Thursday, June 14, 2012
Big Ten Thursday mailbag
By Brian Bennett
Mochila from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Brian, congratulations on a year spent in the B1G blog. I'm guessing you've sustained more abuse from the readers here than all your time spent in the Big East blog. Anyway, you and Adam just did a story on which league receiver was most likely to lead the conference in receiving yards. Just two years ago, the B1G had no 1,000 yard receivers, and the year before, only one. Given this year's uncertain crop of receivers: Over/Under 0.5 receivers eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in 2012?
Brian Bennett: Thanks for the anniversary note. Time flies. As for the abuse, well, you should have seen my Big East mailbag at times. As Omar would say, "it's all in the game." (Or maybe he would sing it). Anyway, I'm not sure that any Big Ten receiver will top 1,000 yards this season. It's not as easy as it sounds, and just about every team has some passing game issues. If I had to guess, I'd take the over and say that one receiver will do it. My money is still on Iowa's Keenan Davis, but it could be a surprise player. Perhaps it's telling that Unnamed Receiver is leading our poll on the top 2012 wideout.
Brett from Conshohocken, Pa., writes: I just finished reading the post about the "smoking gun" that would force the NCAA and Big Ten's hand. My repeated question to this notion has been, why would the NCAA and Big Ten punish the entire university community in this tragedy where those responsible for the cover up have been punished by the university? What is the point that the NCAA and Big Ten would make by punishing a university community that is completely horrified by what has happened, that is doing everything in it's power to try to somehow help the victims heal? Penn State is mortified by this, I can say that much first hand. No competitive edge was gained by this sick and twisted journey we've been dragged through. How can the NCAA and Big Ten march down that slippery slope, when it is apparent that Penn State has completely changed the front lines?
Brian Bennett: Brett, it's true that we can only really speculate what the NCAA or Big Ten might do in this case. There is truly no precedent for this kind of situation. However, we do know both organizations have said they would look into the school, and if there's anything that would force them to take action, it would be evidence that university administrators deliberately covered up this scandal. While no specific NCAA rules have been broken that we know of, remember that NCAA president Mark Emmert said last winter that, "It's critical that we ask the right questions about institutional control over athletic departments and ethical conduct of coaches and others involved in athletics. It's spelled out pretty boldly in our constitution and in our core principles, and we have an obligation to act on those." If there were ever a potential definition of "lack of institutional control," this could be it, though the Penn State administrators will still have their day in court.
And as for the fact that the school has already punished (i.e., fired) those who were in charge, that wouldn't seem to have any bearing on any NCAA action. The NCAA levies sanctions all the time on programs that have already fired rules-breaking coaches. Again, we have no idea whether any further action from the NCAA or Big Ten is coming. But any documents revealing that administrators might have purposefully ignored the scandal have the potential to be more damaging to the school than anything that comes out during the Jerry Sandusky trial.
Nate from Clemson, S.C., writes: I saw your post on the cost of recruiting and I wondered whether or not the cost seemed to be influenced by the difference in the number of players the teams were recruiting each year. That is, how much was spent by each team per player based on signing class size? It seems that a school would spend more on recruiting during the years that they are looking to fill a larger class.
Brian Bennett: That could certainly be one of a number of factors. If a team's home state is producing a lot of top-notch prospects, then obviously the travel costs would be far less than if that team had to recruit far outside its own borders. Even if you have a small class, but two of the guys you're recruiting live in California, then that could get expensive. Some teams decide to produce glossy, more expensive mailings. Each program has different methods and different priorities when it comes to what they spend on recruiting budgets. In the end, as always, it's about maximizing your resources.
Steven from Baltimore, Md., writes: Concerning your post on B1G recruiting: do you think teams like Iowa and Wisconsin would benefit from increased recruitment funding, or would that just incentivise them to stray from their time-honored strategy?
Brian Bennett: I would say the two go hand in hand. Neither school recruits that far outside of its area, which limits the costs. And each has a system and a strategy that has paid off pretty well, as they have used their development skills to produce plenty of NFL players and BCS appearances. Iowa's recruiting budget increased nearly $100,000 from 2010 to 2011, and the Hawkeyes seem to be doing more early recruiting now. But otherwise, both programs have a system that they're going to stick to in recruiting. Speaking of those two teams ...
