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Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Big Ten mailbag

By Brian Bennett

I'm back in Adam's usual Tuesday time slot one more time before he returns from vacation. So let's get to your e-mails, and if you don't like my answers, pretend Adam wrote them.

Kevin from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: While Montee Ball may have won your subjective (and frequently wrong) rankings, he only did so based on numbers which were a product of the system he plays in. In terms of performance, Silas Redd was the better back and the Big Ten's best offensive player in 2011. And no, Ball did not tie Barry Sanders. Barry established the record in 11 games. Ball's numbers were set in a 14 game season. That does not nor will it ever constitute a tie.

Brian Bennett: I disagree with you, Kevin. While Ball clearly had more help from the quarterback position, Penn State had a pretty decent offensive line in 2011 as well. Ball averaged more than a yard per carry more than Redd and had 33 rushing touchdowns to just seven by Redd. Don't get me wrong, I think Redd is an excellent player as well. But Montee Ball had a historically great season that can't be explained away as a "product of the system."




Michael from Minneapolis writes: How you get to write about the Big Ten or college football with nonsense like suggesting the end of the Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry is beyond me. The battle for the Axe is the longest running rivalry in football, and you don't just stop that because of a period of imbalance. The Gophers and Badgers have played 120 times since 1890. Notice that's 120 times in 121 years. I must have missed when you said they should stop playing Army/Navy (10 straight Navy wins 13 of 15) or Ohio State/Michigan (OSU 7 straight and 9 of 11 before this year) or Harvard/Yale (Harvard 10 of last 11). Worst. Answer. Ever. And there have been contenders over the several years I've been reading the blog.

Brian Bennett: OK, OK, I get it. Readers weren't happy with that thought. I was asked about Michigan State and Wisconsin not playing, and I didn't mean to suggest the end of the Axe rivalry. But if you ask me who I'd rather see play in 2013, Michigan State vs. Wisconsin or Minnesota vs. Wisconsin, it's not even close.




A.J. from Eagan, Minn., writes: It's not even April yet and I already jacked about the next season. Out of all the conference match-ups in the B1G next year, which three are you most excited about? I've got Michigan State @ Wisconsin, Michigan @ Ohio State and Ohio State @ Wisconsin. I'm really excited about the Wisconsin/Michigan State game, their games were incredible last year and I don't think there are 2 teams in the league right now that hate each other more than they do.

Brian Bennett: I like your list a lot, though I think I'd sub out Ohio State/Michigan for Michigan State vs. Michigan. Not that The Game won't be great as well, but the Spartans-Wolverines matchup figures to have a lot of bile involved from last year's penalty-fest, and it will be an extremely important game in the Legends Division race. I'm also interested to see Michigan's first trip to Nebraska and whether the Huskers can get revenge for last year's blowout in Ann Arbor, not to mention Big Red going to the Horseshoe for the first time. Is it September yet?




The Dave from Sarasota, Fla., writes: Your input to the blog is totally tolerable. Leaving Will GholstonTaylor Lewan off the list is bewildering considering without him no way Fitz Toussaint makes the list at all. Best LT in the B1G can't crack the top 25? Hmm. Like i said you are tolerable, kind of like California's premier 80's Billy Joel cover band.

Brian Bennett: Taylor Lewan as best left tackle in the league, eh? Well, that's a bold choice. Did I mention I'm looking forward to Gholston vs. Lewan Round II next season?




Aaron from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: I think you totally missed Marvin McNutt. He was the big ten receiver of the year. He had some of the best numbers throughout the big ten. I just feel he is deserving of this list. I feel he is a top 10 player in the big ten. He set multiple school records in his last season.

Brian Bennett: I think you totally missed that McNutt was No. 8 on our list.




Byron from Alexandria, Va., writes: I just read your Raheem Mostert article and that got me to thinking. How do you think the new kickoff rule will effect onside kicks? I've read articles on ESPN and MGoBlog that argue more teams should use onside kicks more frequently, and with the extra 5 yards cusion I can see that happening; not to mention the potential surprise that might be gained after say booting the ball into the end zone 3 times and throwing in the onside kick after that to catch the other team sleeping. On the other hand, with less run up for the kick team defenders, it may be more difficult to recover an onside kick attempt.

Brian Bennett: I think football coaches are by and large a conservative lot, so I don't believe an extra five yards will convince them to try more onsides kickoffs. Remember, teams used to kick off from the 35 until the 2007 season, when that was moved back to the 30. And there weren't exactly a rash of onsides kicks before then. If anything, the rule change will create more strategy for pooch kicks, especially since touchbacks will now be brought out to the 25-yard line.




