Chat with Brian Bennett
Welcome to SportsNation! On Monday, ESPN.com's Big Ten reporter 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)
Hello, everybody, and welcome to another Big Ten Monday chat. Happy MLK Day to all. Fire away with your best questions.
Blake (Fort Wayne)
What do you think the hiring of Knorr does for this Indiana defense for 2014 and beyond? 6 or 7 wins a reasonable goal now with an upgraded DC and 10 returners on defense?
Brian Bennett (3:02 PM)
I thought six wins was a reasonable goal this past season with eight home games. Life isn't going to be easy for Indiana in the new East Division, but the offensive talent is still there and lots of experience returns on D. I like that Knorr has a track record of succeeding without the most resources at Wake Forest. He still has a lot of work to do to fix a Hoosiers defense that has struggled for a long, long time.
Are you buying the reason for Nelson's departure from Minnesota? He claims he wants to go to a system that better fits his skill set. Since he was recruited by Coach Kill, he knew what the system was when he committed to Minnesota. Makes me think it's not necessarily the system he's upset with but rather the lack of talented players (receivers) around him in that system.
Brian Bennett (3:04 PM)
I'm sure he knew a lot about the system, but Minnesota threw the ball a lot less this year than it did a year ago. A lot had to do with the inexperience and lack of talent at the receiver position. Nelson himself didn't light it up as a passer, but he might not want to run it as much as Minnesota seems to want from its QB. If that's the case, I have no problem with him transferring somewhere else.
Why wasn't Pat Narduzzi, the nations top assistant, offered the Vanderbilt or Louisville job?
Brian Bennett (3:06 PM)
Louisville clearly had its eye on Petrino returning. Not sure how interested Narduzzi was in Vandy, which is not an easy job. The Commodores looked to someone who has experience winning at a private, academically elite school in hiring the Stanford DC. Just didn't seem to be a lot of fits this offseason for Narduzzi, who's more than ready to be a HC.
How long until Penn State is playing for Championships in your opinion?
Brian Bennett (3:07 PM)
Adam and I debated this last week. I said Hackenberg's senior year, so 2016. Don't discount the effect of the sanctions on the program's depth in the next two years.
Another embarrassing overall bowl season for the B1G. Agree?
Brian Bennett (3:08 PM)
While 2-5 is nothing to brag about, I didn't find it embarrassing. Winning the Rose Bowl was big. Ohio State's BCS game went to the wire. The league beat an SEC team and came close against two others. The only true bad performance came from Michigan, though Minnesota also lost a game it should have won. So not great at all, but embarrassing is too strong a word.
kirt (dothan al)
hey brian i actually have two questions where do you see the wolverines record at the end of 2014 and also how do you see the big ten fairing in its upcoming nonconference schedule. there is some big games UM notre dame last meeting msu oregon wisconsin lsu.
Brian Bennett (3:10 PM)
It's too early to be making 2014 record predictions. Michigan should be better than it was this past season, but the division is loaded. I doubt I'll predict more than an 8- or possibly 9-win season. Much better nonconference games, but Wisconsin vs LSU is a tough matchup and MSU has to go to Oregon. Winning one of those would be huge for the league, as would Ohio State taking care of Va Tech and Michigan beating ND.
Some of the fire around Pelini seemed to die down after the Iowa game due to hitting some big recruits. However, now two of them have de-committed. Does this reflect on Pelini & Co. or more on the programs they jumped to?
Brian Bennett (3:12 PM)
One of the big ones was Clinkscales to K-State, and Nebraska shouldn't be losing out to K-State for recruits. I don't read a ton into a couple of decommitments. That's the nature of recruiting. Pelini and his staff have made a habit of getting some pledges late in the process.
doug g (san antonio)
Brian-I know that the Badgers will have a qb competition, but I do feel Stave should start. I could see some wildcat, and maybe a package for a dual threat guy, but for only starting for one full season, I thought Stave was solid. He is big, strong, and more mobile than people think. What are your thoughts? (yes, he needs to be more consistent.) Thanks
Brian Bennett (3:14 PM)
Stave got quite a bit of experience in 2012 as well. He'll have a huge experience edge in the QB competition, and it could be tough for a guy like Bart Houston or even Tanner McEvoy to make that up. But Stave simply has to improve his accuracy. Missed too many big throws this year, and he won't have the Abbrederis safety blanket in 2014.
