Your Best 11 Mailbag: State of the Big Ten, Hokies' Season and Clemson vs. USC

Michael Felder@InTheBleachersNational CFB Lead WriterJune 13, 2013

November 26, 2011; Columbia, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers wide receiver Jaron Brown (18) is tackled by South Carolina Gamecocks linebacker Quin Smith (24) and safety D.J. Swearinger (36) in the third quarter of the game at the Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks beat the Tigers 34-13. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

It is Thursday and that means the mailbag, people. We only have three questions today, not because of a lack of submissions, but because I shut it down to get to this good long emailed question that we received.... So, here we go!

Should you be cautiously optimistic about the Hokies? Absolutely.

Last year, especially on defense, the Hokies were uncharacteristically bad. I think this year they get back to, as my buddy, The Key Play, terms it, a real Bud Foster defense. By that, I mean this group has a chance to once again be a ball-stopping, get-off-the-field-and-give-your-offense-chance unit.

On offense, the staff shakeup is going to help. People are worried about new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, but I think we'll see a lot more of what he did at Temple than what he had to be at Auburn. Virginia Tech has some traditional role-fillers on offense, and given that slate, I think Loeffler can get good production out of them.

The Coastal Division is 100 percent up-for-grabs. Depending on who you read, or believe, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech are all going to win the title. The only teams not given a shot are Duke, Pitt and Virginia. In other words, the bulk of the division is in the hunt, and that means it will boil down to close games in a tight race.

If the Hokies can get back to playing more mistake-free football, those close games could go their way and they are right back in Charlotte after missing out in 2012.

Can they? Yes sir.

The issue is, will they? The good thing is that Clemson's team is set up to exploit the weaknesses of this South Carolina team. The bad thing is the Gamecocks have a year to work on those weaknesses, most notably in the secondary.

Clemson versus South Carolina is not a big talent-gap rivalry. It is a who-is-better-prepared and who-goes-out-and-gets-it type of game. This is not the current Alabama-Tennessee gulf or Stanford-Cal fjord that currently exists. This is a game that approach and execution decide, and right now Steve Spurrier is flat-out whipping Dabo Swinney's behind.

The Gamecocks have won four in a row and are getting ready to go to five. At some point, someone on that Tigers' roster has to say they have had enough.

Does that happen this year? We'll see.

Got this email from my guy @MajewskiTony

Curious on your take of the B1G's current state. I'm up in Minneapolis so I consider the Gopher's my #2 team due to family allegiances. Unfortunately, the local everything dogs on this squad nonstop for its decades of failing to reach the top half of the B1G. Which brings me to my question ...
With the top 2 in the B1G looking locked in with OSU and Mich, who do you see making a move to join them in the top 3/4 of the conference over the next 4 years. Is it going to be the usual suspects in Mich St & Wisconsin or does anyone else have a shot? Do you see any of the bottom-half teams making a move for consistent success?

Personally, I think that now is the time to shift the perceived B1G rankings if you're a team like Minnesota or Indiana in the bottom half to try to make that jump to that 8-9 win range consistently. If you're a team like Northwestern, you can try to get yourself in the top 3 consistently.

Good question, right? That's what I said when I read it.

I think leaving Penn State out of the top four is a mistake. I know about the sanctions, but I also realize everything else you're saying and totally agree that the league is in such flux that anyone can jump into the top quarter of the conference, including the Nittany Lions.

Personally, I think Michigan State and Wisconsin will be the next best teams, behind Ohio State and Michigan. Unless, of course, Gary Andersen flames out and Mark Dantonio gets a new job. 

I don't think the bottom-half teams make a move, but that is 100 percent because I have no confidence in them. I don't trust their recruiting. I don't trust their coaching. I don't trust them to win the games that matter. I just have a hard time trusting them to walk through that door that we both see is hanging wide open for them.

Nebraska, in my opinion, should be the obvious choice to join the Buckeyes and the Wolverines. But after Taylor Martinez, I'm not sure what happens to the Cornhuskers. Martinez put up big numbers last season and has developed as a quarterback. But once he leaves, they will be back in the "find a quarterback" mode that can sink a season.

Out of the teams you mentioned—Minnesota, Indiana and Northwestern—I think it is obvious Northwestern is the leader. The Wildcats are already a top-half team and have the ability, through their stability, to push closer to the top. This is their window, with transition in Madison and bad offense in East Lansing, to steal some wins and get better.

Although you did not mention it, I'll also toss in the newcomers: Rutgers and Maryland. I think both are in better positions than Minnesota or Indiana in the long run. Save for the Rutgers' scandal, both Maryland and New Jersey produce quality talent that, thanks to the Big Ten, both schools will have a better shot at keeping in state.

As for Minnesota specifically, it doesn't look good. Not because the Gophers aren't going to try, I truly think they will put in the effort to be good. It's more because they lack the most important natural resource in college football, local talent.

If they can turn this roster into some mean jokers who like to fight in a phone booth, they have a shot. That means redshirting guys and using strength and conditioning to close the talent gap. It won't make them the best team in the Big Ten. But as Wisconsin has shown us, it can help you win some tough battles.