Big Ten Thursday mailbag

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
5:00
PM ET
When I am king of college football, one of my first moves will be to ban the phrase, "He's a good football player" from every coach's vocabulary. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that answer this week alone when Big Ten coaches were asked about a player. It's not just this league, though; this a national epidemic. We know coaches love to use the word "football" about as much as they love teaching and watching it, but it's still not an adjective and we all know what sport we're talking about. Funny how during the baseball playoffs, we never hear anyone described as a "good baseball player."

End rant. Let's get to your mail.

Dave Minneapolis writes: In your chat answer about coach of the year you mentioned Urban Meyer possibly over Bill O'Brien. I get O'Brien, but Meyer? I'd like to think I could coach that team to at least 10 wins with year 2 -- Miller and all. Why not think outside the box? What if Bret Bielema were to turn around Wisconsin? (granted, big if) Wouldn't that be huge on his part, having the foresight to can his OL coach after 2 games and bench his transfer QB for a freshman? After all, what makes a good coach? How do we know if it's the players or the coach (obviously it's some combination)? Frankly, the coach of the year thing is too subjective anyway, but I guess that fits perfect with college football.

Brian Bennett: Dave, that's a good email. You're a good emailer. As of right now, O'Brien is the coach of the year in the Big Ten, if not nationally. But there's a whole half-season (or more, for some teams) left. I think you underrate the job Meyer is doing. Remember, this is essentially the same team that went 6-7 last year and couldn't score. While there's no doubt Ohio State is talented, the Buckeyes aren't deep and they're relying on a lot of young players. If he can get them to 10-2 or better, he deserves serious consideration for coach of the year honors. I get what you're saying on Bielema, but these awards almost always go to coaches who exceed preseason expectations. The expectations for Wisconsin were high after back-to-back Rose Bowls. And if you're going to credit Bielema for firing his offensive line coach early in the season, you also have to blame him for hiring the wrong guy in the first place, no?


Kyle from Denton, Texas, writes: I don't see how the loss to tOSU doesn't turn up the heat on Bo Pelini a bit. He is known as a defensive guru and has founded his program on defense. Thus far this season the Huskers have given up 126 points to THREE BCS conference foes (42 ppg avg.). If that trend continues that means Nebraska will have to score a minimum of 43 points per game on offense to win games. It almost seems as though Bo's teams can either have a good defense with bad offenses ('08,'09,'10), or a good offense with a bad defense ('11,'12). That has to turn the temperature up on him a bit don't you think?

Scott R. from Omaha writes: Brian, do you think Nebraska fans are ahead of themselves by the "Pelini should get fired" comments? I mean, he took a 2007 team that wasn't even bowl eligible and got 9 wins in his first three seasons. On the other hand, in 1973 Osborne took a championship-caliber program and got 9 wins in 5 of his first 6 seasons. Granted, we ARE the program that fired Solich for going 10-3 because we "didn't want to slip into mediocrity," but regardless, are we jumping the gun?

Brian Bennett: I went on an Omaha radio station on Monday, and they barely had time for guests because the phone lines were jammed with angry, frustrated Nebraska fans. And understandably so. Pelini's Huskers have won at least nine games every year, but they also haven't been able to get over the hump and make the leap to elite status (or even conference champions yet). The road struggles and continual defensive breakdowns are particularly exasperating. Nebraska fans couldn't have liked Pelini's answers on Saturday night, when he said he didn't know why his teams have succumbed to adversity on the road, or on Tuesday's Big Ten coaches' call, when he simply blamed poor execution for the problems (i.e., putting it all on the players). A coach with his defensive background and track record should be fielding better defensive teams than what we've seen the past two years.

It's far too early to talk about pulling the plug on Pelini, and he's won too many games for that to happen. But he and his staff simply must re-evaluate what they're doing and why the team can't get it done in big road contests. That means everything from scheme to personnel to recruiting to how they travel. Because if this pattern continues, it won't be long before Pelini's job status warrants a serious discussion.

