Welcome back to another edition of the Thursday mailbag. My plan is to have another 'bag on Friday, taking over Adam's usual spot, and I'll use that one to answer any and all questions about the new Big Ten schedules for 2016 and 2017. So send me your thoughts and comments about that here.
Now on to a schedule-free mailbag:
Ron from San Diego writes: With the level of talent in the Ohio State front seven do you see them skipping a beat from last year? That defense wasn't exactly one of our best, and guys like Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington seem to be primed for breakout campaigns. Poor Florida A&M, they get to become 1/14 of our win total for the season.
Brian Bennett: The Buckeyes' defense struggled at times during the first half of last season but was really playing well down the stretch. Ohio State has a whole lot of talent in that front seven, but it is awfully young and inexperienced. I don't think you replace John Simon and Johnathan Hankins without "skipping a beat." So I would expect some early bumps in the road, but the good news for Ohio State is the nonconference schedule is forgiving enough that they'll have time to work through those adjustments. It could be another year where that defense really turns it on in the second half of the year.
Gale from Virginia Beach, Va., writes: Can Devin Gardner run for about 400 yards this season?
Brian Bennett: That's an interesting question. Gardner is a great athlete who's got wheels -- heck, he played respectably at wide receiver last year -- but he's not Denard Robinson. He only ran for a total of 101 yards in his five starts last season, though that does include sack yardage. Gardner could easily get to 400 and much more if Michigan wanted to use him on designed runs. But with the scary lack of depth behind him and the transition to more of a pro-style offense, I doubt Al Borges will be calling for Gardner to take off and run very much. The best scenario for the Wolverines is having Fitz Toussaint and/or Derrick Green carry the ball so well that Gardner doesn't have to do it.
Slick Al from Madison, Wis., writes: Loved the all-time program draft idea. Here's my Top 5 for Bucky, let me know what you think. 1. Ron Dayne. 2. Joe Thomas. 3. Russell Wilson. 4. JJ Watt. 5. Jamar Fletcher. Honorable Mention: Jim Leonard, Lee Evans, Al Toon, Tom Burke.
Brian Bennett: I like the list, but no Montee Ball or Alan Ameche? Would love to hear from other fans about how they would draft an all-time program team.
Chris from Leesburg, Va., writes: Brian, your recent mailbag illustrates two of the many examples of why many PSU fans have felt like outsiders in the B1G. Nobody in PA considers himself a Midwesterner while the rest of the league identifies with that tag. You stated: "I think Missouri would have been and still is a much more natural fit in the Big Ten than either the Scarlet Knights or Terrapins." Fortunately, the people in charge have commendable business acumen and realize that the B1G needs the East Coast if it is to flourish. As a PSU fan I welcome this greater geographical diversity. And you can bet if there is any future expansion it will occur in the same area. You also stated: "It would make more sense to move a game to MetLife Stadium, which is still in New Jersey and holds more fans than Yankee Stadium, when a team with a large fan base like Michigan or Ohio State comes through." I am tired of the UM-OSU lovefest. Penn State fans would fill that stadium with more fans than UM or OSU would. PSU and Nebraska both have as great a FB tradition as UM and OSU, but Midwest and traditional Big Ten conference homers like yourself almost always tout those two schools.
Brian Bennett: Me a "traditional Big Ten conference homer?" I've been called many things before, but never that. I understand what you're saying about Penn State feeling isolated as an East Coast school, and Jim Delany has said that's one of the reasons he wanted to expand to the east and why the league is opening an East Coast office. I get all that, and I understand why the Big Ten is moving into those marketplaces. That doesn't change the fact Missouri feels like more of a traditional fit in the Big Ten than Maryland, which is ACC through and through, or Rutgers, which has a long way to go before its entire athletic department is up to Big Ten standards. And, sure, Penn State would fill the stands at MetLife, but why would Rutgers -- which will certainly view Penn State as its chief recruiting rival, if it doesn't already -- want to give the Nittany Lions an advantage by removing its home-field edge and allowing thousands of Penn State fans in the building? If Rutgers is going to move a game to a neutral site, I don't think it will be one against the Nittany Lions.
Greg from Philadelphia writes: Brian, I love the group Penn State is bringing to the Big Ten media luncheon! I know you're a little disappointed to not see Allen Robinson on the list, but I get the impression that he's more of a reserved guy anyway. Besides, Malcolm Willis is a great interview and a vocal leader on the team this year. He should more than make up for Robinson's absence. I'm also REALLY excited to see John Urschel giving the players' speech. Let's just hope for your sake that he doesn't accidentally start going into one of his math lectures from the classes he teaches or you're going to feel real dumb real fast.
Brian Bennett: It doesn't take much math talk from anybody to make me feel dumb. Urschel was a terrific choice to represent the players at the kickoff luncheon, and I'm also pumped up to hear his speech. Penn State's contingent is a good group, but it is light on star power. You could say the Nittany Lions don't have a lot of bona fide stars right now because so many great seniors departed off last year's team, but Robinson is clearly the headliner on that team and the best receiver in the Big Ten. Going to media days could help him get exposure that could come in handy when it's time for national awards voting. He's only a junior, but who knows if he'll be back for his senior year?
Zac from Reedsville, Pa., writes: Remind me again why everybody seems to think that the B1G East will be so dramatically difficult? I look at the teams and, Penn State sanctions aside, it seems very much like the old SEC East in the '90s. There were the top 3 (B1G now: OSU, Michigan, PSU. SEC then: Florida, Tennessee, Georgia), then there was the "middle-of-the-pack" team (Now: MSU. Then: South Carolina), and then there was the dead weight (Now: Maryland and Indiana. Then: Vanderbilt and Kentucky). The only addition is Rutgers, which until proven otherwise seems to fall more on the IU than the MSU side of things. Hence, sanctions aside again, that should be 4 gimmes, or at least 3 if you don't count MSU, for the 3 championship caliber programs.
Brian Bennett: You mean the "Big Boy Division?" Well, there are a couple of reasons people think it will be the much tougher of the two new Big Ten divisions. The first is that Ohio State and Michigan are both in the East, and with the way both programs have been recruiting of late, many expect those two teams to be the twin superpowers in the league going forward. We shall see. Another factor depends on how you view Michigan State. You list the Spartans as "middle-of-the-pack," which I suppose is fair. But don't forget that before last season, they won double digit games in back-to-back years, claiming a share of a Big Ten title and winning the Legends Division in 2011. So if Mark Dantonio's team can get back to that level -- and even if not, Michigan State will always be a tough out -- then you have three outstanding teams in the division. And that's before we get to Penn State, which should eventually get back to its old self after the sanctions. The West Division looks like it might have more balance throughout, but someone outside of Wisconsin and Nebraska will have to play at a consistent championship level to make it as tough at the top as the East.