Nick (East Lansing)
Are there any recent big ten non-conference game as big as MSU-Oregon? Both teams should be top 10, possibly one of them in the top 5 by the time the game rolls around.
Brian Bennett (3:15 PM)
Remember that Michigan-Alabama was pretty darn big two years ago and got a lot of hype. Didn't live up to it. But I love the Spartans-Ducks matchup, especially when you factor in the offense/defense thing. Winning out there is going to be awfully tough.
I've seen some reports of IU OC Littrell leaving to go to UNC. Will the offense suffer any setbacks by this if it does happen or will Wilson's strong background be enough?
Brian Bennett (3:17 PM)
I've seen similar reports, but nothing is official yet. Littrell has been there two years and has done a marvelous job, so you couldn't blame him for moving on. With Wilson's offensive background and all the returning talent there, I wouldn't be too worried about IU's offense missing much of a beat.
Paul (Dublin, OH)
Maryland and Rutgers will improve or drag the B1G football conf down?
Brian Bennett (3:18 PM)
I don't see how those programs really improve the Big Ten, save for opening up some new recruiting ground. I think both could be competitive and make bowl games. But they don't enhance the league's football reputation and won't be competing for titles.
who are your top 3 contenders in B1G for Heisman in 2014? Its been too long.
Brian Bennett (3:19 PM)
It has been too long. Braxton Miller, Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah are my top 3.
Do you think Luke Fickell will be coaching at Ohio State next year?
Brian Bennett (3:20 PM)
Yes. Urban Meyer has given no indication that he plans to get rid of Fickell and has said quite the opposite.
Do you think MSU has a good chance at making the playoff in 2014? And if not, when do you see them making a push for it?
Brian Bennett (3:22 PM)
The Spartans will start off with a high ranking and have an early showcase game at Oregon. They also have the benefit of getting Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio State all at home. The defense loses some key pieces, but MSU could enter the year as the Big Ten favorite. Going undefeated or having only one loss (Oregon) will probably be needed to make the playoff.
Franklin brought 3 Vandy recruits with him, but then promptly lost 2 of PSUs top commitments. Do you expect the class to tank or might franklin snag a blue-chipper we werent expecting?
Brian Bennett (3:23 PM)
One thing I will never worry about with James Franklin is recruiting. That guy is an absolute stud in that world.
Biggie 10 (Ohio)
Brian - I keep hearing about how demographics in the BIG are going to relegate it to mediocrity. Top talent goes South and that the Rust Belt is dying and will be no more relevant than the MAC in the next 10 years. I think this is BS and a lazy narrative. The BIG has failed because it did not invest in coaching and its brands grew stale. Top Assistants went to greener pastures for much more money and top head coaches held on too long (JoePa) and their teams, while still good, were not great. If the BIG starts to invest in its coaches at all levels, do you feel that they will be able to be dominate again. After all, they have the $$$ and alumni base that most schools in the SEC and ACC can only dream about.
Brian Bennett (3:26 PM)
I agree that the league was probably too slow to invest in coaching, but that is definitely happening now with some of the salaries we've seen recently. That should help. But it's hard to ignore that there's just a different caliber of athlete in the south. And the southern schools obviously have greater access to them. That's an obstacle with no easy solution.
I know that no one can compare you and adams greatness here, but why is there no big ten basketball blog like there us for football?
Brian Bennett (3:27 PM)
Mark, we'd love it. I am a huge college basketball fan. But I can tell you that the interest in college basketball is miniscule compared to college football. The numbers just aren't in the same ballpark.
Brian, i can only go by the data i see. With the loss of Holley and Vincent, all i see is 0-2. I just worry it might take franklin a good year before he "Dominates the State"
Brian Bennett (3:28 PM)
Some truth to that, and losing Larry Johnson doesn't help. But the class isn't going to "tank" by any means. Don't be surprised to see some more commitments before signing day.
Alien Spartan (Somewhere In Open Space)
So no one can compare to the south. Why is the B1G the best basketball conference in the nation? Doesn't that speak to something?