Ben from Ann Arbor writes: Brian, after looking at your tally of the final position rankings, I noticed that like you said it was a very good indication of the strength of the schools, but also, the top three teams (Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Michigan), all ranked first or second in each of the line positions. The bottom two teams on the other hand ranked last in at least one of those. Now with [Urban] Meyer and [Brady] Hoke both vocally saying their recruiting focus is going to be in the trenches, it seems they know how to set their teams up for success. Is this something that should be noted or is it just a minor coincidence?

Brian Bennett: I don't think it's a coincidence, Ben. Football is usually won in the trenches, and that's even more true in the Big Ten. There's a reason Urban Meyer went out and signed a bunch of defensive linemen right away. Wisconsin has ridden dominant offensive line to consecutive Rose Bowls. You don't win without great lines, and the position series bears that out.




Jon from Colorado writes: I've seen quite a bit of consternation from fans and some media regarding the QB situation at Wisconsin. I understand the lack of depth is a concern and I certainly wouldn't mind having an experienced upper classman transfer in, but there is an underlying assumption that Wisconsin cannot develop an adequate starting QB. It happened last year prior to Russell Wilson's transfer and is continuing now (the setback for Jon Budmayr seems to be accentuating this). I don't understand why there is no thought that in his third year in the program Joe Brennan won't develop (he was a three star recruit with multiple offers). Then I look at comments made by you and Adam about Andrew Maxwell at MSU (he of zero experience) as having been "groomed" to start. Isn't that what's happening at Wisconsin? Is there something behind the scenes that I'm not aware of where QB progress is being inhibited? What's the difference between MSU and Wisconsin's situation?

Brian Bennett: That's an good question, Jon. I think part of the difference between the situations at Wisconsin and Michigan State is that Brennan wasn't seen as the heir apparent. Yes, he backed up Wilson last year, but Budmayr was the guy slated to start and push Wilson before his elbow injury in fall camp. Add into the mix that a talented guy like Curt Phillips has had multiple knee trouble, and a hyped prospect coming in, Bart Houston, needs surgery. Maxwell has been groomed as the guy to take over for Kirk Cousins. While Brennan could end up developing into a very good player, there's not much healthy depth around him if that doesn't happen, and that's pretty scary for a team that is otherwise loaded enough to contend for a Big Ten title.




Steve from San Francisco writes: There is something to the SEC-bias in perception, and perception is reality. Six years ago, Buckeye Kirk Herbstreit stood adamant against a rematch of the two best teams in college football (of course he was a little biased about that) who played an all-time classic 1 vs. 2 battle in the Horseshoe (and I will always claim that the Shawn Crable roughing the passer call was BS), yet this year lobbies for a rematch of SEC teams, one that didn't win its conference, his primary point in 2006. Win some important games? A) let us into those games and B) let's play some December/January games in Big Ten country. As pointed out before, the bowl alliances has the Big Ten playing Florida in FL, Texas in TX, and California teams in CA. (All that being said, I have no excuse for the Buckeye performance in the National Championship game in 2006. I cannot believe that Michigan would have been blown out by Florida like that, but maybe. Different team, but we did beat them in the Citrus Bowl the following year.)

Brian Bennett: It's hard to buy the argument that Michigan deserved a rematch when the Wolverines went on to lose to a USC team not ranked in the top 5 by two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl. Can it really be considered bias when the team that benefits from the bias actually wins on the field? All I know is that the Big Ten needs to win big games to reverse public opinion, and fans should remember 2006 when they argue that conference champions are the only ones who should be included in a four-team playoff. The Big Ten would have had two teams in the four-team tourney that year.




Eliot from Madison writes: Hey, Brian. This year the Badgers had only 12 recruits and next year they're only projected for 9. What explains these low classes? Are more players staying for 5 years now instead of 4? Thanks.

Brian Bennett: Simply put, Wisconsin has not suffered a lot of defections over the years. The Badgers signed a class of 25 two years ago and 21 in 2009. Bret Bielema has been able to redshirt players, and in the few instances when some players have left the program, available scholarships have gone to worthy walk-ons like Jared Abbrederis. I always wonder about schools who sign full classes of 25 prospects every year make the math work on an 85-scholarship limit. Where do all those players go? At Wisconsin, they don't go anywhere, for the most part. And that's fine, although it reduces the margin of error for the coaching staff when it comes to evaluating recruits.




Ken Robinson from Fishers, Ind., writes: Penn State Bill O'Brien just landed his 4th ESPN 150 verbal commitment for the class of 2013. When you look at the top ranked recruiting classes, how many top 150 commits do you typically see in the top few schools? And it doesn't seem as if it is done yet, as the recruits are actively recruiting other top prospects to come with them to Happy Valley.

Brian Bennett: Well, Michigan already has 11 commitments who are on the ESPNU 150 Watch List, while Ohio State has five. Last year, Alabama signed 13 ESPNU 150 players and Florida State had 10. So there's that. However you slice it, though, O'Brien's early recruiting haul is impressive, especially when you consider all the factors in this particular situation.