Chat with Brian Bennett
Welcome to SportsNation! On Monday, ESPN.com's Big Ten 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 Monday at 3 p.m. ET!
Brian Bennett (3:00 PM)
Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to another Big Ten Monday chat. It's officially game week, so cue the balloon drop and marching bands and let's get down to some serious football talk.
Brian Bennett (3:00 PM)
You've got me for the next hour, so fire away!
Nate (Hawkeye Nation) Mankato, MN [via mobile]
Game week. Can you believe it? I'm curious as to your opinion on Iowa's defense as a whole. Do you think they can grow and mature enough to be serviceable come B1G play? I think the schedule really provides them a good opportunity to sort of ease into things and find a rotation that works.
Brian Bennett (3:03 PM)
I'm pinching myself, Nate. (Ouch, that hurts). Anyway, I do think Iowa's defense can certainly become "serviceable." There is talent to work with, and a guy like Carl Davis could make an impact. Iowa really has excelled under Kirk Ferentz when the defense is far more than serviceable and is able to hold opponents under 21 points. Whether this defense can get to that level is highly questionable, but like you said, the schedule may help.
Andrew (New York)
So Gholston's in the top 4 players in the Big 10? I'm a Spartan fan but that's comical. He's, at best, the third best player on our defense behind Allen and Adams, and I think Rush is better on the opposite side of the line. Gholston looks great in pads, but the next block he defeats will be his first.
Brian Bennett (3:04 PM)
Georgia might disagree with you there. Look, we didn't even have Gholston in our Top 25 at the end of '11. But we're basing some of this on potential, and there's little doubt that he has worlds of that.
How much of a chance does Michigan actually have against Alabama?
Brian Bennett (3:05 PM)
Michigan is always going to have a chance when Denard Robinson on the field. That said, Alabama is awfully good. I think if you're going to play the Tide, the opening week is the best time to do so. Still, I'd make the Wolverines a double-digit underdog.
Weyman (Arlington VA)
How do you expect the emotion of the PSU defense to play a factor against Ohio? A lot of saved up aggression from this testing offseason....
Brian Bennett (3:07 PM)
I'll be interested to see how that emotion is channeled. If Michael Mauti can take the passion he had this summer over to the field, that could be something. Some of that wears off over the course of the game regardless. But this defense ought to be pretty darn good no matter what.
Does Nebraska's defense take a step forward in year 2 of the Big 10?
Brian Bennett (3:09 PM)
It's a great question and the subject of something I'm writing about tomorrow. The Huskers certainly seem to think so, despite the absence of any true stars at the moment. I think better familiarity with league offenses will definitely help. But it's also true that Nebraska faces some potentially really good offenses in September, so we should get a good idea whether the defense really has improved pretty quickly.
Over/Under 9.5 wins for the BIG in the opening weekend? Who loses?
Brian Bennett (3:10 PM)
You'll have to wait until Thursday for my picks, but I'll take the over. I like most of the matchups for the B1G this week outside of the one in Dallas. I do see one other mild upset that I'll let you know about Thursday.
Jon (Norwalk, CT)
How worried should Wisconsin be about traveling to Purdue? That game scares me quite a bit and if Purdue beats Wisconsin and either Michigan or OSU, I think the division is theres. The schedule gets a lot easier after those three.
Brian Bennett (3:12 PM)
I picked that as an upset in our predictions post this morning. Wisconsin is simply a different team on the road. Purdue still must make Ross-Ade a tough place to play, especially with Michigan and Penn State also coming to WL. But the Boilers should be a contender in what looks like a three-team race, at most, in the Leaders.
scott (denton,tx )
t minus 3 days i cannot wait much longer it is driving me crazy......
Brian Bennett (3:13 PM)
Me either. But get some sleep now. Will be some late nights on Thursday, Friday and Saturday
Mr. Work (Nebraska)
I just read the ESPN prediction page and noticed that not one analyst had Nebraska winning the division. I can't remember a time when Nebraska was this far under the radar. With a 3 Year starting QB, Arguably the conference?s best returning offensive skill position players, best kicker/punter, and a defense led by Bo Pelini, do you think Nebraska may be a tad underrated, or are Michigan and Michigan St. really this good?
Brian Bennett (3:14 PM)
I think Nebraska has an excellent opportunity to win the Big Ten. People quickly forget that the Huskers were the league favorite going into last season. They have a chance to really bounce back this year. I've got them right there in the Legends race.
Is there a point when you will take off your sparty underwear this year? The more I listen to you the more I think Sparty is actually greater than every SEC team in the history of college football.
Brian Bennett (3:14 PM)
Wait ... did Jason just ask me to take off my underwear? Let's move on
Predictions on Big-10 player of the year? Who do you have as 1st rounder's in next years NFL draft from the conference?
