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Big Ten Thursday mailbag

Letters to Santa might get you a present, if you've been good. Letters to me can get your name on the blog -- and a possibly snarky response from yours truly. Take that, fat man.

Paul from Dodge City, Kan., writes: Brian, I am a Husker fan. This is the first year I have really paid attention to the recruiting and I have to say I am not impressed. On ESPN's Top 40, Nebraska ranks 32 and is getting out recruited by MSU, PSU, UW, MU, OSU, and several other inferior non Big Ten schools. I don't think that Bo needs to go; however, I think that there is no excuse for not putting together a better recruiting class and having to scramble and pick JUCO players five years into your coaching stand. Granted a few big signs in the next two weeks could put us in the top 25. But Nebraska is a very marketable school and maybe what Nebraska needs is a better recruiting scheme. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: Paul, you'll probably live a healthier life if you don't pay close attention to recruiting rankings. If you read our recruiting rewinds on the All-Big Ten selections, you would have seen just how inaccurate some of those high school evaluations turn out to be. With that said, Pelini and his staff haven't been known as big-time, high-pressure recruiters in Lincoln. They've certainly developed great talent on the offensive side of the football, but the one area they've really lacked is high-impact defensive linemen since Jared Crick's last healthy year. You have to have those guys to win at a high level. Nebraska has some recruiting challenges because of its location, and it has had to change its focus a bit after moving to the Big Ten. But if the Huskers can get prospects to campus to see their wonderful facilities and fan support, they stand a chance against anybody.


Evan from Kansas City writes: Brian, it seems like there is an above average shuffling of coaches this year. What team do you think had the biggest hire/loss nationally? Who are you most exited to see join/saddest to lose in the Big Ten?

Brian Bennett: The coaching carousel never stops spinning. I'm not sure this year has been that much different, except it seems the timetable for coaches being fired has accelerated (see Southern Miss, Colorado, etc.). As far as best hired, I though Auburn did well to bring back Gus Malzahn, and, though Wisconsin fans won't want to hear it, Arkansas hit a home run with Bret Bielema. It's not often you can land a proven head coach from another power league who has three straight conference titles under his belt. Biggest loss was probably Florida International firing Mario Cristobal. Just ludicrous. In the Big Ten, I admit I'm going to miss Bielema. He may have driven some fans crazy with his game management and his cockiness, but he was a reporter's dream because he always was good for a quote and treated even dumb questions with respect. I'm looking forward to Darrell Hazell at Purdue from what I've seen and heard of him so far. He seems like an impressive guy who gives straightforward answers.


Lance S. from Greensboro, N.C., writes: How many consecutive B1G championships does Wisconsin have to win to be considered an elite program?

Brian Bennett: Elite in the Big Ten or elite nationally? League titles don't really matter from a national perspective, especially since the conference's reputation is on a down swing right now. Winning the Big Ten this year with a 7-5 regular season certainly didn't do much to make the Badgers an elite program. I believe that status is only earned on the biggest of stages. Wisconsin needs to win Rose Bowls and BCS games and eventually get into the four-team playoff to be considered elite.


Patrick from Cincinnati writes: When the B1G 10 adds Rutgers and Maryland will the B1G 10 add any extra bowl affiliations? On average year will the league have 1 or 2 more eligible teams or the same as last year?

Brian Bennett: Count on a whole lot of change to the bowl lineup. The Big Ten's current bowl tie-ins expire after next season, and there will be major shifts in the bowl contracts as college football moves to the four-team playoff. With the Big East potentially dissolving and the five power conferences consolidating their power, I think you'll see more Big Ten bowl affiliations. And this would be a good time for the league to think about getting out of those games in Texas against Big 12 teams, which are needlessly disadvantageous and don't offer a whole lot, and the Gator Bowl. Another game or two in California and most likely one in the East (Pinstripe Bowl) would be a good idea for the league.


Robert from Waialua, Hawaii, writes: I've never bought into the reasons given for Nebraska's not immediately receiving a full revenue share. While it's true that we weren't in on the Big Ten Network from the start, we did -- unlike any of the other expansion candidates being discussed at that time -- bring a national following to the table. We also, as the 12th member, immediately enabled the other schools to cash in on the conference championship game. Additionally, we played a murderers' row conference schedule set up in no small part to offer some attractive television matchups that previously would've only been possible in the occasional non-conference series or bowl game. After reading the Washington Post article you linked and becoming aware of Maryland's fuller share from the get-go, I can't help but be reminded of how all those 11-1 votes in the Big 12 felt. I still say we're better off in the Big Ten than in the Texas Ten. But I'd be lying if I denied the fact that the conference deems Maryland's perhaps exaggerated potential to sway BTN subscriptions in Baltimore and D.C. to be of more value than everything NU has brought to the table feels like a bit of an insult to my alma mater.

