Big Ten Thursday mailbag

It's November, people. As Mark Dantonio said, November is for contenders, the same way coffee is for closers. So I hope you brought your 'A' game to the mailbag, because my A's to your Q's are always Grade-A.

Or something like that. Let's get yo your emails.

Matt M. from Chicago writes: Brian, I agree the B1G needs some radical thinking for the conference championship game. If they are recognizing an ineligible team as Division Champion, then they are going to stage a Conference Championship Game that features a non-Division Champion. So why does that team have to come from a specific division? Instead of going the "selection committee" route (which would be too messy), why not put in a straight forward rule comparing the second place teams."An ineligible division champion will be replaced in the league championship game by the second place team with the best B1G conference record, regardless of division. In the event of a tie across divisions, the second place team from the same division as the ineligible champion will get preference."

Apply that to the 2011 Pac-12 as an example and South Champion USC would be replaced by North 2nd Place Stanford (8-1) instead of South 2nd Place UCLA (5-4). Or in the B1G this year, it would put some pressure on Wisconsin (3-2) to catch Michigan (3-1).

Steve from Chicago writes: I think there should be a rule which displaces a division winner from the game. Something along the lines of meeting one of the criteria:1) If the second place division team has two fewer conference loses than the other division winner they displace them from the championship game (unless that second place team lost in a head to head match-up with the division winner, or is ranked in the polls lower than the division winner). 2) Second place division team has one fewer conference loss, has won the head to head matchup, and is ranked at least seven spots in better in the (Coaches?, BCS?, AP? -pick one) Poll.

Brian Bennett: I'm sure we could pick apart these proposals for whatever flaws they have, and it's true that any time you play unbalanced schedules, there is going to be some controversy. But the point of my column on Monday was that the Big Ten should have at least considered some radical ideas for this season to avoid what could be an absolute debacle in Indianapolis. Having only four teams eligible in one division was a recipe for disaster. The league can't and shouldn't change its rules now but could have taken a longer look at it this summer. Or, at the very least, don't allow teams on probation to win division titles, thereby opening up the chance that a mediocre third-place team plays for the conference crown.

Chris S. from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Hey Brian, good work with the blog. I have to respectfully disagree with your assessment of the B1G championship game and "radical thinking" that applies therein. You argue that people would rather watch a game between the Legends champ and an Ohio State team that can do nothing more than win the game, ultimately leaving the bid to the Legends champ anyway. I would argue that no matter which two teams you put in the championship game, it will be more exciting if the game has meaning than if it means nothing for either team. I'm picturing an NFL Week 17 scenario, with the Legends champ going into the game having already locked up the Rose Bowl bid and having no realistic shot at the BCS title game. You tell me: what does that team have to play for? What happens if they decide to rest their starters? Then you have a tOSU team steamrolling the Nebraska backups, for example. Great, that should be fun to watch, and so unique: Ohio State running over an inferior opponent.

Wouldn't it be fun to watch a team like Indiana play for a shot at the BCS bid? For the Rose Bowl? IU's got a pretty ugly record, but they're starting to turn it around -- wouldn't it be fun to watch them knock off an unsuspecting PAC-40 (I keep forgetting if they have 40 or 50 members now) team?

Brian Bennett: Chris, you make a good point about the game having no real stakes if Ohio State were involved (and to be clear, I was being a little whimsical with that suggestion in the first place in order to make a larger point). However, your argument about a team like Nebraska resting starters rings false to me. College football season is short and there is no way Nebraska players and coaches wouldn't be fired up to try and get revenge on a possibly undefeated Buckeyes team. Not to mention that they would have a full month to heal and rest up before a bowl game. While watching to see whether a potential 5-7 Indiana or 6-6 Wisconsin could pull the upset would offer some fun, it would also make the Big Ten a national laughingstock if it occurred. Should a team get rewarded for the Rose Bowl by finishing third in its division and winning one big game? I don't think so.

Joshua from Columbus writes: Now with Ohio State beating Penn State, is Urban Meyer the front runner of the coach of the year award?