Brian Bennett (3:15 PM)
I'll go with Montee Ball and Gholston. First-rounders Lewan, Wagner, Gholston and Adams
I'm a Michigan fan and I love what Brady Hoke is doing, but I'm very nervous about this year. The depth chart released today has 3 true freshman and 1 walk on backing up all of our offensive line spots. We have only one proven Big Ten player on the defensive line (Roh). Our schedule is much tougher than last year. I know we'll be real good in a couple years, but am I crazy to see 4 or 5 losses this year?
Brian Bennett (3:17 PM)
James, Michigan fans probably think I'm crazy because I picked them to go 8-4. But I have the same concerns you just mentioned about that depth. If there are injuries/problems on either line, things could get hairy. And that schedule is very difficult. I think Brady Hoke is great and will get Michigan back to the top, but this could be a small step back kind of season.
Should anyone in the Big 10 be on upset alert this week?
Brian Bennett (3:18 PM)
Sure. I'd say Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Penn State should all be on some level of upset alert.
Mr. T (Columbus)
Seems like you're pretty high on Ohio State this year, Brian. Do you think Miller will make the next step in an offense built for him? Will the defense go back to being near the top in the nation? Will a play-maker emerge? I was just wondering what you think would lead the Buckeyes to a 10-2 record.
Brian Bennett (3:20 PM)
I'm out there a little bit with that optimistic pick, I realize. But I really like two things about these Buckeyes. 1) The talent on defense is terrific, and even if Miller and the offense are slow to come along, they can still win on the strength of that D. 2). The schedule. An easy non-con slate and only two real difficult road games (Wisconsin and Michigan State) make me think this team can win 10. Of course, I think I picked last year's team to win 9, so take that for what it's worth.
What's to be done as an Ohio State (and otherwise conference solidarity) fan on Saturday evening? Pull for Michigan? Or the heavy from the dreaded SEC? These are the times that try fans' souls...
Brian Bennett (3:21 PM)
Can't blame you for going either way. Still, aren't you just sick of the SEC? I think Michigan's win would do so much for the conference as a whole that you have to put the rivalry aside for the moment. And how great would it be to beat the team that beat 'Bama?
BB, which B1G teams are overrated and underrated this year? Seems to me that Wisconsin (over) and Purdue (under) are candidates.
Brian Bennett (3:23 PM)
I could see that. I think Michigan is overrated at 8, MIchigan State underrated at 13. Nebraska probably underrated a bit, as well as Purdue.
As a Michigan fan, if the situation was reversed I'd root for Ohio just so it would be that much better when Michigan won the game at the end of the year..
Steve (East Lansing)
I find it interesting that guys who cover the Big Ten (You, Adam and the BTN) have all picked MSU to win the conference, yet the national media (AP and Coaches Poll) have UofM ranked higher. Why do you think that is?
Brian Bennett (3:25 PM)
Yeah, we've been high on the Spartans for a long time, and others seem to agree. Remember that a lot of national media just don't pay as close attention to the league as those of us who cover it on a daily basis. They see the Sugar Bowl win and Denard return and assume Michigan is the team to beat. They may very well be right, but we love the Michigan State defense and depth.
Would it be bad for the league's perception if two schools with smaller fanbases and less attention made the CCG, like Iowa vs Purdue?
Brian Bennett (3:26 PM)
I guess it depends on how they got there. If both teams were, say, 9-3 or 10-2 without any big out-of-conference wins, the perception would be the league is weak. If both were dominant, that would lessen that perception. The nation as a whole is always going to be skeptical of non-"brand name" programs in any conference, I think.
Does UMass count as an FBS win towards Indiana's bowl eligibility?
Brian Bennett (3:28 PM)
Yes. UMass is an FBS club. Could, surprisingly, be a key game for IU as the Hoosiers have a chance to start 3-0 if they get that road win.
Craig (Braintree MA)
What do you consider for high/low on Marquies Gray this season?
Brian Bennett (3:29 PM)
Gray threw for 1,495 yards last season and ran for 966. I could see him topping out at 2,400 yards passing and 1,100 rushing if everything goes well. Last year's numbers should be considered the low since he should play more and be much better
How much of an impact do you think Russell Wilson's success to this point (and in the future) will have on Wisconsin's ability to recruit more elite QB prospects going forward?
Brian Bennett (3:31 PM)
I don't know that Wisconsin will get all the credit for WIlson since he spent three years at NC State. But he certainly proved a top-flight QB could succeed in the Badgers' system and then go on to success (well, very very early success) in the NFL. Don't see why other QBs wouldn't want to follow suit, and Danny O'Brien's transfer is already one benefit of Wilson's time in Madison.
