B1G mailbag: Illini coordinators, Badgers' schedule, expansion talk

Mailbag emptied. Thanks for the questions.

Mitch Sherman: To answer your first question, that guy might not reside in the program yet. Garrick McGee is a proven mentor to all types of quarterbacks, from Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson at Arkansas to Kyle Bolin and Lamar Jackson, a budding star and sleeper Heisman candidate in 2016. Wes Lunt, the incumbent starter at Illinois, resembles Bolin, and Lunt is well positioned as a senior to adapt to McGee's system. But his impact, with one year in this system, might pale in comparison to the next Illini quarterback. Perhaps that guy comes from the group of backups. Maybe it's freshman Eli Peters. Maybe that guy has yet to pick Illinois. McGee says he wants to run first and think play-action pass as as the next option. Such a scheme ought to benefit running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn. Defensively, Hardy Nickerson's plans are not as clear, because he's never worked as a coordinator. His linebackers figure to receive excellent coaching, so look for Tre Watson to make a jump as a sophomore. The coach's son, Hardy Nickerson Jr., a graduate transfer from Cal, is a candidate to make an immediate impact. And defensive ends Carroll Phillips and Dawuane Smoot might showcase their athleticism better under Nickerson.

Mitch Sherman: Yes, everyone talks about Wisconsin's schedule. And for good reason. You've seen it. It's brutal. I don't think you can make too much of the difficulty the Badgers face in opening Big Ten play with Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State -- the three best teams in the East Division and perhaps the league overall, followed by Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern -- the three best teams in the West, other than Wisconsin itself. That's not to mention the season opener against LSU fresh off a quarterback competition. And of those seven tough games before the second week of November, just two are scheduled for Camp Randall Stadium. Running back Corey Clement is headed for a successful return, though his problems in 2015 were, in part, self-inflicted. And even if Dan Voltz makes it back to full health, the offensive line appears good, but not great, with Voltz and Michael Deiter as legitimate all-conference candidates. The defense is good, sure, especially at linebacker, but can it stand it up to that schedule? I don't believe any team in the Big Ten could make it through Wisconsin's schedule with championship aspirations intact. I'm not writing off the Badgers, but I doubt their ability to contend in the West.

Mitch Sherman: The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. What's wrong with the current divisional structure? It's much better than what we had with the previous, 12-team split. Sure, the East is too powerful, but I'd prefer not to split Michigan from Ohio State or Michigan State. Geographically, it works. Call me boring, but I say leave it alone -- until the next chapter of expansion, which brings us to the next question ...

Mitch Sherman: Barring a Notre Dame divorce from the ACC, yes. Iowa State makes sense geographically and from an institutional point of view, but the Cyclones take a back seat to Kansas and Oklahoma in prestige and power. With Kansas, of course, it's all about basketball, and that's a big deal to the Big Ten. The Jayhawks have a long football history with Nebraska, but Kansas has won just two of the past 42 meetings. I can't envision an Oklahoma split from Texas or Oklahoma State, but it's a scenario with which I might have to get comfortable in the not-so-distant future of college sports. If the Sooners are forced to separate from their Big 12 rivals, a renewal of the rivalry with the Cornhuskers would help soothe the pain. And the addition of the Big 12 duo would, no doubt, strengthen the Big Ten's position in the marketplace.

Mitch Sherman: Too early to say. Remember, five starters return in the West Division, including seniors C.J. Beathard at Iowa, Tommy Armstrong Jr. at Nebraska, Mitch Leidner at Minnesota and Lunt at Illinois. That's not a bad group, and Northwestern's Clayton Thorson might have the most exciting future of the group. Outside of J.T. Barrett at Ohio State, the East quarterbacks are inexperienced, but if Tyler O'Connor at Michigan State and the next starter at Michigan play well, it won't be a down year for the league. Really, in the playoff era, success is defined by success at the end of the season. The Big Ten is always a good bet to get a team to the playoff, when a strong defense and running game arguably trumps the importance of quarterback play.