Big Ten Monday mailbag

Monday mail musings ...

John K. from Austin, Texas, writes: For straight balance, I think Michigan State should move out west. With Ohio State and Michigan the East already would have a lot of power at the time. The West probably needs to make up for that with more options such as Michigan State. However, I have to say, I'm not certain I like the idea in regards to Michigan. Sure, a protected cross-over. But that simply isn't the same as being in the same conference (calling those divisions now). I hate all of this destruction of tradition (where it is good tradition at least). Do you think moving to a different division will subtract from that rivalry?

Brian Bennett: John, I'm in agreement that Michigan State should be the team that moves west (and I wrote so here). I just think an eastern division with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State is too top-heavy and means that the other division will have to have teams like Northwestern, Iowa, Minnesota, et al, compete at a high level to maintain proper balance. But as far as your question goes, I don't think a protected crossover rivalry with Michigan and Michigan State would do anything to hurt that rivalry. Sure, it would rob some of the fun for both fan bases to keep an eye on each other in regards to the division race. But Michigan-Ohio State certainly hasn't been damaged the past two years as a cross-division game. It would also increase the possibility of a rematch in Indianapolis; it would be interesting to see who the Spartans were rooting for in the Ohio State-Michigan game on the final weekend if it determined their opponent in the Big Ten title game.

David from Nashville, Tenn., writes: I've come to the conclusion that the Big Ten needs to get rid of protected cross-overs. My problem with the protected cross-over is one of parity. Since each team is competing against their divisional opponents, having a protected rivalry adds uneven schedule difficulty that is not left up to the randomness, and eventual evenness, that a rotating schedule would. I imagine some team would be very unhappy if they had to play Ohio State every year, while a divisional rival has to play them once every 6 years or something. If a rivalry is that important, put those teams in the same division, so their schedules are more equivalent.

Brian Bennett: You're right in that protected crossovers have the potential to hurt schedule balance. If, say, Michigan State had Michigan as a crossover every year, then you could surely argue the Spartans would be at a disadvantage. Here's the thing, though: In a 14- (or even 12-) team league where not everybody plays one another on an annual basis, the schedules are never going to be even. Somebody is always going to have a harder crossover schedule, play more tough road games, etc. And it's impossible to protect every rivalry through division alignment. Believe me. We have tried. But schedule imbalance isn't the worst thing in the world, either. The NFL does it every year, and hardly anyone complains. I'd rather live with a little less balance if it means protecting cherished rivalries.

Carl from Washington, D.C., writes: After reading the article by Jeremy Fowler on a possible SEC, Big 12, ACC, Big Ten power bowl alliance, I'm wondering if the Big Ten is considering creating its own bowl game in B1G country to add to the mix of the bowls mentioned in the article. Obviously, Indianapolis would be most convenient as a bowl location for most Big Ten schools but I'm not sure about the attractiveness of the destination -- though a December 27 or 28 bowl might draw interest (as previously mentioned about the Big Ten wanting to spread out away from the January 1 date). But with the addition of Maryland, Washington, DC could be in the mix too. And you have already discussed the possibility of a partnership with the Pinstripe Bowl in NYC. Your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: We haven't heard anything about a "Midwest Bowl." Obviously, that would provide an advantage for Big Ten schools, but as you mentioned, people aren't exactly thrilled to flock to the Midwest during the winter. There is already a bowl in Big Ten country: the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. And fans don't get real excited to go there in late December. Plus, you'd have to have a city willing to host it. Indianapolis would be a natural fit, as you mentioned, but that city already puts on a lot of events. I think it's more likely you'll see the Big Ten in New York City and possibly D.C., as well as spreading out the lineup to California and other locations.

