Big Ten Thursday mailbag

What you got?

Will from Farmington Hills, Mich., writes: Predict and rank the following scenarios from most likely to occur to least likely to occur: Michigan develops a solid running game, MSU produces a consistent chain-moving offense, OSU has a top 20 defense, Nebraska has a top 40 defense, Wisconsin does not skip a beat under the new coaching staff, Northwestern beats 3 of 5 top teams (OSU, Wis, Mich, MSU, Neb).

Brian Bennett: Challenge accepted. OK, here goes:

1. Michigan develops solid running game: Sure, the interior offensive line is young, but the combo of Fitz Toussaint and Derrick Green should be pretty good. And I think the return to the pro-style offense will allow the Wolverines to focus on putting together a more consistent running package. Plus, you only said solid, not great.

2. Wisconsin does not skip a beat: I really like Gary Andersen's track record, and the Badgers return a lot of talent. With that schedule, I like Wisconsin to improve on last season's 7-5 regular-season record and contend for the division title.

3. Nebraska fields a top 40 defense: This might seem controversial given the Huskers' questions on that side of the ball, but it's not all that difficult to get into the top 40, statistically speaking. San Diego State was No. 39 last season. Hawaii was No. 41. Nebraska -- despite those terrible performances against UCLA, Ohio State and Wisconsin -- still finished 35th. I suspect the Huskers will be good against mediocre-to-bad teams, and hopefully not terrible against the great offenses. That could still be enough to finish in the top 40.

4. Northwestern beats three of top five: Right now, I'd only make Northwestern the favorite in one of those games: Michigan State at home on Nov. 23. Though both Ohio State and Michigan come to Evanston, the Wildcats have one of the weakest home-field advantages in the Big Ten. They are typically good for at least one road upset, though. I think two of five is more likely, but Northwestern has the talent to compete with all five.

5. Ohio State fields a top 20 defense: The top 20 is a different stratosphere than the top 40, obviously. With a veteran defensive line last season, the Buckeyes finished No. 34. An outstanding Stanford team finished No. 20 last season. Now, Ohio State is replacing six of seven starters in the front seven, and while there is a lot of talent, there are some question marks as well. The schedule could help, though.

6. Michigan State consistently moves the chains: Let's see: quarterback questions, no clear starter at running back, receivers with a lot to prove, and an offensive line that underperformed last season. And Le'Veon Bell is in Pittsburgh. I have to see it to believe it.

Sense of Humor from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hey BB. As a 2 time OSU Alum (coincidentally during both of Gordon Gee's tenures as President) it is especially painful to me to see what has transpired here. First off, he shouldn't play the public like he is, we all know the Board forced him out. We aren't blind. But what bothers me even more is the fact that, as a nation, have we REALLY become so politically correct that we have completely lost the ability to take a joke?! Anyone who has listened to the actual audio can tell that everything said was said in jest, especially based on the crowd laughter. GOD FORBID SOMEONE DISSES THE ALMIGHTY SEC. You think they don't make fun of us for being farmboys up here in B1G country?! It just seems weird to me as well, that these comments were made in December of 2012 if I read correctly, and yet the firestorm starts 6 months later?! Makes no sense to me. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Brian Bennett: I never read Gee's comments for anything but what they were: poor attempts at humor. We received some emails bashing the media for its role in Gee's (forced?) retirement, but at no point did Adam or I ever say Gee should be removed from his job. This was more, I suspect, a matter of trustees and other university leaders growing tired of dealing with his embarrassing comments. The timing didn't help him, either, as they came to light in a slow news period, whereas they probably would have had a shorter cycle in December. I agree with you that we've become overly sensitive, but that doesn't change the fact that Gee had repeatedly stuck his foot in his mouth and was clearly never going to learn from that. I'd love for him to stay in his job for another 10 years, because he makes for great copy and headlines. But if the school leadership felt like he wasn't acting very, well, "presidential" with his inappropriate jokes, I can't blame them.

Ry from Greensburg, Pa., writes: You wrote: "Penn State's Allen Robinson, who finished with 1,013. Robinson is still only a junior, so he's the best bet to do it again this year, though he'll be catching passes from an inexperienced quarterback to start the season." So that means that Robinson is the No. 1 player in the B1G likely to repeat and not listed because he is assumed to be the most likely candidate, or is he excluded from the list because the inexperienced QB won't be able to get him the ball like McG could? Also, I agree that Penn State's QB should be listed with higher chances than Indiana's QB to hit 3,000 yards because I think BO'B is a better coach than Kevin Wilson with better prospects/athletes to make plays for him.

