Big Ten Thursday mailbag

It's mail time. Let's roll.

JL from Kuwait writes: You mentioned that you see it being difficult for Michigan to move up seven spots if it beats Iowa and OSU without there being chaos elsewhere. Of the teams ranked 15-to-20, each one plays a ranked team (and some of them play two) in the next 2-to-3 weeks. My question is: if Michigan could get into the top 14, would a BCS bowl truly consider them for an at-large bid? Where would they fit?

Brian Bennett: Let's break this down a bit more, since there is still an outside chance for both Michigan and Nebraska to grab an at-large spot if either does not win the Big Ten.

There are five BCS games, so 10 total slots. Six of them will go to the AQ conference champions, and Notre Dame is all but assured of a spot this year. That leaves three openings. We can all agree the No. 2 SEC team is getting one and the Big East has no chance at an at-large. So, basically, the Big Ten's competition is the Pac-12, ACC, Big 12 and, possibly, Louisiana Tech.

We've discussed at some length the Pac-12 situation. Stanford is No. 13, Oregon State is 16th, UCLA is 17th and USC is No. 18. Since so many of the top Pac-12 teams play each other the final two weeks, the league might see its No. 2 team fall out of the Top 14. But if any one of those teams finish in the Top 14, they're a lock for the Rose Bowl, which would mean another at-large berth is gone.

I think Oklahoma, at 7-2 and No. 12 right now, is in great shape for a bid if it keeps winning. And don't forget Texas, which is No. 15 but plays Kansas State in the season finale. A Longhorns upset there could punch their ticket to a second BCS spot for the Big 12, which many rank as the top conference this season.

Clemson, at 9-1 and ranked No. 11, is also in good shape, but the Tigers still have to play South Carolina. A loss to the Gamecocks could knock them down and, if not out of the Top 14, at least make it more palatable for a BCS bowl to take a three-loss Big Ten team ahead of a two-loss ACC non-champion.

Finally, there's Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs, currently ranked No. 20, have very little chance of finishing in the Top 12 for an automatic bid. However, they can also gain one by finishing in the Top 16 and ahead of an AQ champion. Louisiana Tech is just one spot behind Louisville right now, and the Cardinals still must play Rutgers. If Wisconsin were to win the Big Ten title game, they might finish behind the Bulldogs as well.

So that looks like the top competition. Michigan and Nebraska would be incredibly appealing options to BCS bowls because of their name recognition and large fan bases. (Remember, Michigan, at No. 13, was taken ahead of No. 8 Kansas State and No. 12 Baylor for the Sugar Bowl last season). But a whole lot will have to go right in the next two weeks for the Big Ten to snag an at-large bid.

Husker Devotee from Nebraska writes: Didn't the B1G say a couple years back they were going to set up the schedules and the divisions the way they are now and then reevaluate every so often on how the teams and divisions did and make changes to them to keep the divisions competitive with each other? If this is the case, what would some of the conditions be in order to make the changes, whether in division realignment or schedule modifications with the number of conference games, etc.?

Brian Bennett: I asked Jim Delany this summer if the Big Ten would consider realignment in the wake of the harsh Penn State sanctions. He said no, and a key part of his answer was this: "Our structure is set for decades and not years." So while anything is possible, and it does look like the Legends Division might be stronger in the coming years, the Big Ten doesn't seem to have any real interest in changing the divisional alignment in the near future.

ChrisGopher from Minneapolis writes: Couple bowl questions, Brian... First, why does the Heart of Dallas Bowl, which selects the 7th B1G team, play on Jan 1st? Isn't New Year's Day sacred for bowl games and shouldn't it be limited to the top teams? Secondly, why are 4 of the Big Ten's 5 New Years Day bowls on at the same time (11 am or noon kick-offs here)? Wouldn't the Big Ten want to spread these out so we can see more of our conference play?

Brian Bennett: Well, Chris, bowls can decide to play on any day they want and do so in conjunction with their TV partners. Jan. 1 lost its cachet some time ago with the glut of games, and I'm hoping it becomes more sacred with the future playoff structure. As for all the Big Ten games on New Year's Day, we've talked about this before. It makes it difficult for fans (and extremely difficult, ahem, for conference bloggers) to watch all the games. But the Big Ten likes the idea of "owning" the early part of New Year's Day, with its teams playing in multiple games.

Ray B. from Wahoo, Neb., writes: Nebraska hasn't beaten the same team twice in a season since 1891 (2-1 against Doane). Do you think Michigan vs Wisconsin would make for a better game? (especially if the Wolverines can beat the Buckeyes).

Brian Bennett: Ah, who can forget that classic series against Doane? Rematches are still very rare in college football, and I typically am not in favor of them. However, the Wisconsin-Michigan State rematch was pretty darn good last year, and we'll have to get used to this more in the future with the Big Ten championship game. A back-to-back rematch between Ohio State and Michigan, for instance, is a real possibility. As far as the matchup, I think both Nebraska-Wisconsin and Michigan-Wisconsin would be intriguing for different reasons. The first Huskers-Badgers game was entertaining, and Nebraska games are hardly ever boring. And the Wolverines and Badgers haven't played in a while. Either way, the Big Ten title game should benefit from some pretty good brand name appeal.

Dean G. from Chicago writes: How can you have Michigan State on Upset Alert when they are 2-4 in the Big Ten and Northwestern is 3-3 and have a better record overall? If anyone should be on Upset Alert, it's Northwestern.

