Big Ten Football Q&A: Division Names, Northwestern, Punters and Badgers

Adam Jacobi@Adam_JacobiBig Ten Football Lead WriterJanuary 19, 2013

We got a Northwestern question today! Here's Venric Mark defying the laws of physics.
We got a Northwestern question today! Here's Venric Mark defying the laws of physics.Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Every week (or so) on The Big Ten Blog, we will feature questions from the B/R inbox, Twitter and email. Do you have questions for next week's Q&A? Send them to Big Ten lead blogger Adam Jacobi via the B/R inbox, on Twitter @Adam_Jacobi or at

Hello again, friends. The 2012 season is dead and gone, and as we wave goodbye to the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year that was, we take one last opportunity to discuss it with you, the reader, and then look ahead to the future. Thanks as always to those that submitted questions, even the weird ones. We're all God's creatures.


@adam_jacobi Your guess on league structure and divison names after Md and RU join?

— Roger Wright (@Roger_Wright71) January 18, 2013

A realignment question! I'm very glad you asked. As mentioned earlier this week, it's safe to assume that "Legends" and "Leaders" are as good as dead when 2014 rolls around, so let's party about that. 

But yes, that means there does need to be an alternative, and for that the real question is, "what will the Big Ten look like in 2014?" It's safe to assume none of the schools are going anywhere; the Big Ten makes more money than any other conference, after all. Between that and the equal revenue sharing, the Big Ten's basically a utopia.

The real question is who else is coming to the Big Ten. It's probably not anyone from the Big 12, as those schools are all under a long term "grant of rights" agreement with the conference that essentially guarantees all TV revenue the members generate to the Big 12. Until that contract goes away, the Big 12 is locked down. Also, it's fair to assume the SEC won't be shedding members, ever.

Furthermore, it's hard to see anyone in the new-look Big East being a worthy addition to the Big Ten. There isn't a school with a serious academic reputation and a noteworthy athletic department in the entire mix. The closest you could come is Louisville, and let's be honest: The Big Ten is not inviting Louisville. The Mountain West is also devoid of serious targets.

So that essentially leaves the ACC, which is already in flux after siphoning off its pick of Big East members, then seeing charter member Maryland leave for the Big Ten. Depending on how the legal battle over exit fees shakes out, the Big Ten could either prey further on the ACC for its new members or—if the ACC gets close to the $50 million it wants—the Big Ten might decide it's not worth the price and stand at 14.

Our tentative prediction at this point is that the Big Ten gets what it wants out of the ACC as it goes to 16 teams. Maryland and Rutgers were an indication that the Big Ten wants the eastern seaboard, and there are plenty of good candidates for inclusion there. Virginia and Virginia Tech are both academic stalwarts, though Virginia Tech is not a member of the prestigious American Association of Universities. North Carolina and Duke are members, however, as is Georgia Tech.

Do not be surprised if Jim Delany makes a run at North Carolina. Sure, North Carolina has been the flagship institution of the ACC for decades, but Nebraska held that mantle in the Big Eight for the longest time, and look who's got Nebraska now. Georgia Tech is smack-dab in the heart of a great sports market, although it might be tough to see Atlanta—the de facto capital of the South—prodded into caring about the Big Ten on account of Georgia Tech.

No matter what, though, that's two more members on the eastern seaboard. And now Delany has the opportunity to create an easy East-West arrangement, like so.

  WEST         EAST  
  Illinois         Indiana  
  Iowa         Maryland  
  Michigan         Ohio State  
  Michigan State         Penn State  
  Minnesota         Purdue  
  Nebraska         Rutgers  
  Northwestern         New ACC Team #1  
  Wisconsin         New ACC Team #2  

Now, the split of Michigan states and Indiana states is a little tricky, since technically Indiana's farther west than Michigan. But there needs to be some semblance of competitive balance, and the West really doesn't look too good without Michigan and Michigan State. So there's an easy, nice, boring split, the way it ought to be.


@adam_jacobi What do you think the legitimate ceiling is for Northwestern next year? 9 wins? Division Champ?

— Matt Brown (@MattLGHL) January 18, 2013

A... Northwestern question? I'm surprised you asked, but I'm glad you asked all the same.

It's hard not to be enticed by what Northwestern brings back—key players on both sides of the ball, linemen aplenty, and the ever-dangerous combination of Kain Colter and Venric Mark to take care of the ball.

What's really the most encouraging aspect of Northwestern's season last year isn't just the 10 wins, it's that the Wildcats were competitive in every single game they played. The three losses were all swift kicks to the private parts, as they accompanied fourth-quarter meltdowns in every instance, but that's almost assuredly not a problem that's going to persist year to year.

