Big Ten mailblog

Your post-Christmas edition. I'll try to have another on Friday, although no promises as I'll be away from the blog more than normal this week.

On to your questions ...

George at Palmyra, Va., writes: Do you think the Buckeyes will run the table again next season? They really have no tough games. Three very easy OOC home games and a weak Cal team that doesn't have a coach. Wisconsin at Columbus without [Montee] Ball, and a new coach and new system. Away games at Illinois and Purdue should be little work. So Michigan and Northwestern seem to be the only obstacles. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: George, the schedule certainly sets up well for Ohio State, and the possibility of an undefeated season can't be dismissed in part because the Buckeyes just accomplished one. The fact Ohio State doesn't play Michigan State or Nebraska in the regular season certainly is a benefit. San Diego State won't be a pushover, but the game is in Columbus and Ohio State should be fine. The road games against a Northwestern team that returns almost everyone and a Michigan squad in Year 3 of the Brady Hoke era certainly stand out, as does a potential Big Ten championship game showdown. I wouldn't count out Wisconsin, which returns key players on both sides of the ball and made a good hire in coach Gary Andersen. But again, that game is in Columbus, where Ohio State rarely loses. Ohio State's season really comes down to defensive depth. If the Buckeyes have enough, they certainly can run the table.

Josh from Sparta, N.J., writes: As for future expansion candidates, I think we keep overlooking Virginia Tech. While they are not an AAU member, they are a solid football power and would be a great fit geographically with Maryland, Rutgers, and Penn State. They can also move the needle playing on prime time. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Josh, Virginia Tech is a very attractive candidate, but the lack of AAU membership remains a big deal to the Big Ten presidents. Also, the prevailing thought is that Virginia Tech will be an SEC expansion target more than a Big Ten expansion target. Most of the 16-team SEC projections I've read about have included Virginia Tech. You can check in with my colleagues Chris Low and Edward Aschoff, but they've definitely heard that Virginia Tech is on the SEC's radar.

Christopher from Madison, Wis., writes: Heisman Winner and Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne's last game was a Rose Bowl victory against Stanford in 2000. Wisconsin's Montee Ball (2012 Doak Walker award winner) will finalize his career at the 2013 Rose Bowl against Stanford. Will there be any similarities between what the Wisconsin offense did in 2000 and what they will accomplish in 2013, other than competing with great running backs? Or what are the differences?

Adam Rittenberg: Christopher, those are some interesting parallels with Dayne and Ball, whom I wrote about earlier this season. Wisconsin's offensive structure -- power run, huge offensive lines, play-action-oriented pass game -- hasn't changed too much during the years, although there certainly were some tweaks this fall under first-year coordinator Matt Canada. The 1999 squad put up big points totals -- 42 at Ohio State, 59 against Indiana, 40 against Michigan State, 41 against Iowa -- and recorded more quality wins than the 2012 team, which also had some offensive explosions. The 1999 Badgers beat five ranked teams and won their only overtime game, while the 2012 Badgers beat only one ranked team (Nebraska in the Big Ten championship) and went 0-3 in overtime. Both squads were very solid on defense.

Fischsticks04 from Washington, D.C., writes: Hi Adam - in today's mailbag, you stated: "To your second question, a lot of people have brought up the North Carolina-Duke connection. The Big Ten would rather have Carolina than Duke, but the question could become whether it would be willing to take both to get UNC. Tough to say." Can you please explain to me how the Big 10 would not be jumping for joy if Duke were even slightly interested in joining? Academically, they are better than even Northwestern. Brand image-wise, they are a national brand and have fans all over the country. They would be a huge boost to the already solid basketball league. Why do think the Big 10 would "settle" for taking Duke to get UNC?

Adam Rittenberg: Not to disparage Duke, but I don't think the Big Ten necessarily needs to add two schools in the Research Triangle. And if given a choice, I'd take North Carolina in a heartbeat. The school fits in well with the other Big Ten schools -- flagship public school in the state, elite academically and in research, AAU member, broad-based athletic program. Duke's academics also would resonate and the men's basketball brand is exceptional, but the football program gives you less than Maryland's or Rutgers'. And it's not like North Carolina isn't a national hoops brand, too. Also, the fact Duke is more of a national school could hurt a bit in what is being billed as expansion to new regions. You want to make a mark in the Research Triangle. Which school has more fans in that area who will give the Big Ten a greater presence? UNC, hands down.

Deepdax from San Francisco writes: You mentioned the Kraft Hunger Bowl out here in San Francisco......I live here and attended the game just to see what it was like. I went to Michigan State. Nice location with a beautiful view of the bay but half full or less for the Illinois game. The UCLA band was seated in prominence the Illini band was hidden away all by itself in a corner of the stadium. Neither bands marched at halftime. In all, very little atmosphere of a college game and in San Francisco very little hype that it was even happening. Just my experience there.

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for the observations, Dax. It definitely sounds like there would need to be some upgrades from the bowl to appeal to the Big Ten. One question is where Kraft Fight Hunger would fit into the Big Ten's bowl lineup. The Illinois-UCLA game isn't really a fair gauge because both teams had fired their coaches, squeaked into bowls and had little to no fan enthusiasm. If those are two 9-3 teams squaring off in San Fran, attendance and enthusiasm should be a lot better for the game. But it is a long way for Big Ten fans to travel -- that's definitely a consideration -- and the bowl likely would need to make a stronger financial commitment. I just would like to see at least one more Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup in the bowl season, whether it's Kraft Fight Hunger, Holiday, Las Vegas or another game.

Peter from Horsham, Pa., writes: I absolutely hate conference expansion for what it is doing to traditional regional rivalries, to me the draw of college football. If we must go to 16 teams, can we at least compose one division completely of original Big Ten teams?

Adam Rittenberg: Peter, I agree with you about expansion. It has gotten out of hand, and the traditional rivalries pay a price. Greed and panic are a bad combination. I doubt we will see one eight-team division filled only with original Big Ten members because of geography, which should play a bigger role in alignment, at least if you believe commissioner Jim Delany. With Nebraska on the opposite end of the Big Ten footprint from Penn State and the new members (Maryland, Rutgers, maybe two others from the East Coast), it seems unlikely all of those schools would be in the same division. We could end up seeing four four-team pods, some of which could include only Big Ten charter members. But I highly doubt Nebraska and Penn State are in the same division, which would make your idea impossible.

Mike from Manila, Philippines, writes: UConn is making a strong commitment to get an AAU invite within the next 2 years. Assuming they become an AAU school, would UConn be considered as a possible B1G candidate (i.e., to help lock up NYC market and gain access to the New England market)?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, that's an interesting note about Connecticut and the AAU. It certainly would make the school more attractive to the Big Ten. The big question is whether the Big Ten would rather strengthen itself in New England or make a push to the south, where population is growing, there are more elite recruits, college football is bigger, etc. I'm not dismissing the New England market, but college football really doesn't resonate in the Northeast. You already have a bit of a presence with Rutgers, but wouldn't it make more sense to try to create a presence in the Carolinas or even Georgia? I'm not saying there's one right answer, but I would be more interested in pursuing other ACC schools -- North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia -- than UConn.