Brent from State College, Pa., writes: Hi ,Brian. Why is Manti T'eo getting so much Heisman love? I was just comparing his statistics to Michael Mauti. T'eo has 46 tackles, 3 INTs, and 3 passed defended, while Mauti has 58 tackles, 2 INTs, and 2 passes defended. What gives? Why isn't Mauti on the Heisman radar as much as T'eo? Is it strictly because ND is undefeated to this point?

Brian Bennett: First off, let's point out that Te'o has played one fewer game than Penn State's Mauti so far. I agree that Mauti has had an outstanding season, and his omission from the Lombardi Award quarterfinal list is a complete disgrace. But you can't discount team success when it comes to the Heisman Trophy. Notre Dame is undefeated and in the Top 10, while Penn State is 4-2 and unranked. The Irish defense has been one of the best in the country, and Te'o is the leader of that unit. And his story, having overcome personal tragedy to turn in huge performances in spotlight games, also helps.


Vicente from Troy, Mich., writes: Hey Brian, thank you for bringing double the blogging fun with Adam! You both are true connoisseurs of this league, contrary to the belief of the narrow-minded one team fan. Anyway, we both know that the B1G is the running joke these days, but shouldn't Jim Delany and the rest of the B1G pat themselves on the back for getting Nebraska over Mizzou or Kansas? At last glance, we have a better ratio of underwhelming teams in our league when compared to the SEC (I counted us at 4 to 12 vs the SEC at 6 to 14). Shouldn't we take a step back and see how well we are still doing?

Brian Bennett: Some good points, Vicente. There's no way to deny that the Big Ten is having a bad year, but those predicting nothing but doom and gloom in the future are overreacting. This league has too many tradition-rich programs and too many resources to be down for long. Despite Nebraska's recent road struggles, that program will rise again and it was a great addition to the league. Missouri always seemed like an odd fit and is finding life in the SEC awfully tough right now.


James from Chicago writes: Brian, when is the BIG going to learn that the way you get lots of teams ranked is by scheduling down, not up? The BIG has no teams ranked in the coaches' poll this week, but the Big Least has 3. And look at Rutgers & Cincinnati, they haven't beaten a team with a winning record all year, and haven't even played any teams who are ranked! Those 2 teams should not be ranked at all.

Brian Bennett: Sorry, James, but I have to sharply disagree with you here, and not just because I used to cover the Big East. Your logic is flawed when it comes to scheduling. Rutgers won at Arkansas; granted the Hogs are a mess right now, but no one would have said before the season that Rutgers was "scheduling down" by taking that game on. It sure looked like a much tougher matchup than playing at Oregon State or at UCLA, both of which were Big Ten losses. And Cincinnati played Virginia Tech on a neutral field. Again, the Hokies are down this year, but that's a much better scheduled game than just about anybody in the Big Ten had. So you can criticize those Big East teams if you want, but they scheduled aggressively -- and didn't lose to teams like Central Michigan.


Andrew from Nashvegas, Tenn., writes: It is fun to speculate that Iowa has found a thunder (Mark Weisman) and lighting (Damon Bullock) combo at running back. In the Kirk Ferentz era however this combo has never been very successful. Weisman and Bullock both had good numbers against vanilla defenses. Do you think Iowa would benefit from utilizing a thunder/lighting running scheme?

Brian Bennett: Be careful, Andrew, lest ye tempt the AIRBHG. But we should see Weisman and Bullock together on the field this week at Michigan State. It will be interesting to see how Ferentz and offensive coordinator Greg Davis utilize them, since Weisman has had the hot hand. The Spartans have great numbers against the run, but Ohio State showed two weeks ago that a good offensive line and downhill running game can work against them. The Hawkeyes really need to get their passing game going more than anything, but having an extra and different type of option at tailback certainly can't hurt.


