Big Ten Thursday mailbag

Another fantastic trip to the Rose Bowl is in the books. If you've never been, you owe it to yourself to go. Put that on your bucket list, along with getting an email answered by me in the Thursday mailbag. These lucky souls can now die happy:

Dave R. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: With the B1G season, including bowl games, behind us, how would you rank the league as a whole? It was great to see Northwestern get that bowl win. I can't say I'm embarrassed by Nebraska's loss because, for most of the game, they played well; Michigan's loss, likewise, was competitive; Wisconsin's Rose Bowl loss was a lot less embarrassing than it should have been considering a 5-loss unranked team was playing a top-10 team. The bowl record certainly seems to indicate a bad ending to the year, but I thought we looked decent, considering we were largely overmatched. But then you add 12-0 and 8-4 ineligible teams to the overall picture, and I think the B1G wasn't nearly as bad as what a lot of people thought. What's your take?

Brian Bennett: Dave, we're going to give our full take on the Big Ten's bowl season next week after the BCS title game wraps up, but I offered some of my thoughts Tuesday night in this video. I agree with many of your points. Though the league went 2-5 in the bowls, I thought it acquitted itself pretty well. Purdue was the only team to get fully de-pantsed, but I think we all saw that coming (well, except maybe me). South Carolina and Georgia were each ranked in the Top 3 during this season, but Michigan and Nebraska, respectively, were right there with those teams in the fourth quarter. Minnesota had Texas Tech beaten. TCU and Northwestern won, and Wisconsin had the ball with two minutes to go just needing a touchdown to win against a legitimately excellent Stanford club.

Ultimately, you don't get many points for coming close and losing. But I think if anything, bowl season showed us that Big Ten teams are not as far away from the top of the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, etc., as many made things out to be. The league still needs to get better as a whole, and some lack of athleticism at key positions was extremely evident in the losses. But Ohio State and Penn State could have made this bowl season a much different story. And some of the regular-season losses that looked bad at the time -- Wisconsin at Oregon State, all three losses to now-No. 1 Notre Dame, Nebraska at UCLA -- have improved with age. So there are encouraging signs to be found, but the league still must translate that to more big wins.

Joe from Tucson, Ariz., writes: While I agree to an extent, I've felt you've been a little harsh with your "play better" comments regarding poor officiating. However, I think Jadeveon Clowney proved your point in the Outback Bowl. Refs screw up? Absolutely level the running back and get the ball back yourself!

Brian Bennett: There you go. While the preponderance of bad calls changed my tune a little on Big Ten officiating, it does get tiresome to hear fans complaining about bad calls, which usually go both ways. The Michigan first-down call was just plain silly and hard to believe. Did South Carolina whine? Nope. Of course, it helps to have a guy like Clowney, who looks at times to be playing a different sport than everybody else. Michigan fans are going to have to see that play several thousand more times as Clowney makes a push for the 2013 Heisman.

Matt from Mount Pleasant, Mich., writes: Is it correct that Denard Robinson is now the All-Time leading rusher as a QB in college history, even though he wasn't the QB when he gained the yards needed to surpass Pat White against South Carolina?

Brian Bennett: That is correct, and it's very odd. Robinson did line up at quarterback a couple of times in the bowl but was mostly a running back. Michigan says he remains listed as a quarterback, so that's why he gets the yardage credit for that position. Robinson finished with 723 carries for 4,495 yards, or 15 more yards than White, who carried 684 times. I wonder what White thinks about the record?

Brandon from Yardley, Penn., writes: I've been wanting to ask this question, and in light of the law suit against the NCAA filed by Tom Corbett, here it goes. How does UNC get away with an "academic scandal" and no NCAA investigation? Is the way to avoid sanctions now to perform an internal investigation that finds no athletic involvement? Myself, along with many other PSU are simply outraged by this. It's further proof that the NCAA is a joke organization, who have lost total control and have completely blurred the line over which they can step. How can Mark Emmert honestly sit in his office and slam PSU for a child abuse scandal, that involved PSU football officials (i.e. a legal issue) and do nothing when UNC has its athletes attending fake classes? Either do something for both or neither cause they both fall under the category of "eh, its kinda athletics related."

Brian Bennett: I'm in agreement with you, Brandon. The North Carolina academic scandal is a disgrace but not as shameful as the NCAA's lack of involvement or even apparent interest in it. The NCAA loves to talk about student athletes and highlight academics in its commercials but is willing to give a free pass (so far) to a school that handed out bogus grades? I am way more offended by academic scandals than I am players getting a few hundred bucks, because it tarnishes the degree of every graduate of that school.

