Chat with Brian Bennett
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, ESPN.com's Big East blogger Brian Bennett will stop by to talk some football.
Bennett joined ESPN.com in August 2008 after nine years at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., where he covered college sports and the University of Louisville beat. He lives in Louisville.
Send your questions now and join Bennett Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Brian Bennett (2:00 PM)
Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the chat. Since it's Notre Dame preview day, we'll talk about the Irish a lot to start and then take some other questions on the Big East or whatever else if there's time. Fire away.
If during early season games Notre dame can get a sizable lead do you see coach kelly bring in back up qbs or keep Crist in to gain more experience and comfort in the new system
Brian Bennett (2:01 PM)
Well, that's a good idea, but with the first six games being against Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, BC and Pitt, I don't know where Notre Dame will have a sizable lead. More likely that Crist takes just about every snap the first half of the year.
Notre Dame's first 6 games are tough. What will there record be after PITT? Which teams do you predict they will win/lose?
Brian Bennett (2:03 PM)
I'm going to say 4-2. Lose to either Michigan or Michigan State and either BC or Pitt.
Brian, I've been a diehard Notre Dame fan all my life. Tell me, is it okay to drink the kool-aid about Brian Kelly...or will I spit it out again like Davies, Willingham and Weis?
Brian Bennett (2:05 PM)
Well, I'm a big believer in Kelly. His track record speaks for itself. If he can't get it done in South Bend, I'm not sure who can.
What do you see as the Irish's weakest link on their team? O-line? D-line? Secondary?
Brian Bennett (2:07 PM)
I'd probably say defensive line depth, followed by the secondary. I think the DBs should be better, but there's not much depth there either and they haven't proved much. I like the three starting D-linemen.
Curt (Warsaw In)
Brian do you think the Irish will play more of a press coverage pass defense or biltz packages against Purdue?
Brian Bennett (2:09 PM)
I'm not in the defensive meeting rooms, surprisingly. But judging off what Diaco did last year at Cincinnati, I'd say the philosophy will be more of keeping things underneath. No way we'll see the kind of blitzing we saw last year under Tenuta, which put those corners on an island way too much.
Is this finally the year that ND starts beating U$C again?
Brian Bennett (2:11 PM)
Maybe not this year, especially with the game being in L.A. But in the next few years, as those scholarship cuts take hold, ND should have an advantage. I know the Irish have a coaching edge right now.
Do you see Robert Hughes having a good season? Every season I always think "this will be the year Hughes breaks through", but it never is. And it seems like he's been at ND FOREVER,what year is he?
Beano Cook (South Bend)
Brian - Everyone keeps talking about the Irish winning 8-10 games this year. Why is an undefeated season not being predicited? The cabinets are hardly empty (Weis recruited top 15 classes every year) and BK knows how get most out of his players? The schedule is more than manable, the toughest games will be @ USC, Utah and Pitt.
Brian Bennett (2:14 PM)
I think it's safe to say Hughes is what he is right now. A big back who can be effective in certain situations. Interested to see how Kelly uses a 245-pound back in the spread.
Brian Bennett (2:15 PM)
I think the sked is a little tougher than you make it out to be. At Michigan State, at BC, Purdue, Michigan are no walks in the park. I just don't think this team has the depth in key positions to go undefeated.
Brian Bennett (2:15 PM)
And I mean, this is a team that's gone 16-21 the last three years. Why are we even discussing 12-0?
Which wide out do you see starting opposite Floyd and Theo in the slot? Kamara, T. Jones or Shaq Evans???
Brian Bennett (2:16 PM)
Mostly guesswork on my part, but based on all the positive reviews he's gotten, I think it's going to be TJ Jones. Lots of receivers will play, though.
Hi Brian. Alright, full disclosure...I'm a ND alum and huge football fan, needless to say! There's a lot of haters out there who are still saying that ND is irrelevant in today's college football world, and that ND can't recruit the upper-echelon players due to several factors including weather and academic standards. I find it quite funny that these haters will click on an ESPN story about ND, will even post a blog comment about ND, but still ND is "irrelevant?!" Also, if there are any questions about ND (and Brian Kelly) being able to recruit the best, I simply say look at the developing class of 2011. What's your take on these issues?
