Monday, July 14, 2014
Big Ten Monday mailbag
By Brian Bennett
The Monday mailbag is back, and we're also incorporating more of your questions from Twitter. So make sure to follow us if for some weird reason you're not already doing so.
To your questions:
Brian Bennett: Good question. The Buckeyes-Spartans showdown is unquestionably the top draw, at least on paper in the preseason. We'll see whether the two defending division champs can live up to their hype in the first two months. It's not so easy to pick out the clear No. 2 game, simply because the rest of the contenders are pretty bunched up. If I had to pick one, I'd go with Nebraska at Wisconsin on Nov. 15. Both should be top contenders for the West Division title, and there's a nice little rivalry brewing between the two programs, even if they've only played one close game since the Huskers joined the league.
Then again, either one of Iowa's final two games -- both at home, against Wisconsin and Nebraska -- could end up looming just as large or even larger on the conference schedule. And Ohio State-Michigan is always, like, kind of important.
Max. C from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I really don't know why many people aren't giving Ohio State a chance to go undefeated next season. Here are my thoughts. Ohio State's first two games are against Navy and Virginia Tech, two teams that are below average passing teams. That will give the Buckeyes' secondary a chance to gel together and get used to the new system. No. 2: The offensive line will be good as always. No. 3: They have Dontre Wilson, Rod Smith and Ezekiel Elliott, plus a lot of other young talent. I think they're stocked.
Brian Bennett: Ohio State has a schedule that's more challenging up and down than it was a year ago. When you add in Cincinnati, there are three nonconference games that carry the potential for an upset. Then again, the Hokies and Bearcats each come to Ohio Stadium, where the Buckeyes figure to be significant favorites, and Ohio State has vastly superior talent to Navy. For me, it really comes down to whether Urban Meyer's team can navigate tough road trips to Penn State and, of course, Michigan State. I don't see any other games on the Big Ten schedule that should seriously threaten the Buckeyes. Like you said, Max, the schedule sets up well to allow the secondary to gel, but the offensive line had better come together quickly. I suspect it will.
Brian Bennett: I do like the potential of the Hawkeyes' offense quite a bit this year. They have a veteran quarterback now in Jake Rudock, along with a stable of experienced and talented backs. They might have the best offensive line in the league and most likely the top offensive tackle in Brandon Scherff. And there looks to be more speed and explosiveness -- finally -- at the receiver position for Greg Davis to exploit.
Still, lighting up the scoreboard isn't usually Kirk Ferentz's style. He prefers to control the ball on the ground, rely on strong defense and -- unfortunately sometimes -- play the field-position game. There have been notable exceptions, of course, such as when Iowa averaged 37.2 points per game to lead the Big Ten in 2002. But in more recent years, his better teams haven't been high-scoring ones, such as when the Hawkeyes were 10th in the Big Ten in points per game in 2009.
Iowa has embraced some notable changes, such as using the hurry-up on occasion. And its schedule should provide opportunities to rack up some big numbers early on. Still, with other potentially potent offenses in the league like Ohio State, Indiana, Northwestern, Nebraska, etc., I have a hard time seeing Iowa finish among the leaders in scoring this year. Which doesn't really matter, as long as the team wins.
Samuel from Iowa City writes: You wrote: "But, hey, the East-West is here the way it is, so let's see how it plays out. "Brian, after what happened to the Legends and the Leaders, surely you don't believe the East and the West are completely safe?
Brian Bennett: As we have learned in recent years, even some of the staunchest traditions in college football can change dramatically. True, the Legends and Leaders last only three years (pause for a moment of silence). I would expect the East and West divisions to have a longer shelf life, especially with the league having scheduled out to 2019 already. The one thing that could blow up the current division setup quickly is another round of expansion. That doesn't seem to be on the immediate horizon, but you can never say never anymore. If the divisions prove to be too imbalanced one way or another, I think the league would look at reorganizing them. But it would be several years down the road before that happened.
Brian Bennett: I think Northwestern would be pretty happy if Trevor Siemian could replicate his numbers from last year's season finale: 414 passing yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions. Of course, you don't get to play the Illinois defense every week. In all seriousness, I think Siemian could be in line for a very good year. The Wildcats aren't going to be running the option very much when he's in there, or at least they shouldn't, since he has run for a total of 100 yards (on 74 carries) in three years. Kain Colter, he's not, both for good and bad. Northwestern also has a veteran receiving corps that should lead to a strong passing game. One concern: Siemian completed less than 60 percent of his passes the last two seasons. He needs to get his accuracy up closer to the Persa range, or at least make it more Kafkaesque, while improving his decision-making. As a senior with the job to himself, Siemian should improve in that area.