Big Ten Thursday mailbag

I'm in full rest mode as I get ready for another half-marathon on Saturday. But I'll exert a little bit of energy answering your emails.

Johnny from East Lansing, Mich., writes: One of you recently wrote an article or reply about out-of-conference scheduling and how Wisconsin could increase their difficulty level, my question is why should they? Mark Hollis recently stated that football differs from basketball in one key aspect, basketball teams get rewarded by the selection committee for strength-of-schedule, football teams get rewarded on wins. I think it's safe to assume that if any B1G/SEC/PAC12 team went undefeated, you would have a hard time keeping them out of the national championship game. Wisconsin got a lot of criticism for their schedule last season, but if it wasn't for a couple of hail mary plays, they would have been playing LSU. If the only way to elevate your program is to compete for championships, why shouldn't you take the safest route to get there?

Brian Bennett: You make some valid points, Johnny. Win a power league and go undefeated, and odds are you'll be in pretty good shape. The problems arrive if there are two or more other undefeated teams from power leagues who did play at least one strong opponent in the nonconference schedule. Then you've set yourself up to be left out -- see Auburn in 2004. And with the new four-team "event" that seems inevitable, who knows what the criteria will be for inclusion? There seems to be some desire to include strength of schedule in whatever criteria is used.

There's no question Wisconsin's nonconference schedules have been pretty soft of late. Not all of that is the Badgers' fault. Oregon State, which was on last year's and is on this year's schedule, just happened to go in the tank before the games were played. Wisconsin also has future games with Virginia Tech (2016 and 2017) and Washington ('17 and '18). I asked Bret Bielema and Barry Alvarez about scheduling when I was in Madison this week. Here's what they had to say:

Bielema: "It's tough to get a home and home with good teams, because they don't want to play [at Camp Randall Stadium]. We've gone three years now and we haven't had a loss at home, and I've lost five games in nine years here. Football people know how tough we are, and for that reason people don't want to go home and home with us. We've

tried to bring in some really elite teams, and they just won't do it."

Alvarez: "We've had had issues with that. It's been hard to match up people. We've got to have a minimum of seven home games, and occasionally get an eighth one in there for our budget. To get somebody to go home and home, sometimes we have problems with that, so we end up buying somebody for a year. I know [the schedule] has been one of the criticisms of our fans, and I'm sensitive to that. I was very encouraged with our Pac-12 agreement that puts another quality opponent on our schedule."

Trotter from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Thank you to both bloggers in helping me keep my sanity at work. I always have the B1G blog open in a link all day. Anyways, it has been a great week for Iowa recruiting. Now I'm not saying the guys we picked up are all stars or anything, but at this point last year Iowa had one recruit, and already this year they have 6! Would you say this is due more to the unforced coaching changes made this last year, the new facility being built in Iowa City, or the fact kids are starting to realize you have a better shot then at most places of making it to the professional level? I know all 3 of these play their own part, but which do you think is the biggest reason?

Brian Bennett: We're always happy to diminish the productivity of the American work force, Trotter. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was asked about the early commitments, which appear to be a record for the Hawkeyes at this time of the year, this week. He had this to say:

"I think it's just a sign of the times. A couple of years back, it really became commonplace for prospects to be out visiting places in June and July, to some extent. But, and I think all we've seen now, and this is kind of national, it's translating into March and April now. I think that's just how the recruiting is going. It's driven by social media, and it's become a real industry. ... I think it's just a reflection of that. We're not doing anything differently, other than hosting more prospects than we used to."

Ferentz is right in that the recruiting calendar has really sped up. It's a good sign for Iowa that he and his staff are keeping up with the new reality.

Michael from St. Louis writes: There's a lot of talk about how Michigan and Ohio State are already landing top-rated recruits. Isn't it possible that these recruits are rated highly in part *because* they're committing to big-name schools early? (I think this would explain how Texas can consistently land "top 5" classes without delivering on the field.) Come on, Bennett - give us non-Ohio State/Michigan fans some hope.

Brian Bennett: Michael, I would say that might have been the case a few years ago, when any time a player committed to Notre Dame or a big-name school, his status was automatically increased (and vice versa, if a player signed with a lesser brand name school). But I don't think that's true now, because as Ferentz mentioned, recruiting has become such an industry. Players are now evaluated and rated by scouting services and web sites by the time they enter their junior year. So when a prospect commits early, he already has a rating attached to him.

You want hope? Well, part of the reason it seems Texas has dropped off is because the Longhorns finish so much of their recruiting on junior day, and then a lot of those players either get complacent or don't develop as hoped. That's a concern when you lock up recruiting so early. Michigan's Brady Hoke, who has been gobbling up players before their senior year, told me that "sometimes you get a guy committed ... and he kind of feels like he's made it and he doesn't do the job he should do for his high school." Michigan State is a school that has success waiting on guys to develop. So there are many different ways to get it done.

