Big Ten Thursday mailbag

Enough with all the Big Ten bashing. It's conference season, and time for league teams to beat up on each other. I can't wait. And I can't wait to get to East Lansing this weekend.

While we all wait, let's get to some of your emails:

Rob from New York writes: The problems with the B1G boil down to the lack of quality coaches as a result of the league's decision to not pay for top talent. We can talk about speed of the South all we want, but you do realize that the Big Ten recruits the South for their skill position players. Want proof? Look at the top teams from the past few years in the B1G. Take players from the state of Florida alone: OSU has 7, UM has 11, UW has 11, Nebraska has 5 and they don't even recruit the area that well. But look at the quality of coaches (I can think of 1 coach in the B1G who is top tier, Urban Meyer) and how much they're getting paid. Huge disparity between the salaries of coaches for SEC/Big 12 teams and the B1G. I'm not saying that's definitive, but if you don't pay for top talent, you're not going to get it. Out of the top 14 salaried assistants from 2006-2011, there are 2 B1G teams; out of the top 14 salaried coaches, there are 3 B1G. You want to change the league? Pay for coaches that win games and know how to recruit.

Brian Bennett: I believe there is some truth to what you say, but let's spit out some facts first. According to this USA Today database, the Big Ten had four of the top 17 highest-paid coaches in college football last year, and that's before Ohio State made Meyer one of the very richest coaches in the game. Of the rest of the 17, eight are in the SEC. So while the SEC might pay more for its head coaches, the difference isn't all that striking. And we're not really talking about why the the conference can't beat the SEC as much as we're wondering why league teams are struggling with the MAC and other opponents not nearly as rich as the Big Ten.

I agree with you more on the issue of assistants' pay. For too long, the Big Ten lagged behind other leagues in pay for top coordinators and assistants. But that is beginning to change as several schools are putting more of an emphasis on assistant pay, led by Michigan and Ohio State. Michigan State also gave its assistants a much-needed bump this offseason, in part to keep defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi around. Several Big Ten schools have not gone the way of "superstar coordinator," as we saw this offseason at Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. How much of a difference that would ultimately make is up for debate.

Rich from Des Moines writes: If Notre Dame's schedule obligations cause Michigan, or any other B1G member, difficulty in scheduling non-conference games during the next few years, how about they schedule a non-con game with a conference member who is not on the conference schedule that season? For example, I am an alum of MSU. MSU has an open September date in 2015. So does Illinois. They don't play each other in B1G play that season. I'd much rather see them play each other the first game of the season, maybe in Chicago, instead of Western Illinois or Youngstown State. Wouldn't it be better to keep all the money within the conference? What do you think?

Brian Bennett: This wouldn't be entirely unprecedented, since Colorado and Cal played last year and it didn't count in the Pac-12 standings (the game was scheduled before Colorado joined the league). It would certainly be a lot of fun and a whole lot more interesting than many of the nonconference games we see. I'd vote yes on your proposal, but I doubt the participating schools would feel the same way. They want to schedule some (allegedly) winnable games in the nonconference, and to add what would in essence if not in literal terms be a ninth Big Ten game would likely appear too taxing.

Rich from Des Moines writes: You're right, Brian. We have no right to be mad about Kirk's salary/wins ratio. Fans have nothing to do with his salary or anything on the financial side of the department. The $20-30 million that Iowa football brings in beyond the B1G revenue sharing comes from a money tree that Gary Barta has in his office. My wife will be ecstatic to learn that I'm entitled to a refund for 20 years of season tickets, parking fees, and merchandise since all of this was supposed to be free according to you. If the Iowa AD office doesn't believe me, I'll make sure to cite you in my response.

Brian Bennett: Is this the same Rich? If so, congrats on getting back-to-back questions. A first! Look, you have the right to be upset about anything you want. I just find it a little absurd that every time Iowa loses or struggles, fans immediately bring up Kirk Ferentz's salary. This wouldn't happen if he were making $2.5 million instead of close to $3.8 million. Do you really think tickets, parking and gear would be any cheaper if Ferentz made a million or so less? It's not a one-to-one ratio. Iowa's athletic department rakes in a ton of money and is free to decide how to distribute it. Could you argue that money for a head coach's salary could be better used elsewhere? Perhaps. But there's also a reason why the Hawkeyes felt they needed to pay Ferentz so much money -- so he wouldn't leave.

Jared H. from Columbus, Neb., writes: What effect might Tom Osborne's retirement have on football and Bo Pelini with a new AD in the coming months on being a consistent 9-win team and not having made it past that hump (which i hope we do this year)? Also, who out there would be a good fit to replace Osborne while keeping the tradition of Nebraska alive and not try to demolish it like (eh eh) the names that not be spoken (Callahan & Pederson)?

Brian Bennett: I don't believe Pelini is in any imminent danger, but any time a new boss comes in, there's the potential that he will want to make his mark with his own head-coaching hire. Osborne was also a good mentor and sounding board for Pelini, I'm sure. As for successor candidates, I think Nebraska will look inside its own family first. Recently hired administrator Jamie Williams' name will be brought up, as will Paul Meyers, Trev Alberts and Dave Rimington. Would Barry Alvarez feel the tug from his alma mater? The Huskers need to hire someone who understands the unique culture of Big Red and the state. We saw what happened last time they brought in an outsider for the job.

