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Big Ten Monday mailbag

Monday mailbag musings …

Brian from Smyrna, DE, writes: Are you surprised at all that there's been no chatter of transfers out of State College? I think we all expected last year to have the bulk of the moves, but I still would have expected at least some level of change while that window is still open. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: Well, Brian (great name, by the way), you could count Steven Bench as a transfer, since he left after the spring. But that had more to do with his spot on the quarterback depth chart than anything else. And if anyone else is going to take advantage of the NCAA's transfer-free card before the window slams shut, it will probably be along the same lines. It was understandable that more players would transfer last summer, when the sanctions came down and no one knew how bad things would get for Penn State. Now, everyone who is on board knows exactly what they've signed up for, so for them to transfer now because of bowl bans or scholarship losses doesn't make a lot of sense.

Sean from Chicago writes: I understand many believe that coaches are major influences who are able to stop players from getting in trouble. However, as usual, the NCAA makes a coach's job a nightmare when it comes to player conduct, especially in the summer. Can you explain how the NCAA has stringent regulations against team and coach interactions in the summer (the time where players usually get into the most trouble), but the expectation is that the coaches are expected to "babysit" 100 players they are only allowed minimal contact with?

Brian Bennett: You make some good points, Sean. The rule itself is well-intentioned, as the goal is to make sure that players get some time off in the summer. But we all know that these "voluntary" player-only practices in the summer are anything but voluntary if someone actually wants to play for the team in the fall. Just about every coach will tell you they wish they had more contact with their players in the summer. I'm not sure if that would stop all the off-the-field problems, because college students are always going to do dumb things (myself included), but more interaction with the coaching staff couldn't hurt. If the power conference schools ever do split off and make their own rules, I imagine this rule is one their coaches would push to change.

Max from Omaha, Neb., writes: After looking at all of Nebraska's and Michigan's recruiting classes so far, I am really wondering why Michigan is blowing the Huskers out of the water. If you look at recent seasons, Nebraska has done just as good, if not better than Michigan, so it seems weird to me that Nebraska is so far behind. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: You can definitely make the case that Nebraska has had more on-field success than Michigan in the past 15-to-20 years, including last season. So why have the Wolverines been putting together top recruiting classes, while the Huskers have not had as many highly-rated prospects? I think location has a lot to do with it. Michigan is located much closer to many talent-rich areas than Nebraska, and it's easier getting kids to Ann Arbor than it is to Lincoln, especially for in-season official or unofficial visits. Michigan's staff under Brady Hoke has also been much more aggressive in targeting and going after top prospects early than the Huskers. We'll see if recruiting success translates to better on-the-field results in the future.

Brian from Omaha, Neb., writes: No sane Nebraska fan will say the defense was anything but a disaster in the four losses last season. But did you see how the defense played in the 10 wins? They only gave up 266 yards a game on average in those games, which helped them finish the regular season 15th in the nation in total defense. What are the chances a more athletic Blackshirts defense will surprise some people this fall? Bo Pelini did not forget how to coach defense, and I think he has the athletes to run it.

Brian Bennett: The differences in Nebraska's defense in wins and losses last year was indeed staggering, though let's not forget that some of their victories came over offensively-challenged teams like Michigan State, Iowa, Idaho State, Minnesota and Southern Miss. Still, how exactly do you explain how the Huskers allowed only 295 total yards to Wisconsin in September but gave up 640 yards (and 70 points) to the same Badgers team in December? For whatever reason, Nebraska's defense seemed to perform much better at home than on the road, and it had difficulty stopping offenses that got quick athletes out in space. Speed and some injuries probably contributed to that, and I do think Pelini and coordinator John Papuchis are building a more athletic defense. But I still worry about the inexperience and whether the defensive line will be stout enough against the Big Ten's best offenses.

Jon from Tucson, Ariz., writes: A Huskers fan here with a question about Northwestern. I just read your post regarding the Big Ten writers picking Ohio State to win the title, which is no surprise. What did stick out to me, however, was how Northwestern is getting no love after putting in a tremendous season. I think that Northwestern is going to be better than MSU since MSU is still transitioning on offense, but no one seems to be recognizing that. Do you think it's because MSU is more established than Northwestern? My concern as a Husker fan is that we'll take Northwestern lightly since everyone is brushing them off. What are your thoughts on it, and why do you think Northwestern isn't getting any love?

Brian Bennett: I wouldn't say Northwestern isn't getting any love. The Wildcats were ranked No. 24 in colleague Mark Schlabach's post-spring Top 25 and have garnered preseason rankings elsewhere. I think people recognize the great season Pat Fitzgerald's club had in 2012 and the returning talent on hand. However, I'll say as someone who voted in that media poll, it's difficult to figure out where to rank Northwestern in a very stacked Legends Division. Are the Wildcats good enough to get past Michigan and Nebraska? A schedule that includes crossover games against Ohio State and Wisconsin does the Wildcats no favors, and it appears that Michigan State has a much more favorable slate. And though Northwestern did lead in the fourth quarter of all three of its losses, the team also caught some breaks in its close wins over Syracuse and those Spartans. So while I really like this team, I can see why some are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Matt from Midway, N.C., writes: Brian, assuming Carlos Hyde is cleared of this recent incident and his suspension removed, will you and Adam give us some sort of idea where he would have been placed on your preseason Top 25 player list? I feel Hyde and all you readers would deserve that.

Brian Bennett: I can tell you that in our initial conversations, Adam and I had Hyde ranked as a top-15 player. We never finalized his ranking because we decided to exclude him once the news of his suspension came out. If Hyde does come back, he should still be one of the top running backs in the Big Ten.