Brian Bennett: It's a very good question. In my awards tracker post today, I gave the edge to Meyer for now. That tracker is fluid and reflects where things stand as of this instant, and after a convincing win at Penn State, Meyer has some momentum. If the voting were actually taken this week, I think Bill O'Brien still might win it. I love the job he's done with the Nittany Lions under unimaginable circumstances. But what if Penn State loses two of its final four (at Purdue, at Nebraska, Indiana and Wisconsin)? That would leave them at 7-5. Despite O'Brien's great work, it would be hard to vote for him as coach of the year over Meyer if the Buckeyes finish 12-0.

Greg from Boulder writes: Do you think playing Thanksgiving Saturday helps the conference on TV, but not in the stands? My sample set is one (last year's Penn State @ Wisc game), but even with the inaugural Big Ten Championship game on the line, attendance was atrocious. Am I naive to think attendance would have been better in Happy Valley?

Brian Bennett: Greg, we'll get a better sense of that in a few weeks when Wisconsin closes at Penn State at Beaver Stadium. While a division title might not be on the line for the Lions, it should be an emotional senior day. Where I think that weekend hurts in attendance is with the students, a large portion of whom go home for the holiday weekend and might find it tough to make it back for a Saturday afternoon game. However, with a conference championship game set for the first weekend in December, the Thanksgiving weekend games aren't going away anytime soon.

Kevin from Saint Paul, Minn., writes: With 3-to-4 games remaining, let's talk hypotheticals. What would happen if there was a 4-way tie for first in the Legends between Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Northwestern. Each team would have a 5-3 Conference Record and a 3-2 Division Record. Who would go to Indy?

Brian Bennett: In your scenario, we'd skip the first two tiebreakers because they would not decide anything. Then it goes like this:

  • Records of the teams are compared against the next-highest teams within the division

  • Records are compared against all common conference opponents

  • The team ranked highest in the BCS standings after the regular season goes to the league championship game unless it is ranked within one spot of another tied team. In this case, the head-to-head result of the two teams determines the division champion

  • The team with the highest overall win percentage (outside of exempted games)

  • The division champion will be chosen by random draw

Without knowing whether Iowa or Minnesota would be the next highest-team in the division or what the record would be against all common conference opponents, it's difficult to say how your hypothetical would play out. Can you imagine, though, if we somehow got all the way to the final tiebreaker and the Legends Division champion was "chosen by random draw?" Isn't that the way it probably should go in this wackiest of years, and wouldn't that draw the highest-rated show ever on the Big Ten Network?

Nate from Columbus writes: If two or more teams finish tied for the division lead, does the Big Ten consider them to be division co-champions (similar to the pre-divisional days when you could have conference co-champions with only one going to the Rose Bowl), or is there just one champion per division? Specifically, if Ohio State and Penn State were to finish with 1 conference loss, would they be co-champions of the division or would a tiebreaker be used (presumably head-to-head result)?

Brian Bennett: I double-checked with the Big Ten office, which confirmed that if two or more teams end up tied with the same conference record, they will be considered co-champions. So if Ohio State and Penn State each finished 7-1, they would be considered Leaders Division co-champions. The tiebreaker is used to determine who goes to the Big Ten championship game, but since neither of those teams are eligible, no tiebreaker would need to be used (though Ohio State fans would certainly claim they won the division, not shared it). Wisconsin and Penn State were co-champions in the Leaders last year at 6-2, but Penn State later vacated its wins and the division title as part of its NCAA sanctions.

Josh from Gillette, Wyo., writes: Brian, kind of a three part question here. First off, as a Husker fan, I was a little disappointed that Denard Robinson was knocked out of the game last weekend. Though still excited that we got the win, the injury seemed to have removed some of the luster from the victory. The rest of the schedule certainly seems winnable for the Huskers, HOWEVER, I'm still nervous about the remainder of the season. Which remaining opponents do you think pose the biggest threat to the Huskers winning out? Also (looking way too far into the future here), if Nebraska does win out and take the B1G and Rose Bowl, how far could they climb in the final AP poll? AND...with so much returning on offense, and a few guys on defense, how would finishing 12-2, B1G, and Rose Bowl champs carry into the 2013 season?