Wes from North Bend, Neb., writes: What do you think would have been Michigan's legacy this year had they won one or two more of their tough games (Alabama, Nebraska, OSU)? Do you think if they won against 'Bama early on that enough hope would have kept with them all season to be in BCS contention or even the national title?

Brian Bennett: First, let's throw out the national title/BCS contention angle. This team lost five games, was defeated two weeks after the Alabama game at Notre Dame and of course was nowhere near beating 'Bama. As far as this team's legacy, I think you'd have to say it was a disappointment, yet also understandable and not crippling for the future. Michigan lost to five excellent to elite teams, all of them either on the road or at neutral sites. South Carolina should finish in the Top 10, meaning four of the five losses were to Top-10 squads and the other at Nebraska came on the road when Robinson got hurt. It's still disappointing because Michigan has enough talent to win at least one of those big games and because the team did not even win a Big Ten division title.

David from Parts Unknown writes: Wisconsin vs TIDE . 2015... Can believe or confirm?

Brian Bennett: Word is that game is in serious discussions. My question is whether it should. While I'm all for aggressive scheduling, I'm not sure what Wisconsin gets out of this game, especially if it's a one-off played at a neutral site. Ask Michigan what it benefited from that this year, besides some added exposure. Maybe Nick Saban won't still be in Tuscaloosa by 2015, but Alabama is still likely to be a very difficult opponent for Wisconsin. Perhaps the Badgers get a bit of a boost in recruiting, especially if the game is in Texas like the Michigan one was. But the possibility of a loss and no home game out of it makes me wonder why the Badgers would be interested. And while we're on the subject, let's say this about the Badgers. They have been criticized, rightly so, for poor nonconference schedules in the past. We can't say that about the 2012 slate. Intentionally or not, that turned out to be very strong, as both Oregon State and Utah State are Top-25 teams. Not many other Big Ten teams can say they played two ranked teams outside of league action.

Alex from Harrisburg, Penn., writes: Brian, lets say the rumors turn out to be true that Bill O'Brien leaves for the NFL (I hope not, but with all the craziness that has happened the past year I will never say never). What are the chances that one of what seemed like a hundred NFL coaches considers taking the Penn State job? I think that O'Brien proved that if you have the leadership skills and the coaching skills Penn State remains a very attractive and winnable location. While O'Brien leaving could be devastating (especially recruiting wise), I think someone like Ken Wisenhunt could step in a do a good job. How much would the sanctions dissuade a coach from considering this job?

Brian Bennett: The sanctions would no doubt play a huge role. Remember that there were some coaches who wanted no part of that job last year -- and that was before the sanctions. In some ways, O'Brien's success has shown other coaches that they can win at Penn State, but the full brunt of the sanctions are just now coming into effect with regard to scholarship reductions. That will seriously reduce the list of interested candidates, and if O'Brien were to leave now he'd put Penn State scrambling now that the college head coaching carousel has nearly finished its spin cycle. You're right in that there would be some interest from NFL coaches, especially those who saw how O'Brien turned himself into a hot pro commodity in State College. But not all pro coaches can handle recruiting and the other unique demands college coaches face. Penn State hit a home run with the O'Brien hire; there's no guarantee the school could do so again.

Norman from Seoul, Korea, writes: Finally, I could see some hope on Sparty. The Bowl win over TCU wasn't all that pretty, especially considering the same old quiet, dreadful offense we've seen all year in the 1st half, but the fact that MSU was able to squeeze out a win on the final minute sheds some light in Spartan's 2013 campaign. Hopefully we could see more of this kind of close WINNING games like the ones witnessed during the 2011 season. However, my question lies with Connor Cook. Was Mark Dantonio merely giving the young QB some opportunity in the post-season, or was he implying a serious starting QB competition next year with Andrew Maxwell? Your thoughts on Dantonio's decision?

Brian Bennett: Norman's got Seoul but he's not a soldier. Sorry, that was terrible. Anyway, I think the plan all along was to give Cook a series or two versus TCU to help get him prepared for next year. Dantonio did the same with Kirk Cousins in the 2009 Capital One Bowl. I don't think he ever anticipated letting Cook run the two-minute drill with the game on the line. But he couldn't ignore the spark that Cook gave the team, or how badly Maxwell struggled. As I wrote, this makes things very interesting for 2013. Cook is going to be a fan favorite, but let's not forget that he completed only 4 of 11 passes and is wildly unproven still. That said, the Spartans have no choice but to have an open competition at quarterback this spring and summer given how abysmal their passing game was in 2012.