I missed our correspondence during my vacation. Let's let the letters commence:
Alex from New York writes: As a Michigan fan, the release of the new schedules starting in 2014 is pretty infuriating. Both MSU and OSU on the road in a given year? Are you kidding me? Did Dave Brandon not bother fighting this at all? Couple this with some of the recent basketball schedulings, like giving OSU a home game against Michigan next year but not vice versa, it seems like sometimes the Big Ten is out to screw Michigan. I realize that I'm overreacting, but as far as football is concerned, I think this is unacceptable, especially having to play MSU on the road twice in two years. It makes for a great home schedule one year, and a very lackluster one the following year. What are your thoughts?
Brian Bennett: The Big Ten is out to get Michigan? I think Michigan State fans would find that funny. Playing at Michigan State and Ohio State in the same year is tough, but is it really more difficult than last season, when the Wolverines played at Nebraska and at Ohio State? With Penn State coming to Ann Arbor in 2014 and Michigan's other Big Ten road games being at Northwestern and at Rutgers, you can't say that's an especially difficult schedule. It stinks for Wolverines fans that the games against the Spartans, Buckeyes and Notre Dame will all be on the road next season, but Ohio State and Michigan State will come to the Big House in 2015. And the rotation could change again when the league goes to a nine-game schedule in 2016.
Dave from Nashville writes: Regarding the new 2014 B1G schedules: There's a lot to comment on, but I'm gonna focus right now on, wow, Ohio State has a crazy easy schedule. Toughest games at home? Arguably the best team in the B1G having its two cross-overs with arguably the West's two worst teams (final decision pending Iowa's Greg Davis-induced implosion). Seems the B1G is desperate to get a team into the first College Football Playoff. They have chosen their champion, and have laid the easiest path possible for them to reach it. Michigan seems like a back-up option for 2015 with the favorable schedule, but even they have to contend with a dangerous NW squad. Better get them in before "parity-based" scheduling and 9 conference games make it more difficult ...
Brian Bennett: It's disappointing that we won't see the Buckeyes play Nebraska, Wisconsin or Northwestern in 2014. Perhaps Minnesota will have improved enough by next year that it will give Ohio State a test in Minneapolis. The Buckeyes still have to go to Michigan State and Penn State, and they have Navy, Cincinnati and Virginia Tech in the nonconference, which is a major step up from their 2012 and 2013 out-of-league slate. Perhaps after playing Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska as crossover opponents in 2011 and 2012, Ohio State was due for a break. Getting Michigan at home next year will also be key in the inaugural East Division race. While it's always dangerous to make assumptions on what will happen more than a year away, the Buckeyes do seem to have an advantageous position in 2014.
Mike from Madison, Wis., writes: So I just read the piece on how many of the B1G coaches and Jim Delany support to increase the win requirements to go to a bowl from the current 6-6 to 7-5. I agree with that and also the fact that a fan bases of a 6-6 team is less enthused to have to pay all the costs involved with going to a bowl game and that some fans and students ultimately don't go because its not worth it. However, I also agree with coaches that the extra game and more importantly practice time that goes along with a bowl game is greatly beneficial to a 6-6 team. I have an idea that will please everyone involved: 6-6 teams get cut from being in a bowl game. However, they are permitted to play an extra game with a school in their region and that the game would be held at the one of the school's football stadiums. Don't know how that would be decided but everyone involved wins. Coaches get their game and fans get it closer and cheaper.
Brian Bennett: I'm divided on my opinion about whether 6-6 teams should go bowling. On the one hand, I believe there are too many bowl games and that teams should have to accomplish more than merely going .500. How much, for example, did Purdue gain by going to a bowl last year, as the Boilermakers fired coach Danny Hope the day after they clinched postseason eligibility and then got embarrassed by Oklahoma State? On the other hand, bowls still provide us entertainment in December, and more college football is rarely a bad thing. I'm much more in favor of 6-6 teams going to bowls if they play a nine-game conference schedule. That's much more of an achievement, since programs can't simply schedule four nonconference patsies and then go 2-6 in the league and declare their season a success. I'm surprised a team like Indiana, which will have its hands full in the East Division, supports the seven-win requirement.
As for your idea, Mike, I'm not exactly sold. A large part of the appeal for a 6-6 team to go bowling is that the players get a nice trip somewhere warm and a bowl-like experience out of it. Who would have gotten fired up last year for, say, Purdue at Central Michigan or Iowa State at Minnesota last December in the cold?
Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J., writes: Bennett! Long time since I last emailed you. Please PLEASE tell me that with the new bowl scheduling partnerships the B1G will no longer have 5 schools playing at the same time on New Year's Day...as a B1G fan, I cannot stand missing the Rose Bowl because there are other attractive B1G matchups at the same time. I'm hoping Delaney has found some way to facilitate changing the times or dates of some of these bowl games as to not have B1G fans scrambling to try to catch multiple games at the same time on New Year's Day. Even if your team isn't playing in the Rose Bowl, as a college football fan, specifically a B1G fan, who doesn't want to watch the Rose Bowl and all its Pagentry? I know the Capital One and Outback bowls are probably remaining in the B1G bowl line up, but do you foresee any chance that there are changes so the times are not conflicting with the Rose Bowl?
Brian Bennett: I don't think that avoiding overlapping times is a major concern for the Big Ten as it tries to find the best bowl lineup. However, it's inevitable that we'll see some changes in that regard as the new lineup and the new playoff structure take hold. The playoff semifinals are going to own New Year's Day, so we'll have to see how that affects when the other bowls decide to kick off. There could still be several Big Ten teams playing at once, especially with the league holding onto ties with the Capital One and Outback bowls and sharing a slot with the ACC on the Gator. But with access to the Orange Bowl and other moves, I doubt we'll see as big of a Big Ten logjam in the bowls.
Aaron from Minneapolis, Minn., writes: As a Minnesota fan, I generally like the direction that the conference is going with non-conference scheduling. But I've heard a lot about how Iowa is being handcuffed by their annual tilt with Iowa State, and I was just wondering why this is a big deal. Lots of annual non-conference rivalries are going by the wayside these days (Michigan-ND, Florida-Miami, Nebraska-Oklahoma, etc.). While I understand that an in-state game is big for fans, I can't imagine Iowa fans will suddenly be at a loss for bad blood with Wisconsin, Minnesota, and even a potentially budding rivalry with Nebraska each year. And even if the game is not played annually, two games every four years would open up much more breathing room for Iowa to continue to schedule strong opponents on a regular basis. Am I completely off base here?
Brian Bennett: You're not wildly off base, Aaron, especially because the Iowa-Iowa State game doesn't really move the needle nationally. Still, I think it would be a shame to see that series end. I'm a huge proponent of in-state rivalries, especially in a state like Iowa where there are only two major programs. It's one thing for Florida and Miami not to play, but at least Florida-Florida State and Florida State-Miami continues. These are the kinds of rivalry games that keep friends, co-workers and neighbors talking year round within the state. I'd rather see Iowa test itself by playing one other marquee game in the nonconference schedule than losing the Iowa State series, though I understand why that's difficult with a nine-game league schedule. And speaking of in-state rivalries ...
Erik S. from Tallahassee, Fla., writes: With the renewal of the PSU-Pitt rivalry in 2016 and the dedication both sides feel about making the game happen every year, I'm hopeful that we'll get to see more of these games after the upcoming four-year contract is over. My question is that in the years Penn State plays Pitt, will that game become Penn State's required "one marquee nonconference game" or do you think another "Big Five" conference team would make the slate in addition?
Brian Bennett: There were some very encouraging comments last week from both sides about the future of the Penn State-Pitt rivalry, one that I think ought to return to being an annual affair. Penn State will have to decide how it wants to schedule its three nonconference games after 2016, and complicating matters is the NCAA probation. Do the Nittany Lions want to take on tough opponents as they're coming out of the sanctions era, or do they want to help themselves ease back into bowl contention? When at full strength, I absolutely think Penn State is the type of program that can handle playing Pitt and one other marquee, or at least major-conference, opponent every year. Given Pitt's near-perennial habit of underachieving, simply playing the Panthers probably wouldn't be enough to make the Nittany Lions' strength-of-schedule argument a compelling one in most years.
Bear rom Waco, Texas, writes: Baylor/Big 12 fan here just wanting to say props for the Big Ten agreeing to schedule nine conference games and no FCS opponents. The Big Ten, like every other conference, has its problems, but I really respect that y'all want to make create the highest quality football match-ups possible. So thanks Big Ten from down in Waco!
Brian Bennett: I guess it's always good to have a bear on your side, rather than the other way around.