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Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

By Brian Bennett

It's time for another edition of the Wednesday mailbag. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter, where many of our gameday thoughts and updates now live. And while we understand that many of you get very emotional while following your favorite teams, think before you tweet us. We're not afraid to use the block button on those who hurl abusive language and insults our way. For most of you, thankfully, this is not a problem.

OK, on to the emails ...

Pelini
Bo Pelini's old rant coming out on the heels of a horrific collapse against UCLA have put the coach in a tough spot.
Adrian from Minneapolis writes: I don't understand why people are getting upset over the Bo Pelini audio link. None of this is bombshell material. He curses out the media -- who doesn't know that Pelini doesn't like the media? -- and gets upset over fans leaving at halftime. He does not attack the general fan base, as some keep saying. It may be a revelation to some people (living under a rock), but Pelini has a temper. Sure, I was a little disappointed when I heard the news, but once I actually listened to the audio, I don't see anything that I couldn't have already guessed. Are the blowout losses putting such a weight on the Pelini tenure that we are at the point where any additional straw will break the proverbial camel's back? I believe Pelini may have struck the issue with putting too much pressure on players, as losses tend to start with a single mistake and snowball with team. Taking a different approach to add more fun for the players may be the catalyst this team needs under Pelini.

Brian Bennett: Really? He didn't attack the fan base? I'd hate to see your version of an attack. In and of itself, I don't think the recording is a huge deal. (And, hey, cursing out the media is a good way to get fans on your side). But it is just the latest in a series of bad developments for Pelini, and a sign that we might be reaching a tipping point with his career at Nebraska. This audio probably doesn't come out if Nebraska hadn't lost yet another big game in dispiriting fashion, or else at least it would have quickly gone away. But you combine fan frustration over the losses, plus a not-so-great brushoff of former Huskers great Tommie Frazier and Pelini's own words from 2011, and you've got an escalating problem.

I do not believe Pelini will get fired over any of these developments. However, if first-year athletic director Shawn Eichorst decides at the end of the year that he wants to make a change, he can certainly point to these things as reasons to let go of a coach who averaged more than nine wins per season. This also probably doesn't help Pelini's plan to make things more fun for his players; in fact, the pressure to win has just ratcheted up. Ultimately, the fate of Pelini's tenure will be decided by how the team performs in its big November games.

Edward from Milwaukee writes: Obviously, no matter what, Wisconsin's loss will stand, but even so after that game away from home do you think you are ready to possibly give Wisconsin a chance to win the Leaders Division or quite possibly a fourth Big Ten championship?

Brian Bennett: If you forget about the ending, which will be hard to do for some time, then there are a lot of positives to take out of that game for Wisconsin. They hung with and probably should have beaten a Top 25 caliber team on the road and an opponent that was strong in some of the Badgers' most vulnerable areas. Especially after two blowout wins over patsies that told us very little, that was very encouraging. I still have concerns over that secondary and the inconsistent passing game, two areas that must improve since scoring and offense are on the rise in the Big Ten. Those deficiencies might be tough to overcome next week in Columbus. I think Wisconsin has to beat Ohio State to have a chance to win the Big Ten, and while the Badgers will be competitive, that remains a very tall order.

Gregg G. from Amherst, Wis., writes: Why has no one in the media identified the officiating crew by name(s)? They benefit by being able to hide behind the references to "a Pac 12 crew." Please write another blog post and give us the names of the referee an the official who dozed off while ASU covered the ball.

Brian Bennett: Anyone who can find a box score on the internet can figure out those names. I'm reluctant to write them because the last thing I want is for those officials to face harassment from upset fans. We all make mistakes in our jobs. It just stinks that it was so blatant, and I hope the Pac-12 adequately addresses the issue behind the scenes.

Melvin Gordon
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon would have to keep up his torrid pace to become a Heisman hopeful.
Justin from Madison writes: Do you think there's any chance of Melvin Gordon III becoming a serious Heisman contender this year? Just looking at the stats, he seems to be the most accomplished running back in the country so far this year, averaging 12.9 yards per carry for 477 yards. (That puts him in second place for rushing yards, but the guy in front of him 24 more carries and only 16 more yards.) Granted, two of Wisconsin's three games have been against cupcakes, so a little skepticism might be understandable at this point in the season. But it's worth keeping in mind that Gordon averaged over 10 yards per carry last year as well (on 62 carries). If he keeps making plays, do you see MGIII getting into the Heisman race?

Brian Bennett: He might be the leading contender right now in the Big Ten, which isn't saying a whole lot. Ohio State's Braxton Miller isn't completely out of the picture, but after one mediocre performance and basically two missed games because of injury, Miller would have to be otherworldly down the stretch to get consideration, because he won't have the stats. Michigan's Devin Gardner was in the running after his Notre Dame performance, but an ugly showing at Akron took him right out. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez has no shot, and Northwestern's Venric Mark has barely played. Penn State's Allen Robinson is putting up huge numbers, but receivers always get overlooked for the Heisman.

So can Gordon jump in to the race? Possibly. The Arizona State loss hurt, but voters should understand the circumstances. If he can keep this type of pace up, it would be nearly unprecedented. There appears to be a bias against Wisconsin running backs, as we saw with Montee Ball, so he'd have to overcome that. For right now, though, Gordon needs to focus on improving his pass protection skills, because that will keep him on the field longer.

