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Big Ten Thursday mailbag

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Josh from Gillette, Wyo., writes: I have had this weekend circled for months. The Huskers squeaked out what I would call a very quality win last week. However, it was virtually a home game for them, or neutral at best. Husker fans invade opponents territory if they are given the opportunity (they did the same to my school in Laramie Wyoming last season). With Michigan coming to Lincoln this year, the Huskers will have the full force of the "Sea of Red" behind them. My first question is: What kind of road team is Michigan? Have they experienced anything like what they will face this Saturday? Is revenge going to play a factor? And is it conceivable that the loser this weekend could recover and still make it to Indy?

Brian Bennett: While Michigan has not played in Lincoln in more than 100 years, I don't see the Wolverines getting intimidated by the environment. This is a program that regularly plays before the largest crowd in college football, that has faced Alabama at JerryWorld and that squared off in a night game at frenzied Notre Dame Stadium. Nebraska would love to finish its revenge tour by beating the third Big Ten team that knocked it off last year (Wisconsin and Northwestern were the others), but this is going to come down to whether the Huskers defense can slow down Denard Robinson, and whether Taylor Martinez can find holes in a very good Michigan defense. The Wolverines have a better shot of losing and then recovering than Nebraska, which would have two conference losses if it falls at home. Michigan could lose here, win out and still be OK if the Huskers were to drop a game at Michigan State or Iowa or at home to Penn State.


Jon from Colorado writes: Is there a reason that you and Adam are still hanging onto Michigan as your Rose Bowl picks? Most other analysts now are picking Wisconsin to go (including several here at ESPN) and like the Badgers chances of beating either Michigan or Nebraska in Indy. What is your rationale?

Brian Bennett: While I like the way Wisconsin is playing right now, Michigan in our view has the edge because of a defense that's dominating right now. I still want to see the Badgers, who are a bit too one-dimensional on offense, put it all together against a really strong defense, which could happen this week against Michigan State. Hard to predict how a Wisconsin-Michigan matchup might go because they haven't played since Brady Hoke was hired. Which is another reason why this would be a fun Big Ten title game tilt.


David from Madison, Wis., writes: I don't think you should discount the Wisconsin @ Michigan State game in 2010 as part of this "rivalry" (You said this will be "Round 3" when talking about this weeks upcoming games). It was the start of it all as Michigan State ruined a chance at Wisconsin having a National Championship season. It also was the source of hatred by Michigan State because they got overlooked as Wisconsin won the conference, even though it lost to MSU.

Brian Bennett: You're definitely right about that game having played into the rivalry. However, purely as a game it paled in comparison to the epics we saw last year, though Wisconsin fans still rue Michigan State converting three third-downs and a fourth-down on its final drive to seal things. Either way, enjoy this weekend's game because it's the last time the two will meet for a while -- at least in the regular season.


Ben from Chicago writes: Brian,In your "What We Learned" post this week, you and Adam said Bill O'Brien might be National Coach of the Year. I agree that Penn St. is playing amazingly -- especially against that Hawkeyes I root for. But I'm having a hard time coming to terms with showering praise on a team that is in its first year of a severe NCAA penalty. It seems against the spirit of the punishment to give them "attaboys" when just months ago they got condemned by the governing athletic body. I'll end by saying I know none of the current players or coaches had anything to do with the cause of the punishment so I feel empathetic. Just perhaps not sympathetic.

Brian Bennett: You're free to have that opinion, Ben, and I understand if people feel distaste about Penn State as a whole after the terrible Sandusky scandal. At the same time, as you mentioned, the current players and coaches are paying for someone else's sins, not theirs. We are trying to judge this team on its own merits while understanding what restrictions it is operating under. If the NCAA did not want Penn State to have any football success at all, it would have shut down the program. But the Nittany Lions are allowed to compete and the way they've gone about it -- and carried themselves through difficult times -- is admirable. If not everybody revels in their success, that's understandable, too.


Kirk R. from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: I've found your lunch links unusable if it connect to articles that require subscription. I come to your site to see what is out there without having to subscribe to many different sites all over the country. If they want to require you to subscribe that is fine but you should not include those in your links. I didn't go to their site, I came to ESPN instead.

Brian Bennett: Kirk, I understand where you're coming from. Unfortunately (for linkage purposes), a whole lot of newspapers are going to a subscription model right now. Many of their sites allow you to view a limited number of free articles before you have to begin subscribing, and we have no way of knowing how many of our readers are over/under those limits. So we'll continue to link to those types of sites, as well as the totally free ones. But the latter is becoming rarer and rarer.


