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Monday, March 10, 2014
Big Ten Monday mailbag

By Brian Bennett

I had a good time covering Arch Madness this past weekend. My astute, professional opinion: Wichita State is really, really good.

But the hoops moonlighting is over. Back to football -- and more of your emails ...

Luke from Lincoln, Neb., writes: What's your take on Jamal Turner getting reps at QB? I know he has gotten reps in previous years but less significant reps. Will anything come of it, or is it just some spring experiment?

Brian Bennett: First of all, I commend Bo Pelini for giving us media types something interesting to write/blog/debate so early in spring practice. So bravo on that. I suspect this is mostly an experimental thing. Turner is a senior, so he doesn't need a ton of spring reps at QB. But it also gives Nebraska some options, especially in some potential Wildcat alignments. Tommy Armstrong Jr. is not the runner that Taylor Martinez was, at least not yet in his career, and Ameer Abdullah gets enough carries. Turner could bring a speed element to the quarterback spot, a place where the Huskers have no experience behind Armstrong as is. If nothing else, it gives Nebraska's early-season opponents something to think about as they game plan this spring and summer.

 




Kevin from Rock Island, Ill., writes: To me, it seems the Illinois QB race will come down to Wes Lunt and Aaron Bailey. If Lunt wins the job (as many expect), does Bailey stay at QB for limited sets, and as a backup, or do they use his athleticism to help fill a position of need at WR? Lunt has had injury issues in his past (why he lost his job at OSU), but Illinois is desperately in need of more playmakers.

Brian Bennett: While I understand why Illinois' coaches want to term this as an open competition, I'd frankly be very surprised if anyone other than Lunt is the team's starting quarterback. His skill set just seems to fit Bill Cubit's offense perfectly. Bailey is an interesting case. He's too good of an athlete for the Illini to keep him off the field, and Reilly O'Toole is a serviceable backup. I think receiver is a natural potential landing spot for Bailey, especially given the team's need there. But prepping him now at quarterback is still a good idea, especially with Lunt's injury history.

 




@HawkFlies via Twitter writes: Any chance there is a QB controversy in Iowa City this spring?

Brian Bennett: I doubt it. Kirk Ferentz said he will let C.J. Beathard compete with Jake Rudock for the job, and there's no question that Iowa needs better play in general from the quarterback position. But as Ferentz also said on signing day, "C.J. still has some catching up to do. Jake has really accelerated." I find it hard to believe that Ferentz will make a switch after Rudock started all 13 games last fall, unless Beathard makes great strides this spring or Rudock really falters. And given that the Hawkeyes play things pretty close to the vest, I doubt we'll see or hear much this spring that would actually lead to any sort of controversy.

 




Jeff from Whitewater, Wis., writes: In your opinion, is Wisconsin a possible darkhorse to make a BCS bowl? Outside of the LSU game, the toughest games the Badgers will have are at Iowa, at Northwestern and then home against Nebraska. If the receivers can be somewhat productive and secondary can eliminate some of their lapses, I think they can run away with the West.

Brian Bennett: The Badgers are a real long shot to make a BCS bowl this fall since BCS bowls no longer exist. What you probably mean is a contract bowl. Time to adjust our college football vocabulary. Really, the goal now has to be the College Football Playoff, though realistically Wisconsin would probably have to beat LSU and then run the table or maybe lose just once to make the four-team event (and remember for this coming season, the Rose Bowl is a national semifinal). The playoff committee will also choose teams for the other four major bowls. But I get your point. Gary Andersen's team has a great schedule in 2014, though some lingering questions about the passing game and the defense must be answered. I could easily see Wisconsin winning nine or 10 games with that schedule, and the Badgers are a major West Division threat.

 




John from Brighton, Mich., writes: I've had this argument with a friend several times. It regards the outlook of the conference over the next 10 years or so. I think projecting forward, Michigan State has overtaken Michigan as a program, and the top of the conference is going to be a battle between the Spartans and Ohio State for the next decade. Am I misguided in my view, and do you think that Michigan is going to be "back" to what it was?

Brian Bennett: Trying to project a decade in advance might make for fun arguments with your friends, but it's nearly impossible to forecast with any level of accuracy or confidence. Boom and bust cycles are just too short. Look at where Florida State and Texas were just a  few shorts years ago compared to now. Michigan State is clearly riding high right now and is in better shape than Michigan. As long as Mark Hollis and Mark Dantonio are around, I expect the Spartans to remain a major factor. But will that be the case in 10 years? Who knows? Michigan has resources that only a few programs can match. Eventually that sleeping giant will come to life, whether it's under Brady Hoke or someone else. At least I think so.

 




Corey from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Speaking as a Spartan fan, I can't say UofM switching to a 3-4 is all that scary. My thinking is that they don't have the bodies to put three 300-pound linemen on the field together. Hoke and his staff have recruited for running a base 4-3 and have to stick with it. Mixing in the 3-4 is a nice change of pace possibly, but running it as their base doesn't seem like the answer to me. I'm more interested to see if more Big Ten teams don't start copying Pat Narduzzi's aggressive 4-3 zone schemes, especially since Urban Meyer is coming out and saying he wants to be more aggressive. What do you guys see happening in the near future?

Brian Bennett: Some teams have borrowed bits and pieces from the Spartans' defensive scheme, but for as successful as Narduzzi has been with it, you'd expect even more copycatting. Part of the reason is that most coaches and defensive coordinators don't have the stomach (or the personnel, for that matter) for playing as much man-to-man pass coverage as Michigan State does. As Narduzzi told me in late November, "People know what we’re doing, but they don’t know how we do it. We’re the only team in the country that does zone pressure like this. There’s a risk to it if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Defenses in the Big Ten need to be big enough up front to take on the power run game but also have enough speed to counter the proliferating spread offenses. Whether that comes out of a 4-3 or 3-4 isn't really as important as having great athletes, a consistent philosophy and experience within the system. One of the overlooked aspects of Michigan State's success was how so many guys had learned and practiced just one position in the same system for years and years. It's often not so simple as changing a scheme and expecting a quick fix.