Big Ten Thursday mailbag

The depravity and decadence of Derby weekend await me. But first: your emails.

Bryan from Chicago writes: Regarding your handicapping of the B1G race, I'm betting on all teams. With the odds you gave each team, if you add them up, the player has about a 33% advantage over the house! If you ever decide to open a casino, let me know and I'll be the first one in line. But, if I'm taking 1 team, betting with emotions I'm taking my Huskers -- hoping they can outscore a lot of teams this year. Betting with brains, I'm taking Wisconsin -- no Ohio State to worry about, gives them the easiest road to the title game and who knows once you get there, and 8-1 is a good payout.

Brian Bennett: In defense of my admittedly poor math skills, Indiana is much higher than the listed 99-to-1, but the toteboard can only handle double-digit numbers. And Ohio State's scratch threw off the odds. But I agree with you about Nebraska and Wisconsin being pretty good value plays. I'd add Penn State to that mix as well.

Brian from Newark, DE, writes: Am I the only person not completely overjoyed with this whole playoff deal? To me, it's a real stretch to call a two game tournament a playoff. There's four teams involved. Granted, that's double what the current system allows. But it's still not exactly opening the championship up like the basketball tournament does. All this really amounts to is one extra game for two teams. So can we stop calling it a playoff and start referring to it as what it really is: The one more game after the bowls so we can all make a little more money and appease the fans bowl?

Brian Bennett: Brian (great name, by the way, and correct spelling), I'm perfectly fine with the four-team format. It keeps the value of the regular season, keeps the season from dragging far into January and still opens the championship up to more teams. How many years have there been more than four legitimate national title contenders at the end of the year, anyway? I've never been in favor of a 16-team format because that's too many teams and not enough quality. An eight-teamer would be a lot of fun, and I think we will eventually see an expansion of any playoff system. But for now, while we can quibble with the details, let's rejoice that the sport is actually giving us something we want.

Zach from Lincoln writes: Why are we even listening to the "on campus semi-finals won't work" [sentiment]?? I understand they are worried about teams with small stadiums not being able to host large crowds, but how many times since the BCS model was created has 1 of those teams been #1 or #2? Zero is the correct answer. Also, even if one of these teams did eventually finish #1 or #2 doesn't the fact that college stadiums are in general larger than NFL stadiums make up for the fact that there could be a smaller venue every once in a blue moon?

Brian Bennett: Couldn't agree more with you, Zach. The capacity of the Superdome is just over 72,000, while Sun Life Stadium -- home of the Orange Bowl -- seats a little more than 75,000. There would be a whole lot more seats (and money to be made) with games at the Big House, Horseshoe, Bryant-Denny, etc. MGoBlog does a good job of breaking down the difference in capacity and how campus sites would have meant more, not less, seats during the BCS era in this post.

Josh S. ? @josh_sim writes: Re: Big 6. Won't voters change their voting patterns and work around the rules for best matchups?

Brian Bennett: That's a concern with any system, including the one we have now. Which is why we need to take this out of the hands of voters, especially one with obvious biases like the coaches themselves.

Roger from Denver, Colo., writes: Really, 25 [for Ohio State in your rankings]? Come on, Blue had the easiest schedule in the conference, barely beat an extremely down The Ohio State team and you have Blue ranked top 10 not to mention in ACC bowl game that they really lost but got a bogus call in their favor on a touchdown.

Brian Bennett: The mountain air might be getting to you, Roger. Fact is, Michigan went 11-2 last year while Ohio State was 6-7. Michigan brought back its coaching staff and arguably the most productive backfield in the league (Denard Robinson and Fitz Toussaint), while the Buckeyes will be going through a coaching transition and lack offensive playmakers. I like Ohio State to be much improved this season, and there's no question the team has talent. But given last year's results, I think a ranking at the bottom of the Top 25 is fair for this point in the year.

