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Thursday, December 15, 2011
Big Ten Thursday mailbag

By Brian Bennett

Forget letters to Santa. Here is the most important correspondence of the season: your emails.

Ross from Oakwood, Ill., writes: I like the hire of Tim Beckman at Illinois, looks like Mike Thomas may have a little thing going for the MAC. But do you think he will fare any better than Zook? Illinois just seems to be a hopeless situation and with the hiring of Urban Meyer I'm wondering if we should just give up on this whole crazy idea of Illinois actually winning football games.

Brian Bennett: Illinois is one of those weird programs that just can't seem to find any consistency. But I don't think it is hopeless. The Illini can still mine talent from Chicago and the St. Louis area, and they have had some very good players over the years. It's a matter of finding the right leadership, and maybe Beckman is that guy. Getting past Ohio State and Wisconsin every year in the Leaders Division, not to mention Penn State when that program finds its next coach, won't be easy at all. But you don't have to win division or conference titles all the time to have a successful program. Simply put: if Missouri can do it, why not Illinois?


Lance from Johnstown, Penn., writes: I am writing you instead of Adam because you look more like a guy I would want to hang out with. Anyways, I am sure you have been getting hammered with this topic (PSU vs. B1G presidents) so I might as well pile on and see if I can get your take. I see only one consequence to sanctions against PSU and that is ultimately the conference and university parting ways. Either because that is simply the penalty or if lesser penalties are passed down, PSU will refuse to be pushed around by a conference in which in brings the ham to Christmas dinner. This includes two of the top five TV markets, arguably the most fertile recruiting ground in the nation, and one of the three B1G cash cows. ... The academic argument is bogus as well (Duke, Wake Forest, UVA, Clemson, UNC, Miami, FSU are hardly lacking as even compared to B1G schools). I just can't see PSU taking any sanctions in stride when they hold these cards. I can only hope these school presidents cave to media pressure and we get kicked out of the B1G as that would end all doubt and we can resume playing Pitt, Syracuse, BC, etc. Your take?

Brian Bennett: That's an interesting take, Lance. Clearly, Penn State has always been a bit of an odd duck in the Big Ten as its easternmost member, and I realize there is some sentiment among Nittany Lions backers that going to the ACC would be a good move. I believe PSU enjoys being in the Big Ten and the prestige that comes with being associated with the league's schools. Penn State may be closer geographically to many of the ACC schools, but its school and football program more closely resemble those of the Big Ten. If the league were to issue sanctions on top of or in lieu of any NCAA punishment, that might not sit well in State College. As I wrote, conferences usually come to the defense of their member schools whenever there is trouble, but this looks like the other way around. I still think Penn State will stay in the Big Ten, but this will be very interesting to watch.


Brian from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Brian, keep up the great coverage. Your thoughts on Delaney's BCS/Rose Bowl views? I think he's become a little inward focused, essentially making decisions to limit BIG's nat'l ch. chances. (9 conf games, no plus-one, nebraska, BIG champ. game). I firmly believe we need an easier bowl lineup to allow us more wins, increase national perception and therefore that will pay off with exposure throughout the year and respect and benefit of the doubt come nat'l champ. notes/selection time. Your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: I shared many of my thoughts in this post and this one. I fully understand Delany's desire to keep the Rose Bowl tie-in. It's the most special experience in the college football postseason, so why would the Big Ten want to give that up? The thing is, the league doesn't really have to lose that relationship with the plus-one. There are ways to include the Rose Bowl and make sure the Big Ten is in Pasadena every year or almost every year. I think the plus-one is beneficial for the Big Ten to get in the national championship race; imagine if Wisconsin was 12-1 and No. 3 right now. It's a lot easier to finish in the top four than the top two, especially now that there is a championship game and soon a longer conference season, as you noted. If the Big Ten were to sit out a plus-one situation as has been implied, then I can't imagine the recruiting damage that would be done at league schools as a result when players learned they could never compete for a national championship. Tradition is great, but let's not get stuck in it.


Chris from WDM, Iowa, writes: BB, way to take it to Adam this year fantasy wise. New guy taking it to the old vet. Love it. Anyways, back to my question. With all of these All-American teams, how come Marvin McNutt isn't showing up on any of them, not even honorable mention? One would think that making first team Big Ten, setting Iowa receiving records galore and being one of the more deadly receivers in the nation would let him have his moment in the sun? Do you think it was because of Iowa's struggles that are causing this or do you think there are some other underlying factors that are playing into this?