Brian Bennett (3:29 PM)
Totally different in terms of numbers of athletes participating. Basketball is more of a city game, and the Big Ten has a lot of those cities. And as good as the league has been the last couple of years in hoops, it hasn't exactly been racking up national titles, has it?
Wooster (Jacksonville Fl)
How fast can OSU's D improve with their new coaches and recruits, specifically the backfield. 110 in Pass D this year, Next year they are?
Brian Bennett (3:30 PM)
I think the secondary will improve a lot. Plenty of good young talent there, though I'm not sure there's a shutdown corner of Bradley Roby's ilk. But the safety play should get better. I'm more worried about LB, especially with Shazier gone. Joshua Perry is improving and there are some young guys to work with. But that position hasn't been great overall in two years now.
Is replacing offensive lineman the biggest challenges for both MSU and OSU heading into next season?
Brian Bennett (3:31 PM)
It is for sure with the Buckeyes. The Spartans had enough depth there that I think they'll be OK, although that OL was very underrated nationally. Bigger issue for me with MSU is replacing stars like Dennard, Bullough, Allen and Lewis.
Ryan (Iowa City)
How do you see Iowa doing this next season?
Brian Bennett (3:34 PM)
It's an interesting year for Iowa, which got back on track in '13 and has a lot to build on. Replacing those three outstanding LBs won't be easy. And we need to see some growth from that offense, particularly in its explosive play potential. But the schedule is rather favorable, and I think you have to consider Iowa a legitimate threat in the wide-open West. A 9- or 10-win season would not surprise me.
Brian, what's the big deal with making pre-season predictions at this point, I mean what do you have to lose? (And it's never too early to make pre-season predictions).
Brian Bennett (3:35 PM)
I don't care about "losing." I just don't have enough information yet to make an informed prediction. If it's a prediction not backed up by some knowledge, that's pretty worthless. Even more worthless than most predictions already are.
Your assuming Hackenburg will still be there and not off to the nfl after his jr year? I would love to see him stay but I don't know if he will. But I was thinking 2015 we would be basically back to full strength then!
Brian Bennett (3:36 PM)
Sure, it's very possible Hackenberg could be gone by 2016. The reason I'm conservative about that is I think the gaps in the scholarships and recruiting classes will make a big dent on the next couple of years.
The new OC for Michigan has had a track record of improving offenses quickly normally in the first year, so do you expect that to be the case for Michigan as well?
Brian Bennett (3:37 PM)
I mean, it can't get a whole lot worse, at least in the running game, right? I expect improvement from those young offensive linemen. That more than the coordinator change should be the big thing. Michigan's got enough talent to be much better than it showed at times in 2013.
Craig (Braintree, MA)
Quite a bit has been said about the QB situation at Minnesota. How about the run game - don't you think it should be better?
Brian Bennett (3:39 PM)
I thought the run game was very strong. Cobb was a 1,000-yard back and one of the better ones in the league. Given that there was almost no passing threat, I'm not sure what more you could have asked for out of it this season.
I know this is very early, but will you be surprised if the winner of the BIG10 next season is not from the East division?
Brian Bennett (3:40 PM)
I think Ohio State and Michigan State will be the two clear favorites and potential top 10 teams to start the year. I don't see any other league team in the top 15 or maybe even top 20 to begin the year. So, yeah, it would be something of a surprise, but in a one-game title situation, anything can happen.
MSU defense was clearly the best unit on either side of the ball in the conference this past season. Which unit, offensive or defensive, do you think will be the best in the conference this upcoming season?
Brian Bennett (3:42 PM)
That's an interesting question. Think it might be MSU's defense again. Even with so many stars leaving, that unit has been elite now for a few years and Narduzzi is still there, along with loads of talent. If Ohio State can get its offensive line in shape, its offense has a chance to be special again. And I'd throw Indiana's offense into the mix.
While it seems improbable due to the level of output this season, will the tandem of Gordon and Clement be more productive (and explosive) than this year's duo of Gordon and White? Scary talent on paper, could it be enough to lead a conference title run, despite Stave's questionable decision making and the loss of Abbrederis, Peterson, etc?
Brian Bennett (3:44 PM)
It should be very explosive. Wisconsin might miss James White's veteran leadership and blocking, but Clement and Gordon are super talented. I'm worried about who will catch passes, and that defense loses a ton of valuable seniors. Those are major concerns, though the schedule after the LSU game is almost unfathomably advantageous. No reason Wisconsin shouldn't be in West Division contention.