Brian from Madison, Wis., writes: So Wisconsin lost -- among others of course -- and the Big Ten is perceived in a not-so-great light after a Week 3 meltdown. Would the perception of the Big Ten be changed at all if Wisconsin had won? And if so, why would the perception of an entire league hinge on one team?

Brian Bennett: A Badgers win would have helped a little, but not much. The story was already being shaped after Nebraska's collapse at home, Michigan's clunker against a bad Akron team and Penn State losing at home to UCF. The Big Ten had three shots against ranked teams and lost all three. Wisconsin could have saved a little face for the Big Ten (and did, for astute observers), but the conference had a chance to make a statement and failed to do so.

Grant from San Francisco writes: I would like to talk about Minnesota. I have had many seizures, so I can relate to Jerry Kill's zeal to power through and not let his health issues prevent him from chasing his dreams and improving Minnesota's program. As seizure sufferers, we do not want to be socially/professionally crippled by something that is so far out of our control. However, at what point does Minnesota draw the line? My family has experienced my seizures, and I can guarantee you that in the minutes or hours after one occurs, there is no emotional or mental normalcy to be had by anyone involved. It is disruptive, intense, draining, and scarring to witness something like that. While I fully support Kill's desire to persevere through the circumstances, at what point does Minnesota relegate him strictly to the coaching box, or remove him completely? Or would that be a PR nightmare that they would rather avoid, at the potential cost of wins, recruits, etc.?

Brian Bennett: Grant, thanks for the note and your perspective on the matter. I wish nothing but the best for coach Kill and admire his courage. He is raising a lot of awareness for people with epilepsy. His assistants and players also deserve credit for battling through and supporting their coach. Where I think this becomes a problem is if it repeatedly happens during games and Kill is not able to finish them. If your head coach can't stay on the sidelines to coach the games, that's an obvious problem. I also think Kill is well aware of this and would be the first one to know when it was time to walk away. He said on Tuesday that coaching from the press box wouldn't make any difference with his condition. Let's hope he can figure this thing out.

Brady Hoke
Michigan head coach Brady Hoke watches game action from the sideline.
Raj from Washington, D.C. , writes: What would have been the impact if Akron indeed was able to upset Michigan? Obviously it would set back Michigan this year in terms of perception. But would it have permanently affected recruiting? Could anyone take Michigan seriously, especially since the upsets of Appalachian State and Toledo weren't too long ago? Could Brady Hoke ever recover, if indeed the horror was actually true?

Brian Bennett: It would have been a major embarrassment, the kind that would be hard to live down and one that would be repeatedly mentioned by rivals and their fans. It also would have hurt the credibility of both Michigan and the Big Ten. Other than that, I don't think it would have had a lot of long-term effect for Michigan. Recruits don't base their decisions on one game, and Hoke and his staff have shown that they are great at fostering relationships with prospects. Hoke and the program could have easily recovered, though it would leave a stain on this season. Good thing for them it didn't happen.

Mark from Arizona writes: I know you didn't watch the Iowa game live, but after catching up on it later, what do you think of them now? Here's my take after three games: Jake Rudock has some skill. He makes tight passes, he's got a little scrambling ability, and he's smart by knowing when to tuck and run verse trying to force a pass. I think by establishing the run game, it's going to open up the passing game. If Iowa sticks to this, do you see steady improvement and a couple of upsets by Iowa this year, giving them eight wins? Also, do you think by rotating so many receivers and tight ends that its causing the receivers to be out of sync mentally and that's why they are dropping passes?

Brian Bennett: Mark, I agree with many of your points. I really like Iowa's physicality and dedication to the run game. The Hawkeyes are getting more offensive plays than any team in the Big Ten, which is very surprising. The defense has shown some improvement up front as well, and all three linebackers are very solid. I like what I've seen from Rudock and think he should only get better. Iowa's plan all along was to use the run game to open up the passing game, but so far the success of that has been sporadic at best. I remain unimpressed with the talent at receiver, especially in terms of their ability to get separation, make tough catches or turn short throws into explosive plays. That's an issue that I'm not sure will be solved and could hold Iowa back when it gets into the meat of a difficult Big Ten schedule. But I think the Hawkeyes can at least win six games and get back to a bowl. I know this: Very few teams will look forward to playing Kirk Ferentz's team and knocking heads with Mark Weisman and that offensive line.

Xavier from Paoli, Ind., writes: It seems like the brightest spot of the weekend for the Big Ten isn't getting any light shined on it. Indiana had the only win against a top 40 team and no credit is being given. Yes, Bowling Green is a MAC team but a MAC team that was getting votes in the AP and coaches polls after week 2. Indiana still has a lot to prove. but I think you guys need to give some credit where credit is due.

Brian Bennett: That was a very impressive win for the Hoosiers, Xavier. I was the dummy who predicted a Bowling Green upset, mostly because I was very impressed with how the Falcons played in their first two games. Then Indiana went out and destroyed them, putting together a surprisingly strong defensive effort. The problem for Indiana and Kevin Wilson remains that Navy loss. Had the Hoosiers won that one, they'd be 3-0 and getting lots of attention because of their elite offense. Instead, there remains heavy skepticism, especially since Navy so thoroughly dominated the IU defense. Perhaps that was just a fluke based on the Midshipmen's style of play. Wilson's team has a chance to get back on the national radar this week at home against Missouri in the only Big Ten vs. SEC matchup of the regular season.