Thursday, September 20, 2012
Big Ten Thursday mailbag
By Brian Bennett
Fall weather has arrived, at least in my neck of the woods, and conference play is right around the corner. It's a great time to be alive.
And it's always a great time to answer your mail. Let's do it.
Dana from East Lansing writes: First off, big follower of the blog and love the daily work you guys do. My question is, it seems that both you and Adam have had a pretty high opinion of Michigan State for the first two weeks, almost to the level of blind love affair. Is it safe to say that the weaknesses that were being harped on by those doubting Sparty are true? A good, not great, Notre Dame team dominated this game, at Spartan Stadium, and quite simply, Maxwell or Bell couldn't put points on the board. Neither team played exceptional, but it didn't seem to be that hard for ND to move the ball on this highly touted "elite" defense. Fair to say, Boise and CMU were a little soft to be so sold on this team?
Brian Bennett: I don't think I'd go so far as to call it love, but, yes, we were both high on the Spartans. They were the best team I saw this spring, and they brought an elite-level defense into the season. I always thought the Notre Dame game would be tough, because Andrew Maxwell and the receivers needed time to grow and the Irish have a very good front seven, but I never saw it going that badly. Let's not forget a couple of things: one, the Spartans lost badly to Notre Dame last year and recovered just fine. Two, this Irish team might be pretty good. We'll learn more Saturday. No question Central Michigan was not much of a test, but Boise State was and is a good team. I still think Michigan State has enough talent and depth to round into form and win the Big Ten, especially with no other standout contender emerging. But I'm less confident than I was at this time a week ago.
Brian from Raleigh, N.C., writes: Brian, a lot of people dismissed Pat Fitzgerald's suggestion at Big Ten Media Days that this year only -- due to the OSU and PSU post-season bans -- the conference championship matchup be determined by committee rather than straight division champs. Three weeks in we see a Wisconsin team seriously struggling (imploding?), Indiana without its star QB, Illinois... Illinoising, and Purdue still with plenty of question marks. While no one looks Rose Bowl-caliber yet, it's conceivable that MSU, UM, Nebraska, Northwestern, and even Minnesota could all be clearly better teams than the best of the eligible Leaders teams by the end of the season. Any chance Fitz's suggestion gets another look?
Brian Bennett: No chance, especially not during the season. The proposal made a lot of sense. However, implementing it -- who would be on the committee, how to tell the difference between teams with different schedules, the politics -- would have been a nightmare. The league faces the unenviable possibility that a Legends team plays a 7-5 or 6-6 team from the other side, much like the Pac-12 had last year with UCLA. But I wouldn't discount Purdue just yet, and I believe Wisconsin simply has to get better. The Legends teams have yet to set the world on fire, either.
Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J. writes: You and Adam have done a good job of covering the admirable job Matt "McMoxie" McGloin has done over the first quarter of this season. I for one (and you can ask anyone in my weekly PSU Tailgating circle), have been trumpeting McGloin since his freshman year to be the clear cut #1. But I think its clear now, and cannot be stated enough, just how much of a cancer the prior coaching staff at Penn State was these past few years in developing the QB position. Top recruits came in, and either transferred (Devlin), never lived up to expectations (Morelli, Bolden) or never had a chance (Jones, Newsome). Most of us in Nittany Nation are not shocked in the slightest that McGloin is relatively flourishing now that he doesn't have JAY Paterno doing everything in his power to keep Bolden on the field and in a PSU uniform. I can just imagine if McGloin had more than one spring and summer practice period to learn O'Brien's offense, and actually be tutored on how to play QB, how things may have been different. Regardless though, McGloin should be near the top of your QB player rankings at season's end, after PSU QBs were ranked dead last in your pre-season position rankings.
Brian Bennett: I wrote before the season that I thought McGloin could be an average to above-average quarterback in this league under the new coaching staff. And while his completion percentage is still too low, McGloin has made much better decisions, taken care of the ball and thrown eight touchdown passes -- without a decent running game as a crutch. Regardless of how you feel about the previous coaches, there's little question that Bill O'Brien has brought a more modern offensive approach and has done a good job tutoring McGloin. The fact that McGloin doesn't have to look over his shoulder -- or worse, come on in relief every game after the offense has already been put in a hole -- has got to make a huge difference as well. The quarterback juggling last year was a horrible idea that had expected results.
Gabrial from Ft. Campbell, Ky., writes: Brian, I have to disagree with your Stock Down of Roy Roundtree. After 3 games, here is my look at it:#1 ALABAMA; No team has had or will have much success against them. They have as close to a NFL caliber defense as any NCAA team can get. every receivers' numbers will be down against them; Roy had no chance against Bama. #2 AIR FORCE; Roy is a proven entity (as much as you can get from UofM's receivers, that is) so I wouldn't put it past Hoke and Borges to have intentionally planned to throw to Devin&Devin more. I mean, why not? AF's defense is a lot weaker.
Brian Bennett: Well, I hope you're right, as I like Roundtree. I still see very little reason why he'd have only four catches right now and would be far behind converted quarterback Devin Gardner in terms of stats. But, hey, maybe he can turn it around against Notre Dame. He had a pretty nice night against the Irish last year.
Josh from Wolverineland, Ore., writes: Stop HATING on Shoelace!!!!! Denard Robinson should most definitely deserve to be ahead of Braxton Milleras far as B1G MVP so far and the Heisman Race. He's accomplished way more and is just 91 yards away from become the University of Michigan's all time leader in Total Offense. Quarterbacks like Mike Vick, Vince Young and Cam Newton haven't even accomplished some of the things Denard has done. At some point in all of these players careers they have played against the "lesser" teams that everyone claims inflates his stats. If it was easy to accomplish four 200 and 200 games why has is it 2012 and Denard is the first? Miller is nice and had a sick run on Saturday against Cal (even in a Michigan fans eyes) but really? Better than Denard? No way. Proof? Denard killed it last year in an offense that wasn't tailored to him yet Miller wasn't even the starter at the beginning of the season.
