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Big Ten football preview: Q&A with Off Tackle Empire

Alex & Jesse are getting ready for some obligatory B1G-MAC football this season.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Here at Hustle Belt, we spend a ton of time talking about the Mid-American Conference and not enough time about the Big Ten. That's a joke. Laugh, people. Oh for English's sake! Fine, don't take a joke, I'll just keep talking. My new friend Jesse Collins from Off Tackle Empire and I made some exchanges recently. I've answered some questions for him and below are his responses to mine.

You can follow both Jesse and OTE on Twitter, check out their site, and then flood their comments when our MAC teams MAKE THEM PAY!

Alex, Hustle Belt: So I went to 7-11 the other day to buy some pop and decided that this would be the one rare time that I buy a newspaper with cash. While I'm doing the typical BS of drinking some Faygo and eating Better Made barbecue chips (typical midwestern nonsense), I come across the sports section. Apparently last year's national champion wasn't from the SEC. Is the Big Ten transitioning into being THE football conference, or do other teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Michigan all need to get to where Ohio State's at for them to surpass the SEC?

Jesse, Off Tackle Empire: Look, I'm as surprised as you. I was watching ESPN the other day and I swear the SEC essentially won all of the playoff games last year. But seriously, the Big Ten has been on the cusp of being more than a punchline for a while. Since Nebraska has been here, I've spent a lot of time doing the whole dog and pony trick where its like, "Hey, look, we're deeper than your conference," all the while ignoring abject failure around New Years Day. Now that we looked decent around that time and have a shiny new trophy, I guess we're one of the major powers again? Except now we have to back it up. I think the top of the conference is solid in Ohio State and Michigan State but it gets dicey quick. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, Penn State, Iowa, and Michigan need to be Top 25 teams again before we can say that this is the premier football conference. I would concede the brand is strong, but there needs to be some consistency and strength in the middle before we get notoriety.

I'm just going to ask this now just to rip off the Band Aid. Harbaugh is getting more media attention than ISIS. Hasn't even had the opportunity to fall short of a Rose Bowl birth, let alone coach a single game, but he's the most talked about college football coach in America. Michigan doesn't have the best team in the conference, but what do you think Harbaugh's long-term effect on the program going to pan out?

So I spend a lot of time looking at our site metrics because I am a nerd who apparently loves seeing what people want to read. You know what people want to read? Jim Harbaugh stories. Seriously, it's like you mention his name and people go insane. So what's the big deal? Well, at minimum, you have to believe that he's the most qualified coach the Wolverines have had in a while. Say what you want about his lack of longevity, but he made San Francisco into a Super Bowl team in no time, made Stanford excellent and put them on a path towards consistent competition with the likes of the Nike Death Machine in Eugene, and he still has the beautiful resume builder of the University of San Diego in his back pocket. The guy can coach.

That in mind, what do I think is the long term impact? I think Michigan is competing for conference championships and New Year's Six Bowls in the very near future. Hoke was a great recruiter, decent planner, and terrible gameday coach who was ill prepared for the Michigan job and had absolutely nobody in administration that had a clue. RichRod wasn't Michigan Man enough, which is dumb because you give him a DC that wasn't awful and that team is dominant. Harbaugh can build on both of their failures - in a weird way - and will see instant results with his ability to develop alone. Will it bring Michigan a CFP title? Who knows, but I see them trending in that direction... which is awful.

Wisconsin has been so close yet so far away for a while now. What gives? Any shot at them upsetting the sexier Big Ten teams?

Wisconsin fans would kindly ask that you look at the internets and see that they have - on occasion - beaten the sexier Big Ten teams, namely MSU, and then tell you it's not their fault that their schedule making this year is about as perfect as it gets. I mean, they can't beat Michigan State and Ohio State if they don't play them until the title game. Oh, and last year's Big Ten Championship game was a fluke because Ohio State was mean and stuff...

But really, I'm not sure how to even answer this. Wisconsin is the class of the Big Ten West, and that makes them like what, a Top 25 team sort of? They have a chance to make noise early with a showdown against Alabama, but even with a loss there, I could see them going 11-1. Paul Chryst is back and maybe - just maybe - he'll stay for a while. Also, no, Wisconsin is not winning the Big Ten this year. I'm not sure you asked, but I'm telling you.

There's quite a few B1G-MAC matchups on the rise, but there's nothing more Big Ten-#MACtion than Kent State vs. Illinois this weekend. I don't want you to preview the game, but what flavor is the can of worms that's opened up in Champaign, Illinois after they fired an ex-MAC head coach and now have an ex-MAC head coach as their interim HC?

You can make an incredibly strong argument that they are better now than they were a week ago, but that argument ignores the fact that Illinois fired its coach a week before the season. Bill Cubit is a good offensive mind, but I'm not so sure he's a great head coach, and he is in that wonderful middle ground where you can't necessarily lobby for the head job, but you know you're totally lobbying for that head job. It's a mess of epic proportions and while we joke all the time about Illinois' continuing ineptitude in football, it's also pretty tragic. If the allegations against Tim Beckman are true - in that, he told injured players to keep playing, etc. - then he is a terrible person and that entire staff is a little culpable.

On the upside for Illinois, it's not like they weren't going to fire Beckman after the season regardless. Now they get an entire year to talk PJ Fleck into coaching in Champaign.

Time for funsies! The two teams in the Big Ten Championship will be _____ & _____? If Illinois doesn't take a head coach from the MAC, which one of your schools is going to take one of my coaches? Worst team in the Big Ten will be ______?

Ohio State and Wisconsin will be in the Big Ten Championship game and it annoys me ever so much. Ohio State will most likely curbstomp Wisconsin again and we're going to have to send a Hazmat team to decontaminate Columbus from all the smug. I would almost pick Michigan State in this slot, but I don't think they pull it out against the Buckeyes as things stand today.

As for worst team? Yikes. I mean, Purdue is still pretty bad. Like, they're getting better, but I'm not so sure Darrel Hazell was the answer. I picked them to scratch out five wins, which would keep him there, but I would also not be surprised to see them crater again and be at like, two or three wins. Oh, and let's be real. Illinois is totally stealing a MAC coach.