Big Ten Mailbag: Power Rankings stir debate

Are my weekly power rankings accurate or not in your eyes? You tell me every week, so let’s discuss it in my latest mailbag. Also, will Big Ten schools adapt to a team’s strength of schedule impacting the future college football playoff? What do I think about Purdue? And when will Big Ten teams start recruiting talent as the SEC teams do?

You have questions, and I have answers in my weekly Big Ten mailbag. Keep those virtual cards and letters coming – here’s my 24/7 mailbox. And, please: Stop asking, “Tom, are you crazy?”

I agree with you having the Buckeyes at No. 1 in your Big Ten power rankings. But do you agree that Ohio State is a long way from Alabama, Oregon, and LSU? – Mark Rubenstein

I don’t think Ohio State is that far away from having talent on the same level as those nationally elite programs. Just give Urban Meyer and his famous recruiting prowess a few more seasons, and I think the Buckeyes’ roster will look very similar to the other elite programs in the nation.

I think you have your power rankings about right. I don’t think Michigan should be judged too harshly on its loss to Alabama. The Wolverines weren’t the No. 8 team in the nation to begin with. If Northwestern keeps getting better, the Legends Division may come down to the Wildcats and Michigan. But just wait until Urban Meyer turns Ohio State into Florida. – Joe

I agree on Michigan, but I think the Wolverines still have a chance to be very good and could win the Legends. The Wolverines have their issues (run defense; offensive weapons), just like other teams in the Legends. Michigan State may not be as good as we all thought. As for Ohio State, Meyer does appear to be building a powerhouse, just like Brady Hoke at Michigan. I think this iconic rivalry is headed for a “golden era” with those two at the helm.

Ohio State is ineligible for the postseason, Michigan and Michigan State each has a loss. Northwestern and Minnesota are the only eligible teams left that are 3-0. What kind of ranking system ignores facts like that? – Phil Kober

Just because the Buckeyes aren’t eligible for the Big Ten title or a bowl bid doesn’t mean I’m not going to rank them. As for Michigan’s and Michigan State’s lofty spots in my power rankings, I am not going to hold the fact they lost to quality teams (Alabama and Notre Dame) against them. And, honestly, are any of the wins by Northwestern and Minnesota THAT impressive? I think if Michigan or Michigan State had played the schedules that Northwestern and Minnesota have, they, too, would be unbeaten.

Strength of schedule figures to be a component of the selection process for the college football playoff once it starts in 2014. And most Big Ten teams already have non-conference games lined with teams from lesser leagues that figure to pull down strength of schedule. Knowing this, are there any plans for Big Ten teams to adjust their schedules and drop teams like that from smaller leagues? – Stephen Bird

Not that I’m aware of. Each school will have two or three such games vs. teams from non-AQ leagues. But, that shouldn’t impact them much from a strength-of-schedule standpoint, as long as they play at least one team from a power league. Remember: just playing in the Big Ten should give league schools a nice boost in strength of schedule.

Purdue almost beat Notre Dame in its own stadium. The Boilermakers looked much better than Michigan State vs. the Irish, for sure. Purdue could potentially beat every team left on its schedule. So, no love for the Boilers as a dark horse? – DocRon

I have given Purdue props each of the last two weeks as a potential dark horse in the Leaders Division. With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for the Big Ten title game—and with Wisconsin struggling—the Boilermakers could be primed to play in the league championship game in Indianapolis. A big key will be the start of Big Ten play. Check out Purdue’s first three league games: Michigan, Wisconsin, at Ohio State. Purdue needs to go 1-2 in those games.

What’s with recruiting and the Big Ten? When will it get better? There is no way the Big Ten can compete with the SEC until it improves. And this is coming from a Big Ten fan. – Mark Peshaba

You are correct. It’s all about assembling great talent. The SEC has been the best at that in recent years. But I think coaches like Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Michigan’s Brady Hoke will continue to push the Big Ten up the recruiting charts. Each already has made a big impact in a short period of time. And Mark Dantonio at Michigan State, Bret Bielema at Wisconsin and Bo Pelini at Nebraska also are doing their part to enhance the league’s talent level.

Really? Wisconsin and Illinois above Northwestern on the bowl projections?! You’re crazy. That is all. – Nick

My projections aren’t based only on where teams stand RIGHT NOW. It’s a combination of their current standing—and future projections. So, that is why I have Wisconsin and Illinois ahead of Northwestern in the bowl slotting. And, remember this: Northwestern isn’t always an attractive bowl team, as it typically sells fewer tickets than other large public schools. So, the Wildcats are sometimes “skipped over” in the bowl process because of that. Is it right? No. Does it happen? Yes. It’s all about economics.

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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Karon Putjenter on 9/21/2012 @ 3:26pm EDT Said:

Know that Nebraska isn’t that important in the scheme of things but we were wondering why Last weeks came has not been replayed on the BTN network when the Ohio/Nebraska game back in 2011 is played often.

    BTN.com staff on 9/21/2012 @ 3:39pm EDT Said:

    Karon, thanks. Nebraska is important. I have forwarded your note to our Customer Service team. In the future, you can reach them directly here. They have the answers that we don’t always have. Thanks again.