Big Ten Thanksgiving mailbag

Since Thursday is the holiday, I'm giving you a special early edition of the Thursday mailbag. So, what are you gobbling about, turkeys?

J.W. Buchanan from Milwaukee writes: I'm sure this is the millionth question/comment you've gotten on the B1G division realignment... but, why is it so important to keep tOSU and UM in separate divisions? They already play every year to close out the regular season -- Does anyone really care to see a rematch the following week? Wouldn't The Game would be more meaningful if it decided the division? Secondly, since it seems to be true that the loser of the Championship Game is at a disadvantage in BCS consideration, why would tOSU and UM ever, ever want to play in it? Stop messing with Wisconsin and just do a basic East-West split! Everybody wins!

Brian Bennett: I am in full agreement with you on this, J.W. I thought Ohio State and Michigan should have been in the same division to begin with, and this expansion gives the Big Ten a chance to fix that. Think about some of the top intraconference rivalries in college football, like Auburn-Alabama, USC-UCLA, Georgia-Florida ... they're all in the same division. Same was true for Texas-Oklahoma when the Big 12 had divisions. Sure, you lose the chance of having an Ohio State-Michigan Big Ten title game, but you eliminate the potential of a rematch the following week and virtually guarantee that The Game will have major division title implications every year.

FFXlion from Washington, DC writes: As a Penn State fan living in the DC area, I am thrilled with the Maryland addition. Finally, I'll be able to see my Lions in action without having to trek to Happy Valley. You and Adam are probably getting tons of questions on alignment. I'd like to offer mine: the Sandwich aligment, which puts the far east and west in one division, and the central teams in the other. The "bread" division: Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska. The "meat" division: OSU, Michigan, MSU, Indiana, Illinois, Purdue, Northwestern. I'd argue that this alignment is competitively balanced, separates the four big name programs two apiece, and reunites Wisconsin with their traditional rivals while also preserving their east coast access. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: I think a simpler geographic alignment would be far easier for everybody to remember and accomplishes the same thing. How about Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, Indiana and Purdue with the rest on the other? It's almost perfectly split East-West, and given that Wisconsin and Michigan State have risen and Penn State could be about to decline for a few years, it also maintains pretty solid competitive balance.

Robert R. from Enlightened City writes: I have become appalled by the separation the division format brings. Right now Michigan, for example, plays Wisconsin, Penn State, Indiana, Illinois, and Purdue 4 times in 10 years. Bringing in Rutgers and Maryland will make Michigan play those teams 1 in every 6 years (assuming the Big Ten keeps the 8 game conference schedule). If the Big Ten doesn't do something the conference is no longer going to feel like one. I propose that (especially if the Big Ten moves to a 9 game conference schedule) the Big Ten decide to make it one big conference and not even have divisions. Then at the end of the year the top two teams meet in the championship game. Michigan, for example, would have protected rivalry games with Ohio State and Michigan State. Then with the remaining 7 games play the remaining conference members (11) on a rotating schedule. A common point against this is that teams will have much harder schedules than others. But this is already a vivid reality. People may also complain that you will get ties for second and first place and it will be just like the old system but the current division format produces ties a top the divisions all the time. So explain to me why this shouldn't be the future of the Big Ten?

Brian Bennett: Well, whatever format you choose, you're going to have unbalanced schedules. And the thing I like least about this expansion is it means that traditional Big Ten teams will see each other less. Would any school really trade games with Ohio State and Michigan for ones with Maryland and Rutgers? Jim Delany was right when he said the Big Ten wanted to play each other more, not less. Now, the only way to accomplish that is by adding more conference games. Speaking of which ...

David from Chicago writes: From a revenue generation perspective, which seems to be foremost on the minds of Big Ten officials, what are the pros and cons of a nine-game league schedule? I know it would decrease the total number of games played by Big Ten teams (because they're playing each other more often), but I would think an extra intra-league game would draw a significantly larger tv audience than two games with MAC teams. What's the tradeoff?

Brian Bennett: You're right that more league games create more excitement and would be better both for fans and for TV packages. The downside is the league beats up on each more, resulting in more losses that could hurt bowl and playoff chances. The Pac-12 has found that out the hard way. The other big issue, and one coaches have reservations about, is a nine-game schedule means some teams are going to play five league road games in a given year, while others will only have four. There are some competitive balance problems there, as well as scheduling since most teams need seven or eight home games per year to make their budgets. Of course, it also means one fewer nonconference game, and the fear is most schools wouldn't cut out that game against an FCS or MAC school to make room; they'd eliminate challenging, marquee nonconference contests because A) they'd need a guaranteed home game and B) they know they have an extra, difficult conference game to play.

So while I'd love to see more Big Ten conference games, I don't want the Big Ten to shy away from playing fun, interesting nonconference games like the ones that have recently been scheduled for coming years.

Jason from Hillsborough, N.J., writes: I am a "yuuuge" Rutgers fan who you responded to in a Big East mailbag in the winter of 2009 concerning the possibility of any eventual transition (read: transcension) to the Big Ten. You're reply "I think Rutgers would bolt for the Big Ten in a New York minute." The greatest days in Rutgers Football History - November 6, 1869 (Rutgers v Princeton - The First Game), November 9, 2006 (Pandemonium in Piscataway), November 20, 2012 (Leaders Division, B1G). The State of Rutgers is delirious and cannot wait to take care of business this year en route to a first Big East Championship and BCS Bowl Berth and join our fellow Leaders Division competitors at the table...we're buying.

