Big Ten Thursday mailbag

Hey, everybody. I'm back from my wedding and honeymoon, and while I can't say that I was following Big Ten football news that closely while vacationing in Europe, I am catching up. And what a day to come back, huh?

It's been a while, so I thought I'd celebrate my return with a slightly shorter version of the Thursday mailbag.

Kevin from Honolulu writes: "I TOLD YOU SO!" I've been saying the same thing on this board for the last 9 months and getting blasted for it most of the time, but let me say it again. ... JoePa ruled PSU with an Iron Fist, JoePa covered for Jerry to protect the program and his Legacy, this is just beginning (even with the release of this report) and is only going to get worse. Now, as to the PSU Board of Trustees and the NCAA that need time to determine how to "appropriately" respond to these findings. I already figured it out for you and posted it here months ago. ... JoePa=PSU=loss of institutional control=should Equal...NCAA Death Penalty Worse than SMU and USC combined. ...

Brian Bennett: Well, Kevin, it is interesting that I haven't heard much from all the JoePa apologists today. It's a tough day for them. I've been saying all along that I thought Paterno should have done more and that we needed to wait for more information to come out to make a final judgment on his responsibility. We got a whole lot of troubling information today that will forever taint Paterno's legacy. The Freeh report squarely put the blame for the Sandusky scandal on the cult of JoePa at Penn State. The Freeh report also contained a lot of tidbits that the NCAA could use to levy penalties if it so wanted. But I continue to believe that the worst we'll see from the NCAA is some sort of public reprimand. Enough damage has been done to the school's reputation, and the Freeh report could help ensure that Penn State pays out untold millions of dollars in civil lawsuits.

David from Chicago writes: From the beginning, the scandal at Penn State has highlighted a culture that cares more about its reputation than anything else. Time and again, decisions were made by the school to protect its image and by Paterno to protect both the school's image and his own legacy. Is it just me, or does the Paterno family's knee-jerk press releases pooh-poohing the Freeh report simply show nothing has changed? Their only interest is in protecting Paterno's legacy and the school's only interest continues to be its own reputation. Nothing has changed.

Brian Bennett: The most telling parts of the Freeh report for me were all the instances where administrators failed to do anything about Sandusky over fear of "bad publicity." It's clear to me that they didn't want to do anything that could cause any setbacks for the mighty football program, which had become so powerful that it engulfed everything else on that campus. I don't blame the Paterno family for trying to protect JoePa's reputation, and we must remember that Paterno cannot himself answer any charges in the investigation, which lacked subpoena power. But I do think the school has made several positive changes that could prevent this sort of thing from happening again, as long as it remembers what should be important.

Big Ten Fan from Big Ten Nation writes: Hi, Brian, I have a question for you. Let's say hypothetically that the NCAA does decide to do something about Penn State and it results in the death penalty. Obviously this would knock out one of the Big Ten's top programs and weaken the conference overall, especially the Leaders division. Would a death penalty for Penn State force the Big Ten's hand in expansion? Maybe get two teams to try cover up the gap left by Penn State? If that does happen, who would the Big Ten try to take and how would it affect the divisions as we know them?

Brian Bennett: First off, there's no way the death penalty is happening. The NCAA simply isn't going to do anything that drastic, and it serves little purpose. But to go along with your hypothetical, I think the Big Ten might just play with 11 as it used to. Truth is, there aren't many programs out there who would replace what Penn State brings in terms of prestige and potential. Short of landing Notre Dame or another brand name, any other replacement would do very little to strengthen the league.

Jeremy from Iowa writes: Iowa has had a few pretty good college QBs under Ferentz. Brad Banks is the only one who I would consider "great" in college football. Drew Tate and Ricky Stanzi are a few that is coming to mind. However, none of them have done anything at the next level. Stanzi is the closest, as he has been backup for the Chiefs. James Vandenberg is a more natural pocket passer than any that he has followed. Do you think he could be the first QB under Ferentz to get a starting job in the NFL?

Brian Bennett: Vandenberg has the size and arm strength to be a good NFL quarterback, and he's certainly fearless. (Wouldn't it be ironic if he got drafted by the Bears?). But he still needs to improve on several things to become a strong pro prospect. His completion percentage must get better after last year's pedestrian mark of 58.7 percent. And he's got to learn not to lock on his targets, which is something he should get to work on this year without Marvin McNutt. He could get there, but he's got a ways to go.

