<
>

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

Looks like I got off the Big East beat at just about the right time. Glad to be in this one B1G, occasionally happy family. Let's get to some correspondence:

Dan N. from San Marcos, Calif., writes: I liked your post on the Buckeye QB situation. I'd like to take this opportunity, however, to disagree with one item you mention. I am a Buckeye fan, and I have complete tolerance for grooming Braxton Miller and accepting the potential losses, rather than seeing Joe Bauserman out there. As a high school coach once said to me, "Don't lose with seniors." In other words, if you are going to lose anyway, at least make it a gain by getting experience for guys who will play next year. As I see it, Bauserman is pretty much a loss everytime he takes the field.

Brian Bennett: Dan, I completely understand your point. And if you'll recall, I'm the guy who wrote, way back on June 8, that Ohio State should be bold and start Miller from the get-go. (Adam disagreed with me). I think now for sure, it's time to see what the kid can do. However, Luke Fickell and the Buckeyes are in a tough spot here. Miller is going to make mistakes -- he turned the ball over twice at Miami in limited time -- and those could cost Ohio State wins. Remember, Fickell is on a one-year contract, so he's not exactly in a position to practice patience and accumulate losses. That could result in him and the entire staff getting canned. Also, the Buckeyes may have looked bad against Miami, but Big Ten play hasn't started. Who's to say they can't turn it around and win the Leaders Division or make it to a BCS game? You can't just throw in the towel at this point. Miller will start this week, and the best thing that could happen is for him to play really well. But I think they're still going to need Bauserman in case the youngster struggles or gets hurt.


James from Geneva, Ohio, writes: With the dissapointing loss to Miami and the lack of motivation that Fickell showed at the end of the game, is it pretty much set in stone that he won't be back next year? And why are people getting on the Bucks so much this year, even the fans, we have a HC who dosnt know what he is doing, 22 FR. along with 17 Sophomores playing, this team is really young. Do you think the Bucks will be back to dominate next year?

Brian Bennett: It's way too early to make any judgments on Fickell. Yes, that was not a great performance in Miami by any stretch, and his time management was curious (though I still don't think it made any difference, since Ohio State couldn't move the ball anyway). You said it yourself, James: Fickell is dealing with some difficult circumstances, including the suspensions and a couple of key injuries early. I don't think you can judge him until after the season is complete and after we see how Ohio State plays with all its players available. As for next year, there are just too many unknown variables to make any predictions. But barring any unforeseen NCAA penalties, this program is never going to be too far from the top.


Masada Roy from Omaha writes: After looking at these first 3 games, how do you expect the Big Ten to get any respect for a national title shot? With Neb/Wis the only two teams left undefeated in the top 10, there will only be one team left after their Oct 1. showdown. If one of these teams goes all the way unbeaten, how will they stack against an unbeaten Big 12 school and an unbeaten SEC school in a three-way race for two spots to play for it all?

Brian Bennett: The Big Ten's early struggles won't help the league's perception. In your scenario -- and I'm assuming that unbeaten Big 12 team is Oklahoma -- I feel confident that the Big Ten would be left out of the BCS title game. The SEC is all but guaranteed to get in with an unbeaten team, and Oklahoma is already No. 1. The Big Ten would certainly howl about it, but that's how it is. I continue to think it's going to be difficult for any Big Ten team to go undefeated in such a balanced league, though Wisconsin is making a stronger case by the day. Well, not everyone agrees with that ...


Mac from Omaha writes: You are so high on Wisconsin -- just wondering if they snuck an AQ win against a team who didn't lose to an FCS school in there somewhere that nobody noticed? Oh, they didn't? They don't next week either? I guess their first real test will be Nebraska, where we'll see if they are good or a mirage like so many other teams who play nobody.

Brian Bennett: You're correct in criticizing the Badgers' schedule, Mac. Wisconsin hasn't had to break too much of a sweat, and the Nebraska game will bring a huge step up in competition level. The reason I still like this team, however, is the way in which they've beaten their first three opponents. The offense is mind-numbingly efficient, and the defense has steadily improved. There have been no hiccups or scares like other teams have experienced. I'd be more skeptical if we'd never seen this from the Badgers, but since they went to the Rose Bowl last year, we can trust that this team is actually really good. How good? Ask me next Saturday night.


David from Phoenix writes: All right, Brian, who in your mind starts off Big Ten play on a shakier base; OSU, Penn St, Mich St, or Iowa? All of these teams have taken a gut punch in their first weeks, and the argument could be made that they're all better than they have appeared. But with one loss for each team, where is the fire burning the hottest? Come B1G play, they will all be looking for strong performances. Which ones will deliver?

