Big Ten Thursday mailbag

Since Minnesota plays a week from today, can we officially call this game week? Please?

One thing I can always do: answer your mail.

Joe from Denver writes: Hey, Brian, can you please pass this message on to my fellow Hawkeye fans who are so worried about the running game? CALM DOWN! Let's looks at a little history. Last year the team had just short of 1,800 yards rushing. In 2010, just shy of 2,000 yards rushing and a letdown of a season many would say. In 2009, nearly 1,500 yards and a historic year for the Hawks. Prior to 2009, the Hawks had solid years rushing each season. But my point, and one I would think most Hawkeye fans would remember very clearly, is. 2004. The year of the catch. And what is it that the Hawkeyes lacked that year? A running game! For the entire 2004 season the team, overall, had less than 900 yards rushing. the team pulled off one of the most magical seasons in the teams history with nobody running the ball. So please let hawkeye nation know that the team has been successful without a running game before so keep hope alive.

Brian Bennett: Some interesting points here, Joe. Clearly, there is more than one way to skin a ... bronzed pig. Can Iowa win big this year without an established running back? Quite possibly, since the passing game should be strong behind James Vandenberg, Keenan Davis, C.J. Fiedorowicz and others. I also think that between Damon Bullock and Greg Garmon, the Hawkeyes can manage to run the ball decently -- provided both stay on the active roster. I'm actually not as worried about the offense as I am the defensive line for Iowa.

Timmy from Cherokee, Iowa, writes: Will you please get rid of your Iowa running back voodoo doll? This is getting ridiculous...Go after some SEC players, or maybe some from Nebraska.

Brian Bennett: Wait, how is this my fault? I'm not the Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God.

John K. from Austin, Texas, writes: Nebraska having the best "Position Ranking Score" was a surprise (of course, the scores aren't weighted only in order). The other thing I find odd is the Huskers' lack of entries on the top players. If they actually do come out on top is this going to be the "no-name team"? Well, I guess that won't happen. As there is no way they win without Martinez and Burkhead having a really good season.

Brian Bennett: John brings up an interesting thought. One of the main reasons Nebraska scored so well in the position ranking summary is because the Cornhuskers don't seem to have many weak spots. They might not rank at the top of every position, but very few position groups look like sore points, either. This might very well be a team that succeeds with very few stars. Outside of Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead, Nebraska doesn't really have any household names. The defense lost big names like Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard and is a little bit of a no-name bunch, at least to start the season. It will be interesting to see if more Huskers players develop into stars this season, or if the team can succeed with more of a all-for-one approach.

Wayne from Minneapolis writes: Can you please clarify something for me? You have done the best/worst case scenarios for both Michigan and Michigan State. So far, you have predicted Michigan State to be the better team and the team that will win the division. You have also stated that Michigan's schedule is probably harder. Yet, when stating the best case scenario, Michigan wins the National Title while Michigan State wins only Rose Bowl? I think this is an example of the very reason why Michigan State's preseason ranking is lower than Michigan's. I believe that the power of school's brand (tradition) skews predictions and rankings falsely. Agree?

Brian Bennett: My reasoning has nothing to do with brand and everything to do with the schedule, Wayne. I simply don't see any Big Ten team going undefeated this season. And I don't believe that a league team that goes 12-1 will be able to get into the BCS title game unless it's Michigan with a win against Alabama. The Wolverines' victory against an SEC power would be hard to ignore if it came down to a debate about the best one-loss teams in America. While Michigan State also has a good schedule, beating Boise State at home wouldn't carry as much cache as beating Alabama at a neutral site.

Phil H. from Vancouver, Wash., writes: Hey Brian, good stuff as always. I just saw the Rivals 2013 top 100 HS players and to my surprise Wisconsin was not listed as anyone's college of choice. Oh wait, that is not a surprise. Will this ever change? I don't think the Badgers will ever make it to the National title game unless it does.

Brian Bennett: I'm not sure I totally understand Wisconsin fans' obsession with recruiting rankings. The Badgers have a proven method of evaluating and developing talent, and it's paid off with lots of success, including two straight Rose Bowls. The program was a couple of plays away from being in the national title game the past two years. That said, I do wonder why more top-flight talent, especially offensive linemen, wouldn't want to come to Madison. The team wins, the city and school are great, and players get to the NFL. I'm anxious to see if the Badgers' badly needed facility upgrades will have any effect on this.

Paul from Escanaba, Mich., writes: Your word to describe Michigan's defensive line depth was scary. Am I missing something, but what great depth did they have last year when everyone said their line was so good? Replacing Mike Martin is a huge question mark, but to me their defensive line is more athletic than a year ago and deeper with more young guys competing for spots.

