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Thursday, January 19, 2012
Big Ten Thursday mailbag

By Brian Bennett

Empty your noggins here:

Josh from WPAFB, Ohio, writes: Brian, I agree with the fact that it was the right decision for Brady Hoke to release Darryl Stonum. However, when I read your article it looked like he was a horrible person. I feel bad because I think in an NCAA with players who accept money and prostitutes, clothes, tattoos, and beat other students up at bars, Darryl Stonum seemed to be a legitimately nice kid who made poor choices. ... While I think drinking and driving is one of the dumbest, selfish things one can do, his last violation after nine solid months was driving to a probation meeting because he couldn't find a ride. I don't know what I would do in that scenario because missing a meeting is also a violation. All in all, I respect the fact that he said, "I understand only I am responsible for my actions." I just wanted to know your personal feelings about it since I could easily be wrong and you don't think he's an awful person.

Brian Bennett: Josh, I don't know Stonum personally, and I agree with you that we're not exactly dealing with an axe murderer here. But Stonum clearly is guilty of making some very poor decisions. It's hard for me to buy the argument that he couldn't find a ride. I'm pretty sure they have cabs and buses in Ann Arbor, and don't you think he could have hooked a ride from a teammate or an assistant coach, especially if he explained the severity of the situation? (If I'm Denard Robinson, I'm offering to drive Stonum anywhere as long as he stays out of trouble).

Michigan takes its reputation seriously, and therefore it needed to do something about a player who had spent nearly two weeks in jail on probation violations alone. Plus, Hoke needs to set a tone for discipline, even if many of Stonum's problems pre-date his arrival. The best thing the Wolverines can do is continue to support Stonum so he can graduate. Hopefully, this serves as a wake-up call so he will make better decisions going forward. We all have to grow up sometime.

Shazor from Findlay, Ohio, writes: I feel like Ohio State is getting a lot of hate from around the B1G for swaying players who have already been committed to other schools. While I understand the frustration, it happens to everyone and everyone tries to steal from other schools. ... I see it mostly like this: some or most of the players that Ohio State is swaying probably would have been Ohio State leans before the whole tat-gate fiasco -- Taylor Decker and Se'Von Pittman come to mind most in this sense -- and some of these late guys re-opened their recruitment following JoePa's firing, so they are fair game to everyone. Bottom line: people can say what they want (haters gonna hate), but it is all just part of the game.

Brian Bennett: I couldn't agree more. Until a player signs a letter of intent, he is fair game as a recruit. Many star prospects were understandably leery about Ohio State last summer, given the NCAA investigation and an unstable coaching situation. Urban Meyer wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't try to re-recruit those players, and many of them are obviously open to his pitch. It's up to an individual recruit to honor his original commitment, and he can simply ignore the calls and texts from a rival coach.

Mick from Santa Cruz, Calif., writes: Brian, your joining the Big Ten blog was the greatest gift to me in 2011! Thanks for adding so much more to what was already a great blog (thanks to Adam for that!). What do you make of Bret Bielema's new hire for the offensive coordinator position? Will Matt Canada be able to keep the Wisconsin offensive as explosive as it has been under Paul Chryst while adhering to the pro-style system? Also, do you think his experience running spread offense in the past can attract more talented and versatile quarterbacks and receivers to UW?

Brian Bennett: Thanks for the kind words, Mick. Most of all, I'm excited for all the Canada puns I can make in the near future (Adam is not; he was already rolling his eyes at the corny jokes I bombarded him with earlier this week). It was an interesting hire, especially because of Canada's extensive experience with the spread offense, something Bielema says he has no interest in running.

But a comment from Bielema on Wednesday that caught my eye was this: Wisconsin has a system it can recruit to, and that's power football with big, talented offensive linemen. Canada is no dummy. He'll stick to that system and adapt to it. I like the balance his offenses had at Northern Illinois, and if he can teach the quarterbacks a few new tricks, all the better. The Russell Wilson experience should show all quarterbacks that their talents can blend into the Badgers' style, and that's an easy recruiting pitch for Canada to make.

Earl from Washington, D.C., writes: Re: your article on Joe Paterno's interview with Sally Jenkins, did you actually infer Paterno was a liar? Why do you find it so hard to take him at his word? Geez, he's the only person in this whole mess that had the integrity to take some blame and say he wished he had done more. And for that bit of integrity the Trustees immediately fired him - but they still love the donations he gives the University! Look, let's shift the focus back to the perpetrator and the victims (especially), and let's stop blaming Paterno.

Brian Bennett: Let's remember that the interview was conducted with Paterno's attorney present, so if you don't think he was coached up on what to say beforehand, you're being naive. And that's understandable and perfectly OK. People often try to present the version of events that make them look best. I thought Paterno was pretty revealing in much of the interview, but there were parts of his explanation and wording I just didn't buy. I find it incredibly difficult to believe that no one on the Penn State staff, especially Paterno himself, didn't have at least some suspicions about Jerry Sandusky. You can disagree with me on that, but that's my opinion based on an understanding of how close-knit football staffs work are, especially considering how long the same Nittany Lions coaches worked together. And there was another answer that rang false for me ...

