Big Ten Thursday mailbag

Answering some of your emails before it gets all drafty in here:

Dash from Tucumcari, N.M., writes: "It's out of my control, but I wasn't happy with it," Steven Bench said. "I'm a competitor, so I'm not going to agree with that decision. But, at the same time, it's his decision and it's out of my control. I feel that it kind of left me no choice. I don't want to back anyone up. I want to play. I came here to play football." Comment: What? You can't have it both ways. If you are a "competitor," than being number two in a close race should tell you that you can win the job in fall camp and/or be the guy ready to step in and take it should something happen to the guy above you. I am a college football fan, not a Penn State fan and I say to him: Good riddance. Penn State fans should be rejoicing to hear that a non-competitive athlete who therefore, is likely to crumble when everything isn't perfect, has opted to transfer. That's my two cents from the peanut gallery...

Brian Bennett: Dash, I agree that Bench's transfer was jarring, and it's odd to see a guy who was supposedly so close in the competition transfer before duking it out in fall camp. However, we don't know exactly what coach Bill O'Brien told Bench about his status. According to this report, Bench was told he would not receive any more first-team reps in practice, which suggests that he might have fallen behind both Tyler Ferguson and incoming recruit Christian Hackenberg. Remember that Bench is a only sophomore, and he can transfer and be eligible right away at another school. Going somewhere else, probably a program smaller to Penn State, and being able to potentially start for three years as opposed to being the No. 3 quarterback does make sense for him. You've got to respect O'Brien's honesty if he indeed told Bench exactly where he stood, but that honesty cost the Lions some depth at quarterback.

Dan from East Lansing writes: The one thing I don't understand with aligning MSU in the East and IU in the west is that the majority of MSU's alumni outside of MI is located in Chicago and the majority of the IU alumni are in DC outside of IN. IU actually played a home game vs PSU in DC b/c of this. Common sense tells me switch these 2 teams and it makes the divisions more fair and it gives each alumni base more chances to see their team. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: Hey, I'm with you, as I've been arguing that Michigan State should have gone to the West for competitive balance reasons. But I think the Michigan-Michigan State factor was much bigger for the league than alumni bases or evening out the competition. It seems clear that the Big Ten wanted to keep those schools in the same division to avoid needing a permanent crossover to preserve that rivalry. I'm also interested in seeing how the division alignment affects recruiting, because it's no secret that there are more prospects in the eastern part of the league than in the West. That's good news for Michigan State, but how about for a team like Purdue, which will be playing the majority of its games in the Central Time Zone? That's something to monitor.

Hayden B. from Lavista, Neb.: Hey Brian, I've been thinking about underrated B1G players in this draft more and more as the draft gets closer. Who do you think are some B1G players that could be grabbed in the last round that are not expected to be drafted or expected to drop to the last round? I see a couple players like Eric Martin (a remarkable hitter), Kyler Reed (A speedy, great handed TE), Micah Hyde (possibly the most underrated DB in this draft), or any other low rated B1G players. Who do you see dropping or sneaking into the draft?

Brian Bennett: Well, it sure looks like just about all Big Ten players are lowly rated coming into the draft. If we're talking about guys not getting much buzz right now, I'd start with Rex Burkhead, who in our latest ESPN.com mock draft was not even projected to be selected. That's just silly. I also think Minnesota's MarQueis Gray is a good enough athlete to make an impact, possibly at tight end. Some other names I'd include are Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor, Penn State center Matt Stankiewitch and Hyde. This could be one of the worst drafts in history for the Big Ten in terms of number of selections and high-round picks. But what's more important is how many guys get to the league and actually do something there.

Joe from Dayton, Ohio, writes: Will Riley Bullough start at RB for the Spartans this year?

Brian Bennett: Bullough's story -- going from linebacker to running back late in spring practice, and suddenly becoming the top option -- is really interesting. It also says a lot about the state of Michigan State's running backs. Mark Dantonio has said all along that three freshmen coming in -- Delton Williams, R.J. Shelton and Gerald Holmes -- would all be given long looks this summer. My bet is that one of them ends up leading the team in rushing. If nothing else, Bullough has shown he can play the position and add a strong power element to the backfield. If none of the freshmen are ready early, Bullough could wind up starting, though I see him more as a complementary player.

Mark F. from Surprise, Ariz., writes: Brian, how do you see Iowa's new offense this year? I'm hyped up on it for few reasons. One, Vandenberg wont be missed. Ruduck or Sokol can fill his shoes and can't be anymore ineffective in the passing game. Two, Weisman and Bullock are gonna be on the field at the same time. With Bullock spending time in the y-back position and Weisman's abilities, do you see that opening up the entire passing game? And last, with an experienced and healthy offensive line back, does that increase every other aspect? I think with Weisman, Bullock, and a healthy offensive line, the receivers and quarterback will be much more productive. With that and Iowa's experienced defense, I think Iowa wins 9 games.

