Big Ten Thursday mailbag

Our first game featuring a Big Ten team is four weeks from today (and sorry, Minnesota fans, for forgetting this week that the UNLV game was moved to Thursday night). More importantly, today brings the first fall practice for a Big Ten team (Indiana), and everyone will be on the field by Monday.

August is a time for optimism -- and a lot of repetitive storylines. Here are five story angles/quotes that I guarantee you will not read this month:

"Our summer workouts weren't very good. Hardly anyone participated. It was the worst summer since I've been here."

"The new strength coach is average at best. He didn't really push us very hard. We're in poor shape right now."

"Player X had a disappointing season/got hurt/got arrested/forgot how to play football last year, but he says that 2012 will be either the same or worse."

"Player Y is replacing star Player Z this season. His teammates and coaches have little confidence that he can get the job done."

"Team A is getting a lot of preseason hype. But instead of blocking it out and focusing on the little things, team members are openly celebrating and feeling extremely cocky."

Enough silliness. Let's get to your e-mails:

Brett from Conshohocken, Pa., writes: Question for you regarding the transfers out of PSU. Do those transfers count against the 40 reduced scholarships, or is it only 40 brand new scholarships that count against that total? Since six scholarship athletes have left, do we now have 34 reduced scholarships left, or because some of those scholarships were partially used, do they not count against the total? What about Jamil Pollard? He didn't play a down at PSU, so does his scholarship count as a reduced one?

Brian Bennett: Brett, I understand the scholarship reductions can be confusing. The players who have transferred this summer have little bearing on the sanctions. Penn State can only offer 15 scholarships in each of the 2013, '14, '15 and '16 classes, and it will have to play with 65 total scholarship players from 2014-17. So none of the current transfers make much of a difference, though I guess you could say losing Pollard means one less player toward the 65 total in 2014.

Ryan from Chicago writes: Brian, the normal transfer rules have supposedly been lifted for PSU players due to the sanctions laid down by the NCAA, however the players that have decided to leave have done so for reasons not directly related to a loss of a bowl/scholarships. Aside from Silas Redd aiming for a National Championship, these players are leaving in order to get more playing time at another school, to be closer to home, or to get into a program they couldn't get into during their normal recruitment. Is this really what the NCAA wants to happen?

Brian Bennett: I'm not sure I'd agree with your assessment there, Ryan. Khairi Fortt went to Cal; he's from Connecticut and was listed as a co-starter at linebacker for Penn State. Anthony Fera was the Nittany Lions' punter and kicker and opted to go to Texas. Pollard's high school said the sanctions were the reason he decided to go to Rutgers. So clearly, some of these players have left because of the bowl ban/scholarship sanctions, though other transfers like Rob Bolden and Tim Buckley had little to do with it.

FFX Lion from Washington, DC writes: I was thinking about the Penn State sanctions, and I think there is something about the math surrounding the scholarship reductions that doesn't quite add up. Beginning next year, 2013, and each year since, till 2016, no more than 15 scholarships per year can be awarded. Beginning in 2014, and through 2017, there is an overall limit of 65. However, if you do the math, and add 15 awarded in '13, 15 in '14, 15 in '15, and 15 in '16, that adds to 60. So, by my calculation, they are really subject to a 60 scholarship limitation for 2016 only. This wouldn't be the case in 2015, because that would include 2012 scholarships which can be more than 15. Am I mistaken, or did the NCAA fail to check their math properly?

Brian Bennett: You forgot to include any possible redshirts. While the school can only take 15 players in each of those four years, there could be some leftover players because of voluntary or injury-related redshirts. A freshman this season who redshirts would be a fifth-year senior in 2016. Though that does bring up an interesting question of whether Bill O'Brien can afford to redshirt any players when the 65-scholarship limit sets in -- or even now, given the personnel losses. (P.S. I give your question a C-minus -- little lunch link message humor for you there).

James McKenzie from Bloomington, Ind., writes: So, you've covered that the NCAA only vacates wins to the offending team, but that does not 'give' the opponent the win. How does this effect the opponents loss column? Does the losing team get to erase the 'loss'?

Brian Bennett: Nope, it has no effect at all on the other team. Sorry, hopeful Hoosiers fans. By the way, remember that 2010 game between Ohio State and Penn State, which the Buckeyes won 38-14? No, you don't. The NCAA says it never happened and neither team won. A Buckeyes fan waking up and remembering that game is, I believe, the plot to the new "Total Recall" remake.

