As promised, here's a special Monday edition of the mailbag to help you transition to our chat hiatus. If there's enough interest, we may go to more mailbags during the week this offseason. As always, send your questions for me here. And don't forget we want to hear from you, Rutgers and Maryland fans.
Now on to the mailbag ...
Glenn K. from Leesburg, Fla., writes: In regards to your article about spring practice dates, what are the influences for each school to vary their start times as much as they appear to do?
Brian Bennett: It really comes down to the individual preferences of the coaches, Glenn. Some coaches like to start early so there's not a big gap between the end of the season and the start of spring practices. Others like splitting up spring practice and letting the players loose for spring break so they can rest their minds and bodies. Some coaches will factor in the weather in their starting dates, and in the past coaches have also adjusted spring practice times based on how many offseason surgeries and rehabs their players were undergoing. I don't know that there's any right or wrong way to split up those 15 practice dates.
Brian from Portland, Ore., writes: James Franklin's first coaching test with his new Nittany Lions team will be overseas in Ireland. Do you think the travel and overseas experience will help or hurt the Lions as they acclimate to a new coaching staff and system?
Brian Bennett: Well, Brian (great name, by the way), I think the most important thing is the opponent, as both teams will have to deal with the same travel issues. UCF had an undeniably great season in 2013, but losing Blake Bortles and other valuable players could make the opener tough on the Knights. I do believe that road trips often offer teams a way to bond together, as they are forced to be within close proximity of one another without the outside distraction of friends, family, ticket requests, etc. So that might prove helpful for Franklin and his staff to get to know the players better. It should be a great experience for all involved, though I'm interested to see how the Nittany Lions deal with the travel as they return home for a game against Akron the following weekend.
Aaron from Pittsburgh writes: I want your honest opinion of Illinois' 2014 recruiting class, and before you do that, let me just remind you to include their juco signings. I'm looking at all these recruiting reviews and they make it look like Illinois did squat, but if you look at the jucos you'll see that Tim Beckman filled a lot of needs with instant-impact players.
Brian Bennett: My response to that would be, are they actually instant-impact guys? Look, I don't have the time or the interest to watch high school football, and I believe recruiting star rankings are vastly overrated, so I'll play wait and see on all the Illini prep signees. I get why Beckman has gone after juco guys to add immediate depth and talent, but there is some inherent risk there as well. Beckman also brought in some jucos last season, and while they did contribute, none of them really became stars or major impact performers. Jihad Ward has a great reputation, and we all know Illinois needs help on the defensive line. I like that several of the juco guys are early enrollees, which should give them a much better chance to play and do well early. But the news that the Stone-Davis twins -- who are being counted on to help at receiver and defensive back -- won't make it to campus until May was a minor setback.
Jon S. from Bismarck, N.D., writes: Brian, looking over Iowa's 2014 schedule, its toughest games don't come until arguably the final two weeks of the season. Could we see an undefeated Hawkeyes football team by the time November 22nd rolls around?
Brian Bennett: Ah, yes, it must be the offseason, where fans can dream about their teams going undefeated. Well, Iowa's 2014 Big Ten schedule is about as advantageous as it gets. Here are the Hawkeyes' first six league games: at Purdue, Indiana, at Maryland, Northwestern, at Minnesota, at Illinois. Four of those teams had losing records in the regular season last year, and Iowa would likely be favored, on paper, in all of them.
Of course, winning them all is a lot easier said than done. We don't really know what to expect from Maryland. Indiana beat Iowa the last time the two teams played (in 2012). Northwestern and Iowa always seem to play tough games, and Minnesota should be better than it was when the Hawkeyes steamrolled the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium a year ago. A September game at Pitt could also be tricky. But if Iowa can maintain the momentum it had going at the end of last season and build on it, Kirk Ferentz's team should at the very least be right in the thick of the West Division race when it enters its final two games against Wisconsin and Nebraska. Both of which are at Kinnick Stadium, by the way. Yeah, that's a great schedule.
Ed from The Great State of New Jersey writes: Hey, Brian. Saw the article comparing pre-full share revenue between Nebraska and Maryland. Where does Rutgers fit in?
Brian Bennett: Ed, Rutgers' deal with the Big Ten is a bit of a mystery for now. But I'd be surprised if the Scarlet Knights got a better agreement than Nebraska. As the Maryland vs. Nebraska payouts show, it's all about leverage. The Terps had a lot of it, given their standing in an ACC that wasn't really hurting financially. Nebraska had less leverage in a fractured Big 12 that it had grown tired of dealing with. Rutgers had almost zero leverage, considering the utter collapse of the old Big East and the miniscule (by comparison) payouts that conference provided. Indeed, few schools have more happily celebrated a conference change than the Scarlet Knights did when the Big Ten came calling. The only question is whether the Big Ten allowed some early concessions to help Rutgers get on a more equal financial footing as the rest of the league.
John R. from Dubuque, Iowa, writes: Ok...now that signing day has come and gone, what are the rankings of the teams head-to-head in the Big Ten and versus the nation? I understand student athletes are still signing letters after the "official" signing day, but where do all our teams stand?
Brian Bennett: John, you can find ESPN RecruitingNation's complete class rankings here. The conference breakdown went like this:
1. Ohio State
3. Penn State
4. Michigan State
Have fun with it, debate it, but just remember: Nobody has ever hung a banner for recruiting rankings.