Brian Bennett (2:19 PM)
Notre Dame may not have competed for national titles or even Top 25s lately, but the Irish are never irrelevant. Kelly and his staff are off to a good start with this recruiting class. Really encouraged by the linemen they've been landing. They've whiffed on QBs, but with Crist having three more years I don't think it's that big of a deal.
Nick (Washington, DC)
What is the biggest change we will see on game day under Coach Kelly in comparison to Weis?
Brian Bennett (2:20 PM)
Better overall preparation and motivation. And more importantly, better conditioning. Kelly's teams never looked tired in the 4th quarter even when running high-speed, no-huddle attacks.
How difficult is it for a new QB and mostly inexperienced OL to learn the spread? I don't understand how people think these guys will pick this up to be proficient enough to win the majority of their games...
Brian Bennett (2:23 PM)
Well, I'd agree except that Kelly's previous teams picked it up right away. I mean, he took a Cincinnati team built on the power running game and extremely conservative offense and took them to 10 wins the first season. ND wasn't running a spread last year but it was very pass heavy. I don't think the adjustment will be that difficult.
thomas (los angeles)
you know the irish have a coaching advantage?! i'll give you that kelly knows offense, but he's never proven that he knows defense. i'll take monte kiffin and orgeron. and it is worth rememering that lane was the guy calling the plays for the best offense of the decade.
Brian Bennett (2:24 PM)
I was talking head coach. Compare the track records of Lane Kiffin and Kelly as head coaches, and get back to me on that one.
Do you think BYU going independent helps or hurts ND's ideal to stay independent itself? Also, would ND support or oppose giving BYU an in for the BCS like what it currently has (if it's 8th or better it AQ's)?
Brian Bennett (2:27 PM)
I don't think it makes much difference. I can't see BYU finishing in the top 8 very often. Move also makes it far more difficult for MWC to get auto-BCS bid, which in some ways helps ND.
With the new atmosphere in Notre Dame with a proven college coach in Brian Kelly, to the returners on offense with All-American Candidates Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph , a new training table and Paul Longo's weight room training guidance, to the schedule and the defense moving back to the 3-4 with juniors and seniors that were recruited to play in that scheme and the emergence of Manti Teo as a leader in the middle of the D ... What final record do you forcast for the Irish this season? I keep bouncing back between 8-4 and 9-3 ...
Brian Bennett (2:29 PM)
I'm convinced the final record will be somewhere between 7-5 and 9-3. So I'm splitting the difference and saying 8-4, with a trip to the Champs Sports Bowl
Curt (Warsaw In)
Would it be safe to say that Tommy Rees will be the backup quarterback?
Brian Bennett (2:30 PM)
Yes, at least to start the year. I'm not a big believer in Nate Montana, and Rees has a big head start on the other two frosh
Gary (Terre Haute, IN)
Any young players that can be that special returner like a Rockey Ismail?
Brian Bennett (2:32 PM)
I think having Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick return kicks is an excellent idea. Wood in particular could be special.
Mark May (Bristol)
Would you say that Kyle Rudolph is the best TE in the CFB ?
Brian Bennett (2:33 PM)
I'd say he needs to prove it over a full season. But no tight end has better pure physical skills that I've seen.
Mr. Brian,I believe ND, barring any significant injuries, will go 9-3 this year (maybe a tad optimistic) with the 3 losses coming @ Mich. St.Pitt., and @ USCum. If this were to happen do you think ND would make it to a BCS bowl? What ND game are you most interested in seeing this year? THX
Brian Bennett (2:34 PM)
I think that's probably the ceiling, and you're right, injuries will be a huge factor. I think it'll take 10-2 to get to the BCS, though, unless there's mass carnage across the country or ND gets on a roll to end the year.
Brian Bennett (2:35 PM)
As for top games, I'm fascinated by the storylines of ND-Michigan in Week 2. Also want to see Pitt-ND. Of course, I'm a Big East guy, so the RichRod-Kelly matchup and Pitt clash make me a bit biased.
