- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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I took over Adam's Tuesday mailbag slot and am back here in my regular Thursday space today. Can't get enough of your mail.
Sam from MPLS writes: Just read your specialists list. Maybe he's not the best, of the group, but he could be: Troy Stoudemire. The guy has the most kickoff return yardage in B1G history. If he's not at the top, that's understandable, but he's on the list. Not including him is a huge miss. As a side note, Marcus Jones for MN housed one last year, and would have been two if not for a penalty call - a penalty that did not impact Jones' return. Did I mention he was a true freshman? These two are dangerous, and may be the best two-man combo of KR specialists in the B1G.
Brian Bennett: You're right that Stoudermire is an accomplished return man, but I'm taking a little bit of a wait-and-see approach with him. It's really been two years since he was a standout kickoff return guy; he averaged 21.6 yards on his eight returns before the injury last year, which would not have ranked him among the best in the Big Ten. But if he can recapture his 2010 form, he could be a Top 10 specialist.
Mark R. from West Des Moines, Iowa, writes: For your Big Ten QB's under the most pressure, I'd have to say Taylor Martinez. A multi-year starter who is now a veteran player and upperclassman, he needs to know the offense and be able to make the throws if the Huskers want to succeed. I would like to say that James Vandenberg should be included on this list as well. After having a good season last year, he still needs to develop into a more refined passer and learn how to make his reads and decisions quicker. If he doesn't perform well, it's going to be a 5-6 win season for Iowa.
Brian Bennett: Martinez would probably be my choice as well, just because of the rabid nature of the Huskers fan base and his own inconsistencies the past couple of years. Nebraska has a chance to be really good on offense, but it all starts with him. As I wrote, I think all quarterbacks face pressure. However, I think we pretty much know what we're going to get with Vandenberg at this point, and in my opinion Iowa's success will have more to do with its defense and running game.
Josh from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Is there any reason why a 12-0 Ohio State team can't win the AP National Championship this year? I realize it's a long shot, but nobody is even acknowledging the possibility. If that school up north beats 'Bama, goes 12-1 and wins the B1G, I feel like the Buckeyes would have a pretty strong case...
Brian Bennett: There is nothing that would prevent it, but a lot of things would have to break just right. Obviously, there can't be another undefeated team after the bowls. The Big Ten -- and Michigan -- would probably have to be very, very strong. And there would have to be some hesitancy among the voters to crown the BCS title game winner as the champ. The Buckeyes' problem is their nonconference schedule (Miami of Ohio, UCF, Cal and UAB). Unless those teams far outshine their expectations, Ohio State won't have much of a strength-of-schedule argument outside the Big Ten.
Aditya from Bangalore writes: In your best-case scenario for the Hawkeyes (please, please, please happen) you have them going 12-1 with their only loss to Michigan. Considering it is a best-case scenario, wouldn't that be one where they go to the national championship game? Do you think any 12-1 Big Ten team would make the National championship game?
Brian Bennett: Like the Ohio State scenario, a 12-1 Big Ten team would have to have a lot of things break right. We can all but pencil in the SEC champion into the BCS title game unless something unusual happens. That leaves one spot, and it means that no other power league champ can go undefeated. If it's a situation where the BCS has to choose between 12-1 teams, many Big Ten teams could be in trouble because of their nonconference schedules. Michigan might have the best chance. I could see a scenario where, if the Wolverines were to beat Alabama but lose a close road game to, say, Nebraska, where they could still play for the BCS title.
Charles from Michigan writes: As a Wolverine fan I've been wondering whether The Game is more important this year, or is it the game against MSU? They've beaten for a couple years now and Hoke needs to beat the Spartans to shut them up. But to OSU the game IS their bowl game, so which will be tougher/matter more to Michigan?
Brian Bennett: Well, Chris, I caught some flak earlier in the year for writing that Michigan State was Michigan's biggest game this season. I can certainly see both sides of the argument. The Ohio State is always the most important on the schedule because of the rivalry. But since Brady Hoke has declared that it's Big Ten title or bust for as long as he's in Ann Arbor, then you have to conclude that division games are more important, since you can't hang a Big Ten banner without first winning the division. And if Michigan doesn't beat the Spartans at home, it's going to have a tough time, I think, claiming the Legends title with road games at Nebraska and Ohio State still looming. So that's why I'm saying Michigan State -- and that's before even mentioning the four-game losing streak.
