Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

It's Wednesday afternoon. Time for another edition of ye olde mailbag:

Randy from Hopewell Junction, N.Y., writes: I'm a Spartan alum and follow them faithfully. Needless to say, last week's victory was marquee in many categories. You stated [in Monday's chat] that MSU had not played a ranked opponent this season and won. We just beat Michigan! They were ranked. ND, we should have beaten (they stole that game on cheap penalties!!!), and they are ranked. We actually held them to the fewest yardage they produced all season. But that's basically irrelevant. I think those rankings are highly, highly subjective and think that MSU could beat several of the teams listed above them at the moment. So why not a BCS bowl? if they beat Nebraska and even get to Ohio State?

Brian Bennett: You twisted my words a bit, Randy. I said that if Michigan State finished 11-2 but lost to Ohio State, then it would be possible that the Spartans would not have beaten a ranked team. And by that I meant a team that is ranked at the end of the season. The odds of Michigan or Nebraska ending up in the Top 25 is looking shaky. Yes, the Spartans beat Michigan when the Wolverines were ranked, but when voters go to submit their final ballots after championship Saturday -- and remember that the coaches' and Harris polls are two-thirds of the BCS formula -- they may simply look down the Spartans' schedule and see no ranked teams in the 'W' column.

None of that is meant to downgrade what Michigan State has done so far or what it might accomplish. I think this is a potentially very worthy BCS at-large team. However, the Spartans have never been picked for an at-large slot in the BCS era even in those years when it was deserving, like 2011. Their profile, unfortunately, is not one that makes BCS bowl reps sit up and get excited about. A loss to Ohio State, unless it was a very close, last-minute type of defeat, could even send Michigan State out of the BCS Top 14. I'd personally love to see that defense get a shot in a BCS bowl, especially against one of the top-flight offenses out there like Oregon, Baylor or Florida State. But I have serious doubts about whether an at-large bid is possible.

Troy S. from La Crosse, Wis., writes: What are the chances that the Badgers make it to the top 14 of the BCS standings to give them a shot at a BCS bowl? It seems like Brad Edwards thinks they have a fairly good shot at it and predicts them going to the Orange Bowl while you have them playing in the Capital One Bowl? This week they got jumped by 2 teams even though they won at Iowa, what else can they do? Isn't it just cruel and unusual to us Badgers fans that one of the teams that jumped us was Arizona State?

Brian Bennett: I do think Wisconsin will finish in the Top 14 if it wins out -- which is not guaranteed, especially since this week's opponent, BYU, is awfully good. Poll voters have shown that they'll keep moving teams up as long as you win, and major-conference teams that go 10-2 have excellent shots at getting ranked highly.

Wisconsin has similar problems as Michigan State working against it in regards to the schedule. Right now, the Badgers' best wins are over Iowa and a Northwestern team that has nosedived. The BYU and Minnesota games might end up being their best victories, should they get them, and the computer numbers need a major boost.

But even if Wisconsin finishes in the Top 14, that does not guarantee a BCS at-large bid. It merely makes them eligible. And while the program is an attractive one to bowls, there will be other very desirable teams out there as well from the SEC, Pac-12, ACC and possibly Big 12. The specter of Notre Dame and a BCS buster like Fresno State or Northern Illinois also remains -- remember that if either of the latter finishes in the Top 16, they get an automatic bid.

So at this point, the Badgers need a lot of things to break in their favor. That's why we're not yet ready to project them into a BCS game.

Alan from Columbus, Ohio, writes: This entire season I have been assuming, along with the national media, that Ohio State will end up in Pasadena for the Rose Bowl or BCS title. However, now the most likely game for OSU to drop is probably the B1G title game to Michigan State, which would exclude the Buckeyes from both Pasadena bowls. If that happens, do you see us getting bumped from the BCS altogether? Hopefully that won't happen, but I'd like to know what to expect in that possibility.

Brian Bennett: I don't see the Buckeyes getting excluded in that scenario, Alan. If Ohio State takes a 12-0 record into Indy, it will be no worse than No. 4 in the BCS standings and the polls. A loss would bump the Buckeyes down, obviously, but likely not outside of the top 10 or 12. While conference title game losers often have a hard time with the BCS, we'd be talking about a 12-1 team with a star head coach and a fan base hungry to travel after last year's probation (and the poor 2011 season). That would be extremely attractive to bowls, and I believe somebody would snatch up the Buckeyes.

Patrick from Ypsilanti writes: Brian, can you remind readers how the CFP selection committee will determine bowl match-ups in the non-playoff bowl games? Are there going to be caps on the number of teams from conferences that can play in these games? Is a team like Wisconsin going to be ignored next year for a big bowl in favor of either Northern Illinois or Fresno State?