Matt (Findlay OH)
Give me the name of one ND player that may be flying under the radar, but you predict may have a big season under the new coaching regime.
Brian Bennett (2:36 PM)
I keep coming back to Cierre Wood. He's just got so much natural talent that they'll have to find a way to use him
Hi Brian. I have tried to get answers from some of your colleagues about ND's supposed advantage regarding BCS games? How is it an advantage that ND has to finish in the Top 8 or Top 12 in rankings to get a BCS bid? How many 3 or 4 loss ND teams got a BCS game? Since the inception of the BCS there has been numerous three or four loss BCS Conference champs that have gone to BCS games including the 4 loss 2002 FSU team that lost to a two loss ND team. How come BCS Conferences don't have the same criteria?
Brian Bennett (2:38 PM)
Interesting question. Well, I'd say for one that Notre Dame doesn't have to win a conference (or navigate a conference title game, for that matter) to get to a BCS game, and other schools aren't guaranteed a spot if they finish in the Top 8. And ND is all but guaranteed a spot if it finishes in the Top 12 because some bowl would want to sell tickets to ND fans.
Brian Bennett (2:39 PM)
And when you can make your own schedule, which for the foreseeable future will include seven home games and one "neutral" site game, then, yes, that's an advantage of sorts. The Irish still have to win to get there, though, and they play a tougher schedule every year than, say, Boise State.
Eric D. (PA)
Hey Brian, what do you expect from Bob Diaco's defense this year and in coming years? He's a bit of an unknown commodity, and Cinci's defense last year wasn't spectacular even if they did put up good TFL numbers.
Brian Bennett (2:40 PM)
The defense was actually really good for about the first 8 or 9 weeks. But then they started playing teams with bigger offensive lines who could just plow through the smallish Cincy defensive front and linebackers. The Irish have better size than those Bearcats did. Still, Cincy did go 12-0, and that's all that matters, right?
Patrick (Ft. Lauderdale)
I know you followed Kelly when he was in Cincinnati. Do you see any things that may be different with his approach at ND? I've been cautiously optimistic since having my heart ripped out by the last 3 coaches. How soon before I can be fully optimistic?
Brian Bennett (2:42 PM)
He seems to be doing most of the same things. The only difference I've noticed is that at Cincy, he had to be more of a salesman since the program was largely ignored. At ND, he's embracing the history and culture and ingratiating himself in the campus atmosphere. As he should.
Qb next in next years class... this class is all about getting linemen on both sides of the ball, especially D and revamping at corner and saftey
Brian Bennett (2:43 PM)
Agreed, but there were some QBs in this class they wanted and didn't get. Kelly loves to stockpile them. But Crist has three years and there are three true frosh behind him
Jonathan (South Bend)
What are you thoughts about Notre Dame's defensive line? Lots of experience even some with the 3-4.
Brian Bennett (2:45 PM)
I think Williams, Johnson and Lewis-Moore are all solid and the Irish can win with them. It's just that there's not much behind them, and it's hard to play effectively without rotating the defensive linemen often.
Brian Bennett (2:45 PM)
I'll start taking some Big East questions too if you have any
Steve (Redlands, CA)
Brian, forgive me for not being "in" with the college football lingo, but what is a football-only training table? It seems like its more than just a table to me but I have no clue.
Brian Bennett (2:46 PM)
Just a fancy way of saying they have their own dining hall. The NCAA says you can provide players with one meal a day. In the past, ND players were on their own to get all their meals. This makes it easier to make sure they're getting proper nutrition throughout the season, theoretically helping them keep weight/strength all year.
Where would ND finish in the Big East?
Brian Bennett (2:48 PM)
That's a good question. I would say top half but not No. 1. Giving Kelly a lot of credit to have them that high with the way the Irish have played against BE teams the past couple of years
Mark (Syracuse, NY)
I don't see the big deal about Pittsburgh. I understand they have a lot of talent, but ND had a lot of talent under Weis and we saw what happened. What are the areas of the Panthers that they can be most easily exposed?
Brian Bennett (2:49 PM)
The big deal is not just a lot of talent, but having won 19 games the past two years. This team has been right on the verge, and now Cincinnati is in transition. Pitt's concerns right now are interior offensive line and the secondary.