Brian Bennett: Wow, Josh. Hating? Hardly. I've written countless nice things about Robinson. There are few players to cover who are more fun. But your arguments about Robinson's career achievements have no relevance to the discussion. Things like offensive player of the year awards and the Heisman are one-year honors based on this season's performance alone. And so far, Miller has a little bit stronger résumé. Also, it's Sept. 20, so don't get too worked up about it yet.
Aaron from a burnt Iowa cornfield writes:While I get that Minnesota is 3-0 and could have a shot (albeit a small one) at 6-0 lets slow it down a bit. They have not exactly played tough competition -- UNLV (awful), New Hampshire (Bad) and Western Michigan (Not good). If they beat Syracuse that is at least a BCS school. Take a look at their last 6 games and tell me if you see a win -- not sure that I do. It's a nice story and I cheer for Big Ten teams non-conference, but lets slow down a bit. You covered the Big East before this right - you should know mediocre football when you see it.
Brian Bennett: Hey, that's ... OK, I have no comeback on the Big East comment. But in everything we've written about Minnesota, we've pointed out the competition level hasn't been great. Neither Adam nor I are ranking the Gophers in the Top 25 or anything yet. It is a nice story, though, and going back to last season, Minnesota has won four straight. No matter who you're playing, that's not bad. You're right that the schedule gets much tougher in the back end, but I still think the Gophers have a decent chance of beating Purdue at home and even Illinois on the road (remember, they flat-out dominated the Illini last year in the season finale). And Minnesota played Michigan State tough last year and gets the Spartans on Senior Day. This team just needs to find a way to six wins, though it won't be easy. Adam and I both picked Syracuse this week.
Jon from Blue Bell, Pa., writes: Brian, as a concerned alumni I need your view on this. Penn State doesn't have a rushing touchdown. Unless they develop the ability to punch the ball into the end zone, I don't see B1G play going very well for them.
Brian Bennett: Losing Silas Redd and then seeing Bill Belton get hurt in the opener were devastating. I'm a little surprised that Curtis Dukes hasn't been able to ram a score into the end zone, but this is not a great running team. The Lions may have to rely on the passing game, sort of the way the Patriots have done it. Big Ten play isn't going to be easy no matter what. Heck, neither is this week's Temple game.
Darren from Rock Island, Ill., writes: Am I reading too much into statistics when I examine the progress of my Hoosiers? Folks continue to trash their defense and admittedly it needs to improve but is it possible BSU is very good on offense? BSU racked up 380 (vs. 440 on IU) total yards on offense against Clemson and 252 rushing (versus 202 again IU) and the passing completion percentage was less than four percent apart (56 v. 60)? Could this be more about BSU offense than IU defense falling backwards?I see IU fans wanting to jump ship too soon? Thoughts.
Brian Bennett: Anyone who has watched the Hoosiers' first three games can tell the defense is improved. Is it one of the best in the Big Ten or even anything better than 12th? No, and probably not. But the defense at least looks far more competent. The best news is that the offense is really improving. Yes, the competition level has been pretty crummy, but Indiana leads the conference in total yards and passing yards, something it was nowhere near last year at this time. The word you used -- progress -- was the correct one. Getting that to translate into many more wins is the tough part.
Leon from Petaluma, Calif., writes: Wow, Brian! You did not rank Nebraska yet ranked MichSt? Really? Nebraska is playing some of the best football among the B1G teams right now. And I am a Boilermaker.
Brian Bennett: It's about body of work for me now. Michigan State has a very good win, over a Boise State team that was ranked at the time and that was very well coached. Nebraska has beaten a rebuilding Southern Miss team with a new coach and Arkansas State. I don't like the argument that Nebraska lost to a ranked team -- UCLA -- so should get credit for that. It's not who beat you. It's who you beat.
Marcus A. from Grove City, Pa., writes: I usually don't complain about rankings, but I have to call you and Adam out on putting Kansas State ahead of Ohio State. OSU struggled for a long stretch in the game, but got the job done when they had to, against a Pac 12 opponent. K-State beat a virtual 1-AA team. Not sure how you move one up in the rankings and the other down based on the *additions* to the body of work after the rankings you had last week. Texas, Florida, etc, beating major conference foes I don't have a problem with. OSU will sort itself out via attrition (or by losing a game or two). It just bugs me when you jump on the "game they *should* have lost" bandwagon. They don't give points for almost won, or UL Monroe would be ranked #1 right now.
Brian Bennett: Marcus, Ohio State fell in my rankings because the Buckeyes looked very shaky at home and came very close to getting beaten. They were fortunate that Cal missed three field goals, and I don't think Cal is a great team. Kansas State didn't play that well Saturday, either, but the Wildcats' win over Miami (the one in Florida, not the one in Ohio that Ohio State played) is better than anything the Buckeyes have right now. But I wouldn't get too worked up over poll position -- especially in the middle of the poll -- right now. Things will sort themselves out pretty quickly.
Alan from Addison, Texas, writes: Regarding your weekend rewind, I realize that UMass isn't exactly a newsworthy win for Michigan but you could have given a shout out to Hagerup for booming a 70-plus yard punt that went roughly 70 yards in the AIR before bouncing off a UMass players face!!
Brian Bennett: Consider the shout as officially out. Hagerup, by the way, is leading the Big Ten in punting average after eking out the job in a fierce offseason battle.