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Big Ten Thursday mailbag

Hope everybody is having a great week. I'm looking forward to covering the Michigan-Michigan State game this weekend. Somehow, during my long sportswriting career, I've never made it to East Lansing. Glad that will be corrected. If you have any good suggestions on places I should hit while in town Friday, send them my way (as long as those places will let me watch the NLCS Game 5, of course).

On to your letters:

Tony from Dearborn, Mich., writes: In your piece titled, "MSU looks to slow down Robinson again," you state that Denard Robinson has cut down his carries (but not too much) and also imply that he is wearing down. Are there any statistics out there on the comparative number of hits he has taken between this year and last year? My guess/assumption/speculation is Robinson has not been hit as much nor as hard as last year at this time.

Brian Bennett: There are no stats that I'm aware of which quantify hits taken, Tony (though I'd love it if there were more sabermetric type numbers like that for college football). I do know this: Michigan has played six games in a row, and no matter what position a guy plays, he's got to be a little dinged up by this point in the season. Robinson did get hit quite a few times by Northwestern (insert your Wildcats defense jokes here). The point is that defenses are about to get a lot tougher, and teams like Michigan State will do their best to make sure he feels those hits. Can he hold up?


Scott from Ann Arbor writes: Is Michigan State's defense overrated by being "number 1" in the country? I feel like their numbers are inflated a bit because of a pretty weak non-conference schedule, no way it's better than Alabama's or LSU's. The one time they played a high-powered offense in Notre Dame, they gave up 31 points (including the ST TD). Michigan's offense is just as potent than Notre Dame's and probably more dangerous because of Denard Robinson. Could it be a long day for Sparty because of this false sense of security?

Brian Bennett: It's a fair question, and national stats at this point in the season are still skewed by the wildly different schedules teams have played. But I will say I saw Michigan State's defense in person in Columbus two weeks ago and believe it is the real deal. Say what you want about Ohio State's offense, but the Spartans simply overwhelmed the Buckeyes' offensive line, which is still quite rare. I'm also impressed by their secondary. No. 1 in the country? Maybe not, because I'd take Alabama or LSU. But it's as good as it gets in the Big Ten. Speaking of ...


Mochila from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: You and Adam have been very big on Penn State's defense, and rightfully so. They have played very well in the past few games. You two have also recently begun to believe that MSU's defense is the real deal, too. So, which defense do you two think is better to this point? If Penn State, will it take MSU shutting down Shoelace to prove that we're the premier defense in the B1G this year? I know you'll be undivided believers if we can stuff Shoelace and Wilson/Ball in back-to-back weeks.

Brian Bennett: That's excellent debate fodder, Mochila, and don't be surprised to see Adam and I tackle that very topic soon. They're both very good. I'd say Penn State has shut down a better offense so far than Michigan State has -- stopping an Iowa attack that had been doing good things in the passing game. As you said, the Spartans get two major challenges the next two weeks. So we're about to find out.


Jeremy from Marshalltown, Iowa, writes: I will give it to Penn State. They did good on offense and their D played very well. However, I was disappointed with Ken O'Keefe and Kirk Ferentz this past weekend. I was expecting far more passes than runs, but it stayed pretty balanced, and towards the end there were more runs. It seemed like most of the game was 2 runs and a pass. Coker hasn't played good enough to rely on that. If they relied more on the passing game, which was what I thought this "new" offense was going to be. Do you know why they didn't pass way more?

Brian Bennett: It's hard to say Iowa didn't pass enough when the Hawkeyes threw the ball 34 times, compared to 30 rushing attempts. A lot of offenses are going to struggle against Penn State's defense, and being one-dimensional is no way to succeed against the Lions (though Devon Still would love to rush the passer every down). Remember, too, that this was a game where Penn State dominated the time of possession, and Iowa only had four drives in the first half. Three of their second-half possessions ended in turnovers. With all that said, I do think the Hawkeyes need to figure out their identity on offense, and the running game hasn't been consistent enough yet.


Jordan D. from State College, Pa., writes: At what point does a quarterback competition ruin your team's chances of winning? Constantly insisting that the competition is still very much alive (even though Matt McGloin's stats make the choice appear to be a no-brainer) has to be taking a toll on the coaches, team, and especially the two quarterbacks themselves. I keep reading how the coaches still can't make up their minds after six games. Really? Six games? Does nobody else remember that we played 13 games last year with these same two quarterbacks? I say the competition is still undecided after 19 games. And after 19 games of our embarrassing offense relying on our championship-caliber defense to bail the team out, how are we still supposed to believe that the quarterback competition isn't ruining Penn State's chances for success?

