Friday mailbag, Part II

October, 9, 2009
10/09/09
2:10
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


Back with more of your questions. (See Part I here).

Brian from Washington, D.C., writes: I read your blog all of the time. You are my go-to when things get dull at work. . know a lot of Rutgers fans are upset with you. It seems that they are concerned with your views regarding their schedule and their play. Surely, you are aware that Rutgers tried to get more legitimate competition and was left with slim pickings in some cases. Also, after Rutgers had a bad opening game -- where a confused game plan involving three quarterbacks was no match against a team being talked about as a possible national championship contender -- they have looked solid on defense (allowing about 10 points per game), and have a true freshman quarterback and an offensive line with nothing but upside.

Point being, I think you owe it to Rutgers fans to offer a more balanced and fair analysis.I know Rutgers will be a factor in the Big East this year. I suggest you get ahead of the curve too.

Brian Bennett: Well, one could argue I'm way ahead of the curve, since I picked the Scarlet Knights to win the Big East in the preseason. So there's little doubting that I believed in the potential in this team, and I still do.

I'm not quite sure how you want me to be positive about either the schedule or how much improvement Rutgers has made, however. The schedule is an absolute joke, and there's no defending it. Yes, the Scarlet Knights had a late hole to fill when Navy pulled out, but in my opinion they didn't try hard enough to replace that date with something credible. The team's insistence on needing a home game to pay for stadium upgrades, while understandable, also kept it from getting a real game. And let's remember that even if Navy hadn't pulled out, that's still an awful schedule. Rutgers has been playing bad schedules for some time now, and kudos to new athletic director Tim Pernetti for bringing teams like Penn State, Miami and UCLA on board in the future. But right now, it's an embarrassment, and there's no other way to put it.

As far as the team, I haven't been impressed yet, and that again is somewhat a function of the schedule. Yes, the defense is playing pretty well statistically, but how do you gauge that against such overmatched opponents like Howard and Florida International? The offense has still not clicked even against the poor competition. This team can and should get a lot better, but we're not going to know anything until it gets back into Big East play next week against Pitt. I am really looking forward to seeing how Rutgers has changed when that arrives.


Walter M. from Alamogordo, N.M., writes: Why are Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, and now Jimmy Clausen still the top three favorite quarterbacks to win the Heisman over Tony Pike?The only player out of those three who has less time on the field (seven minutes) is Tim Tebow and the Gators have only played four games so far while the Bearcats have played five.

Brian Bennett: Pretty simple, Walter. Look at the schools those other guys play for. It's extremely difficult for a player from a program like Cincinnati to even get in the mix; Pike would have to produce an amazing season for an undefeated team to even get consideration. That's the way the system is set up.


Justin from Philadelphia writes: I have been hearing that Tom Savage wants to start Saturday against Texas Southern. Given that this is such a cupcake game for Rutgers, have you heard anything about possibly keeping Savage out for another week to ensure he's fully recovered for the following week against Pitt?

Brian Bennett: It looks like Savage will indeed start. This is a tricky situation. If Savage were a seasoned upperclassmen, you could rest him for this game to give him another week to get over his concussion. But he's a true freshman with very little experience, and he needs all the snaps he can get before the Pitt game. The wise move is probably to let him play about a half, and then get him out of there.


Dan from Oswego, N.Y., writes: First off, I really love the blog. You do a great job here. I just have one gripe. In your weekly stock reports, with the player of the year race for defense, I'm not sure I've seen Derrell Smith's name pop up. First in the league in total tackles (47), first in solo tackles (30), fifth in sacks (4.5), tied for third in tackles for a loss (6.5) and tied for first in forced fumbles (3.0).What more does he have to do to get some consideration? He's probably the single biggest reason that Syracuse's rush defense has improved so much this year.

Brian Bennett: Dan, I had Smith in my top five a couple of weeks ago. I've been shuffling a lot of players in and out of that race, because no one has really stood out yet as the definite front-runner. Smith is still on my radar and in my top 10 for sure. This next week could help us shake out who the top defensive player is, with Lindsey Witten going against Pitt, George Selvie and Nate Allen facing that explosive Cincinnati defense, Bearcats defenders getting a chance to shine, Smith taking on West Virginia, et al.


Joe from Gillette, N.J., writes: Here's an idea to solve the eight-team league scheduling issues and bring some real intrigue into Big East season play: Have each team play one league opponent twice in the same season in a home/away match-up. That would provide eight league games for every team and eliminate the need to find that elusive fifth out of conference opponent. Each year, the home/away match-up would rotate so you would only play the same team twice in a season every seven years (assuming the league doesn't expand). Imagine if a team like Rutgers could put a string of wins together and get a shot at redemption against Cincinnati THIS year! Or having a year in which Pitt and WVU could have the backyard brawl twice in a season.

Brian Bennett: While that would be fun for the fans, it would never fly. The coaches would not want to play rematches. It would also create unbalanced schedules; What if, say, West Virginia had to play Cincinnati twice while Pittsburgh got Louisville twice? And it would most likely only lead to more losses for everybody, further diluting the Big East in the eyes of national observers. Expansion is the only way to solve the scheduling dilemma.


Walt from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Any thoughts on the impact of the bye week before the UC/USF game next week? Beyond the obvious extra time to heal and get injured players back into the lineup which team's coaching staff will better be able to use the extra week to their advantage? UC certainly seemed to catch Rutgers flat footed after an entire summer to prepare; will Brian Kelly be able to bring out some new wrinkles for USF next Thursday?

Brian Bennett: I think it's great for both teams, because they each have so much to concern themselves with in the game plan. Cincinnati has to prepare for that fierce South Florida pass rush, while the Bulls have to somehow counter the Bearcats' quick-strike spread offense. These teams both know each so well -- especially with former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Joe Tresey now having that same job with South Florida -- that they should be extremely prepared. I definitely expect some new wrinkles from each team. Not to disparage South Florida's coaching staff in any way, but I would shudder at the thought of giving Kelly extra time to get ready.

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