Justin from Baltimore writes: It seems that you and Adam feel the need to point out your erroneous conference championship prediction every time you write something about Michigan State. Isn't it time to start pointing out that probably no team in the country has lost as many close, heartbreaking games? The Spartans could easily be 4-0 in the conference and have a combined margin of defeat of six points in their three conference losses. After two seasons of getting almost every break (except for with the roughing the punter penalty in the B1G championship game) it seems that this is the year when the Spartans can't buy a break in close games. Although a loss in Madison seems likely, do you think the Spartans will be able to rebound to close out at 4-4 in conference play and set up a nice comeback year when in 2013 when MSU swaps OSU/Wisconsin for Illinois/Purdue on the crossover schedule?

Brian Bennett: Well, if we didn't point it out, other surely would (and do, especially Michigan fans who are enjoying the Spartans' problems). I will concede that Michigan State has played a difficult schedule and has been exceedingly close in many games. However, it has also lost three times at home, including to an Iowa club it was heavily favored against. That's hard to excuse. And scoring only one touchdown in each of the last three losses is just plan sad. Right now, the Spartans just need to find a way to get to a bowl game. Winning at Wisconsin this week would be huge, because then Michigan State could gain some momentum before getting Nebraska and Northwestern at home and finishing at Minnesota. I could see the Spartans going 4-0 or 0-4 in the final four weeks.

I do believe that next year could be a very good one for Michigan State. Another year for Andrew Maxwell and the young receivers can only help, and several key players are scheduled to return, including linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, defensive ends William Gholston and Marcus Rush, defensive backs Darqueze Dennard and Isaiah Lewis, running back Le'Veon Bell and tight end Dion Sims. Some could leave early for the NFL, of course, but Michigan State should bring back a strong nucleus, and as you mentioned, the Big Ten schedule will lighten up considerably. Don't worry, we're not picking them as the 2013 favorite yet, but the future remains bright.


Bill R. from Rocky River, Ohio, writes: Brian, I was wondering how you could rank Penn State ahead of Ohio University when Penn State lost to Ohio? As you said Ohio hasn't looked too impressive since beating Penn State, but the fact is they are undefeated and beat Penn State. Using your logic Penn State should be ranked above Ohio State too since Penn State has looked better than the Buckeyes recently. How much of a role do actual, on the field results play in your poll as opposed to "brands" and perception (in this case Big Ten vs. MAC)?

Brian Bennett: I understand the logic behind the argument that "this team beat that team, so it can't be ranked behind that team." And in many cases, it makes sense. But as we get deeper into the season, that becomes harder to do as teams build such varied bodies of work. I was very impressed with Ohio in its opening win at Penn State. But let's look at what the Bobcats have done in the last three games:

  • Beat UMass by three points

  • Beat Buffalo by seven points at home

  • Beat Akron by six points at home

Compare that to what Penn State has been doing, and it's not close. The Nittany Lions had a new coach and were playing through some complex emotions in Week 1. They've gotten a whole lot better since then and I believe they would beat Ohio in a rematch.


CDL from Denver writes: Given Northwestern's problems with the passing game what do you think of playing Kain Colter in QB more often? Colter sees to confuse the defense and seems to make things happen. Your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: I'd like to see that, and I'm pretty sure most Wildcats fans would as well. Trevor Siemian will be a very good quarterback someday, but right now Northwestern is best, in my opinion, when Colter and Venric Mark are in the backfield. I don't understand why the Wildcats are taking the ball out of Colter's hands so much unless he is injured and we don't know it. Colter's comments to Adam that the offense lacks an identity were very telling.


Nate M. from Lincoln, Neb., writes: After the two games over the last two seasons I think Northwestern vs Nebraska needs a trophy. The score differential is two points over the last two years! How sweet would it have been to see Nebraska run over to the Northwestern sideline on Saturday and claim the trophy. Isn't that what the B1G is all about anyway? Trophy games? A couple of early ideas for the trophy include just the two letters NU as the trophy, or we could even go with a trophy where one half is Memorial Stadium and the other half is Ryan Field. One side could be filled with red, and the other side could also be filled with red!

Brian Bennett: Hmm ... well, if it's NU vs. NU, shouldn't we reflect that? How about playing for the Gary Gnu trophy? Gary was a newscaster, too, so that hits the journalism angle with Northwestern. Children of the 1980s will understand.


Samir from San Francisco writes: You do a great job with the Big Ten blog and I read your posts and tweets daily. But I have some bad news for you, the Cards are going to lose Game 7. The Giants are winning big today and they are not ready to end their season yet. Good luck with all your weeping!!!

Brian Bennett: Wishing I had a response ...