Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

The regular season is over. The mailbag lives on.

Mitch Sherman: It's so difficult to identify one way to beat Alabama. The Crimson Tide, statistically, are good just about everywhere, with a slight vulnerability against a strong passing game. No way, though, do I think Ohio State's key to success is to throw over the top of the Alabama defense. That's playing right into the hands of Nick Saban. Blake Sims has been so good, and Amari Cooper is just about unstoppable, but I think the Buckeyes' only chance to slow Alabama's offense is to cut out its legs -- slow the ground game. Good luck against T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. But Ohio State has to start somewhere, and that's as good a spot as any.

Mitch Sherman: The extra preparation time alone, regardless of opponent, often amounts to something of a death sentence for opponents of Saban-coached teams. Really, Ohio State didn't wow Wisconsin in the Big Ten title with a whole set of new offensive looks. Urban Meyer's offense is a known commodity. Surely, Saban recalls it. Alabama will be ready for Jones. And really, Jones' game against the Badgers figures to benefit Ohio State more than the Crimson Tide.

Mitch Sherman: I like lots about the hire. Riley is a seasoned coach who brings a new attitude to Nebraska. I think fans and players will embrace his style. But like anything new, it's impossible to judge completely until a body of work exists. If Nebraska gets over the hump as a program, wins a league title and plays consistently competitive football in big games, the change was worth it. If not, Nebraska made a mistake. As for Michigan, sure, it can get a decent coach. We're talking about Michigan. Just don't expect it to happen overnight. At this point, the pre-dead period recruiting time is essentially lost. The Wolverines might be waiting a few weeks -- more specifically, until the end of the NFL season.

Mitch Sherman: Probably never. With the nine-game league schedule set to start in 2017, it just doesn't make sense, logistically, to lock in a set of games against teams from a specific Power-5 league. The Big Ten tried -- and failed -- to work an arrangement with the Pac-12. This just isn't like basketball, which has so much more room with which to work in the nonconference season. And the alternative can be better. With upcoming games such as Alabama-Wisconsin (2015), Northwestern-Stanford (2015-16), LSU-Wisconsin (2016), Michigan-Florida (2017), Ohio State-Oklahoma (2016-17), Nebraska-Oregon (2016-17) and Michigan State-Arizona State (2018-19), why focus on a rivalry with one single league?

Mitch Sherman: The Scarlet Knights can have one of the best running games in the Big Ten. With the league losing the likes of Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah, David Cobb, Jeremy Langford and possibly Tevin Coleman, there's a void in the category of great backs. Perhaps Paul James, who ran for 363 yards and seven touchdowns in four games, can fill it. He ought to recover from an ACL tear, suffered Sept. 20 against Navy, in plenty of time for his senior season. Not enough carries exist to please James in addition to Josh Hicks, Robert Martin, Desmon Peoples and Justin Goodwin. But the competition should be fierce in the spring and spill over to August as Rutgers looks for an offensive identity without quarterback Gary Nova. For a team that ranked 10th in the Big 12 in rushing, the ground game is a good place to expect big improvement.