Brian Bennett: Mark, it's good to hear from a Hawkeyes fan who's bullish on the 2013 team, because I haven't heard from many of those this offseason. In talking with Greg Davis yesterday, it was clear that he's really excited about two things: the offensive line, which will be deep and experienced, and the running game. As he mentioned, having Damon Bullock and Mark Weisman healthy and together (knock on wood) allows for so many different looks in the running game, and when you combine that with some no-huddle, Iowa should be able to get some favorable matchups, like Bullock in the slot facing a linebacker. The goal is to run the ball so well that it opens up things in the play-action pass game.

My biggest concern, other than the inexperience at quarterback, is the playmaking ability at receiver. Iowa's wideouts did not show an ability to get separation or make plays after the catch last year, so I wonder whether they'll be good enough to actually implement a more vertical passing game, even off play-action. Still, I do think the Hawkeyes' offense has to get better than what we saw toward the end of last year, when the offensive line was in rough shape because of injuries. I'm not so optimistic to predict nine wins, especially with a pretty tough schedule that includes Wisconsin and Ohio State as crossover opponents.

Shocked from Rochester, Minn., writes: Wisconsin has won the last three conference championships (granted there's an asterisk on 1), look to have another talented team in 2013, and have continued to play at a high level after enduring major coaching changes, so what gives with the contender/pretender voting? As I'm writing this, 53% of about 1,000 people have voted WI to be a pretender (a percentage that's sure to be higher after disregarding Badgers fans' votes). Is it the perception that WI can't compete with OSU in their division, are there a lot of haters voting, any other ideas?

Brian Bennett: At last check, Wisconsin finished the polling as a pretender. That is surprising, for the reasons you mentioned. The Ohio State obstacle is a legitimate concern, as is the coaching transition. But if I had to guess, I'd say the voting mostly reflects the fact that a lot of other teams' fans just don't like Wisconsin. It happens when you win a lot.

Ryan from Johnstown, Ohio, writes: Brian, does college football really need three SEC vs Big Ten bowl games in the state of Florida? Personally, I'd like to see some more variety. I say that between the Capital One Bowl, Gator Bowl, Outback Bowl, and Russell Athletic Bowl they change the tie ins to create the following match ups: SEC vs Big Ten, SEC vs ACC, ACC vs Big TenS, EC vs Big 12. And then have the Big 12 give the Big 10 the Holiday Bowl (against the Pac 12) in exchange for letting them into Florida during bowl season.

Brian Bennett: The three SEC matchups in Florida are a bit much, but I still like those better than having two games in Texas. Personally, I always like it when the Big Ten goes against the SEC. Anyway, the entire bowl structure is about to undergo an overhaul. Conference commissioners have discussed adding more flexibility to the system, where there can be more choice in deciding the best matchups and more variety in the destinations and opponents. Ideally, the Big Ten would have access to several bowls in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California and at least one on the East Coast. Then it could mix and match to find the best slots and avoid situations like Iowa and Nebraska going to the same bowl two straight years. Let's hope.

James from Michigan writes: With Michigan going only 8-5 last season I have heard a lot of Wolverine fans using the talent level as a scapegoat. Normally as a State fan I assume Michigan fans are just looking for excuses, however after looking at Michigan's 2013 NFL draft prospects I really only see Denard [Robinson] getting selected. Furthermore, I don't see anyone outside of Taylor Lewan getting drafted in 2014. Is there actually some truth to the "cupboard is bare" plea? Particularly on defense?

Brian Bennett: While Michigan's 8-5 record last year had a lot to do with the schedule, top-level talent has certainly been an issue of late. The Wolverines will now have gone three straight years without producing a first-round draft pick, and this could be one the program's most fallow drafts ever. Michigan State has had much more NFL talent, especially on defense, the past couple years. You have to go back to the failed Rich Rodriguez tenure as an explanation. Not only did Rodriguez recruit a different type of player for his spread offense, but there was the typical attrition you see in major coaching changes. As Kyle Meinke points out in this piece, 35 out of 73 players from the 2008, 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes did not finish their careers at Michigan. The good news is that the Wolverines under Brady Hoke are bringing in some elite talent on the recruiting trail, and while you can never guarantee that a great high school player will make it to the NFL, it sure increases the odds. And Hoke is recruiting players for a pro-style system. At the very least, Lewan will break the first-round drought next April.