Big Ten Monday mailbag

Just passed another mile marker on the road to football. Teams are back on the field, and there will be real, live games soon. Amen.

There will be so much more to talk about in the Big Ten as the season continues to draw closer, and obviously way more to discuss when it arrives. Follow along with me here on Twitter, and stay tuned there to ask questions for the mailbag.

Austin Ward: Given the amount of production and experience Wisconsin must replace, it's certainly going to be a tall order for the defense to come close to holding opponents to around 16 points per game like it did a year ago. But there are plenty of young pieces that have the coaching staff excited not just about the long term, but also with what they can provide this fall thanks to the natural athleticism and what could be a unit with improved speed across the board. Wisconsin was able to redshirt some talented defenders last season thanks to the veteran presence it had, and defensive linemen Alec James, Chikwe Obasih and Garret Dooley all fit the mold for what Wisconsin is trying to build up front moving forward. The Badgers may still drop a few games, but the defense should be strong enough to help keep them solidly in the mix to win the West Division.

Austin Ward: This year might be as good as any for the league to break its drought for the game's biggest individual award. Ohio State's Braxton Miller will enter the season with the most buzz and attention as the quarterback of a high-profile program with title aspirations, but a pair of running backs could make it really interesting for voters regardless of whether or not their teams are playoff contenders. Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon are capable of putting up head-turning numbers out of the backfield, and while they would buck a recent trend that seems to be focused almost exclusively on quarterbacks, they could rack up enough yardage to make it impossible for voters to ignore them. Of course, if Miller hadn't missed out on prime opportunities to pad his numbers a year ago when he was injured in September, there's a chance he could have pushed Jameis Winston for the trophy. It's hard to know who will develop into viable candidates five years from now, but I would be stunned if the Big Ten doesn't have another winner by then.

Austin Ward: The rivalry and two enormous fan bases guarantee that The Game doesn't exactly need to change to please anybody else, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't evolve if it can make itself even more appealing to a broader audience. Using tradition as an excuse doesn't really work anymore when Ohio State is already leading a charge to play more night games with six of them on the schedule this season. Why should Michigan be an exception for the Buckeyes, or vice versa? It seems pretty clear that the atmosphere for night games is more electric in the evening than at noon, and the next person that complains to me about having longer to tailgate will be the first. Television partners move games to prime time for a reason since that's where the ratings are best. And while I don't live on the West Coast, wouldn't it be a nice advertisement for the league if more casual fans in California who might not be watching football at 9 a.m. had a chance to see the greatest rivalry in college football? I think there are even more benefits that could apply, and while Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith is perhaps rightfully worried about alienating a portion of the fan base that is burdened by traveling for night games, it's hard to see how just one game should have its kickoff time protected while every other opponent is a candidate to play under those permanent new lights at the Horseshoe.