Thursday, November 29, 2012
Big Ten Thursday mailbag
By Brian Bennett
Happy Thursday, everybody? Who's coming to Indy? I've got a big dinner at St. Elmo's to pay for tomorrow night. At least I'll eat well, too.
J.P. from Washington DC writes: Is it possible that Ohio State actually BENEFITED from their postseason ban this year? You absolutely have to give them credit for being 12-0. Still, isn't it a bit too convenient that they can claim an undefeated season and everything that goes along with that (AP title?) without having to play in the B1G Championship game or face an elite opponent in a BCS game?
Brian Bennett: You know, I had that thought a few weeks ago, as the Buckeyes kept winning but did not look, in my eyes, like one of the best teams in the country. I thought they'd have a tough time handling a team like Alabama in the BCS title game. But then Ohio State's defense kept improving, to the point where, as Urban Meyer noted in his post-Michigan press conference, the Buckeyes could play with just about anybody. Add in the fact that an undefeated Ohio State team would most likely be playing Notre Dame for the BCS title. While the Irish would probably be favored in that game, they're a defensive-minded team that doesn't blow a lot of opponents out. Ohio State, especially if given a month to prepare, would definitely have a shot. That's assuming, of course, that the Buckeyes would get past Nebraska again in the Big Ten title game, but they did win the first one by 25 points.
Michael from St. Louis writes: I'd like to compare the stats of Taylor Martinez and Braxton Miller. Martinez had 6 more total yards. Martinez had one more total TD. Combining rushing and passing, Martinez averaged 0.24 more yards per attempt. On paper, it seems like a wash, maybe slightly favoring Martinez. Yet Braxton Miller, with the exception of a handful of coaches, is a consensus first-teamer and Heisman hopeful, while Martinez merely "had a good season". Why is this? Is Martinez's offensive support significantly better? Does Miller possess superior "intangibles"? Is it that Martinez got destroyed in their head-to-head? Or does it ultimately boil down to team records?
Brian Bennett: Martinez didn't have a "good" season. He had an outstanding season. There's no debating that. Miller, though, was simply spectacular at times this year, and made his biggest plays in the clutch. His 12-0 record is the ultimate stat. Martinez developed into a clutch quarterback as well in the second half of the season, but he also had some failures in the UCLA and Ohio State losses, and was pretty loose with the ball at times. It's a closer call than I would have expected, especially with the way Martinez finished the season and how Miller slowed down a bit after his injury against Purdue. Part of it is the early season narratives in college football are sometimes tough to change. But I'd still give a slight nod to Miller.
Brady M. from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Hey Brian, Does the fact that Bo Pelini expected to face Wisconsin in the B1G Championship game give the Huskers any advantage in terms of preparation? I mean, do you think Pelini had a rematch with the Badgers in the back of his mind?
Brian Bennett: As I wrote yesterday, Brady, Pelini knew early on that his team would probably face Wisconsin if it won the Legends title. That didn't take any great deduction, however, as the Badgers were always pretty heavy favorites to come out of the Leaders because of the probation at Ohio State and Penn State. I doubt that was much of an advantage. Pelini still had to concentrate on making sure his team won every week, and I don't think he could have afforded to waste any resources on doing any advance scouting on Wisconsin. If anybody had an advantage, it would have been Bret Bielema and his staff, who wrapped up their trip to Indianapolis with two weeks left and knew Nebraska was in the driver's seat. Again, though, Wisconsin went all out to try to win its last two games, and probably wasn't spending much time thinking about the Huskers.
Matt from Omaha writes: Wouldn't it be smarter for the B1G to adopt the Pac12 way of playing the CCG in a home stadium? Ticket sales in Indy are very low again, and if you can't get Husker fans to a CCG, something is wrong. What's wrong? Not many people can afford to travel to Indy, and then all the way to Cali a month later. I am sure it would be a lot different if the winning team weren't guaranteed to be traveling more than 1,450 miles (over 2,700 if you're a Penn St fan) for the BCS game.
Brian Bennett: That's a good point, Matt, and I think it's something every league but the SEC will have to think seriously about. (That league has ravenous fans, and Atlanta is a pretty easy trip for most schools). It really comes down to what's on the line in the game. When there's a potential national championship bid at stake, there will be a whole lot more interest. This year, it's understandable why the game is under the radar and why ticket sales are low. If 12-0 Ohio State were in this game with a chance to play for a national title, you'd be hard-pressed to find a ticket.
Even with no BCS title bid in play last year, Lucas Oil Stadium filled up pretty well. But there was a curiosity factor for the first-ever Big Ten title game, and Wisconsin and Michigan State had played an instant classic earlier in the season that piqued interest in a rematch. The upcoming four-team playoff likely will mean that this game has serious title implications more often than not. But your point about fan travel is a good one; while Indy is not a bad trip for teams like Ohio State and Michigan, it requires much more inconvenience for the far eastern and western schools. On the flip side, having a neutral site known in advance allows the Big Ten to plan out events around the game and all the infrastructure it requires. Simply playing it at a home site would make that process much more difficult, and the game wouldn't have the same type of atmosphere. There would also be questions about ticket distribution for the road team, which might face just as many travel obstacles, if not more, than Indianapolis would present. (There aren't exactly a ton of hotel rooms in Lincoln, Iowa City and State College, for example).
I think the Big Ten should stay at a neutral site for now, especially with the comfort that an indoors game at Lucas Oil provides to fans. But it's something the league should monitor if it becomes a sparsely attended event.