Dying for The Gophers To Be Relevant Again from Minneapolis writes: I find it interesting how people get excited about the new A.D. at Minnesota. Everyone is giddy over his fund raising abilities. Sure, raising funds is important for all programs, but winning is the key. Some would say that fund raising will help winning, I believe that winning will hep fund raising. Your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: An athletic director absolutely has to be able to do two things right: hire good coaches, and keep the money fountain flowing. Since Norwood Teague didn't hire Jerry Kill, the best thing he can do is make sure donations are coming in so the Gophers can keep up with facilities, salaries, etc. Winning solves a lot of ills, but ultimately that will be up to Kill and his staff to it make happen.

David from Houston writes: I just saw your 4/26 mailbag and the Wisconsin coach and AD answers concerning their non-conference scheduling. As a Badger, I'm calling "BS" on Bret Bielema. His answer of "people don't want to play here" may be right in some rare instances, but that is most definitely not what is going on with Badger scheduling. The real issues are this: 1) The Badgers will only play one road game per year (at least Barry was honest about that one). 2) Wisconsin is not willing to schedule more than one BCS opponent per season. They went through a nice stretch for 2001-2003 of playing two such schools, but that turned out to be an aberration. 3) They won't even do that if they think a future year's Big Ten Schedule is "too tough." See the 8-year postponement of the Virginia Tech games. ... The Pac-12 deal is nice, but this team is not going to then start scheduling 2 BCS foes each season. This will just take their one good game out of their hands, leaving them to deal with the 3 buy games each year.

Brian Bennett: David, I can understand your frustration as a fan in not getting to see great nonconference games at Camp Randall. At the same time, Wisconsin is not alone in only scheduling one BCS AQ school per year in its nonconference slate. In the Big Ten alone, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State and Purdue all only have one such opponent on their schedule this season. Indiana has none.

While I'd love to see the Badgers schedule more aggressively, it just doesn't pay many dividends for schools to do so. The Badgers went to the Rose Bowl the past two years and were a couple plays away from being in the national title mix both times. I hope the new playoff format rewards strength of schedule to encourage all teams to play better nonconference opponents.

Max from Madras, India, writes: Brian, what do you think is more detrimental to the season? QB competition and playing 4 guys in your spring game, a la PSU? Or pretty much knowing who your starter is going to be, and not having him for your spring game, a la MSU? Or at this stage does it really matter?

Brian Bennett: It's early enough to not really matter. Remember Wisconsin won the Big Ten last year, and its starting quarterback didn't arrive in Madison until the summer. But in the scenario you mention, I'd much rather be Michigan State. The Spartans know Andrew Maxwell will be their starter, and his injury wasn't serious. He's been in the program for four years, so playing in a spring game means very little. Penn State still doesn't seem to be settled at the position. Maxwell can confidently lead the offense all summer. I'm not sure any of Penn State's quarterbacks can do the same.

Paul from Orlando, Fla., writes: Last season, Nebraska had All Big Ten-caliber players at each level of the defense in Crick, David and Dennard. Although these players made major contributions in 2011, the defense ranked a mere 36th nationally in total defense; well outside the norm for a Pelini coached defense. It appeared, especially early in the season, that offensive coordinators could simply pick on the young guy lined up opposite Crick, David or Dennard and these players didn?t really impact their game plans. This spring Pelini has been vocal about how much he likes his secondary and expects the defensive line and linebackers to be a solid veteran group. Do you think having a veteran defense without any weak links and a potentially dominate group at one level of the defense can lead to a better 2012 defense despite the loss of such great players?

Brian Bennett: It's an interesting question, and one I've been thinking about a lot this season. In fairness to the 2012 Huskers, Crick, David and Dennard were never really all healthy at the same time. But a big problem, as you mentioned, was the obvious holes on that defense. Bo Pelini seemed optimistic this spring about the defensive play, but aren't all coaches optimistic in the spring? Still, I think this defense has a chance to be very solid. I just want to see a couple of players take the next step into becoming major difference-makers, whether that's a guy like Will Compton or Cameron Meredith or Daimion Stafford. You need special players to be a truly special defense.

Mr. Pewter from Farmland, Iowa, writes: I hate the new Cy-Hawk trophy. I am still going to rally around my family with a basket full of corn. Come with it now!

Brian Bennett: You keep raging against that machine.