Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, June 27, 2012

Discussion of the new college football playoff dominates this week's Big Ten reader mailbag, and that's no surprise to anyone who follows college football. The people wanted change, and change is what we got. The formal announcement came down Tuesday and by now you know where I stand on it. Other experts, of course, have chimed in as well.

So, you have emailed me your questions and I have typed up my answers. Let's put them all together now and see what we get.

What do you think of the new playoff format? – Jim

Overall, I am happy with the four-team playoff configuration. The only thing I would change is to have the national semifinal games played on the campus of the higher-seeded teams. It would have been a way to reward the higher-seeded teams. But the Big Ten, among others, wanted the bowls to be part of the process. And I understand that. Some of these bowls have long-standing traditions. The Big Ten made it a priority to stay tethered to the Rose Bowl-and that will happen in this configuration. If the bowls weren?t a part of the new playoff format, it would have severely damaged the long-term viability of them.

While I am happy there is a playoff, I wish they would have eight teams instead of just four. What do you think? – Craig

I agree. I think it often may be too difficult to pick just four teams to participate in a playoff, excluding some worthy schools. And, also, by keeping it at four, I think the ?little guy? can all but forget about getting into the playoff. With strength of schedule likely being a MAJOR part of the selection committee?s criteria, I find it difficult for any ?little guy?-even an unbeaten one that has a good non-conference win on its resume-getting picked over any one-loss team from a power league.

Now, in an eight-team playoff, I think there would be room for at least one ?little guy? almost every year. And, I would LOVE to see a Boise State, Southern Miss, SMU or Houston type of team in the playoff each year. But I seriously doubt it EVER will happen in a four-team playoff.

Do you think the playoff ever will grow to eight teams? – Joey

I think it has a chance, but the powers-that-be are locked into this current arrangement for the next 12 years. But, as well know, contracts have a way of being revisited during their life expectancy. I bet the TV execs come to the major conferences at some point and offer a boatload of more money to expand the playoff from, say, four to eight teams. I could be wrong. But, now that the lid has been taken off a playoff, I don?t think there is any turning back.

Who should be on the selection committee? – William

I think it should be built just like the men?s college basketball selection committee. It?s a group of 10 people who are athletic directors and commissioners. That seems to work well. Yes, everyone has built-in biases and agendas. To combat that, when a school comes up for discussion, anyone on the committee with a tie to that school or league is excused from the discussion.

After the four-team field is announced, the committee chair can meet with the media to explain the group?s reasoning for each team selected-just as the men?s hoop committee does right after the bracket is announced in March. The transparency is welcomed by the public, but it may not always agree with the committee?s choices. But, at least it will hear the committee?s reasoning and logic.

The season is getting closer. Can?t wait. I?m a big Michigan fan. Do you think the Wolverines have a chance to beat Alabama? – Matt

It?s going to be difficult. This will be the first time since 1989 vs. Notre Dame that Michigan opens the season vs. the defending national champions. The Crimson Tide are the ?it? college football program right now, winning two of the last three BCS crowns. And Nick Saban?s crew welcomes back plenty of talent, though the defense loses six starters. Still, this will be a formidable challenge for Brady Hoke?s second Wolverine squad that needs to show its defensive line can handle Bama?s strong ground game. And Michigan also must show it can pass, as the Tide figures to stack the box to stop Denard Robinson and Fitz Toussaint in the run game. I can?t wait!!

Aside from Michigan-Alabama on September 1, what other Big Ten non-conference games are looking forward to? – Kevin

In addition to that Bama-Michigan game in Jerry Jones Stadium in Arlington, Texas, I also love the following:

  • Boise State at Michigan State, Aug. 31
  • Iowa State at Iowa, Sept. 8
  • Air Force at Michigan, Sept. 8
  • Nebraska at UCLA, Sept. 8
  • Illinois at Arizona State, Sept. 8
  • Vandy at Northwestern, Sept. 8
  • Notre Dame at Michigan State, Sept. 15
  • Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 22

Check out the schedule analysis posts I wrote earlier this summer.

With the importance of wide receivers for the ?Urban? renewal to take place in Columbus, do you see any receivers for The Ohio State standing out? – Douglas

I was at the Ohio State spring game and came away very impressed with true freshman Michael Thomas. The guy was dynamite, catching 12 passes for 131 yards. Thomas reminded me of Malcolm Jenkins with how he moved in and out of routes. He could be that playmaker the Buckeye offense is searching for on the perimeter. Also, keep an eye on Devin Smith and Philly Brown. There is talent at wideout. It just needs to develop. Be patient.

Is the Minnesota Gopher defense solid enough to be competitive? – Ben

That is a good question. That is a tough question. The answer? Probably not. There still just isn?t enough depth of quality on the roster for the Golden Gophers to have a solid defense. I think it may take Jerry Kill another recruiting class or so to bolster the roster sufficiently. Minnesota struggles up front to consistently stop the run. And generating a pass rush has been a spotty proposition. Last year, Minnesota was 10th in total defense; 11th vs. the run; 9th vs. the pass; 12th in turnovers forced; 10th in sacks. As you can see, there is a lot of room for improvement–too much to expect a major step in 2012. senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, all of his work is at, and you can subscribe to it all via his RSS feed. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below.

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