Big Ten Thursday mailbag

September, 29, 2011
9/29/11
4:00
PM ET
It's the start of conference play, so no time for messing around. Let's get to your e-mails.

Simon from New York City writes: You're smoking right? Not joking. Smoking. Denard Robinson is a 48% passer. He's thrown 6 INTs. Flip Wilson and Robinson and put the UW QB on Michigan and they blow out each team they face. That Notre Dame game isn't close. Please come to your senses, New Guy. It's Wilson, and it's not even close.

Brian Bennett: I love what Russell Wilson has done. But our question on Wednesday was who is the MVP so far. It's not MOP (most outstanding player), or that would definitely go to Wilson. Robinson has had to provide virtually the entire offense for Michigan. Now, would Wilson have probably gone 4-0 on the Wolverines? Quite possibly. But I know Wisconsin would be 4-0 with Robinson. Imagine Shoelace behind that Badgers offensive line and with Montee Ball and James White to take pressure off him, not to mention create wide open receivers even he could hit? His numbers would be scary. And by the way, if I'm New Guy, does that mean I'll get matched up with New Girl?


Kyle from Saginaw, Texas, writes: When the divisions were formed, competitive balance was the most important thing. Right now both divisions are 17-6, and each has two 4-0 teams, two 3-1 teams, one 2-1 team and a 1-3 team. Seems like they did a pretty good job and do you think it will stay this way till the end of the season?

Brian Bennett: That's a great stat, Kyle. Of course, teams have played wildly different competition in the nonconference schedule. The true test is going to come in league play and whether one division dominates the other in those cross-divisional games. My hunch is that the Legends is a little stronger than the Leaders from top to bottom. We shall see.


Adam from Washington, DC, writes: With the big Wisconsin and Nebraska game coming up this weekend I have read a lot of hype on how great Wisconsin is and all the big numbers they have in comparison to Nebraska. One thing that sticks out to me and I can't seem to find anyone saying it is the level of competition through 4 weeks. Both teams had easy schedules but after 4 weeks the teams Wisconsin played are a combined 5-10 and the teams Nebraska played are 10-6. Not to mention Nebraska had at least one solid program in its schedule with Washington who just beat an undefeated California team this past weekend. Why all the hype on Wisconsin and their numbers when they obviously are playing some of the worst teams in the country?

Brian Bennett: We've definitely said here repeatedly that Wisconsin's schedule has been soft. No question that Nebraska has faced better competition. Why the hype for the Badgers then? It's because they're not just beating teams, they're destroying them. It's hard to fake that kind of dominance no matter who you're playing. The Cornhuskers may be in better shape for a close game Saturday because they've dealt with that already. Here's the thing, though: hype doesn't matter one bit. The better team will win this week.


Drew from New Orleans writes: After last Saturday's Nebraska vs. Wyoming game, do you believe that if Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead -- who ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns in just 15 carries -- has a similar performance against Wisconsin, would that place himself in contention for First Team-All Big Ten and even a shot at being a Doak Walker Award Finalist in 2012? How important is Saturday's matchup for him?

Brian Bennett: Drew, Burkhead is already the leading rusher among running backs in the Big Ten, so if he continues this level of play he absolutely will be considered for postseason honors. I think one of the Wisconsin backs will be a first team All-Big Ten performer, and there are plenty of other good backs in the league like Marcus Coker, Ralph Bolden, Silas Redd and Edwin Baker. But Burkhead is off to a great start.


Dane S. from Columbus, Ohio: Enjoy the blog. In watching your video "Looking Ahead to October," I don't understand why you consider the interdivisional games less important than intra-divisional games, e.g., your comment that if a team wins its intra-divisional games, it will be in pretty good shape. Doesn't the overall conference record determine the division champion? After that the tie breakers are head-to-head competition, and then divisional records. Say Nebraska loses two inter-divisional games (Wisconsin and Ohio State) and is undefeated in its division. Michigan State has only the divisional loss to Nebraska. Sparty's in the B1G title game. Right?

Brian Bennett: Obviously, the easiest path to Indianapolis is to win all your games. My point was, you can lose a cross-division game and still control your own path to Indy. Lose more than one, and you're going to need some help. But the losers of the Nebraska-Wisconsin, Michigan State-Ohio State and Illinois-Northwestern games this weekend will still know they can win out and get to the Rose Bowl. That hasn't been the case in previous years.


Greg from Omaha writes: There has been a lot of talk regarding the two dynamic offenses facing off against an 'untested' (Wisconsin) and 'not-up-to-previous standards' (Nebraska) defenses, respectively. Where do the special teams fit into the equation on Saturday night? And what do you think is going to be the best non-quarterback related match-up of the night?

Brian Bennett: I give a big edge to Nebraska in special teams. Brett Maher has been fantastic kicking and punting, while the Huskers have a dynamic return man in Ameer Abdullah. Kyle French has missed half his four field goal attempts for Wisconsin, which has gotten inconsistent play on its kickoffs. The return of a healthy Phillip Welch may help that. My favorite matchup is Jared Crick against the Badgers Big Uglies like Peter Konz, Kevin Zeitler and Travis Frederick. We had Crick No. 1 in our preseason player rankings, and it's time to find out whether he can deliver in a big spot.