Nolan (Iowa City)
How do you think Iowa can increase their offensive fire power?
Brian Bennett (3:46 PM)
I'd like to see more talent and better speed at wide receiver. Iowa has been lacking there since Marvin McNutt left. Just not much separation or deep threats in the passing game.
Samuel (Iowa City, Iowa)
Brian', that is the second mention I've read today on the blog about Indiana's offense being elite. Indiana! So what is keeping other programs (Iowa, Iowa, Iowa) in the league from having better, more explosive and higher scoring offenses than Indiana?
Brian Bennett (3:47 PM)
It's no secret the Hoosiers have been explosive on offense for a while. A lot of it is coaching and philosophy. Kevin Wilson is a spread offense guy with a great track record, and that's what the Hoosiers emphasize. On the other hand, the defense has been terrible and Indiana hasn't made a bowl game. So there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Steven (Jacksonville Fl)
Do you think that there is any fact behind the rumor that Roby didn't play in the Orange bowl because he didn't want Watkins to school him and lower his draft status? Like Wisconsin's WR did in that game
Brian Bennett (3:48 PM)
Zero percent. You don't get to be that level of athlete without being ultra-competitive, and it killed Roby not to play in that game.
You could count on Stave for two things every game. One, he would miss a wide open receiver. Two, he would throw an interception. Stave needs to hold a clipboard next year. I don't care if it's Houston or McEvoy. Just not Stave.
Brian Bennett (3:49 PM)
Of course, you say that without having any idea of how Houston or McEvoy would play. The coaches will play the guy they think is the best option. It's up to Houston or McEvoy to beat Stave out, and they'll be given every chance.
Where does Penn State currently stand on their sanction reforms? What are they currently working on that the evaluation committee will assess in regards to their current enforcement?
Brian Bennett (3:50 PM)
My understanding is that another progress report is due in September, at which time the sanctions could be further reduced and perhaps the bowl ban lifted. Penn State is trying to make sure it's totally compliant while working behind the scenes to lobby its case.
Bill (Warroad, MN)
Hey Brian, Love the blog. I'm a big Gopher fan, and I'm pretty concerned about the recent defections from the team. Kill has now lost Philip Nelson, Jamel Harbison, and previously lost Andre McDonald. That means the Gophers lost their 3 highest rated players from the 2012 class, including 2 WRs and a QB. Kill has now lost 4 scholarship WRs in just over a year. Brewster failed because he couldn't keep guys in school and on the field. Is it time to start worrying that Kill has the same problem?
Brian Bennett (3:53 PM)
It's fair to wonder. McDonald was by his own recent account unable to pass multiple drug tests, so I wouldn't use that one as a knock on Kill. The Nelson transfer is a little troubling since he was such an important in-state recruit. Minnesota is not in a position to be losing a lot of skill guys as is. But overall, I still think things are going in the right direction for the Gophers.
What do you think Nebraska's biggest area of concern is for next season? The Secondary?
Brian Bennett (3:57 PM)
The secondary could be a bit of an issue, replacing Jean-Baptiste and Evans and with Joseph leaving. The offensive line is another question mark, though the Huskers usually figure that out. Bigger picture is whether this team can play at a consistently high level and not ride the rollercoaster it has been on the past couple of years.
Alien Spartan (Somewhere In Open Space)
Brian, can you talk about salaries in the B1G?
Brian Bennett (3:57 PM)
I'm in favor of them. Seriously, Adam and I are doing some reporting on coaches' salaries in the league for some pieces we'll run soon. Possibly next week. Stay tuned.
How can B1G get more high-caliber quarterbacks to commit to the conference? Seems one of the notable differences between them and other premier conferences.
Brian Bennett (3:59 PM)
I agree that QB play has been lacking compared to other leagues of late. The conference probably needs to have more coaches seen as "QB gurus." Penn State, Ohio State and even Indiana have now built that reputation. Other schools are not seen as being as passer-friendly as the many spread teams in CFB.
Brian Bennett (4:00 PM)
OK, that's all my time for this week. Thanks for the great questions, and see you here next Monday.