Dean S. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Is the Wisconsin-Iowa rivalry essentially over at this point? Being placed in different divisions without a protected crossover means that these teams will only play 4 times every 10 years (plus any games they may face each other in the B1G Championship Game). I was reviewing the old Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry and that rivalry was considered dead shortly after the creation of the Big 12, even though the two teams played each other 10 times in 15 years (counting the 2 Big 12 Championship Game matchups). If not playing a team in any given 5 years means a rivalry is over, Wisconsin and Iowa are already at the 2 year mark. Is there any realistic chance that Wisconsin-Iowa would be played as a non-league game in years they do not play as a conference game?
Brian Bennett: That's a good question, Dean. When I wrote about the Wisconsin-Nebraska game last year and its potential to become a rivalry, both Barry Alvarez and Tom Osborne said it's very hard to have a rivalry without playing just about every year. The Nebraska-Oklahoma series you mentioned is a great example of a once fierce rivalry that really diminished because of the division setup. And I think the same thing will be true of Iowa-Wisconsin, unless those teams stage just absolute epics every time they do play. Still, without those yearly bragging rights, rivalries just aren't the same. It's one major drawback of conference expansion.
Kevin from Minneapolis writes: Seeing as it is June, I figured this is the perfect time on the college football calendar to bring up sour grapes. We have had to listen to Michigan State fans complain ad nauseum about the Running into the Kicker penalty (another argument for another day), and I think it's about time us Badgers fans got our two cents worth. Of course, I'm talking about the last play of the Rose Bowl. If you watch the film, referee Brad Allen clearly starts waving his hand a good half-second or so before he blows his whistle. The official time keeper all the way up in the booth is going off the hand, while Russell Wilson and Peter Konz, who have their back to the official, are going off the whistle. Had Allen waved and whistled simultaneously, Wisconsin no doubt would have spiked the ball in time and had a chance to tie the game. In a sport where your team plays only 12 days each year, complaining about these details during the long offseason is vital for any passionate college football fan. Am I saying the Badgers should have won the game? Not exactly, but we at least have a more legitimate gripe than Sparty fans (seriously, it clearly was a penalty).
Brian Bennett: Hey, I love that we're talking about actual football plays in June. I was at the Rose Bowl, and the final play -- when Wilson attempted to spike the ball after Wisconsin got set up with two seconds to go -- was very confusing. I thought the Badgers should have been able to get a play off in time. However, any time you put yourself in that kind of position, you're running a huge risk, because we all know that timekeeping in college football is not an exact science. And since Wisconsin would still have needed to complete a 25-yard touchdown and kick a PAT to tie the game, I was not too bothered by it. Same thing goes for Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. Was the running into the kicker penalty a little ticky-tack? Sure. But, again, Isaiah Lewis and the Spartans' aggressive call there put them in position to be whistled for the penalty. Things happen, and you're blaming one bad break at the end of a game for your loss, then you're ignoring all that occurred in the previous 59 minutes.
Luke K. from South Bend writes: Hey did you hear, Indiana got its first recruit for the 2013 season? I know pretty exciting. Since you rarely talk about IU football, give it some hope. Explain me a scenario where they go to a bowl game this year. Easy nonconference? (Nothing is easy for us). Experienced Sophomores?? Somehow show me the road to a bowl.
Brian Bennett: We did hear, Luke, and we wrote about it. But I'm very glad you wrote in, because Indiana questions are a very rare species in my mailbag. How do the Hoosiers get to a bowl this year? Well, it's going to take a whole lot of good fortune. I do believe there is going to be a natural progression for all the freshmen who got thrown into the fire last year and that the defense will be better. The junior-college transfers, particularly linebacker David Cooper, should be a big help, and quarterback Tre Roberson has a lot of potential. I think there's a very good chance Indiana will be 3-0 heading into its Big Ten opener, after playing Indiana State, UMass and Ball State to kick things off.
The Hoosiers will almost certainly have to win at Navy on Oct. 20 to have any hope of bowling, and that's no easy task. If they can pull that off, they'll still need two more wins in the league. I think IU can beat Purdue, even on the road, because that's a rivalry game. The best shots beyond that would be at Northwestern, at Illinois and home against Iowa. It's not an impossibility, but if Kevin Wilson can take this team from 1-11 to 6-6, he'll be a candidate for some national coach of the year awards.
