Big Ten Thursday mailbag

Replying to your electronic correspondence every Thursday:

Corey from Lansing, Mich., writes: "In this state you're either green or blue." -- Mark Dantonio. Losing the UofM game every year would crush me on a personal level, and the rest of this state feels the same. I have faith that the Big Ten would not allow things like this to happen. Sometimes it seems fans of other teams in the league do not quite understand how much more important this game is to fans of MSU. Even speaking of this as a possibility feels like standing on the edge of a cliff. MSU's identity is directly related to beating UofM, fans on both sides don't like it but honestly without that game we have no identity.

Brian Bennett: Corey, I can understand your concern, but I really don't think the Michigan-Michigan State game is going anywhere. If the two schools don't end up in the same division, I'm confident that series will remain a protected crossover games. That game is too important. If the Big Ten can't even protect in-state rivalries, what's the point of expansion?

Chris from Toledo, Ohio, writes: I know we've had enough debate of how the divisions should be separated. But I've thought of another reason why Ohio State-Michigan should be in the same division. Obviously, there is a possibility of back-to-back games if they both win their divisions. But, with the new playoff format, there is potential (very low probability, but still possible) that The Game could be played 3 times in a season!!! Both teams could go into the 4-team playoff with 1 loss each (after playing for Big Ten championship), and possibly play a third time. In my opinion, this would be terrible for the rivalry. Thoughts??

Brian Bennett: I find it highly unlikely that two one-loss Big Ten teams will ever get into the four-team playoff. Just won't happen unless there are crazy circumstances. But keeping the Buckeyes and Wolverines in the same division does have some playoff ramifications. Let's say Michigan and Ohio State are in opposite divisions, are both undefeated heading into The Game and are ranked in the top four. And let's say Michigan wins in a close game. Then if Ohio State won the rematch, you'd have two one-loss teams and one that just lost in the final week, which would leave a negative stain on its résumé with the committee. If Michigan won, Ohio State would have two losses and would be virtually eliminated. But if they were in the same division, you'd still have the possibility of Michigan finishing undefeated and Ohio State having just one loss. That would give the league a much better chance of getting two teams in.

Josue from Buenos Aires, Argentina, writes: How could you leave out Wisconsin-Nebraska as one of the main rivalries to be protected? I understand that there´s almost no history there, but as a Badgers fan, Nebraska is almost at the top of the list of teams I would like to play every year. Just look at the past 3 games: great fan bases, great atmospheres, great teams. I´m already disappointed they won't be playing this year (unless we have a B1G Championship rematch). I would hate to have the game relegated to a once-every 3 years occurrence!

Brian Bennett: You said it yourself: there's almost no history between the two teams. Two of the three games played in the past two years have been blowouts. So while I think Wisconsin and Nebraska probably ought to play every year, there's no real rivalry there yet. But I believe it will be a moot point, since it's highly likely the Badgers and Huskers end up in the same division.

Nick from Columbus writes: Any thought to doing semi-protected crossovers to protect the lesser rivalries? I know the Illibuck, Little Brown Jug, Cannon Trophy and others aren't huge regionally, but there's a history there for teams and fans that shouldn't entirely disappear. I would consider scheduling a home-and-home every two years (alternating with a second semi-protected) to keep those traditions somewhat alive. That gives players at least one chance in their college careers to play for the trophy and students and fans one to see it in their home stadiums.

Brian Bennett: The problem with such a scenario is, once you start getting into an idea like "semi-protected crossovers" -- which really sounds just like a second protected crossover game every few years -- you really hamstring yourself in scheduling. Having fewer protected crossover games means more variety and the likelihood of seeing just about every team in the league over a four-year period. While it would be great to keep every historic rivalry, fans need to brace themselves for the inevitable loss of some these series, at least on an annual basis. There's simply no way to preserve them all in a 14-team league. Blame expansion for that.