Fohgetboutit from Rochester Hills writes: I've read the blog for a long time but it's been a while since I've asked a question. Anyways, what position do you think Michigan needs to improve on the most to become the best possible team next year? The way I see it is that the quarterback position will be fine in an already proven Devin Gardner. Either Derrick Green, Fitz Toussaint, or a combination will step up and fill the running back position that seemed lost last year. And on the O-line Michigan returns a few starters and needs to fill a few holes. The way I see it is that of the seven incoming o-line freshman a couple of them have to step-up, and we have previous depth in Kyle Kalis, so I'm not worried as others are about the o-line. The one spot that needs the most improvement, in my opinion, is wide receiver. Gallon is our only returning starter that is both proven and consistent, I think UofM will really need some help and for some youngins to step-up. Thanks.

Brian Bennett: Michigan needs to find some more options at receiver this spring, especially with Roy Roundtree gone. But remember, those wideouts played exponentially better once Gardner took over the reins and gave the team a true downfield passing game. Gallon is a big-time playmaker despite his size, and sophomore tight end Devin Funchess could become even more of a weapon. The Wolverines need more go-to guys, but Brady Hoke singled out Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh during bowl practices as two guys who could make an impact in 2013. I'm more worried about the interior offensive line than you are. Yes, Michigan has recruited some talent there, but those players are wildly inexperienced. The lack of a running game last year can be blamed in large part on the failure to get a good push up the middle. The Wolverines need to be able to churn out the tough yards to win a division title or more, and the progression of those inside spots on the line is what I'll be looking for the most this spring.

Hayden B. from Lavista, Neb., writes: Hey, Brian, I have been keeping up on a lot of mock drafts and player ratings by various websites. My question to you is, How is Rex Burkhead not higher on the mocks and how is his rating going down after the pro day? This is a player in the top 5 of every category except bench among RBs. I personally think he is better than Lacy. Will he get the recognition he deserves? Or will he get it once he's the next Foster or Morris late round RB?

Brian Bennett: Burkhead seems to be very underrated to me. His knee injury as a senior likely hurt his stock, and he's not viewed as a guy with breakaway speed. But we all know Burkhead is a terrific athlete and intense worker who'll probably make some team very happy. You wonder if there's still a stigma among some people about white running backs, but let's hope that silly notion does not impact his NFL selection.

Mark from Wooster, Ohio, writes: Let's quit making excuses. All too often I have read on the Big Ten blog that location is a major hindrance for Big Ten recruiting. Came across this report from American Institute for Economic Research. They ranked the 75 Best College Towns and Cities for 2012-2013. Major Metro areas ... No. 6 Mpls /StPaul, No. 12 Chicago. Mid Sized Metros: No. 11 Columbus. Small Metros: No. 1 Ann Arbor, No. 2 Madison, No. 6 Lincoln, No. 12 Lansing. College Towns: No. 3 State College, No. 4 Iowa City, No. 6 Champaign- Urbana, No. 7 Lafayette, No. 16 Bloomington. Isn't it time you stop citing "Location" as a reason for The B1g's Recruiting issues? or at leases come up with some date to prove otherwise?

Brian Bennett: Mark, I think you have misunderstood what we mean when we say the Big Ten has some location issues when it comes to recruiting. That has nothing to do with the quality of the Big Ten cities, and in fact the league is full of great towns. But we're talking about location in relation to where the top recruits are. And the demographics clearly show that the population has shifted south and west. There are just more top-flight athletes in the Sun Belt and Texas, etc., than there are in the Midwest. The challenge for the Big Ten is to get some of those players to at least come up and check out the great campuses and environments throughout the conference.

Ryan from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Brian! Adam tells me that you're the basketball expert on the blog. With that in mind, any chance we can do a Big Ten Blog bracket competition? Should be a great year for it.

Brian Bennett: If one of you guys wants to set up a bracket challenge and e-mail me an invite, then I'm in. I'll try to talk Adam into ignoring his beloved Blackhawks for a few moments to fill out a bracket as well. I'm afraid you'll see that "expert" is a term that should be used loosely when you see my bracket picks, but I'm game.