Brian Bennett: Good question, because I'm not sure everybody understands that the committee will do more than select the four teams for the playoff. It will also choose the participants of the other "contract" bowls (the new word that will replace the BCS). In other words, the committee will choose the top 12 teams for the six major bowls (which includes the two semifinal host sites). There will be no limit on the number of conference teams in the pool, though some bowls like the Rose Bowl will maintain traditional conference tie-ins. And one spot will be guaranteed for the top champion of the other five conferences.

We don't exactly know yet what the criteria will be for filling out the other bowls, but it should be based on who the committee feels are the best teams. Because the non-power conference will have a spot, there could be a scenario where a team like Northern Illinois gets in ahead of a more accomplished major-conference team. But we also won't see situations where a team like Notre Dame gets a spot solely on its drawing power. This could actually hurt the Big Ten, which has done well in the BCS era because of its large fan bases, earning bids for teams that maybe would have been otherwise borderline (see Michigan in 2011). But it should create much better matchups overall.

Chance from Omaha, Neb., writes: I was doing some random browsing on Nebraska's 1999 squad (last one to win a conference championship, feels like a million years ago) and noticed the final AP poll that year. If you retroactively add the Huskers...8 B1G teams! And no Ohio State. Found that pretty interesting. Do you think we'll see the B1G ever get back to an elite level of having 3 or 4 teams in the top 10 again?

Brian Bennett: Sure, it will happen again. It was only 2006 when Ohio State and Michigan entered their game ranked 1-2. Not exactly ancient history. The Big Ten had three teams finish in the top 10 that season (and, hey, Rutgers was No. 12!). These things are cyclical, and the fact that Michigan has been down and that Ohio State -- and Penn State -- went on probation didn't help. Heck, if Wisconsin doesn't get jobbed in the desert, and Michigan State gets a better whistle in South Bend, the Big Ten could very well have three Top 10 teams this season.

As we've said all along, depth at the top of the league is something the Big Ten needs to develop over the long term. Ohio State is there every year, while Wisconsin and Michigan State have done their parts. The league needs Michigan and Nebraska to get back to an elite level and for Penn State to do the same after its sanctions end.

Mark from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: I would normally agree that calling three consecutive timeouts to ice a kicker isn't cool. However, from my perspective the Iowa fans were simply not into the game after the second timeout. When the kicker got set after the third timeout the crowd finally got loud. Kudos to Ferentz for getting the 12th man involved.

Brian Bennett: As I wrote Monday, I have no problem with Kirk Ferentz using the rules to his advantage. That's good coaching. I just have a problem with the rule. There's no reason for teams to call three straight timeouts. I'd like to see that changed. And if calling timeouts is the best way to fire up an Iowa home crowd these days ... well ...

Pert from Davenport, Iowa, writes: Why is Iowa so bad in the 2nd half of games this season? We have had a halftime lead in nearly all our games. Iowa have historically been know to be a second half team. Ferentz usually makes good halftime adjustments, but it seems to be lacking this year.

Brian Bennett: It's a great question. I thought Iowa came out looking great in each of its last three games. But then the offense stalled. Actually, that's being kind. The offense has gone into a hole and had dirt poured on top of it. Consider that the Hawkeyes last scored a point in the fourth quarter in the Minnesota game way back on Sept. 28. Its only second-half touchdown in five Big Ten games was that 85-yard pass to Jake Duzey at Ohio State, which -- let's be honest -- was a little fluky. Iowa has 16 second-half points total in conference play (it did score a touchdown in OT vs. Northwestern). That's crazy.

Part of it has to be the lack of diversification of the offense. There's only so much the Hawkeyes can do without many explosive playmakers, and other defenses seem to know it. Once Iowa gets behind and has to play catchup, it's hard to stick to the running game. Still, things shouldn't be this dire in the second halves of games.

Jon from Evanston writes: Michigan State and Wisconsin were both two teams who struggled in 2012, losing a plethora of close games while having injury issues. Consequently many people picked them to turn it around in 2013, and that has happened. Could Northwestern be that team heading into 2014? They have a young team that returns a ton of talent (especially if Mark redshirts), and have had terrible luck this year with injuries and in close games (0-4 in games that they were in until the very end).

Brian Bennett: Yes, absolutely. I would pick Northwestern as one of the top bounce-back candidates for 2014 without hesitation. This team is way too good to be 0-5 in Big Ten play, and injuries have played a huge role in that. Sometimes, things just go south for teams in a hurry. But Pat Fitzgerald has built a solid program that should be able to turn things around next year, and the Wildcats' recruiting has been on an upswing. Replacing Kain Colter won't be easy, but former hotshot recruit Matt Alviti is waiting in the wings. The '14 schedule won't be easy: Northwestern plays Cal, Northern Illinois and at Notre Dame in the nonconference portion, but the 'Cats miss Ohio State and Michigan State from the East Division. Another 10-win season might not be in the cards, but neither will an 0-5 Big Ten start.