Big Ten Mailbag: Would 12-1 MSU make BCS title?

You have questions, and I—as usual—have answers. It may not always be what you want to hear. But, find my responses to your questions in this post. And don’t be afraid to send questions for future Mailbags. Are you ready for Week 2? BTN.com web editor Brent Yarina and myself offered our predictions for all 12 Big Ten games Saturday. Vote for your winners, too!

Should Ohio State fans take it as a good omen that the first touchdown of the Urban Meyer era was a spectacular, one-handed catch instead of something more routine? – Jonathan

Sure, take it as a good omen! That snag by Devin Smith was a big spark for an Ohio State offense that had struggled mightily in the first quarter vs. Miami (Ohio). Meyer has said he wants big plays, that he wants playmakers. Well, plays don’t get any bigger than what Smith pulled off in that game (Watch the play!). So, it has to be a good sign. No way should the Meyer era have started with a 1-yard goal-line plunge by Zach Boren!!! (No offense, Zach.)

I know Vanderbilt is never a “marquee” team, but doesn’t the Big Ten vs. SEC clash this Saturday under the lights in Evanston mean anything for B1G pride? We’re trying to prove our smart school is better than theirs! – Cory

Yes, Big Ten pride always is on the line in these out-of-conference games—especially when they involve SEC teams. The Big Ten’s image took a hit with Alabama’s 41-14 win over Michigan last weekend. I know Vandy-Northwestern isn’t on the same scale as that game. Still, it’s a chance for a rising Northwestern program to show what it can do vs. a rising Vanderbilt program. And, as you said, it’s a “Brain Bowl,” of sorts. Egg head vs. Egg head. Sheldon Cooper should do the coin toss.

How does Nebraska not move up in your power rankings? They beat Southern Miss without their best player for most of the game (Rex Burkhead). The offense destroyed a defense you stated was “always tough” and has a “defensive mastermind” as a coach. Throw in the fact that Wisconsin had to hold off a FCS team (Northern Iowa) and Michigan was out of its game vs. Alabama early to a team that doesn’t make a habit of scoring lots of points against BCS competition, and I am left wondering why Nebraska was only fifth in your standings. All this tells me is that expectations are too large a factor in these rankings. – Zac

You make good points. There is no doubt the Cornhuskers could have been higher in my rankings. It was a nice win by Nebraska, as you point out. And Wisconsin didn’t look great is dispatching a FCS school. But, my rankings aren’t just about a specific result on a specific day—especially after the first game of the season. Yes, the Badgers didn’t look great—but they still found a way to win. And that matters a lot for a team that figures to be better than Nebraska over the course of the season. Same goes for Michigan State in its victory over Boise State. This isn’t figure skating. Style points don’t matter to me early on in the season. Results do. As for Michigan, I wasn’t going to punish the Wolverines severely for playing the best team in the nation. Bottom line: If Nebraska keeps stacking up the wins, it will move up my rankings. You can count on that.

Purdue? No. 9 in your power rankings? That’s it? This article needs to be written from the head based on what the schools have earned this season, not from the heart based off what we think they should have earned or will earn later. – Barry

Well, again, my INITIAL rankings aren’t all just based on what happened in 2012. We have a ONE GAME sample size! There would be too many wild fluctuations from week to week in the first month of the season in my rankings. Expectations and past performance do matter—especially in rankings done these first few weeks of the season. Sorry.

[Related: Dienhart’s Q&A with Purdue DT Kawann Short]

I question whether the Michigan is better than Nebraska. I’ll bet that Nebraska beats them at their house this year. – Mick Sprague

Nebraska very well could beat Michigan this year. But, do you think the Huskers would have done better vs. Alabama than the Wolverines last weekend in Arlington, Texas? And, do you think Michigan would have whipped Southern Miss in the Big House? Hmm. That’s what I thought.

What are the odds that a 12-1 Michigan State team can go the BCS national championship game? I feel like the Spartans deserve consideration since they play a tough non-conference schedule and have the components and makeup of a special team that can compete on the national stage. – Jack

I think a 12-1 Michigan State would have a great chance to reach the BCS title game. But much will depend on what else happens around the nation. Are there any unbeaten teams from, say, the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 or ACC? Again, factors like that which are out of the Spartans’ control will play as big a role in MSU’s BCS title game dreams as the team’s own won-loss record.

I am hoping that you can answer this question for me. Something has been puzzling me for several years. Why do Michigan and Notre Dame play every year, as if Notre Dame is a conference game? It didn’t used to be this way. What happened? – Brandon Simmons

The schools have been playing each other for years. But it isn’t an annual rivalry. The schools have met every year since 1996. And they play this season. But the two won’t meet in 2018-19. However, the series is expected to resume after that, as these are two of American’s most iconic programs. By the way: The Wolverines lead the series, 23-15-1. They meet this September 22 in South Bend.

Based only on one week performance, who are you top three Big Ten teams? – Nick

Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

[Related: Get an updated look at Iowa’s throwback unis for Saturday]

I was surprised by the poor pass protection by the Michigan State offensive line vs. Boise State. What is you assessment? – Jon

I felt that the unit did well in run blocking, clearing the way for Le’Veon Bell to have a huge game. Bell ran right into the Heisman conversation by carrying 44 times for 210 yards and two touchdowns. But the pass protection? I think something was lacking from the Spartan front. And, that’s a bit surprising when you consider this is a veteran line that had to pass block often last year for quarterback Kirk Cousins. But, I trust the group will come around. Remember: Teams generally make their greatest improvement each season between the first and second games.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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