. I know recruiting isn't everything (which we prove every year) but still wouldn't you agree that we need to start being a little more aggressive to push us over the hump?

Brian Bennett: The Badgers have a system and philosophy that they recruit to, especially offensively, and it has worked out beautifully. The defense has been a little bit underrated, and indeed, if Wisconsin makes three more plays last year it goes undefeated. So I don't think a total overhaul is necessary. But the defensive side needs a little more speed and athleticism. While it's true that Oregon's offense (and to a slightly lesser degree, TCU's from the previous year) would have given a lot of teams trouble, it's also true that the Badgers are going to face those types of teams on the national stage more often. They need a few more difference-makers on defense, in my opinion.

Rich from Denver writes: Brian, What does it say that Bill O'Brien's contract at PSU contains a larger incentive for making a bowl game, which could be the pizza bowl, than for winning the league or the BCS?

Brian Bennett: I think it says O'Brien has a good agent. He can earn $104,500 bonus if the Nittany Lions simply make a bowl game next season, which shouldn't be a major hurdle to clear. O'Brien would receive $47,500 for a division title, $76,000 for a Big Ten championship and $85,500 for a BCS national championship in 2012. It's almost as if Penn State is saying, hey, just make sure we have a winning team next year after all this controversy, and you'll be rewarded. Some readers also asked about the lack of incentives for academic achievements and whether that is uncommon. Many coaches have incentives in their contracts for such things, including Meyer, whose deal contains bonuses for things like APR scores and graduation rates. My thought here is that Penn State has been so good at graduating players for so long that the school considers that part of the underlying agreement.

Max from Cleveland writes: Not sure why they pay you to write about college football. From your chat wrap, you say that you have to have the four best teams in a playoff, but we all know that often the best team doesn't win a game (see Alabama vs LSU during the season) and sometimes doesn't even win their conference. But if you're not going to give credit for winning a conference, why bother having the conferences? Every conference has a method of selecting a champion. It needs to be used, and any playoff limited to those teams who have earned the right to be there.Secondly, throwing out Yankee Stadium as a potential OOC site for a Pac-12 Big 10 matchup is just dumb. There are so many other sites within the Big 10 footprint, and Yankee Stadium is only slightly less horrible than Wrigley for football. Where's your brain?

Brian Bennett: Let me make sure I understand your argument here, Max. You're using the Alabama-LSU regular-season game to prove the best team doesn't always win, but at the same time you wouldn't want Alabama to have a chance to play for the national title? Sure, that makes sense. We all knew that Alabama was at least one of the three best teams in the country at the end of the year, and it turns out the Tide were the best. Why should we have included, say, a two-loss Big Ten or Pac-12 champion that clearly wasn't as good as Alabama into the playoff? The system should be about selecting the best teams in the country, period. In baseball, football and even college basketball (hello, UConn), plenty of teams win championships that didn't win their league or division and no one complains. Why should college football be any different?

As for Yankee Stadium, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany mentioned the idea of playing the Pac-12/Big Ten challenge there when the alliance was first announced in December, and I wrote about it at the time. So my brain is hanging out in the facts, research and reporting lounge. Plenty of room in here if yours ever wants to check it out.

Scott from Hardy, Va., writes: When talking about a playoff system, I hear "academic calendar" a lot. I also hear about time to promote the game, prepare for the teams, site visits to quote Adam in the mailbag. Fair enough. I also understand that football one of the roughest games in college (probably second to rugby) and cannot be compared to basketball. But if we are talking about the academic calendar, I think the kids playing basketball have more travel and more games. March Madness schedules venues well in advance throughout the country. So I don't buy the "let's remember these athletes are students first." My idea of a playoff involves conference champions and two at-large births for 8. The NCAA is dense but surely they can figure out how to schedule 6 venues (1 per conference) and then bid out the title game. Makes way too much sense for them to consider, but what do you think?

Brian Bennett: It's also funny how players in the FCS and Division II can play their tournament through December, huh? Let's put aside cynicism for a moment and accept that avoiding a clash with December finals is a noble idea. Schools on the semester system don't have to worry about that conflict in basketball and usually have spring break during March Madness. I've always wondered, though, how players whose teams reach the Final Four and are basically on the road for four straight weeks can possibly concentrate on their studies. There's a way that a football playoff can be held without affecting finals weeks; some of the bigger concerns are how fans could travel to the games and how the extra games would impact the health of the players. But those are issues that can be solved if there is resolve to get it done.

Keenan from Maine writes: You say the SEC has won 6 straight, I say the SEC lost the NC this year. I don't have question, I just wanted to say that.

Brian Bennett: Whatever helps you sleep at night, Keenan.

Charles from Phoenix writes: Your "Look Inside Big Ten Valentine's Day" post really touched my heart...with HILARITY! Great job on the notes, so great in fact that I can't pick a single favorite, but if I had to choose I'd go with the back and forth between Coach (Chewbacca) Bielema (Who's the BOSS) and Urban Meyer -- so funny! But, I think you missed a very vital Valentine:

To: Sparty Nation

From: Brad Nortman and (Bo Ryan)

Sure, I (he) may have acted a "little" but the punter was clearly "ran into" - DEAL WITH IT!

Keep up the great blogging, and if you didn't serve your sweetie Filet Mignon with Lobster Tail, Snow Crab Legs and Asparagus, well, you're not me.

Brian Bennett: Something tells me Charles needed no help sleeping on Valentine's night.