David W. from Spencerville, Ind., writes: I think you missed one key fact in your Best Case Scenario for Iowa: the Hawkeyes haven't lost to Michigan since Lloyd Carr "retired". I realize Michigan is a good team, the favorites to win the Legends Division, and the game is in Ann Arbor, but the fact is Michigan's starting quarterback, whether Forcier or Robinson, has been limited in his effectiveness by the Iowa defense each of the last three years. I understand you don't feel Iowa will finish 12-0, and so needed to give them a loss somewhere, but recent history doesn't lean toward Michigan being that loss.
Brian Bennett: The best case/worst case pieces should not be read as predictions; they're some fun fictional installments that represent the extreme highs and lows for a team. The end result is more important than the game-by-game breakdowns. But on to your larger point. Iowa has had a lot of success recently against Michigan, but I wouldn't read a whole lot into that this year. Obviously, there are some large question marks on the Hawkeyes defense this season, and the game is at the Big House. That and the trip to East Lansing are clearly the two toughest games, on paper, on the Iowa schedule. Otherwise, it's a dream schedule for the Hawkeyes, who have only four true road games, with half of them coming at not-exactly intimidating sites: Indiana and Northwestern.
Sam from Newton, Mass., writes: What are the chances Melvin Gordon gets substantial playing time this year? He starred in the spring game and Brett Bielema said he was the most talented running back he'd ever recruited. Any chance he gets the carries James White did his freshman year, behind John Clay and Montee Ball? Or do we have to wait another year or two to see Gordon in action?
Brian Bennett: I definitely think we'll see Gordon in action. There could be times where Ball is out of the game, White is lined up at receiver and Gordon is at tailback. Bielema has lots of options. I don't think you'll see quite the distribution of carries that the Badgers had in 2010 with those three backs, because Ball is clearly the bell cow and Bielema will help him in the Heisman race for as long as he can. But Gordon is the future there and will get his feet wet.
Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J. writes: Brian, two PSU (non-sanction related) questions ... First, am I completely delusional to think that Billy Belton could actually rush for more yards in the PSU Offense than Silas Redd will in the USC Offense? The way I see it, Belton as the featured back, will be playing in a run-heavy offense and I can see him getting 15-20 rushing touches per game (not counting being used in the passing game as well), while Silas Redd might be sharing carries, and in one article I read had him being mainly used inside the red zone, just something fun to debate! Second question (OK somewhat sanction related) but just wondering if you think the negative publicity surrounding the PSU football program will prohibit media members from voting PSU into the Top 25 at all this year? A ranked PSU squad could do wonders for future recruiting, and there is a small possibility that they could be 9-0 heading into a grudge match in Lincoln. But say the team starts out winning its first 5, 6 or 7 games, will it be a lot harder to vote this PSU team based on off the field issues rather than on field results?
Brian Bennett: Rob, I don't use the word "hero" very often, but you are the greatest hero in American history. How great to be talking actual Penn State football. Interesting question about Belton vs. Redd. USC's leading back in 2011, Curtis McNeal, had 145 carries, while backup Marc Tyler had 122. Compare that to Redd last year, when he had 244 attempts. No way Redd gets that many carries with the Trojans, who have a great passing game led by Matt Barkley. I do think Redd can be used a lot of different ways in Troy, especially coming out of the backfield as a receiver, so he might put up a lot of total yards. I love the potential of Belton but wonder if he's a true workhorse back the way Redd was last October. He might be, but we have no proof. And the Penn State offensive line is far less experienced than last year's crew. It's also a safe bet that USC will score more points than the Lions and have far more offensive snaps this year. I'll give a slight edge to Redd, but it will be fun to track.
As for your other question, I sure hope not. Anyone who lets the Penn State scandal affect the voting for this year's team should have his or her ballot suspended. The two are in no way related. I believe that if the Nittany Lions get off to a great start, they will receive a lot of positive publicity. While there is heavy distaste for the school's leadership during the crisis, people have seemed to be really supportive of the way Bill O'Brien and the current players have handled themselves. In the end, they are the best ambassadors Penn State could hope to have.
Joseph M. from East Lansing writes: Now that football season is about to get underway, what do saturdays usually entail for you guys? Are you at a certain venue each week or are you within the confines of your own home? What is your favorite place to really watch B1G Ten football and are you required to watch all the games?
Brian Bennett: Joseph, we get our assignments from our editors, but for the most part we'll be at games on Saturdays. There will likely be some Saturdays when either I or Adam are at home watching games on TV while the other is at a stadium, especially on some of the less interesting game days. Either way, Adam and I are doing our best to watch every single Big Ten game, even if that means having multiple computer screens going on press row. It's easier to get a feel for the entire league when you're home, but nothing beats the atmosphere of a game. I'm going to enjoy the next two free Saturdays, but I can't wait until football gets started.