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Thursday, September 15, 2011
Big Ten Thursday mailbag

By Brian Bennett

I always get a little antsy on Thursday afternoons as football is about to arrive. It's even more so this week, as I'm still riding the high from last weekend's Michigan-Notre Dame thriller and really looking forward to my first trip to Lincoln this weekend. Sea of Red, I hope you represent on Saturday, and I'm sure you will.

Let's get to some of your emails.

A.J. from Charlotte, N.C., writes: Dude, Really? OSU against the world? Isn't Ohio one of the most populous states in the country? Everyone loves the Buckeyes no matter what. Did you see parades and public outcry for the other universities in trouble? Heck no. The largest Alumni Base in the country, the most rabid forgiving, just win fan base out of anyone in the FBS, and you write this? ... The players need a rallying cry I get it, but its kinda like Warren Buffet screaming about losing a few shares of Berkshire A. It hurts but not that bad.

Brian Bennett: It's always kind of funny when teams with huge followings use the "us-against-the-world" mantra. But I can tell you from talking to several Buckeyes players since this summer, they really do feel that way. It's a natural reaction to close ranks and bond together when it looks like the outside world is out to get you. That may not be reality, exactly, but it is true that Ohio State has been hammered by pundits and critics for months now -- much of it deserved, by the way. You can understand why a group of 18-to-22-year-olds believes that. The question I have is, which team will the nonpartisan public want to see lose more Saturday night: the Buckeyes or the Hurricanes?


Steve from Milwaukee, Wis., writes: OK, I'm not trying to make excuses. I know the Buckeyes' game last week was overall a very weak game (that's an understatement) and we have a lot to clean up for this week's matchup against Miami, but why have people only looked at the negatives? Until Toledo's final drive, they had not managed a single third-down conversion (too many 4th down ones, but none on 3rd). That's a very important stat right there. Additionally, OSU was just a couple overthrows away from more touchdowns. Bauserman overthrew receivers on seemingly half his incompletions, with and without pressure. At least two of these were to receivers who were a few yards ahead of the deepest defender.

Brian Bennett: Steve, I'll agree with you that the defense has been very solid, and in fact the defense (and Chris Fields' punt return) saved the Buckeyes' bacon last week. Two things: one, Toledo didn't really play all that well, getting called for 14 penalties for 102 yards and switching up quarterbacks. It's alarming that the Rockets were so close despite playing a sloppy game. Secondly, it's the offense and some poor special-teams play that should concern Ohio State the most. The running game had trouble getting going, and as you said, Joe Bauserman was missing receivers (who are a very young group, by the way). I fully expect the Buckeyes to improve, but they're also not going to find as many open wideouts or easy opportunities against Miami or in Big Ten play.


FJ from Lincoln writes: I'm getting pretty sick of hearing the two of you on this blog saying that the Huskers defense looked like garbage against Fresno. Do you actually watch the games that you report about? Being there, I can tell you that Fresno basically ran 3 successful plays throughout the game; inside/off tackle runs from the spread, rollout passes, and quick slants. On top of that, it seemed like the D played out of its base package the entire game -- no adjustments were made formation-wise (such as switching to a 3-man or 5-man front) to counter what Fresno was doing. Credit Fresno for a solid game plan and good execution (which was largely the same as UW's Holiday Bowl game plan), but you can't just go around saying the D was awful and gave up too many yards when the rock/paper/scissors effect schemes can create worked against them the entire game.

Brian Bennett: So let me just get this straight, F.J. Your point is that Fresno State -- not a Top 25 team by any stretch, by the way -- only needed to run a few basic plays to roll up 444 total yards and 29 points on the road against what is supposed to be one of the nation's best defenses. And this somehow is an indication that Nebraska's defense did not play poorly? I can't follow that logic. Besides, don't just trust Adam and me; listen to defensive coordinator Carl Pelini's comments from this week: "I’m furious about our performance, and I’m embarrassed and I hope our players are too.”

Um, yeah. What he said.


Kyle from Saginaw, Texas, writes: Hey, Brian, how are you liking the Big Ten thus far? Earlier this week in your chat you said because of the defense's performance vs Fresno State that Nebraska wasn't a favorite to win the Legends Division anymore. My question is why? What I think you are missing in all of this, is that Nebraska's OFFENSE won them the game. Nebraska showed that this year it can out score opponents when it needs to just in case the defense isn't performing well.

Brian Bennett: Kyle, a friend of mine asked me the same question this week about covering the Big Ten. I told him, "Well, my first three assignments have sent me to The Shoe, The Big House and now the Sea of Red." So, yeah, it's pretty great. As for Nebraska, I actually wrote that I no longer view the Huskers as the heavy favorite to win the Legends. I still see them as the top contender, but I'm not sure I've seen anything so far to suggest they're better than Michigan State, and those games against Wisconsin and Ohio State will be difficult.


