Big Ten Thursday mailbag

Words with friends, also known as the Thursday mailbag. Your turn:

Russ from New York writes: Two things: 1) Now that Taylor Lewan has declared he is coming back to Michigan next year, does your placement of Michigan in the 2013 preseason power rankings change at all? 2) What was your total justification for ranking Michigan 5th instead of 3rd, in front of Wisconsin and Nebraska? This is just one man's opinion, but I think Michigan is an overall more balanced team than Nebraska (come on, their defense leaves a lot to be desired) and Wisconsin is going through a coaching change, while losing Montee Ball.

Brian Bennett: The Lewan news was stunning and is probably enough in and of itself to make us move the Wolverines up at least a spot. As we said, there's not much difference between Nos. 2 and 6 in our early 2013 power rankings, and we debated for a while whom we should even put at No. 2. Michigan could easily win the Legends Division, but Brady Hoke is still going to have a lot of questions to answer at the three inside spots of his offensive line, at tailback, at receiver opposite Jeremy Gallon, on the defensive line and in the secondary. That's a whole lot of ifs. Hoke has recruited well, but he'll be counting on a lot of young guys. I think our opinion of Michigan could change a lot once we see those youngsters in action a bit during the spring.

Reed S. from Jacksonville, N.C., writes: Correct me if I am being too optimistic, but I see Nebraska becoming a top 10 team next season and the potential to stay there. The D is a big question mark but I think Pelini has a lot of young stars that are going to make a very good defense next year. I like they way they are getting bigger boys for the lines too. I see an Ohio State vs Nebraska B1G Championship game and the winner in the national championship picture.

Brian Bennett: It's optimistic, but not inconceivable. The Huskers certainly will have the offense to be top 10 worthy, assuming they can shore up their turnover problems. It's that defense that leaves you wondering, especially with eight senior starters gone. You say Bo Pelini has young stars, but all he has now are young guys with potential. Nebraska is high on guys like David Santos, Charles Jackson, Michael Rose, etc. But they still have to prove it. With the Huskers' ability to score points, the defense doesn't even need to be elite for this to be a very good team in 2013. But it can't give up an average of more than 50 points a game, as it did in the four losses in 2012.

Charlie from Chicago writes: Hey, Brian, I am thrilled that Northwestern was able to pull off such a great season and am optimistic about our team's quality in the immediate future. However do you think Northwestern is recruiting right now at a level to maintain and improve upon this recent success? Also do you think the the success of Notre Dame and Stanford this season hurts NU's recruiting of good football players who want to attend schools of that academic caliber?

Brian Bennett: Northwestern isn't currently ranked in the top 40 classes for 2013 by ESPN.com, but that's no real surprise. The Wildcats have only one recruit, quarterback Matt Alviti, who's ranked in the ESPN 300. Northwestern occasionally grabs a high-profile recruit, like Ifeadi Odenigbo last year, but normally has to do a great job of evaluating prospects and developing them. Recent success and the arrival of a new lakefront football facility should help the school's recruiting efforts going forward. Your question about Notre Dame and Stanford is an interesting one. Those two schools -- and even Duke, which made a bowl game this year, and Vanderbilt, which won one -- have shown that elite academic schools can compete at high levels. Are they recruiting in some of the same circles? To an extent, yes. But it's a trend that should be encouraging to Northwestern fans.

Scott R. from Chadron, Neb., writes: So, how is Ameer Abdullah not in your list of "Five BIG offensive players to watch in 2013?" He only got honorable mention for all BIG, so he wasn't disqualified. I think he did a really, really good job filling in for Burkhead, and I look forward to watching him next season.

Brian Bennett: Scott, Abdullah was a second-team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches in 2012, so he was disqualified. The list was aimed more at major breakout players, and Abdullah already did that with more than 1,000 rushing yards last season. The guy I considered for Nebraska was receiver Jamal Turner, who made some big catches in key games and has a lot of ability. But I wonder just how much breakout room there is left on an offense already filled with playmakers.

John from Ohio writes: I'm listening to ESPN radio right now, and they are asking "what makes Alabama and the SEC better" and they are talking about coaching staffs. Why is it that the media won't touch the fact that oversigning puts conferences on unlevel playing fields? When you get more chances to find good players than another team, you're probably going to find more good players. I'm not saying they don't have good coaching and other things they do better, but it's unreal that nobody will talk about oversigning on a regular basis as at least part of the reason the SEC has dominated CFB lately.