Atlee S. from Ann Arbor writes: I was wondering if you were going to comment on OSU's backup quarterback's tweet from the other day that read, "Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain't come to play SCHOOL, classes are pointless." Now, I love college football more than just about anything, and my vision may be a little clouded with a Maize and Blue fog, but come on. It's pretty disgusting that players don't appreciate the free education they are getting, not to mention all of the free trips, food, and experiences. An OOS student at Ohio pays $25,445 a year, and while Cardale Jones is instate, that is still thousands of dollars he is essentially stealing from a student athlete that could be doing great things in his/her own sport while still taking advantage of all of the opportunities (however inferior to Michigan) the school has to offer.

Brian Bennett: My take on this is pretty simple: What Cardale Jones said on Twitter was dumb. Mighty dumb. But Jones is a 19-year-old kid who said something stupid on Twitter. Plenty of 19-year-olds don't always like their classes. Big deal. Jones absolutely has to be smarter than that and realize his Twitter feed will be viewed by all kinds of people. Jones wasn't going to play this year, anyway. Let's see if he learns from this mistake.


Brutus from The Ninth Circle writes: I had a question about the way Penn State is playing these days. Because they are taking more risk on 4th downs and really pushing for a TD rather than a FG, this seems to fundamentally alter their ability to win. For example, if they had a good kicker, they may be inclined to go for 3 pts rather than 7. But, being the math genius that I am, 7 points is more than 3. If they have faith that they can make the 7, and if the probability is in their favor (skill, confidence, whatever), then technically, aren't they a harder team to beat because they are playing for larger points? Said another way, they might not have won this past weekend if they had a good kicker because they would have opted for fewer points. Of course, going for 7 on 4th downs is riskier, but it seems to be paying off. Just wondering how the traditional mindsets and outcomes are changed if they are always going for a higher number of points.

Brian Bennett: Some excellent points, Brutus, and as I noted on Twitter Saturday, O'Brien's team is basically staging a laboratory for whether it's more advantageous to go for it on every reasonable fourth down. Penn State is 13 out of 20 on fourth downs this season, and that success rate seems high enough to me to take the risk. In a weird way, the Nittany Lions have benefited from Sam Ficken's struggles. I don't know if O'Brien goes for it on fourth down with his team trailing by 11 last week if he truly believed in his kicker. But because of that, it has helped instill an aggressive approach that has to benefit the offense's mindset. There are stat-heads who will tell you that teams are better off going for it on fourth down every time. O'Brien may end up being their patron saint.


Ray from Chicago writes: You can't knock Northwestern's defense for the 4th quarter collapse against PSU. They were on the field for two-thirds of the game. This loss goes to the offense and even more so to the coaching staff for their unwillingness to run between the tackles and mix in Kain Colter on a day when Trevor Siemien was consistently overthrowing the ball. Can you tell I'm bitter about not going 6-0 for the first time in 50 years?

Brian Bennett: The Wildcats had done a great job of juggling the two quarterbacks all year, but I thought they messed it up at Penn State. Siemian and the passing game weren't clicking, while Colter has some success running the zone-read with Venric Mark. Yet when Northwestern was trying to close out the game in the fourth quarter, Colter was absent from the game plan and instead the offense barely stayed on the field because of incomplete passes. Of course, you also can't let the defense off the hook after it allowed 22 fourth-quarter points.


Jim from Alexandria, Va., writes: In your B1G stock report this week you called out the Wisconsin students for showing up late to the game. This is nothing new and was standard when I went to school there during the Ron Dayne era. I don't disagree that the late start should mean they could be there on time. But your comment -- "The game was a 2:30 p.m. local time kick, so too much partying the night before could not be used as an excuse" -- confirms the fact that you have never partied in Madison...at least, not "truly" partied.

Brian Bennett: I had a pretty good time in Madison this spring, Jim. I'd buy your argument if it were an 11 a.m. kick, but there's no excuse for not being recovered by 2 p.m. when you're a spry college student. Plus, the Badgers only have seven home games this year. Pace yourself, people!

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