- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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We're more than seven months away from more Big Ten football. But it's only 23 days until pitchers and catchers report, if that floats your boat.
Something that always buoys me is your emails. Let's get to them:
A.J. from Granville, Ohio, writes: Hey, Brian, I realized I actually only really ask questions to Adam, but I haven't heard from the mind of Brian Bennett. My question is, what team in your mind is the most national championship-ready in the coming years? Do you think the Big Ten will even be able to keep up with reaching for a national title?
Brian Bennett: Welcome to the Dark Side, A.J. I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "championship-ready." If you're talking talent right now, then I think every Big Ten team needs to get a little better. Michigan State might be the most prepared in 2012 just because of its outstanding defense, though questions at quarterback and wide receiver remain. For the future, Michigan should bounce back to an elite level under Brady Hoke, and Wisconsin has been close. Penn State has all the resources but obviously has to deal with some issues, and Nebraska needs a few more difference-making athletes to make a jump.
But I believe Ohio State is the team that's best positioned to make a run in the next few years under Urban Meyer, and we've seen already what a big difference he makes in recruiting. The Buckeyes were in the discussion every year for national titles before 2011 and will get back there soon enough. I fully believe that the Big Ten will be in contention for BCS titles in the future and could be helped by a plus-one format that would open up more access to the championship. The SEC won't win every championship forever -- I think.
@AimanJarrar writes: What did you think about changing 6-6 to 7-5 [for bowl eligibility]?
Brian Bennett: In case you missed it, CBSSports.com's Brett McMurphy had a story Wednesday saying that there is growing support among many college football executives to change bowl eligibility to seven wins instead of the current six. There's a feeling among some that bowl trips have lost some luster and aren't seen as much of a reward when teams that finish 6-6 (or in UCLA's case this year, 6-7) can go. And there truly is a glut of bowl games and a lot of mediocre teams involved, creating a lot of half-empty stadiums for these postseason games.
If such a change were to come about, it could hurt the Big Ten. Remember that four league teams made bowls in 2011 by finishing with 6-6 records (Ohio State, Illinois, Purdue and Northwestern). That helped the conference gain a record 10 bowl bids. The Big Ten would not have been able to fulfill all of its bowl tie-ins if only teams with winning records were allowed to go. The demanding league schedule, especially when combined with the upcoming annual series against the Pac-12, will likely create some 6-6 teams every year in the league. Given all the contracts between leagues, bowls and TV partners, this seems like a change that would be difficult to pass. Ultimately, the marketplace will decide whether this is a good idea. If people continue to attend and watch bowl games between .500 teams, they'll continue to exist. If not, they should go away.
Mike from Apple Valley, Minn., writes: I'm a die-hard Hawkeyes fan and was dismayed when Marcus Coker left. The latest in a string of RBs leaving. Iowa has picked up Greg Garmon from Erie and now Barkley Hill from Cedar Falls, Iowa, now that he de-committed from Iowa state. Should I have renewed optimism for the Iowa backfield?
Brian Bennett: Running back is often a spot that can be replenished quickly, as freshmen can make an immediate impact there. Young players sometimes struggle with blocking and protection schemes but can still make plays with the ball in their hands. So Iowa could be OK in the backfield next season. I just wouldn't get too attached to those players, given the recent history there.
Steve from Milwaukee writes: I was thinking about how Zach Boren, and fullbacks in general, is a very underrated/underappreciated player. He is an excellent blocker and has even done pretty well on the rare occasion he is given the ball. I've enjoyed watching him play, but what kind of place will he likely have in Meyer's spread offense? I would hate to see his talents go to waste because of a change in offensive philosophy.
Brian Bennett: You're right about the lack of appreciation for fullbacks and how they often fall by the wayside in today's game. We saw Jay Prosch transfer from Illinois after Tim Beckman came in with his spread. But I would expect Meyer to take advantage of Boren's considerable talents. Tim Tebow was basically a fullback playing quarterback, and Meyer loves tight ends. He'll find a way to use Boren in his scheme.
@Lou_Port writes: If Greg Schiano goes to Tampa Bay, what about Tom Bradley to Rutgers?
Brian Bennett: It makes a lot of sense. Bradley knows the area well and how to recruit there, and his style would not create a huge adjustment for the current Rutgers players. But it appears Bradley is paying a price for his association with the Jerry Sandusky scandal, which is a shame. He deserves better, and I hope he gets another chance at a big-time job soon.
Matt from Washington, D.C., writes: Love the work you do on the B1G blog here. On to the question: ESPNU rankings currently have the Buckeyes as the #8 overall class. COME ON MAN! Is there any logical explanation for this considering the explosion of talent that is coming into Columbus for 2012?
Brian Bennett: I have no say in recruiting rankings, and if I were asked to do so, I'd run screaming in the other direction. I don't know how anybody can accurately grade a class of 18-year-olds, nor do I understand the fascination with class rankings. Last time I checked, nobody hands out trophies for recruiting rankings. Whether Ohio State finishes No. 8 or No. 5 or No. 1 in our rankings, it really doesn't matter. The rankings let you know that Meyer is bringing in a lot of raw talent, but that's only the first step of the process toward winning.
Charles from Bloomington, Ind., writes: What kind of potential do you see for Indiana's defense in 2012, given the way the underclassmen played individually (obviously they were awful as a unit)?
Brian Bennett: It was an ugly year on that side of the ball for the Hoosiers, Charles. They will miss senior linebacker Jeff Thomas, who was one of their best tacklers and leaders. But Indiana also had 14 freshmen or sophomore on its defensive two-deep for its season finale against Purdue. There are some promising young players like safety Mark Murphy and defensive end Ryan Phillis. Kevin Wilson has already signed six junior-college defenders to try and add depth and experience to next year's team, and hopefully a few of them can have an immediate impact. The Hoosiers still face a talent gap on that side of the ball, but things have to get a little bit better next season.
Kaitlin C. from State College, Pa., writes: "Though I've belted you and flayed you, By the livin' God that made you, You're a better man than I am, Joe Paterno!"(taken from Gunga Din-War Poem). Any icon placed upon this Earth is not a god. Often, we build them up to be one so that we are at peace knowing that we are sharing the planet with a larger than life individual. Joe Paterno lived a life that most would have been proud to have. The last few months have taught us that even the Joe Paternos of the world are not gods. They are not immortal even though we have previously named them so. These last few months tested Penn State's favorite man (belted and flayed). Maybe for the first time we saw Joe as a man, instead of a model or a legend. However, it is not the god-like status that was previously issued to him that ever made him great. It is the faith and the fight within him to raise this university to standards beyond what anyone could have ever imagined it to be. That is why we love him, that is why we will miss him.
Brian Bennett: Well said, Kaitlin. Thanks for that.
We're more than seven months away from more Big Ten football. But it's only 23 days until pitchers and catchers report, if that floats your boat.Something that always buoys me is your emails.