Craig from Bordentown, N.J., writes: I've been reading yours and Adam's replies to Michigan's most important game this season. You're being too short-sighted in your responses. Last year we went back to playing "Michigan" football, but no one with a working brain doesn't know there were advantageous circumstances and some luck that got us to the Sugar Bowl. This is still a team with a lot of, well, let's say "fixing" to do. That's coming with Hoke's recruits, but we're still another season away from plugging our holes and building some depth. A win this year against 'Bama would do more for our program (and the B1G and everyone who isn't the SEC) than what a B1G win for us this year would mean. Don't get me wrong, I want the B1G this year and every year. I absolutely want the win over MSU -- to break the streak, get us some confidence. Not to mention The Game, which as a true Blue I'd take a 1-11 year to beat them (bowl game or not, if they're 11-0, they WILL not beat us, mark my words). For the program though -- and let's be clear, unlike anybody in the SEC, we care about the program, not one year in particular -- 'Bama is the game.
Brian Bennett: You are definitely allowed to pick whatever game you want on the schedule to view as your most important game. I see the argument for the Alabama game. My reasoning, however, continues to be this: as big as a win over the defending champs would be, it still is only the opener and has no bearing whatsoever on the Big Ten race. Since Brady Hoke has placed such a big emphasis on winning the Big Ten title, going as far as calling last season a "failure," I don't see how a league game can't be the most important. Hoke told me he'd consider any year that didn't end with a league championship banner hanging in Ann Arbor as a disappointment. In that sense, then, Michigan State is the biggest game.
Jeremy from Corn Field somewhere in West Virginia writes: It has been very interesting to see what your take on the most important games coming up for the next season are. I did notice that so far none of those matches included Nebraska as the team of focus. Even newly minted rival Iowa apparently has bigger fish to fry than the Huskers. Is this a perception based on the newness of Nebraska in the B1G or is it a slight that Nebraska hasn't re-arrived at elite status is not worthy of focus? I would like to hear your reasoning on this seeing as how it is summer and not much else is going on, thanks.
Brian Bennett: Good pickup on that, Jeremy, but it was not in any way meant as a slight to Nebraska. You could argue that several teams might view Nebraska as their biggest game: Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, etc. But I would say that crossover games are never going to be as important as division games in the league race, so Wisconsin and Ohio State are out. The Huskers' games against Michigan and Michigan State are going to be huge for division purposes, but given the rivalry between those two and how important it is for each, the Michigan-Michigan State game is bigger for both. And while Iowa assuredly wants to beat Nebraska in the second "Heroes Game," we think it's more important for this young Hawkeyes group to get a key early-season win for confidence and momentum purposes than it is to take the season finale. Plus, that rivalry is still very much in the growing stages. On the flip side, I could see Nebraska being the second-most important game for at least three and maybe more Big Ten teams this year.
Ryan from Omaha, Neb., writes: Hey, Brian, baseball has been the talk around town lately with the CWS but I want to talk football. Mostly I want to talk about Taylor Martinez. What's your opinion on what he could or will do this season? Do you think he will be over or under 2,300 passing yards, 58.5% completion percentage, 14.5 passing touchdowns, 900 rushing yards, and 8.5 rushing touchdowns? If he ends up over all of those, he deserves to be in the Heisman race. But if not, then what will he do?
Brian Bennett: I've covered a couple of College World Series, and Omaha is always a fun place to be this time of year. As for Martinez, I like everything I've heard about how hard he's worked on his mechanics and fundamentals this offseason. Say what you will about him, but Martinez clearly wants to be good, and that's half the battle. I firmly believe Nebraska's passing game and Martinez's passing numbers will improve in the second year of Tim Beck's system. Martinez threw for 2,089 yards last year, so I think 2,300 is very reachable. Although he completed only 56.3 percent of his passes last season, he was a 59.2 percent passer as a freshman, so I'll take the 58.5 as well. The numbers I think are too high are his rushing stats you proposed. He ran for 874 yards last year, and I see that going down as the Huskers look to emphasize the passing game a little more. Plus, they have Rex Burkhead and some very capable young players to carry the load. I don't forecast Martinez as a Heisman candidate, but if he can be a solid passer in the 60 percent range, then Nebraska has a chance to win a lot of games.
Instigator from Hollywood writes: 3....2...1..Draw! Who was faster? You or Adam?
Brian Bennett: I'm really good at Pictionary (and Draw Something), so I'll take myself.