It's Thursday, so it's time for another mailbag. Remember to keep those questions coming during the offseason.
A.J. from Madison writes: Over/under on Badgers' defense giving up more points than last year? I have NO idea what to expect from them as it appears the scheme is completely different.
Brian Bennett: I'm not sure that's technically an over/under, but you're right in that Wisconsin is going through a scheme change, with some 3-4 looks being added by Gary Andersen and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. The good news for the Badgers is that almost all of the two deep in the front seven is back, save departed senior linebacker Mike Taylor and injured defensive end David Gilbert. The defense should once again be very good up front. More concerning is the secondary, which lost three senior starters.
I think Wisconsin's defense should once again be one of the best in the league, but remember that last year's unit allowed only 19.8 points per game. With some potentially explosive offenses such as Arizona State, Ohio State, Northwestern and Indiana on the schedule, a repeat of that would have to be considered very good work.
Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes:Since the current coaching staffs for Minnesota and Indiana came on at the same time, have you been comparing them to see how they are developing? Minnesota was ahead based on record and getting to a bowl game. Is Indiana catching up due to better recruiting or is it too early to tell?
Brian Bennett: It's not a strict one-to-one comparison, since Indiana's Kevin Wilson replaced his offensive coordinator after the first year and saw co-defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler leave after last season. Minnesota is going into its third season with the exact same staff under Jerry Kill. Indiana was 5-7 the year before Wilson arrived, while the Gophers were 3-9 in 2010. Wilson played tons of freshmen and bottomed out at 1-11 his first season, while Kill seemed to have more talented veterans to work with the past two years (MarQueis Gray, Ra'Shede Hageman, Michael Carter, etc). In talking to some Minnesota coaches and players this spring, they seem confident that things are about to take off in the third year under Kill as they are finally starting to build some depth, and going to a bowl game did a lot for that program. Indiana remains a step behind because it will have to navigate a tough schedule just to have a chance at a bowl this year, but the Hoosiers are heading in the right direction.
Jay from Prince William County writes: DaQuan Jones is without a doubt the top returning interior D-linemen in the Big Ten. Unlike Hill, who I correctly predicted would be an upgrade over Still after he slid over from nose guard (Jones was an upgrade over Hill at guard) Jones won't have great numbers. It isn't the nature of the position in Penn State's defense, but he will be the best tackle in the league this year. He was the second or third best last year behind Jordan Hill and maybe Hankins. Together with Deion Barnes, the league's top end, Mike Hull, the league's top linebacker, Adrian Amos, the league's top D-back, and plenty of high quality supporting players, Penn State will again have one of the league's top two defenses. They will of course have the league's top linebacking corps for the tenth straight year. That much goes without question.
Brian Bennett: So let me guess: You're a Nittany Lions fan, eh? It's sometimes hard to judge a defensive tackle's impact on stats alone, and Jones is definitely a space-eater at 330 pounds. Then again, in his own words Jones said he hasn't made enough big plays his first three years, and he hasn't been a real game-changer. I wouldn't have ranked him that high last year, as I thought Hankins, Hill, Kawann Short and Hageman were all better and plenty of other tackles in the league were just as good. But the Big Ten was hit pretty hard by graduation and the NFL draft at the position. I'd probably rank Hageman No. 1 among returnees at tackle, but I'm not sure who I'd put at No. 2 at this point. If Jones can make the senior-year leap that other Penn State interior linemen have made recently, he could build a case.
Matt from Ann Arbor writes:Looking at the spring games that have already taken place, which position group for a team has raised its stock the most? Which has dropped the most? Why?
Brian Bennett: I'll expand that to include the entirety of spring practice for teams who have finished, because spring games themselves are often terribly overrated. I'd say Ohio State's defensive line definitely qualifies as a stock you want to buy. Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence looked great all spring and then combined for seven sacks in the spring game, lessening the worry about the Buckeyes losing all four starters from last year's D-line. I also think the arrow is pointing up for Nebraska's quarterbacks (backups Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg both looked good) and Indiana's receivers (even deeper than last year). Picking a group whose stock has dropped is tougher. But I was hoping to see a bit more out of Nebraska's defensive line, which had been billed as more athletic but didn't really make a lot of plays in the spring game. The Huskers did have to go against a great offensive line, though, and will get reinforcements this summer. Michigan's linebacking corps has to go down a notch just because of the loss of Jake Ryan, although a good spring by Cam Gordon and the emergence of James Ross III should help keep the dropoff from being too severe.
Do you believe in T-magic from Omaha, Neb., writes: I'm not sure why Devin Gardneris getting the hype he is. After watching him for several weeks after a better but still not talented QB "Shoelace" Robinson (obviously just a freak athlete) got hurt, all Gardner did was a less talented version of Robinson chuck the ball up and pray someone comes down under it. I don't think Gardner would even be third-string playing for the Big Red and that is sad. ... All Michigan does is try and recycle the same game hoping they get a lucky catch when it matters. Michigan 8-4 (at best) Nebraska 12-0 (showdown with 12-0 tOSUu in the title game) Where does this guy's hype come from? Do tell.
Brian Bennett: That's some world-class trolling right there, my friend. Take a bow. After taking over the Michigan starting job in the Nov. 3 game against Minnesota, Gardner threw for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns while running for seven more scores in five games. Extrapolate that out to a 13-game season, and he would have passed for more than 3,100 yards and totaled 46 touchdowns. No one is saying he will put up those kinds of numbers over a full season, but the fact that he produced those stats after playing mostly receiver for more than half the year and doing so in an offense tailored around Robinson's running ability tells you all you need to know about Gardner's talent and potential.