Big Ten Monday mailbag

Monday mail musings:

John from Chicago writes: Hi, Brian: Ohio State is receiving a lot of hype this year since they were undefeated last year and have recruited very well in the last several years, but am I crazy in thinking they might have just been extremely lucky in several games last year? Yes, they are a great team but after looking over their 2012 schedule, it seems to me that OSU played some close games against some not so great teams. What were your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: Any team that goes undefeated has to get a certain amount of luck along the way. But I thought for the most part, the 2012 Buckeyes created their own luck. There are a couple of instances where fortune certainly shined on Ohio State last year. Take the Big Ten opening, 17-16 win at Michigan State, for instance. The Spartans missed a field goal and had a potential fumble return for a touchdown ruled dead. Of course, the Buckeyes also were physically dominant in that game when it mattered most. The best example of "luck" was the thrilling comeback win against Purdue. You normally don't win when you trail by eight with with 47 seconds left and your backup quarterback has to lead you 61 yards. Again, though, Ohio State made the plays when it needed them. The team also got a break with its nonconference schedule and a down Big Ten, for sure.

Whether the 2012 Buckeyes were truly a great team can be debated. But I wouldn't call them "extremely lucky," either.

Andrew from LaGrange, Ind., writes: Hey I was just wondering where you thought IU would finish in the Big Ten this year. I've read a mix of articles about where they will finish. Most seem to lean more towards the top of the Big Ten but looking at their schedule, I think IU would be lucky to win 7 games at the most. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: You've been reading a lot of articles saying Indiana will finish near the top of the Big Ten? That is some serious optimism. Anyway, I got an up-close look at the Hoosiers last week in Bloomington, and they are really stuffed with offensive playmakers. This team should score a lot of points. The defense remains a major question mark (again), though that side of the ball is slowly starting to get more athletes and should be helped by a good recruiting class. Indiana could win some Big 12 type games this year.

I think the Hoosiers have enough talent to get to a bowl game after a 4-8 season last year, but the schedule -- as you mentioned -- gives reason for pause. Though the eight home games is nice, Indiana has to play Navy, Missouri and Bowling Green in the nonconference schedule, none of which will be guaranteed wins. They open Big Ten play with Penn State before going to Michigan and Michigan State, and they've also got road games at Wisconsin and Ohio State. This year's team should be better in Kevin Wilson's third year, but finding six wins on that schedule could be tough for the Hoosiers.

Jim from Atlanta writes: Like everyone else from Wisconsin, I recognize what Barry Alvarez has done for UW. I even don't mind referring to dates as the year 23AB (After Barry) but I have some concerns regarding his recent contract extension. I know he's got a big ego and has earned it for the things he's done. I wonder though since he obviously believes he should be one of the nation's top 10 paid AD's why the double standard for the coaching staffs for all these years not being among the nation's best? I don't want to see Barry leave but UW would survive without him, I'm not so sure though how well long term the program will be if the coaching turnover of the past few years continues. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: I have to disagree with you here, Jim. Alvarez has done great things as Wisconsin's athletic director. The football team is coming off three straight Rose Bowls, and he made what looks like a terrific hire in Gary Andersen to succeed Bret Bielema. The basketball program is in good hands with Bo Ryan, and facilities are getting an upgrade. The Badgers really have three major sports to oversee when you throw in the popularity of hockey. Sure, Wisconsin would survive without Alvarez, but ask yourself this: Who else would you rather have in charge of the athletic department?

Christopher J. from Middleton, Wis., writes: The Big Ten blog has discussed the possibilities of Taylor Martinez and Braxton Miller competing for Heisman Trophy nomination. I find it difficult for a running back to win the Heisman Trophy, but running back Montee Ball was nominated in 2011. What do you think of James White from Wisconsin chances have having the type of break out year similar to Montee Ball's in 2011 and getting a Heisman invite? In 2010, White as a Freshman ran for 1,054 yards on 156 carries for a 6.7 yard avg. That was more than John Clay (drafted by Pittsburgh) and Montee Ball. ... In 2012 he averaged 6.4 yards per carry during a season of offensive line coaching changes and a campaign to promote Ball. That average was a bit ahead of Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona although Carey had more carries. DeAnthony Thomas is considered a Heisman hopeful after having James White type numbers in a backup role in Oregon. ... Could James White be a sleeper? None of the football sites/polls even list him as one of the better returning running backs?

Brian Bennett: White probably deserves more recognition than he's been getting so far this offseason. I was looking at his numbers recently and was surprised that he already has over 2,500 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns for his career. He could finish with some really impressive numbers. There's a chance he could do a lot more this year with increased carries. I don't really see him as a serious Heisman threat, however, for a couple of reasons. One, he's a little bit on the smaller side, and I'm not sure he could hold up over a full season of a Montee Ball-esque workload. And No. 2, I'm not convinced he's the best back Wisconsin has for next season. I believe Melvin Gordon is on the brink of stardom and will emerge as the top running option. But we have seen before that the Badgers aren't afraid to share the wealth in the backfield.

Dan from Cabo San Lucas writes: Just left the beach here in beautiful Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. As every other day this week have been discussing football, b-ball and other sports of interest at the beach with my newfound friends from Michigan, MSU, OSU and Illini country. As you could tell I'm a Hawkeye. It has been interesting how the MSU, Mich and OSU fans can talk in a civil manner but despite my best attempt an international/B1G diplomacy, those three can't accept our family blood lines and love to beat each other as much as cheering for each other to beat up on the rest of the country. Sad, I love and always root for the B1G, but it looks like the SEC is kicking our butts in this area too.

Brian Bennett: If we can't all get along in Cabo, is there any hope?