Mochila (Grand Rapids, MI)
NFL loves it some B1G defensive linemen. Don't be surprised to see Kawann Short picked in the first round.
Brian Bennett (3:32 PM)
Good call on Short. Forgot about him. Hard to come up with lists like that quickly in a chat format.
The Big Ten will be represented in two BCS bowls this holiday season right Brian?
Brian Bennett (3:33 PM)
I say no. I have Michigan State and Ohio State as the only teams with fewer than three losses, and of course the Buckeyes won't be eligible. I've been wrong many times before, of course.
Brian? 6 wins for PSU? Are you serious? I would be highly offended if I didn't take into account you inability to pick the winner at the Derby this year. Take your salary and put it on the over. At 9-10 wins this year, PSU will be just fine.
Brian Bennett (3:35 PM)
Well, they are just predictions. My rationale on Penn State is that the schedule is trickier than it may initially appear, the offense will still have some troubles and that injuries will take a toll down the stretch.
Nick Moore / Grand Rapids MI [via mobile]
What are your thoughts on Fitz's actual playing status for this week? I get the feeling that Hoke has no intention of playing him, but is holding off from making any official statement to force Alabama to prepare for a game with and without him. Am I looking into this too much?
Brian Bennett (3:36 PM)
I'm hoping it's gamesmanship. Hoke has no real incentive to tip his hand to Alabama, but I think it's a bad message if Toussaint actually starts or plays most of the game.
Nebraska is geeting the opposite treatment this year vs last in all preseason write-ups. That is pretty scary since they are returning quite a bit. Why do you think they go from winning the B1G to being picked 4th o 5th in one year? Did their performance last year garner some respect for the B!G?
Brian Bennett (3:38 PM)
The reason why is that Nebraska lost three big-name stars on defense and got blown out in nationally televised games against Michigan and Wisconsin, while looking out of sorts in the bowl game versus South Carolina. I still think this is another 9-3 type team, but the potential is certainly there for more.
How many offensive points would McGloin and Co. have to put up on Ohio in order to impress and move up in the Power Rankings?
Brian Bennett (3:39 PM)
I'm not sure how much beating Ohio would change our minds, but we definitely would like to see McGloin and the offense look far more competent than a year ago. Depth concerns caused us to drop PSU a notch in the rankings. But if Belton and the receivers look good, we may move them back up
If Michigan is 11-2 with losses to Alabama and Ohio St where do they end up in the BCS standings?
Brian Bennett (3:41 PM)
Impossible to say without knowing what's happening in the rest of the country. But assuming Alabama is a Top 5 team all year long, Michigan should be in the Top 10 with that resume. And maybe more importantly, be in the Big Ten title game.
Waffles (Your Freezer)
College Football Nation ranked MSU's offensive line 5th best in the nation (they ranked my Badgers 4th best); is this incredibly high? Can you give any quick insight on why they would be expected to do so well having under-performed last year?
Brian Bennett (3:43 PM)
I missed that one but do not agree. We didn't have the Spartans in the top two of our Big Ten O-line rankings. Like the depth there (though it's been hurt a bit by preseason injuries) but don't think it's quite that good.
Jeremaiah (Mustache Country)
Why is Purdue doubted? We have the second best defense in the B1G and it's much better than PSU's last year. We will also have a much better offense. If PSU can win 9 games, I think we can win 9 as well.
Brian Bennett (3:44 PM)
Um, 16-21. That's the record under Danny Hope. Last year's team didn't win consecutive games in the regular season. Purdue has a chance to be really improved, but it's pretty obvious why the Boilers could be doubted by some. And the defense is not second-best in the league.
Iowa behind Purdue, PSU in ESPN's first B1G Power Ranking? Who decided those Power Rankings?
Brian Bennett (3:45 PM)
Adam and I did. I can tell you this: When you get to the middle of the league -- those three teams and even Illinois and Northwestern to a degree -- you can basically flip a coin. Not a ton of separation, on paper at least.
The kicking game was a major focus under Tressel and typically was a strength at OSU under his leadership. There hasn't been much media focus on OSU's special teams under Meyer and was hoping you might provide some insight. Thanks.
Brian Bennett (3:46 PM)
Meyer also puts a lot of emphasis on special teams. With Basil, Buchanan and eventually Hall returning, Ohio State should have one of the top special teams units in the league, if not the country.
A lot of people don't like Mcgloin and believe he will be as bad as he has always been. Am i silly to believe they he could actually be a decent QB? Let's remember, he was a walk on, therefore, he got little reps when he first came, and lets remember he has never been a starter for a whole season. Now with O'Brien, already named the starter, and with 2 full seasons of good reps under his belt, is there any chance he will be decent?