Eric from Wellesley, Mass., writes: The B1G is falling behind because kids in this part of the country don't see football as kids in the South do. Southern kids see football as the LIFEBLOOD. Kids up North start playing football when they get to high school and that's too late. We all know that a school's roster is made up mostly from kids in that school's state. Don't even think about star players from other states. The team is mostly Ohio kids or Wisconsin kids or Pennsylvania kids etc and so that team will depend on those kids and how they were brought up. See where I'm going? This is why the SEC, Florida, So Cal etc are dominating. Its because their kids from age 6 or whatever have been breathing AND actually playing football. Compare it to hockey. Canadians will just always be better at hockey because their kids play from age 4. So what if the USA has some outstanding players, its what's the makeup of the team is.

Brian Bennett: You're telling me kids from Ohio and western Pennsylvania don't eat, drink and breathe football? I don't buy that. They may not play year-round like some players in the South because of the weather. But try telling people in Massillon, Ohio, for example, that football is not their lifeblood.

Todd from Minneapolis writes: I'm a lifelong Badger fan, Madison is my hometown and UW is my undergrad alma mater. You have Bucky going to the Car Care bowl. I want to go on record that this team does NOT make a bowl. I look at their schedule and see 2 wins at the most: Illinois, because they are really really bad and maybe Minn, because it's at home. Indiana pass attack is too good for this defense, even with a 3rd string QB. They have no shot at Neb, Purdue and PSU, and OSU and MSU are going to slaughter this awful awful team. Your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: Holy cheese curds! You sure are down on Wisconsin. No shot against Purdue? Lose to Indiana? Slaughtered at Camp Randall? I think you're far too pessimistic. This Badgers team has issues, but it is making some slow progress. While I don't see this weekend's game at Nebraska going Bucky's way, I'd be stunned if Wisconsin does not make a bowl.

Chris from Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Brian, Coach Dantonio does not have a responsibility to answer every question thrown his way by the media. No matter what I say your going to find a way to "prove me wrong" but it's my opinion and I have a right to that. I don't believe he acted at all like a certain USC coach (who pushed media members out of the way and stormed off). He was angry at the performance, or lack thereof, from his team. Can you blame him for that? His responses to the questions were a reflection of that. I don't think it was childish at all.

Brian Bennett: A responsibility to answer every question? Of course not. But there is a responsibility to act professional and fulfill obligations, and like it or not, speaking to the media (who, ultimately, are just a conduit to provide information to fans) is a major responsibility for a head coach. We've all been angry at some part of our job, whether it's because our boss did something dumb or a sale fell through. But that's no excuse not to do what's required of us when we're upset or, worse yet, belittle other people when we're in a bad mood. That's what being a professional is all about. Dantonio has a pretty solid track record, but I disagree with how he handled that situation.

Bryce from St. Paul, Minn., writes: As a Gopher fan its easy to get excited about a team that is winning, or even competitive compared to the past teams the Gophers have produced over the previous three years. However, if the Gophers beat Iowa this week, how impressive will that win really be? Do Gopher fans and the rest of the Big Ten have to wait till the Northwestern game to see the real value of the Gophers?

Brian Bennett: Bryce's letter inspired the following time-travel exchange:

Current Brian Bennett: On Sept. 27, you receive an email from a Minnesota fan wondering if beating Iowa would mean anything and if the team would have to wait until it played Northwestern in a possible battle of unbeatens to get a true measuring stick of its worth.

Past Brian Bennett: (Head explodes).

Jeff from Florida writes: You wrote: "For Michigan, it's a loss but not a crippling one. The Wolverines lose a regional rival, but playing Notre Dame doesn't carry nearly the cachet that it once did. Michigan fans don't live and die by this game like they do Ohio State. Fans will miss it, but they probably won't yearn for it. "And vice versa for ND as meechigan is a nobody anymore! Personally I think ND is headed in the right direction, and meechigan will be heading south.

Brian Bennett: Wow, Notre Dame fans sure are getting chesty after a 4-0 start. How easily they forget that Michigan won a BCS bowl last year, something the Irish last did in ... oh, that's right, they're 0-3 in the BCS era and haven't made one of those games since 2007. Look, I've always been a fan of Brian Kelly and think he's got the Domers heading in the right direction. But to say Michigan will be headed downhill under Brady Hoke is ludicrous.

David from Chicago writes: I must admit that ND ending its series with UM is unfortunate news because they have provided some exciting games in recent memory. However, I seem to think that both the media and fans are blowing this whole "historic rivalry" out of proportion. While, I understand both are storied programs, they have played a grand total of 40 games, hardly a number that compares to many other college football rivalries. Is it the message of ending the series that is a big deal or is it a function of the programs involved?

Brian Bennett: A little of both, David. The Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry is based more on geography and some exciting games in recent decades than overwhelming history on the field. (Of course, the history between Notre Dame and Michigan as it relates to Big Ten membership adds a little spice as well). But it's clear that Notre Dame's biggest rival is USC and Michigan's is Ohio State. This isn't nearly the travesty that we saw in the ending of the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry, or even Missouri-Kansas.

Jim M. from Dallas writes: Brain, I know you are rather new to college football, but this is huge loss to both Notre Dame and Michigan fans. I happen to be both !I believe this is the third most important non-conference rivalry in CFB behind only USC v Notre Dame, and Florida State v Florida. I can't think of anything close to those three.It is silly to downplay the loss to college football of a 125 year rivalry between America's two winningest teams.If I were your journalism professor, I'd let you rewrite this a couple times until it was worthy of an A.

Brian Bennett: Every journalism professor I know would fail you for your email's many misspellings that I cleaned up (though I left in the way you spelled my first name for comedy's sake). It's highly disingenuous to call it a 125-year rivalry when the two teams have played only 40 times (though maybe you're not great with numbers either since you think I'm "new" to covering college football). To your point: Michigan-Notre Dame has been an entertaining series, but not one that must be played every year. Let's just hope 2014 isn't the last time we'll see the two meet.