Mailbag: Huskers survive rough six-game stretch

The season is winding down, but the questions continue to pour in. Questions about the bowl matchups are trending. And some wonder about who will be in the discussion to be Big Ten Coach of the Year. I tackle those questions—and others—in this week’s mailbag.

If K-State wins out and is No. 1 in the BCS standings, doesn’t that give the Fiesta Bowl first pick to select an at-large team? What’s to keep the Fiesta from picking Notre Dame ahead of the Rose Bowl? And if that happens, who would the Rose Bowl replace them with then? – Matt

My current bowl projections have Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl. Why? Because I think Oregon will finish the year No. 1 in the BCS. In that case, the Rose Bowl would have first bids on picking an at-large team. And I think it would be tough to turn away an Irish team that may be 12-0 or 11-1 and take a potential two- or three-loss team from the Pac-12 like Stanford, UCLA or Oregon State. (There may not be a second Pac-12 school ranked among the Top 14 in the final BCS standings, anyway.) I could be wrong, as the Rose Bowl’s ties to the Pac-12 and Big Ten run deep. But the appeal of having ND in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1925 may be too tough to pass up.

Can Ohio State’s defense hold up against Wisconsin’s potent, downhill attack, since the Buckeye defense has shown to break down this season? – Jonathan

It will be a tough matchup, as Ohio State hasn’t faced an offense as tough and physical as Wisconsin’s this season. Still, this Buckeye defense is among the nation’s best along the line. That’s why Ohio State is No. 2 in the Big Ten and No. 16 in the nation vs. the run (107.9 ypg). Johnathan Hankins, John Simon and Co., are good. And know this: Ohio State likely will sell out to stop the run, knowing Badger quarterback Curt Phillips is an unknown commodity as a passer.

Why no Urban Meyer in your Coach of the Year discussion? All he has done is go undefeated with a team that was 6-7 last year. – Joe W.

Good point! As I said, most think Penn State’s Bill O’Brien is the leader—and you can make a good case for it. I also recently suggested that Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema and Nebraska’s Bo Pelini also should receive consideration. But, no doubt, Meyer deserves mention, too. If the Buckeyes finish 12-0, he just may get the award. But I think if Wisconsin can win out—vs. Ohio State, at Penn State–Bielema may be the guy. He made two bold, early-season moves that may have saved the Badger season when he fired his offensive line coach and made a switch at quarterback. Now, Bielema is using a seldom-used fifth-year senior quarterback in Curt Phillips. If Bielema and Wisconsin overcome all of that to go 9-3, it will be impressive.

Few teams in the country have played a tougher stretch of opponents the last six games than Nebraska: Wisconsin, at Ohio St, at Northwestern, Michigan, at Michigan State and Penn State. That’s six really good teams in a row, and the Huskers went 5-1. Not bad. Have any other teams in the country played a tougher six-game stretch this season? – Bob Jones

Not that I am aware of. In fact, Nebraska arguably has played the toughest schedule in the Big Ten the last two years, as its three division crossover foes from the Leaders have been Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. The Cornhuskers haven’t flinched this season, as you point out, and are in control of the Legends Division with two games left. And this is a team that could have flopped after crushing losses at UCLA and at Ohio State. But Nebraska has persevered and is poised to win its first conference championship since claiming the Big 12 in 1999.

Now that Wisconsin has clinched the Leaders Division, should we anticipate a letdown (at least mentally) from the Badgers in the final two games? – JC

No way. The arrival of unbeaten Ohio State this Saturday surely will motivate the Badgers, who lost a heartbreaker to the Buckeyes last season and surely would like revenge. A season-ending trip to Penn State should stir the competitive juices of the Wisconsin players, as well. The Badgers don’t want to back in to the Big Ten title game. They would like to get a share of the Leaders and can do so if they win out and Ohio State loses its last two games. It is possible.

Our “Football Report” guys actually talked about how the Badgers will approach the final two weeks on Monday night’s show. Watch their thoughts below:

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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Steve on 11/14/2012 @ 5:17pm EDT Said:

How can Bielema be considered for coach of the year when they were considered the favorite before the year began by the majority of ‘pundits’? Because he is overcoming his own mistakes in QB choice and offensive line coach? Or was it because everyone has realized how overrated they were to begin with after losing almost their entire offensive staff? Makes no sense to me. Secondly, You do remember that Wisconsin only gained 19 yards rushing just 2 weeks ago against Mich. State? Now they are dominant because they ran all over a team ranked 118 out of 120 in rush defense. Hype again maybe? Funny how people forget the recent past.