Brian Bennett (3:48 PM)
I think there is a chance. I believe O'Brien's system could really help because it will be more about decision making than making difficult throws. He's never going to be an All-American, but there's no reason he couldn't be a 60 percent passer who cuts down his turnovers and manages the game well.
the 3 keys to michigan beating bama are ________
Brian Bennett (3:49 PM)
Well, OK. 1). That defensive line absolutely has to hold its own against what looks like an NFL O-line for 'Bama. Game probably decided there. 2) Denard has to have a special game. Not just running it, but making 'Bama respect his passing. 3). No turnovers and very few penalties by Michigan. The Wolverines will have to be just about perfect to win.
Blooming Mike (Bloomington)
Kevin Wilson said the offensive talent was just as good as the Sooners. When do we put up 80 points on the BADgers? We'll probably lose 93-80, but how long until we're a top 20 offense in the nation?
Brian Bennett (3:50 PM)
I must have missed that comment, but I admire your optimism. Indiana should be better throwing the ball this year, for sure.
Buck (Lincoln, NE)
All the hype that Michigan State's defense is generating sounds a lot like the hype my Blackshirts were getting this time last year. The Huskers underperformed, in my opinion. What makes so many prognosticators believe that this sort of letdown is out of the question. If the Spartans' D underperforms, their team will be very average.
Brian Bennett (3:52 PM)
I agree with that, but I think Michigan State has better players at every level and more depth than last year's Nebraska D. And they won't be competing in an unfamiliar league. Biggest concern for Spartans is probably complacency/worrying about NFL stock. But Narduzzi should be able to keep them focused.
What do you think about Illinois sending 6-8 coaches to PSU? Seemed like they set up a recruiting bench but only came away with 1 player? Was it worth the reputation loss of face for the one player?
Brian Bennett (3:53 PM)
I thought it was a bit of overkill, for sure. Seems like that would turn me off as a player to have so many coaches in one place. Would have made more sense to send 1-2 ace recruiters. But it showed the Illini's desperation for more depth.
Brett (Conshohocken, PA)
You say you can flip a coin between, PSU, Iowa, and Purdue (which I agree), yet you still have PSU losing to Purdue in our best case scenario? What gives? Not saying I'm complaining, I'd be thrilled with 10-2 this year (and Illinois going winless/Beckman being fired)
Brian Bennett (3:54 PM)
As I've said, do not read those as game-by-game predictions. My best case is 10-2, and that's the big picture. It's really irrelevant who the wins and losses come against.
David (Boston, MA)
Any truth to the rumor that Devin Gardner will play WR against Bama?
Brian Bennett (3:54 PM)
I would be surprised if he didn't line up there for at least a handful of snaps. Not really a rumor anymore but reality.
Irock (Middle of the Map)
Who has the most to LOSE this weekend? I guess what I'm really asking is which B1G team can't afford to lose this weekend?
Brian Bennett (3:56 PM)
Great question. Michigan State has a lot riding on its game against Boise in prime time. Spartans need to win that one. To a lesser extent, Penn State needs to beat Ohio to change the negative vibes. Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota would all be crushed by a loss this weekend as well.
I'm a Buckeye... But, minus "the great state of the glove" I'll pull for any B1G team. How did Ball not win the Heisman last year after tying Barry Sanders for single season rushing touchdowns? And do you think he'll be healthy enough this year to make a run at it again?
Brian Bennett (3:58 PM)
Part of it was the country caught on late to what he was doing, and Wisconsin spent the first half of the fall promoting Russell Wilson for the Heisman. Having two guys put up monster stat years was in a way a detriment. And Wisconsin losing two games hurt Ball. I think he'll be healthy this year. Problem is he'll be judged on last year's stats, which likely aren't repeatable.
What kinda season is Braxton Miller expected to have? Poseys gone, Sanzenbacher is gone - who will step up and give braxton that deep threat? And who will pick up the buckeyes offensive with Hall out for a few weeks.. IS braxton gonna have to use his feet? or hang tight for a little and throw that ball, who should we expect to fill the shoes of hall,posey,sanzenbacher . i mean we do have devon smith and stoneburner being moved to wr - but those are household names.. we all know them - who in your eyes will step up for the buckeyes this year and help on the offensive side, surely we dont need any help on the d-line. Thanks Brian.
Brian Bennett (4:00 PM)
I like Devon Smith and Jake Stoneburner. I think Corey "Philly" Brown is due to bust out. And Michael Thomas looked impressive in the preseason. Buckeyes might not have one stud receiver, but they should be able to spread the ball around and be fine on offense.
Brian Bennett (4:00 PM)
OK, folks, that's all my time for this week. Thanks for the great questions, and enjoy the return of football this weekend!