Adam from Phoenix, Ariz., writes: Great idea with the ranking of B1G football stadiums! However, my excitement has definitely swindled when all we get to see is you standing on the field with the the bleachers or a facade in the background. Now, it's like, what's the point? No offense, but I do not want to see you, LOL!! I want to see why stadiums are ranked where they are, a video tour of the stadium would be ideal. Give us something to look and wow at since these are the cathedrals of college football!Thanks.

Brian Bennett: Obviously, Adam and I shot our footage during our spring trips, and we thought it would be a nice feature for the summer. Unfortunately, we don't really have the technical equipment or manpower needed to do a full video tour of each stadium (we serve as our own cameramen most of the time while using a flipcam). But you can find plenty of video for Big Ten stadiums on school websites and other resources. We're trying to share our opinions and experience as to why each stadium ranks where it does.

Joe from Denver, Colo., writes: Like the updates for Bednarik and Maxwell. Though, I'm curious, what is the point of issuing watchlists? Does this award the selected players more media coverage versus those snubbed early on? As we know, a lot we cannot expect happens during the season. I'd be curious to know if there stats for the past several years for number of times it went to a player not on these pre-season lists. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: It's a good question, Joe. Preseason watch lists are basically a relic of another era when college football needed to generate some interest in the offseason. That's not really the case now, and the watch lists have almost nothing to do with who wins the award. (Penn State's Devon Still, for example, wasn't on watch lists last summer but was an Outland and Nagurski finalist; same for Illinois' Whitney Mercilus, who won the Hendricks Award despite not making the preseason list). Players are usually nominated by their school's sports information directors. It's basically a sign of respect for a player's previous accomplishments or potential for the upcoming season. Other than that, preseason watch lists don't mean a whole lot, but at least they give you an idea of who are perceived as the top players in the country in the summer.

Jerome from Toronto writes: Hello, Brian. If the 4 team playoff were in effect this season with the strength of schedule truly a factor, which teams from the Big Ten would have strong enough schedules to definitely be considered? Which teams would be on the bubble? And which teams play too weak of a schedule that they would likely be eliminated from playoff consideration? Thanks!

Brian Bennett: Well, it's difficult to truly judge strength of schedule in the preseason, since we don't really know how good anybody will be. But we can make educated guesses. Michigan, naturally, would be in the best shape with games against Alabama and Notre Dame (plus Air Force, which could be good). Michigan State would be in decent position with games against Boise State and Notre Dame. Nebraska's schedule could also gain some respect, with sneaky-good games against Southern Miss and UCLA. Beyond that, the pickings are slim for strength of schedule arguments. Ohio State's top games are against California and UCF. Penn State's best are against Temple and Virginia. Wisconsin would have to hope Oregon State has a bounceback year. Any Big Ten team that goes undefeated would certainly make a four-team playoff, and it depends heavily on what happens elsewhere in the country. But if the argument came down to nonconference strength of schedules, only a few Big Ten schools would be able to brag about much.

Darren P. from Elk River, Minn., writes: Are there any more reasons as to why you think Jerry Kill is on the hot seat? Seems pretty thin to say that just because there is a new AD and his first year was not good, that he deserves to be on the hot seat. Recruiting is up, retaining local athletes is up, top talent is transferring to MN, and Kill is very well liked here in MN. He seems to grasp where the program is at, says the right things to the media, has a slue of coaches that have been here a while (indicating continuity, something lacking over the years), and works tirelessly with high school coaches to boost the program. Kill is very well liked (compared to Brew, its easy to be liked, I understand). Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: Darren, I don't think Kill is on the hot seat. You're probably referring to the article I linked from CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd ranking coaches' hot seats. Dodd had Kill in the "on the bubble, feeling pressure" category. I wrote at the time: "Kill won just three games last season and now has a new athletic director, so you could envision a scenario in which a disastrous 2012 campaign -- think something like 2-9 or 1-11 -- could make Norwood Teague trigger-happy." That's a worst-case scenario, and I don't think it will play out that way. I don't know Teague well, but he seems too intelligent to change coaches after just two seasons. Still, if Minnesota would have a really bad season and fan apathy were to affect ticket sales, especially if Kill had more problems with his seizures, the Gophers might have to think about the future long and hard. But I really believe Kill has the program on the right track and will show major improvement this season.