Brian Bennett: I agree that this has gotten ridiculous, and at this point you just have to wonder if Rob Bolden is only starting because the coaching staff is trying to keep him from transferring. Neither quarterback is All-Big Ten caliber or even close to it, so the Nittany Lions would be relying on their defense to win games no matter what. They are 5-1, with the only loss coming to Alabama in a game where it wouldn't have mattered who played quarterback. So in that sense, there's no ruination happening. But I understand the incredible frustration Penn State fans must be feeling.


David R. from West Chester, Ohio, writes: You asked if activating DeVier Posey is worth it for tOSU. As a long-time Michigan fan/alumnus I know the answer is YES. If they can get a performance against UM that helps win that game, they'll think it well worth the hassle. Hell, if they could get a game's worth of eligibility out of Rex Kern, Craig Krenzel, Pete Johnson or Archie Griffin, they'd do it in a minute. That is how big Michigan/Ohio State is!

Brian Bennett: Interesting, and you're probably right. You do have to wonder if just letting Posey, Dan Herron and Mike Adams turn pro or cutting them loose after last year's scandal would have in some ways helped this team move on. Then again, I'm sure Ohio State fans tolerated the Maurice Clarett mess because he helped them win a BCS title.


Shady from Findlay, Ohio, writes: Hey, Brian, if someone would have told you in August that halfway through the year Braxton Miller would have cemented himself as the starter and Joe Bauserman would be battling to hold his second spot on the depth chart, what would you have said?

Brian Bennett: I would have said, "Duh." You're talking to the guy who wrote on June 8 that Ohio State should have started Miller from the get-go. We all knew Bauserman was limited. I understand why the Buckeyes went with the veteran first, but how much worse off really would this team have been had it played Miller all along?


Christopher S. from Jacksonville, N.C., writes: If you want to write pretty much dogging Illinois schedule and the fact that they had 5 straight home games that's just fine, but how about some equal playing field here, Wisconsin's first 6 games were at home...? And no recollection of that was ever mentioned. They may be the No. 4 team in the nation, but they have it just as set up as Illinois did. But since you're the expert and I'm the fan I respect your knowledge, but one thing: The Illini will beat the Badgers at home and they will ruin any hope for Wisconsin national championship run.

Brian Bennett: Technically, Christopher, Wisconsin didn't play its first six at home, since the Northern Illinois game was in Chicago. But your point is taken, and clearly the Badgers played a cushy early schedule (and don't forget Michigan also played its first five in Ann Arbor). Illinois' win over Arizona State looks better and better. The big difference is that Wisconsin has absolutely crushed everyone in its path, including Nebraska, while the Illini won three straight games by three points each and needed a huge comeback against Northwestern. But if the Badgers lose in Champaign on Nov. 19, please make sure to write back and remind me that you called it.


Matt H. from Rochester, Mich., writes: What do you think are Michigan's chances of going 12-0 or possible division champs? Befor the season started I would have said no way. But now that B1G conference play has started it looks as if the rest of Michigan's games are winable. Purdue, Iowa, and Ohio State Michigan should beat. Mich St., Illinios, and Nebraska look like toss ups but still winnable. I can see them winning Legends division, but I dont see them beating Wisconsin in conference championship.

Brian Bennett: Ask me about 4 p.m. on Saturday, because I think the Michigan State game might be the toughest one left for the Wolverines. At least, Nebraska has to come to Ann Arbor. I see the Wolverines losing at least two games the rest of the way. But if they were to get to Indianapolis at 12-0 or 11-1, that would set up a tremendous inaugural Big Ten title game, especially since Michigan and Wisconsin would be meeting for the first time this season.


Derrick A. from Brooklyn, N.Y., writes: If Rex Burkhead keeps up with being a hard-nosed RB and gaining them yards...Will he be a preseason contender for the Heisman Trophy next year?

Brian Bennett: He'll at least be on the radar. I'm a big fan of Burkhead, though I'm not sure he produces enough of the highlight-type runs you need to impress casual Heisman voters. He may also suffer from a perception as being an option guy since his quarterback also runs the ball a lot, though that would be a misconception. Burkhead is on pace for about 1,300 yards this season. He'd need bigger numbers than that to make a serious Heisman push.


Tom from New York writes: Long time listener, first time caller, or whatever the proper cliché is for a blog. Anyway, I am huge Maize and Blue fan, have been forever, but last week's O$U NU game gave me headaches. I have been raised to hate Ohio but the Huskers are in our division and a second loss for them would have helped clear the path to Indy. I went with my gut and cheered as the Huskers rallied for victory but as a Wolverine fan -- was that the right call?

Brian Bennett: I love this question. The new division format is going to make for some strange bedfellows and odd rooting alliances. I know it's tough to ever pull for your most hated rival, Tom, and I think you made the right call. The reason is that Nebraska still must come to Ann Arbor, and Michigan controls its own destiny. The only time you should cross enemy lines is when that's the only way your team can benefit.