Big Ten Thursday mailbag

A second dose of mailbag answers from me this week. What a fun, sexy time for you.

Dave from Maryland writes: How feasible is having a 9-game conference schedule with 4 home, 4 road, and 1 neutral for all teams each year? The seven neutral sites would be chosen from NFL stadiums in Baltimore, Washington, New York, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota, and Green Bay. Would that plug the revenue gap while maintaining a balanced schedule?

Brian Bennett: It is an intriguing idea that would ensure better competitive balance, but I'm not sure how feasible it is. For one, such a plan would require seven neutral games per season, which could become a scheduling headache when trying to work those deals out with pro stadiums. You'd also probably need the teams with the largest fan bases (i.e., Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State, Ohio State) to be involved, because a neutral site game between, say, Purdue and Illinois would be a tough sell at a neutral site. There's also the issue of whether a neutral site game would raise enough revenue to be worth a school missing a home game. I think it's an idea that should be explored, but there may be too many hassles involved to make it work.

Harrison from Chicago writes: I'm starting to like the 5 home / 4 away every other year schedule. Is it feasible for teams to arrange for their home game with a marquee opponent during a 5 away year, and then play at the marquee opponent during the 5 home year, or is that just too many moving pieces?

Brian Bennett: It is possible. It would just take a lot of smart, advanced planning. For example, Michigan State is currently scheduled to play at Miami in 2021 and at Boise State in 2022. It would probably want to switch one of those around, depending on what year it had five away league games. The Notre Dame series would be another complicating factor for the Spartans. Each Big Ten team would have to try to line up its home-and-home out-of-conference series just right to get seven home games per year. Still, the Pac-12 manages to do it.

Rick C. from Bremerton, Wash., writes: Maybe it's because I'm a B1G neophyte (Husker fan here) but why does everybody care so much about playing every team? I want the B1G to win championships and beat SEC teams into irrelevance. How often we beat Iowa to do it is far less important. What am I missing here?

Brian Bennett: Your point of view is understandable, since Nebraska has less Big Ten history than anyone. But the league's historic rivalries are a huge part of what makes the conference special. There are few things more fun than the annual trophy games. And since the Big Ten hasn't exactly been winning a lot of national championships, those rivalries are one of the main things the conference has to hang its hat on.

Tim from Kokomo writes: Brian, I enjoy the blog and the article on the Big Ten's best performances of 2012. I agreed with many of them, but some of those performances against inferior talent probably should not be in the top Ten. BUT, one performance left off the list was Kenny Guiton's performance against Purdue. After Braxton was taken to the hospital, he came in with the undefeated season on the line and drove the Buckeyes for a TD and 2 point conversion to force overtime and then win it in OT (although the Defense helped there). Really? ... After all, he plays behind Braxton, this was perhaps his greatest 5 minutes of his career so far and at least through next season as well! Don't take that away from him!

Brian Bennett: Tim, I very much admired what Guiton was able to do at the end of the game, and any discussion of Ohio State's undefeated season should not neglect his heroics. But you kind of answered the question when you called it the "greatest five minutes of his career." Guiton led a tremendous game-tying drive and played well in overtime, but let's not forget that he also threw an interception in the fourth quarter that could have cost the Buckeyes. It was a great moment for Guiton, but we were looking more for overall performances for that list.

Woody from Chicago writes: It took Brady Hoke 2 years to lose 7 games at U-M. How long does it take Urban Meyer to lose 7? Is a decade out of the question?

Brian Bennett: Gauntlet thrown. And by a guy named Woody, no less. I guess another way to frame the question is, what would the Buckeyes' record have been last year had they played Alabama, Notre Dame and South Carolina away from home? I just love that we can argue this stuff all offseason.

IlliniRob from Chicago writes: In my opinion, there is only way the schools can be divided and that is the Inner-Outer alignment. Any sort of East-West alignment would ensure the power would reside in the East. The East would contain the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland -- all states that are talent rich. Conversely the West division would contain mostly talent poor states such as Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska. This imbalance in talent would mean the B1G would become like the old B12 where one division where the talent resides (South) is dominant over the division where the talent isn't (North). ... Am I crazy?

Brian Bennett: IlliniRob, you're not crazy, though you've got to keep your emails a little shorter (I ran less than half of his missive). But you make some good points. The Inner-Outer option (outlined here) has some advantages. Many rivalries would be preserved within the division, and there wouldn't be the East/West talent split you mentioned. Of course, the No. 1 state for talent mining in the Big Ten is Ohio, and you'd have to wonder if the inner schools would have some edge in the Buckeye state in this scenario. While it wouldn't be as easy to remember as East/West, I think most people would get the hang of it. At the very least, I believe the Big Ten has to make sure some of the western schools continue to get opportunities and exposure on the East Coast.

Craig F. from Milwaukee writes: Wisconsin has won 3 straight B1G Championships (yes, you can put the * next to last year, regardless of the beat down of Nebraska), and have won 5 since the 1999, second only to Ohio State. What the heck does this program have to do to be considered a top tier program, worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska? Wisconsin has a winning record over Michigan over the last 10 years, and has blown out Nebraska in 2 of the 3 league games they've played each other. Just what do they have to do to get over this "top tier" hump?

Brian Bennett: Wisconsin is certainly there as a top-tier Big Ten program. The question is whether the Badgers can achieve that elite status nationally. The difference between them and the other schools you mentioned is that the other four have all won at least a share of the national title in the last 30 years. Wisconsin has been to three straight Rose Bowls but lost all three times. Beating Oregon or Stanford would have gone a long way toward earning the program more respect nationally. The Badgers have been painfully close, but consistently winning BCS games is what gets you to the next level, in my opinion. And after next season, I think getting to the four-team playoff will become the standard for being elite. So it will get harder.

Rich from Des Moines writes: Brian,"...branding of the divisions." This is their problem. They are trying to "brand" everything. Some things don't need to be branded. The name "Big Ten" is the only brand they should be worrying about. But, since everything is about money-grabbing these days, why not simply sell the division names to the highest bidder? Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a Nike Division and a Dunkin Donuts Division?

Brian Bennett: I couldn't agree more with you, Rich, and I wrote as much here. I don't think division names are the place to tell stories about your past. Instead, it just sets you up for easy jokes when your teams don't play well. I love "Mad Men," but let's keep their types out of the division-naming process this time around.