Josh from D.C. writes: Like many in the Big Ten, I have yet -- save highlights -- to watch Taylor Martinez from Nebraska play. In your opinion, who would you have run the option for your offense? Martinez or Denard Robinson?

Brian Bennett: Oh, wow. Could I use both, in some sort of double-quarterback situation? Right now, T-Magic's running stats are better than Shoelace's. They're both electric. I think Robinson is a little faster in his first step, whereas Martinez seems to pick up speed and really take off once he gets going, which is one reason he's been so good once he gets to the edge. It's very close, but I'll take Robinson just because he's pulled off a few more heroics than Martinez in his career. You just get the sense Michigan is going to win if the game's close and Robinson has the ball in his hands.


Russ Cater from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Dude, Something is wrong here ... Denard Robinson at No. 7? The NCAA list you're using only list DR as playing one game.

Brian Bennett: You're right, Russ, and thanks for pointing that out. I made the mistake of using the official NCAA stats when looking up the passer efficiency numbers. But because the NCAA doesn't recognize the stats from the Western Michigan game that did not complete three quarters, Robinson's official numbers with the NCAA only include the Notre Dame game so far. Boy, that is going to be very, very confusing this season. The Big Ten does count the Western Michigan stats, and when you include that, Robinson ranks fourth in the league in passer efficiency rating at 172.5. That would still put Robinson at No. 22 nationally, so the original point that the Big Ten has several players high in those rankings holds.

(And in case you're wondering, yes, Robinson is only completing 54.1 percent of his passes and has three interceptions. But touchdowns and yards per attempt weigh into the college efficiency formula, and Robinson's numbers there are great).


Chris from Wixom, Mich., writes: Denard... serious Heisman contender after one game? Oh you mean just like Tate Forcier was in ' 09 and Denard was last year until they played real B1G teams?

Brian Bennett: Absolutely. While readily acknowledging it's silly to handicap the Heisman race after two weeks, I can only base such an exercise on the actual performances this season. And there's no doubt that Robinson had a major Heisman moment last week, even if he really only played one good -- make that, legendary -- quarter. ESPN.com's own Heisman Predictor column has Robinson ranked No. 1 right now (with Russell Wilson second and Martinez third, for what it's worth).


Ted E. from Amarillo, Texas, writes: I'm very glad that Iowa has Kirk Ferentz and I wouldn't trade him for any other coach right now, but in my opinion your answer in this week's chat was terrible and it didn't seem as though you thought very much about it. "This is Iowa football. It's not Alabama or Texas or even Ohio State." So Iowa football is not to be taken seriously and they and their fans should be happy with whatever? It sure reads that way.

Brian Bennett: I had some others ask about this, and I'm glad you brought it up, Ted. First off, please remember that in that chat format, I'm firing off answers in rapid-fire succession and don't have a lot of time to craft long-worded, research-heavy responses. That one may have been a bit too flippant. But I do have some space and time here, so let me clarify those comments. I understand the frustration when Iowa loses games its fans don't think it should, and the Hawkeyes should absolutely strive for the best. I'd like to see the program become more consistent rather than going through peaks and valleys.

But let's look at what Ferentz has done. He won 11 games in 2002 and 2009 and 10 games in 2003 and 2004. He has led the team to two BCS games since 2003, six January bowls and two Big Ten titles. Hall of Fame coach Hayden Fry won three Big Ten titles in 20 years, though he did lead the team to three Rose Bowls. My point is that Ferentz has achieved basically the same amount as the apex of Hawkeyes football over the past 50 years, and Iowa is not a place that's particularly rich in its local recruiting base or facilities (yet, at least; an upgrade is coming). So to call for Ferentz's head because he lost on the road in overtime to a fired-up, in-state rival from a BCS conference in Week 2 seems like a wild overreaction to me.


JNort55 from Pekin, Ill., writes: Illinois has quite the challenge this week vs Arizona State. However, Illinois is a much improved team from last year, although a little short of depth at DT. If and when Illinois beats ASU, will they begin to get at least some respect around College Football?

Brian Bennett: Adam did a great job writing about this very subject earlier today. I definitely think people would start to take notice of Illinois with a win on Saturday, but there are still plenty of skeptics about the Illini (and about Arizona State for that matter). It's going to take key Big Ten wins for Ron Zook's team to really get some respect.


Keith from San Diego writes: Brian, I dare you to have an interview with Coach Wilson and say this "well, an Indiana thing happened." Good luck with that if you do.

Brian Bennett: I don't want Kevin Wilson yelling at me on the radio. There's a fine line between poking unfair fun and putting things in a historic perspective. Unfortunately, Indiana fans have seen those types of losses way, way too often. Believe me, I know all about it. I grew up as a Kentucky football fan. Some of those UK-IU matchups from my youth ... well, they won't be appearing on ESPN Classic anytime soon.