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Big Ten Friday mailbag

11/21/2014

You have questions, I have answers. So let’s skip the small talk and get on to the mailbag.

Josh Moyer: It’s difficult to answer that, Lynn, only because I disagree with the premise of the question. I think J.T. Barrett has gotten a lot of love in the Heisman race. A lot of outlets have him ranked in the top five – including Sports Illustrated (5), CBS (4), USA Today (3) and Yahoo! (5). Sure, he’s right on the outside of ESPN’s Heisman Watch at No. 6, but he’s just two points behind. And, quite frankly, I think it’s a no-brainer he should be ranked within those first five spots.

Since the loss to Virginia Tech, he’s statistically been the best quarterback in the nation – with a national-best 91.7 QBR and an FBS-leading 34 TDs. But, if I can play devil’s advocate just a bit here, he’s also played just four top-60 defenses and two of those games didn’t turn out so well (Virginia Tech, Penn State). He’s still obviously a great quarterback, one of the best in the country, but those stats appear at least a little inflated.

Does he deserve Heisman Trophy consideration? Absolutely. Should he be a top-five contender who travels to New York? You bet. But should he win the Heisman? Definitely not.

Josh Moyer: Nearly all of it comes back to the offensive line. I actually wrote about this more in-depth earlier today, but let me kind of build off that a little bit because Christian Hackenberg has faced two primary criticisms this year -- one, he’s making bad throws even when he does have time and, two, it’s as if he can’t read a defense anymore. As far as the first point, maybe this is an odd analogy, but follow me on this: It’s a bit like Pavlov’s dog. Hackenberg can almost never step up into the pocket and, on most snaps, he has no time. So what happens when the pocket doesn’t collapse? Well, he’s still been conditioned not to step up, because that leads to big hits. When the defense rings that proverbial bell, Hackenberg just can’t snap back to his normal behavior all of a sudden. That goes for any quarterback; just look at Eli Manning and his 27 picks last season for the Giants.

As far as not being able to read defenses, that’s just patently false. He’s been put in some no-win situations because he hasn't been allowed to audible out of every play this season, and a big part of that stems from the fact the rest of this offense – with four new linemen and inexperienced receivers – isn’t ready for that under a brand-new system. Last season, like former Penn State quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher mentioned to me, Hackenberg was able to walk to the line, inspect the defense and pick from three to five plays that were best suited for the situation. He doesn’t have that this season. He’s just living through a worst-case offensive scenario right now. He needs a better offensive line or this isn’t going to go away.


Patrick from Ypsilanti, Michigan, writes: If the Wisconsin coaching staff actually kept Melvin Gordon in for the second half against LSU, would he be the Heisman favorite? Assuming they hung on to win that game with him in, I think they’d still be in playoff contention, which would make his case stronger.

Josh Moyer: You make an interesting point, Patrick, because it’s true that a playoff berth would only help Gordon’s chances. Look at Alabama’s AJ McCarron last season; I believe that’s the main reason he finished second on the ballot. His stats weren’t crazy – 28 TDs, seven INTs – but he was arguably the best player on the best team.

So, yeah, beating LSU would have helped slightly – but if last week’s rushing performance hasn’t changed your mind about Gordon, I don’t know if anything else would have, either. He’s actually within striking distance of Barry Sanders’ seemingly untouchable single-season record of 2,628 rushing yards. He’s averaging an insane 8.6 yards per carry. And on Saturday, he’ll almost certainly become the fastest player to reach 2,000 rushing yards when it comes to carries. It took Sanders 268 rushes, Nebraska’s Mike Rozier 258 rushes and Penn State’s Larry Johnson 251 rushes. Two of those players won the Heisman, and I think it would be a grave injustice if Gordon didn’t beat Marcus Mariota out for the trophy this year.

Josh Moyer: Purdue has shown marked improvement this year, especially with redshirt sophomore Austin Appleby under center. But make no mistake -- this team still has a long way to go. Its receivers are lacking -- Danny Anthrop is out until next spring and DeAngelo Yancey has been a disappointment -- and the defense hasn't at all helped matters.

Purdue is ranked No. 83 nationally in total defense and No. 97 in scoring defense, and it's a big reason Purdue didn't beat Minnesota or play Michigan State closer. The Boilermakers are simply giving up too many big plays. There are plenty of young players on both sides of the ball – such as linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, one of the biggest freshman surprises in the Big Ten – but the problem with this team is there’s more than one problem. Plus, just take a look at the nonconference slate next season when it faces Virginia Tech and Marshall.

So when will Purdue make it to the upper echelon? Not in the near future. Right now, the question has to be when it can become bowl-eligible – and I think Purdue will be improved, but still hard-pressed to do that next season.