Brian Bennett: I get where you're coming from, Robert. There's no doubt whatsoever that Nebraska brought more overall value to the Big Ten than Maryland can probably ever hope to do from a football perspective. There are some key points here, however. First, the Terrapins had some leverage because Jim Delany wanted to move fast before word of the move became too public and because they had no burning need to leave the ACC. Nebraska was definitely wanting to get out of the Big 12, which had become nearly an untenable situation for the Huskers. The other factor is that Maryland, unlike Nebraska in 2011, is awash in debt and needs money now, especially if it has to pay the full $50 million-plus ACC buyout. It needs money now.

Maryland will get more of the Big Ten revenue up front, but my understanding is that it is basically borrowing that against future gains. Of course, there is value in getting paid today instead of tomorrow, and I can understand why Nebraska would be upset by this. Ultimately, though, the addition of Maryland and Rutgers should mean more money for everyone in the Big Ten when the new TV contract is negotiated.


Scott from Greenville, S.C., writes: Brian, why is it a no-brainer that Le'Veon Bell should turn pro? Most draft boards have him as a 3rd-4th round pick, so it seems like he could use an extra year to shed 10-to-15 pounds and improve his quickness and speed. There are multiple RBs who carried a heavy load in college and still succeeded in the pros (see Ray Rice), and it won't do much good for him to leave early to extend his NFL career if he doesn't make it in the league in the first place.

Brian Bennett: Running backs have short shelf lives in the NFL. There are only so many hits you can take before you start to decline, and Bell already has 350 carries this season. Now, he has the body and frame to absorb more punishment than average-sized backs, so that's good, but would it really suit him to come back and take another 275 or so carries for Michigan State? And what if he gets hurt next season in college? I think his stock is pretty high now after a really strong year and he'd be wise to go ahead and get started on an NFL career.


Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: As a Gopher fan, it's good to see the success that Northern Illinois had where Minnesota's staff worked previously. Not only did Northern Illinois make a BCS bowl game, they did very well in their academic performance. How much do you think that Kill and his staff should get accolades for Northern Illinois success?

Brian Bennett: A great deal of credit has to go to Kill and his staff for the Huskies' success. Northern Illinois was 2-10 the year before he arrived, and he took them to three straight bowl games. His last team there went 10-3 and, unlike this year's BCS bound Huskies, beat an AQ team (ironically, Minnesota). Kill also recruited current NIU star Jordan Lynch. That program's rise has to make Gophers fans feel optimistic about what Kill can do in Minneapolis.


Brian C. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: How long until these players share in the spoils? These conferences are poised to cash checks that will dwarf anything they have ever seen. I know all about the free ride and free education,blah blah blah. I used to be one of those guys, not now. Beyond a free education,these guys are working full time jobs that demand a 12 month devotion. Games will soon be played 7 days a week,the number of games will probably expand beyond the 12 most schools play now.How long will it take before someone forms a players union for football?

Brian Bennett: Great question. It was disappointing to see the NCAA Division I Board of Directors delay the implementation of $2,000 stipends for players last January after that reform had gained support. With the report this week that the Big Ten was in line to make $91 million per year with the new football playoff -- not even counting Big Ten Network cash or the windfall of making a second contract bowl -- makes you wonder who will benefit most from all this new money. Higher salaries for coaches and ADs? More lavish facilities? Or do the players get to share in any of the spoils? I think we know what the answer is, but you do wonder if there is a tipping point somewhere for the players who do all the work for our Saturday entertainment.


Just Joe from Chicago writes: Just curious if what appears to be a downturn in Big Ten bowl ticket sales is part of a national trend? Just seems with a growing (and more trustworthy) secondary market, people are more steadily going to look for deals on tickets than go with their school's allotment, which are often the worst seats in the stadium. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: Joe, it does appear to be a trend, as attendance at bowl games declined throughout the nation last year. You can blame a number of factors, including the glut of bowl games, the economy, the secondary ticket market, home entertainment systems, etc. I do think there are some special factors going on with the Big Ten this year, as Ohio State and Penn State likely would have been eager to travel to watch their teams, the league's Rose Bowl team is 8-5 and has been there the past two years, Nebraska and Michigan State fans are disappointed and Purdue fired its coach.

But to a larger point, these ticket allotments that bowls force upon teams are horrendously bad business deals for the schools. Fans are smart enough to find cheaper and often better seats, and the schools often end up eating the cost of thousands of tickets. It's basically like paying for the "privilege" of going to a minor bowl game to help boost tourism from some town that has no connection to the campus. Sure, makes perfect sense. I really wonder whether bowls will still be able to draw eyeballs and crowds once the four-team playoff begins. Then, more than ever, every other game will feel like the NIT.