Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

Mail time ...

Jeff from Midland, Mich., writes: I don't understand how you can agree that the pass interference penalties against Michigan State were awful, but say by scoring only 13 points "you don't deserve to win." The two worst PI penalties led to 10 points for ND. Should a team not be allowed to win a game 13-7? No matter how bad State's offense is, a team "deserves" to win on the combined effort of their defense and offense. Which they would have done, if not for the referees!

Brian Bennett: Jeff, they are two separate points. If I had told you before the game that Michigan State would only score 13 points in South Bend, would you have thought the Spartans would win with that number? The MSU defense is outstanding, but for the most part, offenses are so good these days that expecting to beat good opponents with only 13 points is nearly impossible. Even the best defenses are prone to give up a couple of big plays. Heck, Western Michigan scored 13 on the Spartans! It's the same story as last year, when Mark Dantonio's team played great defense but couldn't win key games. Sure, Michigan State has been on the receiving end of some bad calls of late, but if you think that's the biggest issue about this program, you're missing something.

JonB from Houston writes: Brian, coming into this season I thought, "Michigan is going to be good this year, but we're still a year off from being GREAT." Two weeks into the season I thought, "We're a year ahead of schedule and will easily make it to the Big Ten Championship game against Ohio." Now, I feel like it's a real possibility we could miss a bowl game. They can't be that bad, can they? These were just two fluky games, right? Never has it felt so bad to be 4-0. Talk me off the ledge here.

Brian Bennett: Jon, I think a lot of people shared your sentiment coming into this year, but the way Michigan played those first two games changed a lot of minds. The last two games caused another 180. The Notre Dame victory looks less impressive in hindsight because the Irish haven't played that great and are largely one-dimensional on offense. I do not think the Wolverines are nearly as bad as they have played against Akron and UConn, but there are real problems with Devin Gardner's turnovers and the offensive line, among others. I do think, however, that the bye week comes at a good time for Michigan. I remember two years ago, when the Wolverines steadily improved throughout the season until they wound up as Sugar Bowl champs. This coaching staff has shown that it can make adjustments, and there are some young players who should get better. Michigan is not going to miss a bowl game, and the schedule remains mostly favorable. I just don't know if this team can fix enough of its issues to win a very crowded Legends Division.

Andrew from Findlay, Ohio, writes: With Ohio State's poor nonconference schedule, I see that that OSU has to run the table and hope Oregon and Clemson lose. My question is can the conference schedule be enough to boost OSU over a one-loss Oregon or one-loss Clemson and one-loss SEC team if they run the table again?

Brian Bennett: It's going to be awfully tough to exclude an undefeated power conference team from the championship game if there are not more than two such teams. Ohio State's biggest problem could come if, say, Oregon or Stanford winds up undefeated and the SEC champ has one loss. Let's say Alabama loses a close game to LSU but goes on to win the SEC at 12-1. The respect people have for the Tide means they probably wouldn't drop far in the polls with a loss, and if Alabama came back and beat a highly-ranked team from the East -- say, Georgia -- in Atlanta, there would be a lot of public outcry for Nick Saban's team to have a chance to three-peat. Certainly Ohio State's nonconference schedule would then come under heavy scrutiny -- not that Alabama's is far better with the way Virginia Tech is playing, but the Tide and the SEC have earned more cachet than the Buckeyes and the Big Ten.

Greg from South Bend, Ind., writes: Before the season began, I thought Indiana had a pretty legit shot at six or seven wins and a bowl game. Four weeks in and now I'm not sure that they can match last season's four wins, and next season the schedule is more difficult. Why should Hoosiers fans believe that we'll see a bowl game anytime soon? Also, with as much money as they are putting into football, how patient should Fred Glass be with this staff?

Brian Bennett: Let's address the last part first. Kevin Wilson has shown that he can put together a dynamite offense, and this staff has recruited as well as any group that has come through Bloomington. So there's every reason to have patience with these coaches. That said, the defense has been a major problem for going on three years now. Yes, there are still some young players on that side of the ball and incoming talent should help. But at some point that just simply has to get better for the Hoosiers to truly compete for bowls and in the Big Ten. You say the schedule gets harder next year, but I'm not sure that's true, especially from the nonconference angle. Indiana goes to Missouri and Bowling Green but gets Indiana State at home and trades Navy for North Texas.

I'm a huge proponent for challenging nonconference schedules, but the Hoosiers' situation is such that they should probably take Minnesota's approach and schedule four very winnable nonleague games. Getting to a bowl really seemed to speed the Gophers' progress, and IU needs the same thing. Scheduling Navy for this year looks now like a big mistake.

The good news is Wilson's team still doesn't have a lot of seniors, so he should have a very veteran group next year. That's not to write off this season, because the Hoosiers could be favored against Illinois and Purdue at home and could pull off a couple of surprises. But the 2-2 nonconference record sure put them in a tough spot.

Patrick from Ypsilanti, Mich., writes: Brian, which is better for the Big Ten: (1) Ohio State beats Wisconsin, wins the rest of its games but loses in a very close game to Oregon/Alabama in the BCS title game; or (2) Wisconsin beats Ohio State, both win the rest of their games, Wisconsin beats Stanford in a Rose Bowl rematch, and Ohio State beats LSU in the Sugar Bowl?

Brian Bennett: The two BCS wins over strong opponents would be very nice. But I think getting to the BCS title game and being extremely competitive would work out better for league perception. That would show people that at least the Big Ten's best is not that far off from winning a national title; it's been a while since we could say that. Either scenario, though, would provide a big boost. Going into the four-team playoff next year, the league needs to prove it can go toe-to-toe with the elite teams from other power conferences.

Tony from Iowa City writes: In Monday's chat, you asked for suggestions on when was the last time the Iowa-Minnesota rivalry was this relevant. I would venture to say that the 2003 game would probably be your best bet. Both teams went 10-3, both won their bowl games, and both finished the season ranked in the top 25. Now that win went the way of the Hawkeyes, but I would bet if it had gone the other way, Minnesota would've gone to the Rose Bowl. Just a general observation.

Brian Bennett: Good call, Tony. Minnesota entered that game 9-2 and ranked No. 19, while Iowa was 7-3 and ranked No. 20. As an indication of how much times have changed in just 10 years, the Gophers beat Oregon in a bowl that year and the Hawkeyes defeated Florida. Not sure these two teams are quite as good as they were in 2003, but I'm still greatly looking forward to the Floyd game this weekend and think the winner will be in pretty good shape moving forward.

Lone Wolf McCaw from Syberia, USSR, writes: Brian, I have two concerns going forward with college football. Next season we will have the four-team playoff, with the four teams being selected by a panel, but why? Why not just select the four teams based on a points system? I get that this is how the computer rankings work, but let's make it transparent. You greatly reward teams for playing and winning nonconference games against AQ schools and punish teams by playing FBS teams, and if you lose, you get destroyed. At the end of the season you could add up the total amount of wins from the teams you beat and give those points to the team. So what say you, hope that the selection panel gets it right and no one fights about the team that gets left out? Or have a points system fans can follow and have complete transparency with?

Brian Bennett: A points system? You mean like the great BCS system we have now? The one that has computer rating systems with no accountability and has in the past used computer formulas that failed to enter all the scores? Or like a points system that put 2001 Nebraska in the title game despite the Huskers not making the Big 12 championship game? No thanks. Give me some rational human beings who can make informed choices based on some agreed-upon principles like strength of schedule and conference championships. I'll live with some arguments about who should be No. 4.