Willie the Wildcat from Boston writes: With the NFL Draft approaching, I'm getting my costume in a bunch trying to discern where my beloved fellow wildcats might end up. What do you think the draft will hold for Dunsmore, Mabin, Persa, Peters, and Ebert? Is Dunsmore the best bet for an early round pick? Who do you think will roll the dice on Persa?

Brian Bennett: Our Scouts Inc. guys didn't have any Northwestern players going in their seven-round mock draft. However, while I respect their efforts, it's nearly impossible to predict that much of the draft with accuracy, and it only takes one team to like a player for him to get drafted. I believe Drake Dunsmore has the best chance of being selected, and Jeremy Ebert has an outside shot after putting up good numbers at his pro day. But the rest will likely have to go the free agent route.

Andrew F. from Fremont, Ind., writes: I'm a bit disappointed with the release of the primetime schedule. As a Purdue fan, it seems odd that bottom feeder Indiana has three primetime games and we have none. Now I realize we don't play anyone of note in the non-conference at home unless you count Marshall, but you would think hosting Michigan or Wisconsin would warrant an appearance. After all Indiana has Indiana State and MAC "heavy-weight" Ball State in prime-time; that seems odd, unless they want to show Ball State manhandle Indiana again or Indiana State slap the Hoosiers around like they did Western Kentucky last season. My question is why did Purdue get the short end of the stick? I guess I should get used to lots of more noon kickoffs.

Brian Bennett: I can understand why Purdue fans would be disappointed, Andrew. Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium doesn't have permanent lights, which might have played a small factor in the decision. When the Boilers played Notre Dame last year at night, for example, ESPN brought in and paid for temporary lights. But the school has had night games in the past few years, so if there was a matchup that TV deemed appealing enough to put in primetime, then it would happen. Purdue is going to need to win more games and raise its profile to become more attractive to television. And the Boilermakers will kick off at 4 p.m. against Michigan on Oct. 6, so that game should end past sundown, and will break up all the noon starts.

Kyle G. from Madison, Wis., writes: Another factor as to why the Wisconsin-Michigan State isn't a night game is its the same day as the big Halloween Party on State Street, Freakfest. The university has an informal agreement in place with the City of Madison to not have both events to occur at the same time. The police force, emergency services, etc simply don't have the manpower to handle a Badger football game and the party on State Street.

Brian Bennett: Oct. 27 will be quite a day in Mad-town. Where do I sign up?

Kevin from Ann Arbor writes: After seeing the Buckeye defense during the spring game, I think it is going to be a long season for the Buckeyes. Urban Meyer wasn't joking when he said they lack speed. They do. They are going to have a hard time getting to seven wins with their schedule and that defense.

Brian Bennett: Trolling from Ann Arbor, perhaps? I'm not too worried about the Ohio State defense. The front four should be great, with John Simon, Jonathan Hankins, Michael Bennett and all those talented freshman coming in to provide depth. Three potential starters in the back seven didn't play in the spring game because of injuries, so don't read too much into that exhibition. And the Buckeyes have a very manageable nonconference schedule, so seven wins should be very much attainable.

Kyle W. from Chicago writes: I've been in favor of rewarding the top two teams in the nation when it comes to a playoff. Assuming that it's a four-team playoff and on-campus semifinal games are off the table, what do you think about rewarding the higher seed with more tickets to the game for fans? Possibly a 65-35 split. The team gets a set amount of days to sell their allottment, then it opens up for the other if they aren't capable of selling them all.

Brian Bennett: That might work, although in these kinds of events you might have a heavy corporate/neutral presence. And the NCAA basketball tournament doesn't give higher-seeded teams more tickets. That event does reward higher seeds by keeping them closer to home, which could be a possible consideration in football. Let's say there are neutral sites for semifinals outside of the bowls, and a Midwest location like Indianapolis or Detroit has a game. If a Big Ten team finishes in the top two, let it play its semifinal in that region. I'm just spitballin' here, and who knows what will ultimately come out of these meetings with all the different agendas in the room. At least we can be happy that a four-team playoff is actually going to happen.

Pat from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I was just reading Adam's article about how proximity is important to the B1G for any playoff system. I was wondering why the B1G is in favor of on-campus games, and the SEC et al. is not? It seems like their home game atmosphere is just as much an advantage for them as it would be for us.

Brian Bennett: Come on, Pat. You don't really think the SEC wants to play up north when it's cold, do you?