Mike from Wixom, Mich., writes: You guys listed MarQueis Gray as a better player than Taylor Martinez, yet only a few weeks ago had Martinez listed as the better QB in your position rankings. Do you guys even pay attention to what you are writing or do you just draw names from a hat?

Brian Bennett: I would insist it be a St. Louis Cardinals hat if Adam and I did that. Wouldn't put my hand near a Cubs hat. Anyway, it's a good question, Mike, but careful, reading explains the discrepancy. As we mentioned in each of those posts, our position rankings were based most heavily on last year's production, while our preseason Top 25 weighs potential for this season a lot more. That's why Gray jumped Martinez, because we feel Gray -- though he had a slightly worse overall 2011 than Martinez -- has enormous potential because of his physical gifts. On the other hand, Martinez does have more experience and better weapons around him. It's a close call.

Max W. from Andover, Minn., writes: Your article on big ten players on the Hornung watch list, at the end of it you suggested that a Purdue player may make the list before the year is up. I'm only writing to ask if you think the Gopher's Troy Stoudermire could make that list also since he gets to come back for another year?

Brian Bennett: Good point on Stoudermire, who probably slipped out of voters' minds because he was injured last season. When healthy, he's an excellent cornerback and is the Big Ten's career leader in kick return yards. It will be interesting to see if the Gophers try to protect him a little bit this season by not using him as much on returns.

Charles from Phoenix writes: My condolences for adding 10 strokes to your handicap, I mean, congrats on the marriage! How balanced do you think UW will be on offense this season? I don't think it gets much better than 234 passing and 235 rushing per game in 2011 but can they still have enough balance to keep defenses honest? I'm hoping for around 180-200 passing and 200+ on the ground each game, does that seem far fetched to you?

Brian Bennett: Thanks, Charles. There isn't much that could make my golf game worse. As far as the balance, I think the Badgers will still be able to have good splits, but not as remarkably even as last season. People quickly forget just how great Russell Wilson was last season, and it won't be easy to replace him. Plus, I think Wisconsin will feel the loss of Nick Toon more than a lot of people expect. The Badgers might lean on that running game a bit more this season. But the running game is so good that it will open up easy passing lanes for Danny O'Brien, and with Jared Abbrederis and some excellent tight ends, Wisconsin should easily be able to generate 180-200 passing yards per game.

John Koenig from Austin, Texas writes: Looking at your schedule analysis, I find it interesting that Michigan/Michigan State both have to play Nebraska as their next game. State has a bye. Michigan could have a problem there, a week after State and on the road.

Brian Bennett: Not sure what schedule you're looking at, John. Michigan hosts Michigan State on Oct. 20, then plays Nebraska on the road the following week. The Spartans go to Wisconsin the week after the Michigan game, and then have Nebraska at home. But those three Legends Division games have a chance to be epic. There's little doubt in my mind that Michigan State was emotionally and physically spent from a brutal schedule stretch when it lost in Lincoln last year. Take nothing away from the Huskers, who played a terrific game that day, but the Spartans were very flat and oddly listless offensively in the loss. Same could happen for the Wolverines, who are going to be sky high for Michigan State's visit to the Big House the previous week. Of the three, I'd rather have Nebraska's schedule.

Mochila from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Brian, did you know that it's theoretically possible that a 3-10 B1G team advances to the Rose Bowl? In the scenario, the four eligible Leaders teams lose their nonconference, cross-divisional, and Ohio State/Penn State games. The remaining 3 games between the four teams could be split 2-1, 2-1, 1-2, and 1-2, with one of the 2-1 teams advancing with a head-to-head tie breaker and a 2-10 record. Then suspend your disbelief one more moment and imagine that team (we'll say Indiana for hilarity's sake) beating the Legends Division team. Would the Rose Bowl be forced to take that 3-10 Indiana team? Would it be the worst thing to ever happen to the B1G, or the most hilarious in hindsight?

Brian Bennett: I love it. You don't even have to go that hilarious extreme to imagine a 5-7 team winning the division and then upsetting the Legends champ for the Rose Bowl bid. As far as I know, there would be nothing stopping the Leaders team from going to the Rose Bowl, though the team might need a special waiver a la last year's 6-7 UCLA team to play in the postseason. It would be a tremendous black eye for the Big Ten, and the subject of endless scorn by the rest of the country. And imagine if you're a 10-2, second-place Legends team watching that happen. Or imagine the look on Jim Delany's face handing out that trophy. That's why Pat Fitzgerald's idea of a selection committee picking the second Big Ten title game participant this year wasn't outlandish. He could turn out to look like a genius on that one.