Brian Bennett: Yes, Robinson is clearly the top choice to reach 1,000 yards in 2013. He was the best receiver in the Big Ten last season, and it wasn't really close, so there wasn't much need to discuss him. As for the Indiana vs. Penn State debate, I do believe Bill O'Brien's system, Robinson, and all those tight ends, will help whoever plays quarterback wind up with some great numbers. But let's not discount the Hoosiers, who have as deep a receiving corps as anybody in the league, and some pretty good passers in their own right. Consider that Indiana -- which played three quarterbacks last season -- passed for 3,734 yards last year, as opposed to 3,278 for the Nittany Lions. And IU will have an experience edge at quarterback.

David from Nashville, Tenn., writes: Regarding your list of double-digit sack masters, I've decided I need to speak up about Ohio State's Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence. I've been reading a lot of hype surrounding the two, and after you listing both on you list, I have to ask, aren't you (and most everybody else) jumping the gun a little bit? Washington recorded 9 tackles, 4 TFLs, and 3 sacks last year while playing in 10 games, and Spence recorded 13 tackles, only had 1 TFL and 1 sack in 11 games last year. Brendan Kelly had 7 TFLs, 5 sacks (11 games), Frank Clark had 9 TFLs, 2 sacks (11 games), Jonathon Brown 12 TFL, 4 sacks (only 1 solo, 9 games). All these guys ranked below Washington and Spence 'both'? Why? Is it because of the spring game where they were paired on a DL together and faced a non-starting OL (remember OSU split the teams for the game so it wasn't true 1's vs 1's)? ... Shouldn't we pump the breaks a bit? I find it odd that so many are dumping so much praise on tow true sophomores with 4 combines sacks between them? Certainly spring hype lets you down about 50 percent of the time.

Brian Bennett: Some very fair points here, especially when it comes to spring hype. It's also true that we're often more excited about the potential next best thing than solid returning players. But here's what I'll say in defense of picking those two. I didn't base a whole lot off the spring game. I did attend a regular Ohio State practice this spring and saw Spence dominate against Jack Mewhort, a senior who's one of the top left tackles in the Big Ten. In talking with Mewhort, coaches and team observers later, I found out that this was a regular occurrence, and that Spence was simply too hard to handle. Many people believe Washington is even better, and in fact, he had a bigger impact last season.

As for last year's stats, you've got to remember that Ohio State had a very veteran defensive line, and that Washington and Spence saw limited time as rookies. This year, there's no doubt both will start, leading to a whole lot more opportunities. And finally, the talent is undeniable; ESPN rated Spence the No. 4 recruit in the nation in the class of 2012, and Washington was No. 65. Maybe they don't quite live up to the hype this season, but I expect both to be very, very good.

Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J., writes: The media, and then like-wise the fans make a HUGE issue regarding recruiting class "rankings," but would you say that class rankings can perhaps sway some commits to choose one school over another? Tell me Michigan recruits aren't being swayed that they have some of the highest rated recruits for 2014 coming in and they want to be a part of it (they are like the college football version of Kentucky Basketball recruiting) The reason I ask this is because Penn State is at an seemingly unfair disadvantage (aside from the sanctions). They currently have a top 15-20 ranked recruiting class for 2014 depending on the website you use' however, with only 3-5 more open scholarship slots, they most likely will only drop in the rankings due to sheer volume of the number of recruits they are allowed, while other schools continue to sign upwards of 25-30 recruits. Now this class BO'B is putting together at PSU this year might be a solid, ranking worthy class, but because of the scholarship restrictions there is no way they can maintain a high ranking. I believe this puts them at a further disadvantage, recruiting-wise, in future years.

Brian Bennett: I do think there is such a thing as recruiting momentum, in that great players want to play with other great players, and once a program starts bringing in a bunch of high-profile prospects, others want to join the bandwagon. However, I think that mostly occurs within a given class. Kids have short memories and attention spans, and I find it hard to believe that a recruit will base his decision on where to go to school based on a previous year's recruiting rankings. What matters more from year to year is whether the team is actually winning with the recruits it has brought in.

Penn State shouldn't really worry about class rankings. The Nittany Lions will obviously try to bring in the best recruits they can, but with only 15 scholarships to offer in each of the next four years, they're never going to be rated among the national leaders, which doesn't really matter anyway. O'Brien needs to win as much as he can under the sanctions and sell his ability both to play an exciting style and to get players ready for the NFL.

Lance S. from Greensboro, N.C., writes: If IU wants a helmet based on the state flag, fine. But don't you think they should have to use the actual flag colors (gold on a dark blue background)? It seems pretty disrespectful to me to change the colors -- I suspect the Indiana law on the flag specifies the colors to be used.

Brian Bennett: For the uninitiated, here's what the Indiana state flag looks like, and here's Indiana's state flag helmet. I see it as more of an homage to the state flag than a straight reproduction, and I think it would be jarring if the Hoosiers came out wearing blue and gold when they are so associated with cream and crimson. I get the idea, but am still not too fond of the helmet design. Maybe we should just keep state flags out of uniforms. Or else we end up with things like this.