Matt from Mount Pleasant, Mich., writes: With the addition on Rutgers and Maryland in 2014, the 2014 conference schedules will have to re-done. Will the Big Ten attempt to keep the difficulty with cross-divisional games the same for the 2014 season as already planned, or will teams have to continue playing a more difficult schedule then other teams (Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin are expected to have easier schedules the next two years. Where Michigan, Iowa, and Northwestern are expected to have harder schedules the next two years)?
Brian Bennett: That's a great question, and the only answer I can give you is: no one knows. First, the divisions will have to be aligned to accommodate the two new teams, which could totally change the schedule. The league will also at least consider a nine-game conference schedule. I would hope that consideration will be given to competitive balance, but we could be looking at a total reset button for 2014. These questions won't be answered until next year when the league athletic directors start to make these decisions.
Joshua from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Thinking how Ohio State went 12-0, and Michigan had a down year, do you think you could bring back the best case/worst case articles you wrote before the season, and review which one came true? I feel like Ohio State's season was more of the "best case scenario."
Brian Bennett: Sure thing. Here is Ohio State's best case/worst case scenario, in which I said the Buckeyes would go 12-0 (along with some other silly things). I did pick Ohio State to beat Nebraska by 21 in that one, which wasn't far off. Michigan didn't really hit either of its best case/worst case outlooks, in which I had the Wolverines going either 12-1 or 6-6. Although this line was fairly prescient in the worst-case: "Notre Dame extends the pain as the Irish finally manage to slow down Robinson and hold onto a lead in this rivalry. Robinson falls back on his poor passing mechanics, and all those jump balls that magically paid off last season turn into turnovers in 2012."
Megan from Chicago writes: Is there anything that can be done to clean up the coaches' All-Big Ten vote, because there seems to be some sort of grudge being held against certain schools (Ohio State) and coaches (Urban Meyer)? Does the Big Ten office give a damn about the voting?
Brian Bennett: It's hard to say there's an actual bias against Ohio State, since Miller was named offensive player of the year and quarterback of the year, while John Simon won defensive lineman and defensive player of the year honors. If coaches were truly biased against Ohio State, they could have easily chosen Martinez and Michael Mauti for the major player awards. The coaches' All-Big Ten voting is usually better than it was this year, when there were some really odd choices. If only we could throw the red challenge flag.
Jim W. from Naperville, Ill., writes: You didn't mention the most curious of all Big Ten first-team selections. How does an offensive line, blocking in front of a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate running back, get its offensive line coach fired, lose every important game, have the team finish well below expectations (and unranked), rank only 4th in the B10 in yards per carry, give up the 3rd most sacks in the B10, and still put 2 lineman on the 1st B10 team for the writers (and 1 for the coaches). The media must be voting on historical reputations and not on actual performance. Pat Fitzgerald must be doing it with smoke and mirrors. Northwestern only put the kicker on the 1st team, and still had the 3rd best overall record in the Big Ten.
Brian Bennett: As I mentioned in my post, it was a mystery to me how Wisconsin could get four players on the first-team offense with a team that struggled to score against the best opponents on its schedule (16.4 ppg in the Badgers' five losses, all of which came against the best teams on the schedule). I did not think Ricky Wagner or Jacob Pedersen played at a first-team level all season. Some of it, I think, was just reputation. That's my only explanation. Northwestern went 9-3 yet had only two position players on either of the two teams chosen by the media and coaches (Venric Mark, second team by both, and guard Brian Mulroe, second team by media). That seemed like a major oversight to me.
John A. from Ohio writes: I keep hearing the media trying to make a big deal out of the reception Jim Tressel received at the OSU-Michigan game the other day. They are wondering how Ohio State fans could cheer for someone who caused such a mess over the last couple years. I think the issue goes back to the 1990s. Buckeye fans had suffered through watching extremely talented teams miss out on national title chances because of late season losses to Michigan (multiple times) and Michigan State, and John Cooper's awful career record vs Michigan. Now imagine you could ask a Buckeye fan at the end of the Cooper era, would you want a coach to come in, dominate Michigan, win Big Ten titles most years, win multiple BCS games and a National Title, with the catch being it will end very badly with his forced resignation (oh by the way you will get an even better coach in the end). I think that Buckeye fan without hesitating would say yes every time. That is why Tressel received the ovation he did at Ohio Stadium the other day. Yes things ended badly, but Tressel did so much for the program that fans are ready to forgive and move on to possibly even bigger and better things.
Brian Bennett: Hey, I get why Ohio State fans view the entire Tressel era as overwhelmingly positive. I just thought it was tone deaf to cheer him so loudly on the same exact day the current team was finishing 12-0 but couldn't play for a championship because of the very man who was being lifted up on former players' shoulders. That was beyond surreal. I think in some ways Tressel has also benefited from the job Urban Meyer did. It's a whole lot easier to forgive a former coach's transgressions if the program is still in great shape and is winning big. Had Tressel's actions brought more damage to the program -- say, a second consecutive 6-6 type season -- then I believe fans would have been less willing to cheer him and would have blamed him for the team's decline.
Travis K. from Omaha writes: Still waiting on a apology from you and Adam for the lack of response to multiple emails telling you MSU was over rated.... still waiting...
Brian Bennett: We've said multiple times how wrong we were on Michigan State in the preseason. If we issued apologies for every bad prediction we made, we wouldn't have time to do anything else.