It's the first day of March, which means football practice is almost here, the madness is upon us, baseball is close and spring is about to bloom. Oh, and it's Thursday mailbag time. What's not to love?
Travis from St. Louis writes: I guess we'll know when Iowa plays MSU in October how good the offense can be. I think you correctly point out the concern how well Greg Davis can do at Iowa considering Texas is consistently working with 4-5 stars recruits. I think the hallmark of a good coach is the re-teaching of talent to the next man in. It's reasonable to think Davis will struggle with that at Iowa. I also agree that Ken O'Keefe got a bad rap. There weren't complainers during Kirk Ferentz's glory years 2002-2004. I think that O'Keefe did a pretty good job last year. I would argue his offense definitely underachieved from 2007-2010 even with the Orange Bowl year. Iowa survived those years on defense and several future NFL players (Clayborn, Angerer, Spievey, Klug etc).
Brian Bennett: Hello to you in St. Louis, Travis. I'm getting married there this summer and am getting excited about the Cardinals this year. But I digress. You make some good points, especially about Iowa's defense. I think that's really the key, because when Ferentz's teams are at their best, they're playing really good defense and the offense is controlling the clock with the running game while avoiding mistakes. Iowa is probably never going to score 50 points a game like Davis' Texas team with Vince Young did, but that's not Ferentz's style.
With a normal defensive effort, the Hawkeyes would have scored enough points to beat Iowa State last year and should have been able to hold Minnesota to under 21 points. Just flip those two results, and all of a sudden we're talking about a nine-win team instead of a seven-win club.
Sean from Tucson, Ariz., writes: You had Kirk Cousins at No. 6 in your preseason rankings, and then in the article you had nothing but praise for him. So how come he moved down to No. 9? Because as a Spartan Alumni I cannot imagine that there are 8 players in the B1G who did more for their teams then Cousins did for the Green and White.
Brian Bennett: It's a good question, and one a few Michigan State fans asked this week. The ranking is not meant as a knock on Cousins, whom I feel had an even better year than what we expected in the preseason. It's instead a reflection of some of the other performances in the league. You'll find as the countdown continues that our top eight guys were all either All-Americans, national award winners or record breakers.
Sean from Cincinnati writes: If Braxton Miller has a Heisman-like year next year do you think that the Buckeyes having a postseason ban would hurt his chances with the voters?
Brian Bennett: First off, I don't think Miller will be a serious Heisman Trophy contender in 2012. He will be learning an entirely new system and has an unproven cast of receivers around him. I find it more likely that Miller will be a Heisman contender in 2013 and '14. But strange things do occur. If he goes nuts in his first year under Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes have a strong regular season, then I don't think the postseason ban will have any effect. Remember that Heisman balloting is done before bowl season. Matt Barkley finished sixth last year despite USC being on probation. And I doubt Robert Griffin III got bonus points for leading his team to the Alamo Bowl.
Matt from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Brian, I see Michigan continues to get recruits. While this isn't the best for Spartans fans, is there a danger locking up so many recruits so quickly? It seems like if there is another recruit out there that UM hasn't really seen (say they have a really good senior year); I think UM might be disappointed that they couldn't get him because they have no scholarships to offer.
Brian Bennett: That is one danger of locking up players early. They may not develop as planned during their senior years, while others may be late bloomers. Remember, though, that these are non-binding verbal commitments on both sides. If a prospect is not performing as hoped, then Michigan could always end the relationship. And the Wolverines will still have some spots available to offer players late in the recruiting process, as well as facing some almost inevitable decommitments. Recruiting is moving to an earlier and earlier time frame, and it's better to have blue-chipper in the fold as soon as possible rather than scramble around late looking for players.
Antwon H. from Cleveland writes: Brian, do you think Ohio State is letting good recruits get away with the way "that team up north" is pulling in new recruits every day seemingly?
Brian Bennett: I wouldn't worry about the Buckeyes missing out. Ohio State has five commitments for 2013, and all five are ESPNU 150 prospects. That's impressive. Michigan has four committed players from Ohio, including one from Columbus, but according to our recruiting folks only one of those players had an offer from the Buckeyes. There should be enough talent to go around.
Dave R. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Regarding your Ohio State "Big Shoes to Fill" -- I certainly understand the O line. However, I'd put Devier Posey on that list, too. True, he was out all but 2 or 3 games last year, but no one filled his shoes when he was out. He made some big catches coming back. We have some talent coming in on the O line; but I'm not so sure we have the talent we need in receivers. Just curious why you felt Adams and Brewster were bigger shoes to fill than Posey.
Brian Bennett: You kind of answered your own question there, Dave. Posey only played the final three games of last year and had 162 total receiving yards. While he was no doubt the team's best receiver, Ohio State already had to try and fill his shoes for almost all of last year, and he didn't make a huge impact -- the Buckeyes went 0-3 with him in the lineup. Finding a go-to receiver is still a point of emphasis for the Buckeyes, but this is Year 2 of that project.
Jay from Vermont writes: There's been a lot of talk about preserving the Big Ten/Pac-12 relationship with the Rose Bowl and possibly incorporating major bowl games into the playoff picture. I was thinking, why don't they just keep the 4 major bowls so they could keep traditional match-ups, then seed the four champions, and let the playoff take over from there? Also I think there should be a limit on the number of bowl games, maybe 29 or 30 so only half the teams get to go, and a 7-win requirement instead of the current 6 which let a below .500 team (UCLA) go bowling this year.
Brian Bennett: Jay, I wouldn't be surprised if the bowls are incorporated somehow because the bowl lobby has a weird grip on college football administrators and school presidents. Still, I prefer the home sites plan because it's much better for fans. They won't have to travel to two neutral sites in consecutive weeks to follow their teams, and the on-campus atmospheres are what make the sport special in the first place. I don't think your plan would work because it would extend the season at least another two weeks after New Year's Day and would mean as many as 16 games for the two national finalists (12 regular season games, conference championship game, bowl and two playoff games). There is no appetite among decision makers to play that many games or go that late into January.
I agree with your take on limiting bowl games, but if 6-6 teams want to keep playing in minor bowls, so be it. I'll probably still watch them because there's not much else on in December.
Steve Z. from Lafayette, Ind., writes: Hi Brian, great job on the blog! I was just wondering what the timeline generally is for the NCAA to decide on a transfer's exemption from sitting out at year. I think it'd be great if Kyle Prater could play for the 'Cats this year!
Brian Bennett: You, me and college programs around the nation would love to know what that timeline is. The NCAA works on its own schedule, and while I understand that it has numerous cases to sort through, the process often seems to drag on unnecessarily long. Meanwhile, teams simply have to wait and hope and can't make firm plans. After the NCAA -- ahem -- fixes all its other problems, perhaps a more streamlined system for player appeals can be instituted.