Clint H. from Shreveport, La., writes: Even though I am 43 years old, I can relate to Coach Paterno not knowing how to handle the news that a coach was caught with a young boy. My grandparents whom I was very close to were shocked at some of the things that they learned was in the outside world such as talking about sex in public, people having fetishes,, etc...... So I totally believe Coach Paterno. More people should be helping him restore his image instead of letting it be torn down.

Brian Bennett: There's a lot of truth in that, Clint. Paterno has been married to the same woman for decades and wasn't exactly the most worldly guy when it came to different social lifestyles. I can understand why Mike McQueary was hesitant to talk to Paterno about the details of what he allegedly witnessed. But here's why I can't totally believe Paterno's comments that he "never heard of rape and a man" and had no idea what that meant: JoePa has always been known as a practicing and very active Catholic, and he's certainly a well-read person. Are we to believe somehow that he had not heard of the Catholic molestation scandals that made world news and produced headlines throughout the East Coast in 2002? That never came up at all on Paterno's radar? I'm highly skeptical, to say the least.

Brandon from Las Vegas writes: The NCAA bowl ban "won't hurt OSU in their pocketbook"? Really? Do you realize how much they would make if they reached a BCS bowl?With the amount of money OSU has contributed to the other Big Ten schools over their dominance this past decade, who cares! Every one else profited from the 2010 Sugar Bowl. OSU payed their share back. Consider this an interest payment.

Brian Bennett: Actually, Brandon, the Big Ten pools all bowl revenue and distributes equally among member schools. Since most teams either lose money or make a small amount on bowl trips because they have to spend so much on travel and ticket expenses, Ohio State might actually earn a bigger profit by staying home and cashing the league's postseason check. As long as the Big Ten keeps getting two teams in the BCS, as it did this year with no help from the Buckeyes, the conference won't be hurt, either.

Allen from Lima, Ohio, writes: Brian, someone asked you Thursday if OSU went 12-0 could they win the AP title. Your answer was no because of this: Miami of Ohio, Central Florida, California, UAB. Hard to argue with that. But think of another possibility, what if heading into the game against Michigan, the Wolverines are also 11-0, having beat a defending national champ in Bama (let's say handily, and let's say Bama goes on to win the SEC), and the Buckeyes beat Michigan by a couple scores. Do you think that may help overcome the ugly non-conf schedule? Obviously you would need a year where nobody from the SEC/Big 12/Pac-12 conferences finished unbeaten as well. It's at least plausible right? (along the lines of ...so you're sayin' there's a chance!)

Brian Bennett: Sure, anything is possible. Two other reasons besides the nonconference schedule would damage the Buckeyes' chances, however. One, there's a national perception among media and fans, fairly or unfairly, that Ohio State can't win the big games out of conference, thanks to some failures in the BCS title game. That would almost certainly hurt the Buckeyes in the polls since they wouldn't be able to prove otherwise on the field. Secondly, the SEC is all but guaranteed a spot in the BCS title game if its champion has only one loss based on (deserved) reputation alone. And then someone would have to beat the SEC in the title game. Even in your scenario, if Alabama were to win the BCS championship, the pro-SEC bias is so strong that it would probably still help the Tide finish No. 1 in the AP poll. After all, Alabama did lose at home in November this season and still was allowed to play for the BCS title in a rematch.

Oh, and let's not forget Ohio State is coming off a 6-7 year, so any talk of 12-0 in 2012 seems more than a bit optimistic.

Fox from Burbank, Calif., writes: Northwestern was disappointing this year and it's no secret what the big problem was -- the defense was just terrible. What do you think is the key to solving this problem? Is it a matter of recruiting, coaching, or is there a need for a fundamental change in approach or game plan?

Brian Bennett: Let's face it: Northwestern is probably never going to sign a bunch of 310-pound defensive tackles who can run 4.4s. There are certain limitations in Evanston. But the overall talent and depth needs to improve on that side of the ball. I believe it's easier to hide talent deficiencies on offense with innovative schemes than it is on defense. Pat Fitzgerald needs to find more players who play like he did.

Max from Toronto writes: Congratulations on the engagement! However, may I caution you that Zooey's divorce is probably still a bit raw, you may just be a rebound guy for her. :)

Brian Bennett: Well, then, call me the round mound of rebound! Actually, Zooey Deschanel had to settle for being my No. 2 choice. With that and the divorce, it's been a rough year for her. At least "New Girl" is doing well in the ratings, and I expect her heartbreak over my impending nuptials to produce some very interesting tunes on the next She & Him album.