Brian Bennett: Chris, I'm not sure exactly why McNutt hasn't gotten more attention nationally. There was a bumper crop of talented receivers in college football this year, so he got overshadowed a bit. Other stars such as Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon (113 catches, 1,336 yards, 15 touchdowns) and USC's Robert Woods (111 catches, 1,292 yards and 15 scores) had bigger numbers than McNutt (78 for 1,269 and 12), but not by a ton.  I also think it hurt that Iowa didn't have many showcase games this season, and in the couple of times in which the Hawkeyes did play on national TV in big games -- against Penn State and Nebraska -- McNutt didn't have his usual stats.


Matt from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Apparently Sa'von Pittman has changed his committment to OSU from MSU. Isn't there a kind of unwritten rule in the Big Ten that if a player has verbally committed to another Big Ten University, coaches will not go after them? Seems like Urban Meyer has not gotten that memo, and a recruit from PSU also switched.

Brian Bennett: Gentleman, you hath offended me! Let us duel at noon. Any talk of such an unwritten rule is outdated and nonsense. Some coaches may respect the verbal commitment, but the truth is a verbal pledge means nothing until signing day. Meyer would not have been doing his job if he didn't check in with some committed recruits from his backyard to see if they might now be interested in Ohio State. I'm not for harassing a prospect who has already committed, but that player doesn't have to listen if a rival coach comes calling. Clearly, the kids in the examples you cite were willing to hear that sales pitch.


John from AuGres, Mich., writes: On the 2012 Big Ten Heisman candidates, I think Le'Veon Bell should be included as one of the others to watch. Michigan State's offensive line should be pretty solid next fall, and there will be some depth and competition for spots. Foreman graduates, but Treadwell and Burkland should return from injury. There are some solid young guys that may be in the mix, such as Jack Allen. I highly doubt the Spartans will be last in rushing in 2012, and that has nothing to do with a new quarterback. In fact, I expect Andrew Maxwell to be solid. With all that, Bell's biggest problem in 2012 for Heisman consideration could be depth. Edwin Baker and Larry Caper will be seniors, and I expect all 3 players to get reps. Bell is more likely to be a candidate in 2013 when he is a senior, but he should at least be on the radar for 2012.

Brian Bennett: John, I really liked what Bell did this season, especially down the stretch. I would expect the Spartans to run the ball more next year as they break in a new starting quarterback. That said, Bell had only two 100-yard rushing games in 2011, so he'll definitely have to make a leap to get into serious Heisman consideration.


Chad from Minneapolis writes: Brian, great assesment of the 2012 candidates. You forgot to add Fitz Toussaint, U of M, if he continues to develop under Borges, he may be another viable candidate. What are your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: That's an interesting question, as Toussaint ran for more than 1,000 yards this season and seemed to improve as the year went along. His biggest obstacle, of course, is that he has another superstar in his own backfield with quarterback Denard Robinson. But we saw Montee Ball eclipse Russell Wilson late this season to get to New York. So anything is possible.


Paul from Parts Unknown writes: Hello Brian, wanted to say that I am a big fan of you guys and read regularly. I was wondering what your take was on which Big Ten juniors were most likely to enter the NFL draft this year? I'm a Michigan State fan and want to keep Jerel Worthy for another year. Especially so he can dominate whoever replaces Dave Molk for Michigan.

Brian Bennett: I can't tell you what each player is thinking or what his priorities are. But if I were advising players, I'd tell Worthy to go, along with Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Peter Konz (assuming Konz is healthy) and Illinois' Whitney Mercilus. It's all about maximizing your potential earnings, and I doubt any of these players' stocks will get any higher than they are right now. Another junior who has an interesting decision is Ohio State's John Simon, though he has said he plans to stay in school.


Ryan from Saline, Mich., writes: What would you have thought about a Baylor vs. Michigan (RG3 vs. Denard) Sugar Bowl? I think it would have been exciting. Two very similar quarterbacks.

Brian Bennett: It sure would beat the matchup we have now. Is it too late to change?