Brian Bennett: Excellent questions, and all four teams have at least one major issue. At Penn State, it's the offense. Michigan State has offensive line injuries and inexperience to deal with. Iowa has some problems in several areas that need to be fixed. Everybody knows the deal at Ohio State by now. I'd say the Buckeyes are the shakiest right now just because of all their issues combined with a first-year head coach and a tough schedule. They could really improve as the season goes along, however. I think Michigan State bounces back the best. I don't know how exactly the line will get solved, but there's a whole lot of talent elsewhere.


Josh from Portland, Ore., writes: Less expansion talk more football!!! I know its easy for us fans at home to "couch coach" but hear me out. Michigan has started the last two games trying to implement too much pro and not enough spread. The run game feeds off Denard, especially the spread option. I feel like they may have to work in the pro style a little later in the game like, WHEN THEY HAVE A LEAD. Change is good, and I love my team, but can you tell em to slow it down a bit???

Brian Bennett: Amen, Josh, and so far we've been expansion free in this mailbag. As for the Wolverines, I doubt Al Borges would listen to my suggestions. He's got a bit of a conundrum, though, because he wants to implement his system, but clearly Michigan is at its best when it lets Denard Robinson do his thing. When the Wolverines fell behind big against Notre Dame, they sure looked a lot like last year's team with Robinson going nuts. Borges has to balance now and the future. But given how poorly Michigan has started in games this season, that balance may have to be tipped a little, because falling behind in Big Ten play is not a recipe for success.


Isaac from Parts Unknown writes: Do you think Taylor Martinez has to have good passing numbers to be a Heisman contender? Obviously quarterbacks like Troy Smith, Cam Newton, and Tim Tebow were better passers than Martinez. However, Eric Crouch had unimpressive passing numbers, and solid numbers rushing the ball which was to be expected with how much he ran, about 15-20 times a game. His numbers weren't that amazing but he was able to win the Heisman by making several highlight real plays while leading a top 5 team. Do you think it's possible for Martinez to get into the Heisman race if Nebraska is a top 5 team with some highlight reel plays, and decent stats?

Brian Bennett: I think it's possible for Martinez to win the Heisman without huge passing numbers, as long as his running continues to be great (he's leading the Big Ten in rushing) and the Cornhuskers keep on winning. But I'd point out a couple things. One, Crouch completed 55.6 percent of his passes (granted, in only 189 attempts) during his Heisman season. Martinez is under 50 percent right now. Another thing is that passing numbers are so inflated right now, Martinez is going to have some tough competition among Heisman contenders like Andrew Luck, Kellen Moore, Brandon Weeden, etc. And I worry about Martinez's ability to stay healthy if he keeps running so much and takes hits. We saw what happened last year.


Brent from Silver Spring, Md., writes: Obviously all is not happy in Happy Valley. But how about this? I think the offensive game plan needs to be more conservative. Yeah, I can hear the naysayers right now, "JoePa needs to be more conservative?" But the game plan always has a run in each of the three downs and more often than not that run is for 2-ish yards on 2nd down after an incompletion on 1st down. It routinely sets up 3rd and long. If Army and Navy can be competitive running the ball almost every play, surely PSU with its talent could be competitive too. At least they would be setting up 3rd and short versus 3rd and long. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: While the running game behind Silas Redd and Brandon Beachum is clearly the strength of a rather punchless offense so far, I don't think Penn State can get by just with pounding it on the ground. And that's because I'm not sure the offensive line is good enough to dominate anybody. The Nittany Lions simply must make plays in the passing game to keep defenses honest. Right now, Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin are both way too inconsistent for that to happen.


Rob NitLion from Trenton, N.J., writes: Brian, more of a comment, than a question for your mailblog, but, can we PLEASE just stop with all of the B1G "what if" scenarios for who should be added in this whole conference realignment circus? Its very clear after reading responses from both you and Adam as well as hundreds of other media commentary that only ND can add any value to the conference (who wants the headache that Texas brings with its own network?) Is anyone else tired of seeing the same questions posed and answered on the mailblog about who should be considered? Unless you can give us a substantial reason (other than money) that would cause the B1G to expand, such as how realignment may possibly give every other surviving conference besides the B1G the all important exposure in the recruiting hotbed of Texas, I'm pleading with you to answer other questions (I'll even accept you not responding to this...since it's only a comment).

Brian Bennett: How ironic that my only expansion-related question in this mailbag was asking for an end to expansion-related questions. You got your wish, Rob. (Or did you?) Let's all get back to football on the field this week, please.