Brian Bennett: Um, Michigan State is favored. So if Northwestern won, that would be the very definition of an upset.

Robert D. from Hazelton, Pa., writes: Re: your comment "We will never know what the replay officials were thinking" regarding the obvious PSU touchdown against Nebraska: How about "We don't have to reverse it since it was called a fumble, and this will get Nebraska, and possibly a second Big 10 team, to a BSC bowl. It's not worth the money to reverse it."

Brian Bennett: I suppose it's conceivable, but I really don't think a couple of replay officials up in the booth with a couple of minutes to decide a call are really thinking in those kind of big-picture terms. Did they study the BCS standings while they were watching the replay? Were they waiting all week for just such a scenario to present itself? In most cases, simple incompetency is a better explanation than a complex conspiracy.

John K. from Austin, Texas, writes: You said Buckeyes aren't ranked high due to their schedule. Not really seeing this. Alabama doesn't have a better non-con schedule (okay, Michigan is better, but OSU isn't playing W. Carolina). Push I would say, even their conference schedule is a bit weak (Mizzu and the Vols from the East). While it is probably a little tougher than OSU, they lost one of those. The real difference is Alabama plays like... well Alabama. They crush people. OSU plays like ND... they crush Nebraska but got to overtime with Purdue.

Brian Bennett: You make a good point on the style of victory. Ohio State has needed several great escapes to win close games this year. Alabama, until the LSU and Texas A&M games, was crushing people. I thought all along that the Crimson Tide's schedule was a little weak, but playing Michigan is infinitely better than anything on Ohio State's subpar nonconference schedule. And the Big Ten slate hasn't been anywhere near as tough as the SEC's. There's little doubt that the perceived weakness of the Big Ten and the lack of a marquee out-of-conference win has hurt Ohio State in the eyes of pollsters

Jake from Crete, Neb., writes: Why is there not more talk of Kirk Ferentz getting fired?! I understand that Iowa is a program that is probably not going to win 10 games a year, but is 8 or 9 too much to ask? After winning a BCS bowl they have continually regressed and now it's gotten to the point of unbearable. Once my beloved Hawks most likely drop their last two to Mich and Neb that will be 6 losses in a row to end a 4-8 season. I don't understand how this can possibly be acceptable for a coach making 3.8 million dollars, 3 years removed from an Orange Bowl victory. Fire Kirk now!!

Brian Bennett: Well, first of all, Ferentz has built up some goodwill by what he's accomplished in that program, so Iowa isn't getting trigger happy. But the bigger issue, naturally, is money. According to his contract, Ferentz is scheduled to be paid $3.675 million annually through January 2020, before bonuses and incentives. The contract states that if Iowa were to fire him without cause (i.e., without a major scandal or other breach of contract), it would owe Ferentz 75 percent of his remaining salary, plus promised supplemental longevity bonuses, for the remainder of the deal. So let's just say, for the purposes of easier math, that Ferentz is owed $4 million in salary and bonuses for each of the next seven years. That's $28 million. That would mean Iowa would have to pay him $21 million to walk away at the end of this year.

How much money you got, Jake?

Mochila from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Kevin Wilson and Jerry Kill noticeably improved their respective teams in their second seasons. Will Tim Beckman have similar success in his second season at Illinois? At Toledo he improved by three games from year one to year two.

Brian Bennett: That's a good question, and typically you see teams take a jump in the second year under a new coach (a scary proposition for Ohio State's opponents). At least Minnesota and Indiana showed some improvement toward the end of last season, while Illinois has been pretty dreadful throughout. I think there's a real possibility you will see some staff shakeup at Illinois, so Beckman might have to start from scratch at some positions. Recruiting is also a huge key, because this team lacks depth and skill players. I do expect improvement next season, because Illinois could hardly get worse. But I doubt it will be as dramatic as what Minnesota or Indiana accomplished in Year 2.

Steve from Miami, Fla., writes: Brian: I flew from the U.S. to China today, and the entire season one of "New Girl" was available on the plane. I watched 15 consecutive episodes of Zooey Deschanel. Life is good. The Michigan loss was a big disappointment for Northwestern fans, and by my nature as such a fan, I'm worried we'll now lose a game we should win at Michigan State. That said, I was impressed that Northwestern hung 31 points on what looked like a pretty darn good Michigan defense. Michigan State's defense is pretty good too (best in the Big Ten, right?). Can we expect the Northwestern offense to impress again, or are the match ups tougher with State than they were with Michigan?

Brian Bennett: The matchups are a little tougher against the Spartans, I believe. Michigan has some known weaknesses at the edge of its defense, while Michigan State does not. The Northwestern option attack has been very effective, but it will be harder to execute that against the quickness and ability of the Spartans' linebackers, and Michigan State's cornerbacks and safeties are also very good in run support. Kain Colter will likely have to make some throws downfield, because it's awfully tough to be one-dimensional against Michigan State. Ask Wisconsin. That said, Northwestern has shown the ability to score on just about anybody. The key for the Wildcats, I think, is if they can slow down Le'Veon Bell. Their run defense has been much better this season, and if they can make Bell really work for his yards, Michigan State will have a hard time scoring (again).

Also, I once watched Zooey for seven straight hours as well. I didn't end up in China, but with a restraining order.