Brian Bennett: We've discussed oversigning plenty here in the blog. Nick Saban certainly did some roster machinations to get Alabama where he wanted it early in his tenure there. But now he can pretty much pick and choose which recruits he wants. Remember that in 2011, the SEC passed a rule limiting each team to 25 scholarships offered per year. Of course, the more important number is 85, as in the scholarship limit each team has. You don't have to be a math whiz like me to tell that 25 X 4 is more than 85. The Big Ten still takes a much more hard-line stance on oversigning than the SEC. But is that the reason the SEC keeps winning national titles? I don't think it plays as big of a role as you'd like to think. Geography is a much more important factor, and I'd bet if some of those prospects had to sign elsewhere because of oversigning rules, they'd end up at other SEC schools.

J.J. from Myrtle Beach, S.C., writes: Brian, as an Ohio State fan I would like to see OSU and Michigan in the same division when the B1G realigns, and we have heard rumors of that. With those rumors come the typical reasons for and against the change, like a possible rematch a week later vs. breaking tradition and moving The Game to October. Surprisingly, what has not been mentioned is the fact that moving OSU/UM into the same division would increase the B1G's chances of getting both into the new BCS format in 2014. It seems that the original rational for splitting them in opposite divisions (having the two premier programs play in the conference championship game, thus garnering national attention) is now obsolete and should be modified. Keeping them in different divisions all but eliminates the possibility of both playing in the new playoff. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: I'm totally in favor of putting Michigan and Ohio State in the same division. That would make The Game potentially even more exciting, with a division title possibly on the line in the final week of the year, and it would eliminate the unsavory prospect of a rematch a week later. Rivals like Alabama and Auburn and USC and UCLA play in the same division for a reason. It's been shown that teams who lose in their conference championship games have a hard time making the BCS. Just look at Georgia, which came a play away from beating Alabama in the SEC title game yet dropped to the Capital One Bowl, while SEC East runner-up Florida went to the Sugar Bowl. Same for Michigan in 2011, while Big Ten runner-up Michigan State missed out. We'll have to see whether that has the same impact for the four-team playoff, since winning a conference title is supposed to be emphasized in the selection process. Right now, it's tough to see how the Big Ten could get two in the four-team playoff, though it probably would have happened in the 2006 season with Michigan and Ohio State. Had they played twice, maybe not.

Dylan from Appleton, Wisc., writes: I know there has been tons of rumors regarding expansion and the one team that confuses me is Georgia Tech. I mean sure they meet the BIG's standard of being a AAU member, but they don't border or are even close to neighboring any other BIG school. And if Alvarez was right in regard that Penn State felt alone on the East Coast and that was a part of the reason for adding Maryland and Rutgers than certainly if Georgia Tech were to join they would feel like an outsider. The only real perk I can see coming from adding Georgia Tech is that would give the BIG a new recruiting ground in the heart of SEC territory with a tun of blue-chip prospects. So my question for you is how realistic do you think it is that the Big Ten would invite Georgia Tech?

Brian Bennett: First, let's point out that the Georgia Tech-to-the-Big Ten stuff has been just an unsubstantiated rumor to this point. If the league were interested in adding the Yellow Jackets, it would likely be to get the league from 14 to 16, meaning Georgia Tech would be one of two new members. Given all the talk about demographics, you have to think the conference is looking south and east. So I could see Georgia Tech coming in with another school like Virginia or North Carolina. That would give the school two former ACC members as some sort of partner, along with Maryland. You're right in that it would not be a perfect fit. But as we've seen with expansion, geography and traditional rivalries are far down the list of priorities these days.

Max from Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., writes: So Brian, what do you think of a team that starts the year in the Top 10 and ends the year unrated? Are they a disappointment?Are they a bigger disappointment than a team which started in the Top 25 but ends up unrated? Will you be revisiting your "biggest disappointment" list?Can you comment on one of the Big Tens "protected" programs? How about some balance in your coverage.

Brian Bennett: Max is obviously referencing Michigan, and I know from his previous e-mails that he's a Michigan State guy. Unfortunately, his reasoning is not great here. First, the Wolverines finished No. 24 in the AP poll. Second, their five losses all came away from home, including four to teams ranked in the final Top 8 and one at Nebraska when Denard Robinson got hurt. So, while Michigan was no doubt disappointing at 8-5, the Maize and Blue didn't fall short of expectations as much as the Spartans, who lost four Big Ten home games, including one to Iowa.

Kyle from Denton, Texas, writes: Brian, I've always wondered which All-Star game is the most prestigious of them all? There's 5 "All-Star" games, so which one should players be aiming to get an invite to?

Brian Bennett: The Senior Bowl is still considered the most prestigious, with the East-West Shrine Game No. 2.

Keith from Kunming, China, writes: Plan for achieving national dominance: B1G should pay its players, and pay them more than any other conference does. This is the secret to winning recruiting battles, and the way to overcome the country's demographic shifts. Do you think JD has already planned this, and it'll appear on the horizon after the next TV contract is locked in?

Brian Bennett: I think the SEC already figured this out long ago. I kid, I kid.