Brian Bennett: There wasn't a ton of depth last season, but there were some players with experience in backup roles, like Will Campbell and Jibreel Black -- two projected starters this season. There's a whole lot of youth and inexperience in backup roles this season. And last season's team had an All-American type in Martin, plus solid seniors in Ryan Van Bergen and Will Heininger. Even the starters this season carry questions, such as whether Campbell can live up to his potential, whether Black is big enough to play inside and whether Craig Roh can handle the move to the strong side. Michigan did not have any major injuries on the defensive line last season until the Sugar Bowl. If it can get that kind of good health this year, the defensive line will be solid. If not, it might mean some very green players are trying to fill key roles.

Kyle from Denton, Texas, writes: My question deals with redshirts. Do you think the NCAA should change the redshirt rule to allow all student athletes to play in a set number of games (say 2-3) and if they haven't gone over that limit they can be redshirted? I ask this because a guy like Brion Carnes played in 3 games last season, in mop up duty, and that was it. Pretty much wasted his freshman year of eligibility and gained nothing from the year. Everyone knows that if a player doesn't redshirt his freshman year they probably aren't going to ever. The only way athletes get better is to take what they learn in practices, and apply it in games. Now that there are no JV games in college, players that are redshirted don't get this opportunity. By allowing them to play in a limited number of games this would allow these players to gain a little bit of experience without wasting a year of eligibility. It would also give the coaches a chance to see if the player can really contribute anything in a game situation.

Brian Bennett: I can't go along with your proposal, Kyle. The intention of the redshirt rule is not to give an extra year to a player who only appeared in a handful of games or plays and was not injured. That would open up a huge can of worms for all sorts of lightly used players and backups. A team could throw all of its freshmen in for the last two games and then redshirt them under your idea.

Bronko Nagurski's Ghost from Dinkytown writes: Brian, I am the greatest player in Big Ten history so my word carries weight. Two things:1) My Gophers are going to surprise people this year. The BTN guys are raving about JUCO guys and the Frosh that Kill has brought in. Also, remember, Kill's teams have taken a huge step forward in year two at all of his coaching stops. 2) Wisconsin will struggle this year. Bret Bielema has been unable to develop a QB, Danny O'Brien got benched last year, and the Defense and O-Line won't be as good as they were last year. Book it. Also, if anyone other than O'Brien has to play QB Wiscy is in BIG trouble.

Brian Bennett: I didn't really see a question in there, Bronko, but OK. I do like Minnesota to improve and possibly surprise people this season. But if you're relying on a bunch of freshmen and junior college players to step in right away and win in the Big Ten, that might not be the best plan. And I have to disagree about Wisconsin and O'Brien. His struggles were more about the change in system at Maryland, and I think he fits in much better with the Badgers' style of play. Are you really doubting Wisconsin's offensive line at this point?

Mike from Allentown, Pa., writes: Hey, Brian: In regards to Graham Spanier speaking out now, it's been widely regarded in Penn State circles that he was going to eventually be charged with perjury. It seems he's stayed quiet because he hasn't really had anything to go against, but now that the Freeh Report is out he can point out "inconsistencies" in it. Personally, even as a Penn State fan, I hope that if all of these guys were really as in on it as the Freeh Report suggests they should all rot in jail. So, I hope this maybe gives you a little better incite as to why he's speaking up now, and wasn't speaking up for the last 8-9 months.

Brian Bennett: I get that, Mike, and I can see why Spanier would exercise some caution. But it's also true that he was basically silent, other than a few statements and letters, for 10 months. If someone accused me of harboring a child rapist and I was innocent, I'm pretty sure I'd grab a microphone somewhere and scream at the top of my lungs about how unfair that was. But none of the Penn State leaders acted like you'd think most people would. In his New Yorker interview, Spanier couldn't seem to remember much at all. I think if I heard that my school's famed, aging defensive coordinator was seen naked in the shower with a young boy, that's something that would stick in my mind. Especially if I was told about a very similar incident a few years later. But maybe that's just me.

Jeff from Lansing, Mich., writes: I have been reading about positions that schools have to find replacements for this year and I am wondering why there has been no mention about Michigan state and there loss at the long snapper position. There 1st string player transferred this spring and the next in line as projected starter had a terrible accident that ended his football career (thankfully it sounds like he will be fine). I know it is not a popular position, but is it that easy to find a replacement for that position that we shouldn't worry? I would be surprised if a team regularly has 3 players deep in that role. I have seen plenty of games that went bad for a team after a poor snap or two.

Brian Bennett: Congrats, Jeff, you are the first person to ever ask about a long snapper in the mailbag. We must be getting close to the season. But in all seriousness, you're right in that it's a position that is often overlooked -- until there's a bad snap. It's not really a position we can properly analyze in the preseason, since nobody really talks about it or watches long snapping much in practice. I can tell you that the Spartans gave a scholarship in this year's class to Taybor Pepper, who had committed to walk on at Michigan. Pepper is only a freshman, but if a guy is good enough to get a scholarship for snapping, he must be pretty good at it.