Scott R. from Chadron, Neb., writes: Brian, what would you say are the chances on either Taylor Martinez or Ameer Abdullah being serious Heisman contenders next year? It seems like Martinez has been considered a serious contender all 3 years now, right up until game 6 or so when Nebraska randomly gets blown out. Statistically he was fairly similar to Braxton Miller, who was a serious contender last year. If we don't randomly get blown out, what are his chances? I have to like Abdullah's chances, 1,137 yards last year (and 178 receiving), and this year he doesn't have Burkhead and Heard to compete with for yards. Feel like this year could be a significant breakthrough for him. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: It really all comes down to team success and turnovers. If Martinez can put up great numbers and lead Nebraska to an undefeated season, he'll have a chance. But he can't have 12 interceptions again, or keep fumbling the ball. The issue for Big Ten quarterbacks, as I wrote about in this piece, is that their numbers are getting dwarfed by some of the spread offenses. Martinez led the Big Ten in total offense with 3,890 yards last season. By comparison, Heisman winner Johnny Manziel had more than 5,100 yards, while 2011 Heisman winner Robert Griffin III piled up nearly 5,000. But every year is different, and Nebraska's offense should be capable of scoring points by the boatload. Abdullah has a chance to build on his breakout sophomore year and get into the conversation. The problem is that the two could be competing for attention in the same backfield, which is something that I think hurt both Russell Wilson and Montee Ball two years ago.

Tommy from Duluth, Minn., writes: Hey, love the blog! Quick question -- why did you rank the Gophers' linebackers ninth? They were god-awful this year! While they were great in pass coverage, there could not have been many FBS schools with worse tacklers than our linebackers and safeties. Just watch the Michigan State, Iowa, or just about any Big Ten conference game we played. Also, how big of an impact do you think JUCO LBs De'Vondre Campbell (offers from Kansas State and Texas) and Damien Wilson (JUCO Defensive Player of the Year) will make? Hopefully, they will make our linebackers a strong point next year, similar to how JUCOs made out (previously awful) defensive backs a strong point last year.

Brian Bennett: Tommy, the easy answer to your first question is this: Did you see the teams ranked below Minnesota in those rankings? 'Nuff said. As to your question about the junior college guys, I think both will have a chance to make an immediate impact. With starters Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper gone and Brendan Beal's injury problems, there is plenty of opportunity for playing time at linebacker. Jerry Kill was very happy to land Campbell on signing day and is also very excited about Wilson. Juco guys can be hit or miss, but both guys have great size and athleticism.

Brett from Conshohocken, Pa., writes: In response to Matt's question in Tuesday's mailblog regarding the Miami investigations effect on Governor Corbett's lawsuit, Adam said:"But the NCAA used the Penn State-commissioned Freeh Report as the investigation for the Penn State case. Penn State signed a consent decree to the penalties Emmert imposed."While I certainly understand this logic, doesn't the Miami investigation also bring into question the methods the NCAA used to obtain said consent decree? It is strongly believed both inside and outside the Penn State community that the NCAA "strong-armed" PSU into signing the decree, leaving President Erickson no option (it's either this or the death penalty). If the organization was dirty enough to pay off both Nevin Shapiro and his attorney to obtain information, what does that say about their methodology regarding the consent decree and sanctions against Penn State? I think it raises enough questions that the judge will likely deem that this suit should proceed, what do you think?

Brian Bennett: Using strong-arm tactics and obtaining information illegally and unethically are two very different things. I still don't see much of a connection to the Miami scandal, where the NCAA completely botched its investigation, and Penn State, where Mark Emmert used the Freeh Report as the sole basis for his investigation. Finding remedies for NCAA punishment in the court system has hardly ever worked. Now, if Penn State fans want some reason for optimism out of this mess, it's this: Emmert is taking a (deserved) public beating right now, and it's conceivable he could wind up losing his job over this mess. A new NCAA president might be more apt to take a second look at the sanctions against the Nittany Lions than the man who issued them in the first place.