Don B. from Frederick, Md., writes: Should the Big Ten consider adding West Virginia and Cincinnati to the conference? Maybe someday with Notre Dame finally needs a conference they could then bring them in along with maybe a Louisville.

Brian Bennett: Will never happen. One word: academics.


Shady from Findlay, Ohio, writes: I think one of the top stories going into the OSU-MSU game this weekend will be offensive line play; as you have documented the Spartans have already lost I think 3 O-linemen to injury this season. I think Ohio State's line has been very solid at both giving the quarterback time and opening some big holes for the running game. What is your assessment of these 2 offensive lines and how their play could impact the outcome of this game?

Brian Bennett: Offensive line is unquestionably a major concern for Michigan State. I just don't know if the Spartans can run the ball consistently against Ohio State's defense; they couldn't against Notre Dame. The Buckeyes' O-line has been very good and easily the strongest part of that offense (and will only get better when Mike Adams returns next week). My question is whether Ohio State can do anything in the passing game. Michigan State's defense is very good, and the Buckeyes can't survive by just running the ball against it.


Brent from LaX, Wisc., writes: At this point in the season, would you consider Wisconsin in the same league as LSU, Alabama, and Oklahoma?

Brian Bennett: While I've been a little more skeptical of the Sooners than most, I think all three are ahead of the Badgers right now. All three have definitely played better competition and come away with big wins. And all three probably have a little more speed than Wisconsin could handle. On a given day, the Badgers could beat any of them. But especially when it comes to the SEC powers, they seem to be playing on another level than just about everybody right now.


Joe from Our Nation's Capital writes: The Wolverines have been pretty good on defense (not great). Now, in your "What we learned" for this past week, you said Michigan will struggle against a much polished passer. Who would these much more "polished passers" be? Dan Persa is certainly capable of shredding any defense with his arm. I understand this. Other than that, I don't see the polished passing this year in a weak passing QB class this year. Cousins from MSU will get some passes off but if Michigan gets the same pressure on him as they did against Ryan Lindley, he will make just as many or more mistakes, as I am not sold on Cousins as a passer (see ND game). The kid from Iowa has some potential too. Just a thought of mine stating the clean passing is not there like it usually is for the B1G.

Brian Bennett: You make a fair point, Joe. We've seen this year that the Big Ten has become a rushing quarterback's league, and polished passers are rare. I thought Lindley had a bad day on Saturday, and though we must credit some of that to Michigan's defensive pressure, I also saw him miss some wide open throws. A healthy Persa wouldn't miss those, and James Vandenberg has been playing at a high level with some very talented receivers. Cousins had a nice day against Michigan last year, so I wouldn't dismiss him. But the Wolverines do miss Wilson, and their last two games (Nebraska and Ohio State) do not involve quarterbacks with laser-like accuracy.


Andrew from Ames, Iowa, writes: With Iowa going into their bye week at 3-1, fans can dwell on the fact that we could easily be 4-0 or we can look at the positives as to why we aren't 2-2. The last 5 quarters Iowa's offense has really come together in the passing game which opened up the rushing game against Louisiana Monroe. With the talent they have on the offensive side of the ball will Iowa go more to the passing game after seeing how composed Vandenberg looks with the spread? Also if they do rely more on the passing do you think we could see the Coker that we saw in the Insight Bowl last year by taking some weight off his shoulders?

Brian Bennett: I'm sure in his heart, Kirk Ferentz still wants to be a physical, run-oriented team. But it sure does appear that the strength of this offense is Vandenberg and those receivers. (Here's where we pause and note that Pitt and Louisiana Monroe do not have great pass defenses). Iowa incorporated a little more high-tempo stuff last week, and it's an intriguing look. The next game at Penn State will be a challenge going up against an excellent defense, but the Hawkeyes could choose to open things up the next four weeks (Northwestern, Indiana, Minnesota and Michigan).


Michael from NYC writes: Obviously the season is still early so I don't put too much into rankings, but there is one thing I think people aren't talking about maybe as much as they should. Temple completely destroyed Maryland, who beat Miami (who beat Ohio State). Given Temple's record so far, I'd think it makes PSU's schedule look more like 2 gimme games, 1 exceptional game, and one low-level BCS game. Do you think PSU deserves more credit for beating a good Temple team? I think they should. I'm also a PSU alum, so my vision is probably more clouded than yours or Adam's.

Brian Bennett: Michael, the Temple win absolutely looks much better in hindsight. I thought the Owls were pretty good going into that game, and what was most impressive was how Penn State's defense pitched a shutout in the second half against an offense that has been lighting other teams up. I think the Nittany Lions 'D' is legit. The problem, of course, is the offense. I don't know if Penn State can beat the better teams in the Big Ten if it can't develop a more consistent attack, not just with the quarterback rotation but in the rushing game. That's why the Iowa game next week looks so interesting, as the Hawkeyes have scored a bunch of points but have had trouble stopping people.


Adam from Minneapolis writes: After weeks and weeks of you guys having to defend your opinions against angry fans who accuse you of underrating their favorite team or overrating their rival, how great is it going to be to see some real league games finally? I know I've had just about enough of trying to guess which teams are good or not based on how they've played against Southwest Cupcake State. Let's see some damn Big Ten football!

Brian Bennett: A hearty amen to that, Adam!

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