Brian Bennett: Welcome aboard, Jason. I enjoyed covering Rutgers in the Big East blog and look forward to re-uniting with some of the Scarlet Knights fans. There's no question Rutgers made out like bandits in getting the call from the Big Ten. As I pointed out on Twitter, the Scarlet Knights went 0-21 in the Big East from 2000-02, including an 80-7 loss to West Virginia in 2001. A decade later, the program is moving to the Big Ten. It's a stunning climb, and Greg Schiano deserves a ton of credit for building things up.

Brian from Washington DC writes: Brian: I am disappointed. I thought you were one of the good guys. Instead, it looks like you have indulged in elitism and traditionalism. Rutgers has a good football program. Stating otherwise to a mob of Big Ten fans is irresponsible. It's people like you that make it hard for clean, exciting, rising programs like Rutgers to get any respect.

Brian Bennett: Um, OK. Didn't realize that I had so much influence. Look, Rutgers is what it is: a program that has turned around from decades of irrelevance to become a perennial bowl team in the Big East. It's also true that the Scarlet Knights have yet to win a conference title, and that many of their bowl seasons were propped up by very weak schedules. I know what you'll say: Rutgers is 5-1 in bowls the past seven years. Here are the teams it beat in those bowls: Kansas State (pre-Bill Snyder's return), Ball State, NC State, UCF, Iowa State. Not exactly murderer's row. I like what Kyle Flood has done in succeeding Schiano, but I think this year's team is overrated after playing another soft schedule (and getting beat soundly at home by Kent State).

Bottom line: Rutgers is improving, and there is a whole lot of potential there. But the program hasn't really proved anything yet on a big stage, and it's not close to the level of Ohio State, Michigan or Nebraska at this point.

Rob from Morristown, NJ, writes: Bennett, can I call you by your last name? I feel we have bonded over these past couple seasons. Quick question, the BO'B to the NFL talk is rather annoying, as a PSU alum I cannot see this "having legs". With that in mind, if Billy O's name is being thrown around NFL circles why isn't a guy like Urban Meyer? He has been dominant at nearly every coaching stop? Is it because his style of football doesn't translate to the NFL. Does this give some legitimacy that O'Brien is the better COACH, while maybe Urban is just a good recruiter with a scheme? O'Brien hasn't even finished one year of coaching a senior laden team to a (hopeful) 8-4 record, what has he done to merit this attention. Turn a walk-on QB into a servicable D-I QB that still won't get drafted? This isn't a slight to O'Brien, I love what he has done for my school and our football team, I just don't understand the hype other than maybe its just the "trendy" thing to do by the media?

Brian Bennett: You can call me whatever you like, Rob. The reason Bill O'Brien's name is being thrown around in the NFL is obvious: he's already had success at that level as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, and he proved he could get some previously underachieving offensive players at Penn State to excel in a pro-style system. Meyer has been a college coach all along and has shown no real interest in making the move to the NFL. He also runs a spread system that might not translate as well to the pros. I think Meyer would win at any level, and the fact that Chip Kelly has NFL suitors and more pro teams are incorporating spread elements show that things are changing.

Dave from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., writes: In your coaches' salaries post, you did the math incorrectly. You based it on an 11 game season. The correct way to go about doing this would be to either remove 1/12 (or 1/13, depending on bowl eligibility) of the entire year's salary and then divide it by number of wins OR you could just wait until January 10th, after the season is over, and recalculate on a per-win basis. Sorry for the technicality, but the season isn't over yet, and I'm a nerdy engineer who checks your math frequently on these type of posts.

Brian Bennett: Dave, I was obviously trying to make a point about the relative worth of the coaches' salaries to this point in the season. It was just for fun, and I don't think you can judge a coach or his pay solely on one year's worth (or slightly less than a season's worth) of results. For example, Kirk Ferentz might not be earning his $3.8 million salary this year, but he sure did when Iowa was playing in BCS games. But I'm glad you're checking my math, because like most journalists I can get very shaky in that area. Can I put you on retainer?

Ryan from Omaha writes: I'm wondering why Bo Pelini isn't getting heavy consideration for Big Ten COY. Nebraska currently sits at 9-2 (6-1), having faced the #3-rated schedule in America. They have a top-20 offense and defense nationally. NU's two losses are road losses to Pac-12 South champ UCLA (9-2) and undefeated Ohio St (11-0). NU has stayed the course after a humbling defeat in Columbus and instead of folding, has won 5 straight against some tough opponents. Their defense is a top-20 unit despite not really having any stars. Their offense is a top-20 unit despite starting most of the year with three walkons on their OL, and their best player/team leader sidelined (Burkhead) for most of the season. They have a first-time OC in his second year (Beck), first-time DC in his first year (Papuchis), and were predicted no higher than third in their own division before the season. It would seem to be a great coaching job thus far by Pelini and his young staff. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: Ryan, I agree that Pelini has done a very good job this year and should get some consideration, especially if the Huskers wrap up the Legends Division title this weekend. However, coach-of-the-year awards typically go to those who have exceeded expectations. Pelini in an odd way is a victim of his own success here, having won at least nine games every year he's been in Lincoln. Compare that to a guy like O'Brien, who has his team on the verge of possibly going 8-4 when many people expected Penn State would fall apart. Or Pat Fitzgerald, who might well lead Northwestern to a 9-3 record with a young team. And of course, there's Meyer, who took over a 6-7 team and has it at 11-0, with a blowout win against Pelini's Huskers. Pelini isn't going to win the award, but a conference championship should suit him just fine.

Andrew from Los Angeles writes: For the next round of Big Ten expansion, don't you think the logical choice would be the Indira Gandhi National Open University in New Delhi? Sure, it lacks a prestigious football program and traditional rivalries, but its television market would reach roughly 1/6 of the planet's population. I think it's about time the Big Ten expands its footprint to include the Indian subcontinent.

Brian Bennett: Shhh .... Delany might read this, Andrew.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.