So looking at the schedule, the Wildcats' slate looks tough but manageable. The non-conference schedule features only one real speed bump—the opener at Cal—but all three of the Wildcats' FBS non-conference opponents are dealing with first-year head coaches, so none are likely to be finely-tuned machines in September. Northwestern's first bye week then follows. The ceiling for this part of the schedule is obviously 4-0.

In the first stretch of the Big Ten conference season before the second bye week, Northwestern faces Ohio State at home, then goes to Wisconsin. A home game with Minnesota and a trip to Iowa are next, then Northwestern travels to Nebraska. This was our toughest stretch of the year in the entire Big Ten.

It's hard to see Northwestern escaping this slate with its division title dreams intact, but we're talking about a ceiling, so let's say it's 3-2, with one win coming between the Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska games. The fact that Wisconsin and Nebraska are both on the road hurts; they seem vulnerable if Northwestern's at home. Current overall ceiling: 7-2.

Finally, Northwestern gets Michigan and Michigan State at home before traveling to Illinois. Realistically, this is a 2-1 finish. Since we're talking best-case scenarios, let's make that 3-0. And so now we're at 10-2 (6-2).

That's a hell of a season, although the Wildcats would need some help getting to the Big Ten Championship Game like that. It's hard to see Nebraska losing more than twice in the Big Ten, so that game in Lincoln is going to determine quite a bit in terms of the division race. Still, 10-2 (6-2) gets Northwestern into the top 20 of the polls with ease—maybe into the top 15. Maybe.

That's the ceiling, though, not a prediction. Good to see Northwestern get a high ceiling, at least, right?

Let's keep rolling.

@adam_jacobi who is the best punter in the #B1G

— Lemonade & Vodka (@Lemonade_Vodka) January 18, 2013

A Northwestern question and now a punter question? Are y'all hipsters? Anyway, I'm glad you asked.

The best punter in the Big Ten is Michigan State's Mike Sadler. He averaged over 43 yards a kick in only his sophomore year in 2012, and he could make a run at the kicker job with Dan Conroy departing. Dude can ball (insofar as punting can be considered "ballin'," anyway).

The worst punter in the Big Ten is suspended Michigan Man Will Hagerup, because of this.

No, we will never turn down an excuse to run that.

@adam_jacobi Wisconsin folks seem pretty confident about the transition, even with the divergent styles.Should they be?

— Gideon D'Assandro (@GideonD) January 18, 2013

.@adam_jacobi Will the Badgers QB situation improve in 2013? Is OBrien the guy? Can White fill in for Ball?

— Joe Fletcher (@Fletch_Lives24) January 18, 2013

A tag-team effort! I'm glad you gentlemen both asked. Wisconsin actually shapes up pretty well for 2013, especially if Gary Andersen is half the coaching guru he's being made out to be. He probably is.

A good coach teaches his game plan to his players and puts them in a position to execute it and succeed. A great coach tailors that game plan to his players, knowing that that puts them in that position to execute and succeed.

Urban Meyer did that at Ohio State, running a very run-heavy power attack to great success with a breakdown of touches and roles unlike any he'd had elsewhere—mainly because he had never had a quarterback like Braxton Miller and he didn't have anyone to fill the Percy Harvin-type role that he normally enjoys. 

So, since Andersen has been so consistently successful at the college level, it stands to reason that he's going to be able to look at the personnel he's got there at Wisconsin and put it in a good position to succeed.

The evidence bears this out; in 2009 and 2012, he had one of the more productive passing offenses, averaging around 250 yards per game.

As for what Andersen will do with the passing game, quarterback's actually going to be one of Wisconsin's strongest positions in 2013. QB Joel Stave is only going to be a sophomore in 2013, so he'll be back. He was Wisconsin's most productive passer last year and the Badgers sorely missed him when he went out with a collarbone injury.

Danny O'Brien does not look like the man in Madison, which is too bad, because he's another returning QB with starting experience. It'll be interesting to see what he decides for his future; he's already in graduate school, but he already used that transfer exemption to get into Wisconsin.

Curt Phillips is getting a sixth year of eligibility, and he adds a mobile dimension to the Badger offense. He struggled at times throwing the ball, however, and it's obvious that he missed a lot of valuable time running an offense while he rehabilitated. He's in that mix too, though.

And finally, Bart Houston, a 4-star recruit who redshirted as he recovered from a knee injury, is going to be part of the Badgers' situation at QB. He could easily be the most talented player of all four Badgers, and the fact that Gary Andersen is coming in with a different playbook and set of terminology helps level the playing field in terms of experience with the offense for Houston. He could absolutely make a run at the starting QB job.

So, to answer your question, yes, the Badgers' QB situation will improve in 2013. If one of the four guys can establish himself as a starter, it'll probably be the best QB situation in the Big Ten outside of Columbus.

All right, my hands are winded. So is my brain. Thanks for reading, everyone.


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