Big Ten Monday mailbag

More of your Monday mail:

David from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: I believe that Gene Wojo's article "Work in Progress" was right on. What do you the odds of this happening are? Additionally, do you think the fact that this is going on in public will hurt the chances of this happening? Meaning if it was discussed behind the scenes no one could say that the NCAA caved to public/media pressure. Or some people believe that there was this wink/hand shake agreement already in place at the beginning, that if Penn State cleaned up the situation and made transparent changes that the NCAA would consider reducing the sanctions early.

Mikey from Seattle writes: Is it just me or does anyone else think lessening Penn State's punishment for the Sandusky affair to be just plain wrong? I feel for the fans. And I understand that the current players/coaches are innocent, but they have the option to play/coach elsewhere. Paterno and the PSU administration (and others) knew and, not only kept quiet about it, but allowed these crimes to continue. I'm frankly offended by Gene Wojciechowski's suggestion that PSU should be granted a parole hearing or, worse, having their punishment reduced for "the university's rehabilitation efforts" (let's remember, against letting a child rapist run rampant). I want to see B1G football succeed and believe PSU is one of our marquee teams. I commend BOB and the current PSU team for what they've accomplished. However, I don't want to see B1G success at the cost of what's right and, frankly, just. Seven months of good behavior/progress is great, but the victims of Penn State's crimes will likely suffer a lifetime of emotional scarring. They deserve better.

Brian Bennett: I grouped these two emails together to show the range of opinion on this topic. Frankly, I think David and Mikey each can make a good argument. Unfortunately as with most NCAA penalties, the people who really suffer are the players and coaches who had nothing to do with the mess. You can't help but admire how Penn State's players and coach Bill O'Brien have conducted themselves throughout this whole ordeal. Yet we can't also ignore the horrific nature of the Sandusky scandal and the reason why the harsh sanctions were levied in the first place.

I would not have a problem with the NCAA lessening the Nittany Lions' punishment, though the most vociferous Penn State supporters who seem to think the school was the victim in the Sandusky scandal create little empathy. I remain skeptical that will happen simply because the NCAA rarely provides leniency to those it has sentenced. I still think a change in leadership at the NCAA is Penn State's best bet for a reversal.

Dylan B. from Corvallis, Ore., writes: I am writing you, as many PSU fans have to many different sports writers, to let you know that PSU is not facing any different scholarship restrictions than they faced last year. While the formal restrictions do kick in soon (not this year, mind you, but next year), we actually played at 67 scholarships this past year. The comment in your latest Big Ten column, about PSU's "toughest tests lying ahead", is erroneous. What you saw last year, on a team that went 8-4 and very easily could have won a few more, is what you will see moving forward. Due to last year's 67 including several walk-ons, we were in a sense playing below the 65 limit we will be working with moving forward. ... Last year was not an anomaly. That is what PSU is capable of even under the sanctions.

Brian Bennett: Yes, I was wrong in thinking the 65-scholarship limit kicks in this year. Actually, that will be in effect from the 2014-17 seasons. The limit of 15 scholarships per recruiting class began this year. O'Brien said last week that the number of current scholarship players is in the low 70s. I still stand by my assertion that the worst is yet to come for Penn State with the sanctions. Last year's team had many valuable seniors who'd played a lot. It's going to get harder to restock the roster through recruiting, and a wave of injuries could be devastating. O'Brien still has his work cut out for him.

Travis from Fort Lee, Va., writes: This whole "the Big Ten needs to do better" obsession seems to be yours and ESPN's and nobody else's. I couldn't care less how the rest of the Big Ten does this Spring. Time to think of new meaningless stories, Brian.

Brian Bennett: Do we at ESPN sometimes play up the conference-wide angles too much? That's a fair criticism. But we're certainly not the only ones who have said the Big Ten as a whole needs to improve. Coaches and even commissioner Jim Delany would agree with that. And like it or not, teams are defined by their conference in college football these days. Don't think it matters how strong your league is? Just wait until your favorite Big Ten team is in contention for the four-team playoff starting in 2014. You can bet the first question every team must answer, at least in the court of public opinion, will be how good its league competition was. Just ask the SEC what conference perception can do for your profile.

Mike from Creedmoor, N.C., writes: In regards to the Big Ten and high first round draft picks, I'll submit exhibit No. 1 of why it's a case of "Who really cares?": Mr. NaVorro Bowman. Perhaps the best LB in the league (definitely Top 3), and a 3rd round pick. It's not where you get picked, it's what you do in the league. Tough not being a Combine-hero I guess. So, I'll be happy to watch guys like that go in the 4th, 5th, 6th rounds (oh yeah, that Brady guy....) all day when they develop into the players Bowman has become.

Brian Bennett: Good points. It really doesn't matter where a player is drafted -- except, you know, in terms of his paycheck -- as long as he develops into a top-notch performer. The stat we mentioned was that the Big Ten hadn't produced a top-10 pick since 2008. Well, J.J. Watt at No. 11 in 2011 turned out OK. Still, it figures that the more of those no-doubt, top 10-type draft picks a league has, the better it should perform on the field.

Matt from Ann Arbor writes: The recruiting for 2013 was dominated by two schools. I love seeing that some teams other than Michigan and Ohio State have picked up a few solid early commits (Iowa has a top lineman, Minn has a top RB). Do you see another school or two in the B1G being able to jump up the recruiting rankings for the conference for 2014? Maybe get 3 teams in the top 10?

Brian Bennett: To answer this question, I first went back and examined ESPN.com's recruiting class rankings since 2006. Only one Big Ten team besides Ohio State and Michigan has finished in the top 10 classes during that span, and that was Penn State at No. 9 in '06. (The Lions also finished No. 11 in 2010). That makes sense, as Penn State has the resources and location to reel in that type of class when at full strength. Obviously, it's going to be nearly impossible for that program to rank that high in the next few years simply because of the numbers restrictions. Then you start wondering which other teams could pull off a top-10 class. Wisconsin typically hasn't recruited those kinds of star players. Nebraska has had some good classes but also faces obstacles with its location. Michigan State doesn't worry much about star ratings. Other league programs just haven't historically had a lot of highly-rated classes.

There could always be an outlier, like when Illinois landed the No. 12 class in 2007. Or a team like Nebraska could hit some home runs with every elite prospect it gets in on. But it's unlikely we'll see a third Big Ten team in the top 10 classes. Then again, Wisconsin wasn't ranked in the top 25 classes in any of those years and has been to three straight Rose Bowls. So there's that.

Samir from San Francisco writes: Being a Wolverine fan, when I look at their 2013 schedule, I feel they have a very good chance of going undefeated this year. They have a lot easier schedule also playing Notre Dame, Nebraska and "Ohio" at home. What are your thoughts on the Wolverines going undefeated in 2013 or any B1G team going undefeated for that matter?

Brian Bennett: It's kind of fun to think about what the 2012 Wolverines would have done with the 2013 schedule. No Alabama, and those big games you mentioned at home instead of on the road. There's no question that this year's schedule is far more favorable than last year's. Still, the first three conference road games -- at Penn State, at Michigan State and at Northwestern -- will not be easy by any means. Had Michigan played the Spartans and Wildcats on the road last year, that might have been enough for them to lose those games. I wouldn't predict Brady Hoke's team to go undefeated, especially with some lingering concerns in the trenches. The team with the best chance to go undefeated is still Ohio State, because its nonconference schedule is very manageable. But going 12-0 two years in a row is mighty difficult. If Nebraska can improve on defense, it would also be a threat to go undefeated. The Huskers have only two road games that look tough on paper (Michigan and Penn State) and do not play Wisconsin or Ohio State.