Brian (Chicago IL)
Hi, and thanks your time. How do you see young linebackers like Fleming and Filer coming into play? Fleming showed alot of promise last year getting to the QB.
Brian Bennett (2:50 PM)
I like both those guys and the way they fit as OLBs in the 3-4 because of their athleticism. I could definitely see Filer pushing Brian Smith out of the lineup
Don't forget ND has 4 star D linemen in backups Tyler Stockton and Louis Nix. You're making it sound as if we have walk ons for D-line back ups.
Brian Bennett (2:50 PM)
Those guys aren't ready yet. Heck, Nix showed up weighing over 350 pounds. He's a long way away from contributing.
Brian my week 1 upset pick is Uconn over Michigan @ The Big House especially with the experience of the Huskies and Zach Fraser. What are your thoughts/feelings about this?THX
Brian Bennett (2:51 PM)
I am on board with you. I've been high on UConn for months.
Jack (South Bend, IN)
They say Dayne Crist has been looking good off his knee, but has he been taking any hits in practices yet? How is he looking in live ball situations?
Brian Bennett (2:52 PM)
He hasn't gotten hit yet but should soon. They're not going to take too much risk of him getting hurt in practice because they're too inexperienced behind him
Do you think Manti will live up to his hype now that he is anchoring the Defense?
Brian Bennett (2:52 PM)
I think he's going to have a monster season. No doubt about it.
Todd (Canton, Mi)
Everything I see and read about the Irish it seems as though they were in bad shape physically what is your take on this and has it changed.
Brian Bennett (2:54 PM)
I don't know that I would say bad shape, but they clearly faded down the stretch of the season the past two years. Look, Weis ran the program more like an NFL team. Conditioning wasn't nearly as intense as it is now under Kelly and Longo.
Who will win the BE. Can WVU beat LSU?
Brian Bennett (2:55 PM)
I give Pitt the slight edge but WVU, Cincy and UConn are all right there. If West Virginia is as good as the things I'm hearing about them in camp, I think they'll have a real shot in Baton Rouge. Can't wait for that game.
Chris (Bremen, IN)
Brian, suppose nightmares come true and Crist gets injured early on in the season. How would you expect the Irish to fair with a bunch of young, inexperienced QB's? Would Rudolph and Floyd be enough to keep the Irish afloat?
Brian Bennett (2:56 PM)
That would be bad, bad news. Kelly, though, is a master at getting QBs ready -- you just have to look at Cincinnati the past two years. But those QBs weren't as young, and the schedule offered a few more breaks than this one.
There has been mention about kyle's hamstring, how serious is this? Will it be a big deal with such a tough beginning schedule?
Brian Bennett (2:56 PM)
It doesn't appear to be a big deal. Rudolph should be fine; seems more precautionary than anything else at this point.
Good articles posted today. Running game and defense are both areas that needed to be addressed and have been (results pending). But I feel like new coaches preach special teams. Haven't heard much from BK about that. Your view?
Brian Bennett (2:58 PM)
They need more consistency from the kicking game, and Tausch and Ruffer are neck and neck. Punting should be OK. Return game needs to come up with more big plays, but Wood and Riddick should fix that. Look at what Kelly did with Gilyard, Huber and Rogers in special teams at Cincy -- they were some of the best in the nation at their crafts.
Eric (South Bend)
Is Manti as impressive a person off the field as he is on like the media reports have stated
Brian Bennett (2:59 PM)
Yep. Nothing not to like about that kid.
Andy (Lafayette, IN)
Brian,Talk about ND's opener with Purdue. I think the Irish matchup well with Purdue especially with a brand new secondary, but Marve and the Purdue offense should be fairly dynamic....I think the Irish win but what gives them the edge in this game?
Brian Bennett (3:00 PM)
Lots of offense, lots of pressure on both secondaries. I think it will be close, but I think ND has a little better upper-echelon talent and the game is at home. Irish in a close one.
Brian Bennett (3:00 PM)
That's all my time for today. Thanks for all the great questions, and may the next two weeks fly by so we can get to the start of the season. Bye.