Brian Bennett: The toughest remaining tests for Nebraska are this week's game at Michigan State and next week's at home versus Penn State. The finale is a rivalry game on the road, but I don't think Iowa matches up well with the Huskers. If Nebraska were to win out and take the Rose Bowl, especially over a team like Oregon, this is a Top 10 team. The Huskers' résumé will look even better if Ohio State finishes 12-0 and UCLA closes strong. Though they don't own any wins over a current Top 25 team, all they have to do is keep winning and they'll pass other teams who lose. Such a scenario would definitely give the program some momentum and buzz, especially if it can get its first conference title since 1999 and win a BCS game. That should equal a Top 10 ranking next preseason if it were to all go according to such an optimistic script.

Adam from Chandler, Ariz., writes: Brian, I was at the Michigan-Nebraska game last week, and after watching Russell Bellomy's first four series, I knew we didn't have a chance to win that game unless the defense or special teams scored a TD. I know Hoke knows his players better than I do, but I'm still perplexed as to why Bellomy and not Gardner. I saw the games he had against Northwestern and Illinois last year where he really helped us win those games. Hoke said it was because "he hadn't practiced much there." BUT Gardner has more career snaps then Bellomy. I think it was a huge mistake NOT playing Gardner, what are your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: I thought offensive coordinator Al Borges shed light on that this week when he revealed that Gardner hadn't taken any snaps at quarterback in several weeks. Just because you once played quarterback does not mean that you know that specific week's game plan or have chemistry with the receivers. Bellomy had been practicing as Robinson's top backup all season long, so he should have been much more ready than Gardner (who, let's not forget, brings a lot of value now at receiver). So the question to me is more about why Michigan's No. 2 QB was so unprepared to succeed? Well, part of that is teams just don't have a lot of time or reps to give to second-stringers, and very few offenses are going to look good when the starter goes down. Just check out Wisconsin, which went nowhere after Joel Stave got hurt last week even though Danny O'Brien had started and played earlier this year. Could Michigan have shaken things up by letting Gardner at least take some snaps and try to make things happen with his legs? Possibly. But I don't think the Wolverines win that game regardless once Robinson goes down.

Nate from Madison writes: Do you believe Wisconsin's troubles this year will hurt Montee Ball's stock come draft time? It would be really unfortunate for a very talented running back and stand up guy to have his future hurt because of the team's struggles.

Brian Bennett: It probably won't count in the plus column, but any NFL scout worth his salt will evaluate Ball's play individually and not on how the team around him is doing. NFL people told Ball last winter that they wanted to see him get stronger and improve in pass protection, which is why he got a third-round grade. The way he was running after contact in the two weeks prior to facing Michigan State had to impress scouts.

Andrew from Minneapolis writes: Please help me to understand the computer rankings in the BCS standings. I see Nebraska is ranked as high as 14 and Alabama as low as 7. How does that make any sense?

Brian Bennett: Andrew, that's like asking me to explain why so many people like dancing and singing competitions on TV, the popularity of country music or how Barry Zito morphed into a playoff ace. Some things are just inexplicable. The BCS system can't end soon enough.

Jon from Colorado writes: BB, isn't it a stretch to say that Michael Mauti is among the league leaders in tackles when he is almost 20 tackles behind the leaders (that's about 20%, if you want to look at ratios instead of raw data)? I appreciate that he is leading his team to better than expected finishes, but shouldn't his stats stand on their own without embellishment? It's kind of like saying that Emily Deschanel is in the same league as Zooey. She's not, but she's quite talented on her own.

Brian Bennett: I had to include this email for the Deschanel reference alone. And, no, I don't see it as a stretch at all since Mauti is No. 4 in the league in tackles, according to the official Big Ten stats. Now, Emily in the same league as Zooey? That, my friend, qualifies as a serious stretch.