Chicago Colleges: Dominique Booth

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

August, 6, 2014
8/06/14
5:00
PM CT
I'm pumped up to return to the mailbag rotation after a busy week at Big Ten media days and the Big Ten coaches car wash at ESPN last week. Remember that you can always ask questions on Twitter, and we've all got our own individual accounts now. Follow me @BennettESPN. I'll also be doing a mailbag Friday.

Now, on to your questions ...


Tom from Omaha writes: Looking at the West Division this year, I feel like Nebraska is the most talented and proven (Wisconsin lost a lot). However, I also think that it's very likely that the best of the West (NU in my opinion) may not win the West because of its tough schedule. What do you think?

 Bennett: Tom, I think you hit the nail on the head. As I evaluate the individual teams, I like Nebraska's overall roster the best. The Huskers have far fewer question marks than Wisconsin and better overall athleticism, in my opinion, than Iowa. (Though that didn't help Nebraska much last year in Lincoln vs. the Hawkeyes. Bo Pelini's team was pretty beat up by then and there was a lot of negativity around the program, but Iowa still took it to them on the road).

There's no question Nebraska has a tougher schedule than either Iowa or Wisconsin. The Huskers have to go to both Madison and Iowa City, and they drew Michigan State on the road as a crossover while neither the Hawkeyes nor the Badgers have to play any of the top East contenders. Schedules definitely matter. I think the Spartans would have won the Big Ten regardless last fall, but their crossover games -- Indiana, Illinois and Purdue, with no Wisconsin or Ohio State -- certainly didn't hurt. A true championship team can overcome schedule hurdles, however. We'll have to see if Nebraska is good enough to do so.


Benny N. from West Palm Beach, Florida, writes: It seems like the new CFB Playoff dilemma will be which Power 5 conference gets left out (according to most media outlets anyway). Well, I decided to take a look at the final standings of all the Power 5 conferences for the past three years, and it looks like it would have been a very easy decision in my opinion. 2011: sorry, ACC. 2012: sorry, B1G. And, finally, 2013: sorry Big 12. It's similar to "What will we do when there are more than two undefeated teams and the BCS computers break?" Well, we know that was rarely the issue ... everything tends to work itself out. Do you really think this will be an issue?

Bennett: If it was as simple as determining which conference should be left out, that would be one thing -- and there's no doubt the Big Ten wouldn't have stood a chance in 2012. The selection committee will also have to decide if there are two worthy teams from one conference (hello there, SEC fans). Conference strength shouldn't matter as much as how good an individual team is and who it played during the nonconference schedule. For example, let's say the Big Ten is down as a whole this year, but Michigan State or Wisconsin plows through the league undefeated. If they also won their marquee nonconference games (Oregon and LSU, respectively) and those opponents went on to have the kind of seasons we expect, then a weak Big Ten wouldn't hold them down.

I agree that it's going to be very rare, if not outright impossible, to have more than four undefeated teams. The real wrangling will be over similar 1-loss teams who played very different schedules. College football has always had a numbers problem, as the Big Ten and Big 12 membership illustrates. Now it has five power conferences for four playoff spots. And so it goes.

 Bennett: You can never predict with precision which true freshmen will perform at a high level right away. Players develop at different rates, learn the finer points of the game at different speeds, suffer from home sickness, etc. That said, I tend to lean toward freshmen who A) enrolled early to get a head start on the process and B) play a position where it's easier to have an immediate impact. Based on what I saw in the spring, my pick on offense for the Indiana offense is wide receiver Dominique Booth. He's got a good build at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, he was a well-regarded recruit, and he plays a position of need for the Hoosiers after the loss of Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes. I'd be surprised if he didn't get some early playing time.

IU didn't have any early enrollees on defense, but I think Kevin Wilson could call on some young guys in the secondary. So I'll go with safety Will Dawkins. Wilson has never been shy about throwing true freshmen into the fire, though the hope is that his staff has built enough depth now that they won't be relied upon as much in 2014.


 Dave from Ann Arbor, Michigan writes: Hey, Brian, I'm curious about what you recently described as a "quirk of the new division setup" -- Michigan's return to East Lansing for a second year in a row. It means that, with the Notre Dame series ending, from now on Michigan will have no rivalry home games every other year. With plunging student-ticket sales and permanently less appealing schedules because of Maryland and Rutgers, this seems like a fairly serious issue. Sure, the "on" years with Michigan State and Ohio State in Ann Arbor will be great, but consistency seems more important. I doubt Dave Brandon likes the situation, but why wasn't he able to stop it?

Bennett: Schools didn't have a whole lot of say in the formation of the schedule once they all agreed on some general principles. And, naturally, Michigan didn't want the Notre Dame series to end how it did. You're right that some home schedules may suffer a little bit. However, in 2016, when the Michigan State and Ohio State games are away, Wisconsin and Penn State come to the Big House. In 2018, Nebraska joins those two teams as visitors to Ann Arbor. They may not be historic rivals, but those should still be attractive games. And the loss of the Notre Dame series allows Michigan to schedule some very good nonconference home-and-homes, which will mean visits in the future from Arkansas ('18), Virginia Tech ('20), UCLA ('22) and Oklahoma ('26) in those even-numbered years.


Jules M. from Chicago writes: Hi, BB, I have a few questions for you, please, pick any or all to answer: Since there is no chance of going to a bowl game anytime soon, is there any hope ILLINOIS could lure Jim Tressel from Akron to get back into coaching? Who do you think would be a strong candidate to rebuild ILLINOIS Football after the disastrous Tim Beckman era hopefully ends in 2014? Do you think it's possible that AD Mike Thomas fires Beckman midway through the season and allows Bill Cubit to be the interim head coach to finish out the 2014 season?

Bennett: Wow. I thought the preseason was supposed to be a time for optimism. I don't ever like to speculate on successors until a coaching change is clearly coming, and I don't root for any coach to lose his job. I will say that there's a good chance that the Illini are 4-2 after their first six games if they beat the teams they will be favored against. If so, that means Illinois would be in bowl contention for the entire month of November. I don't expect any kind of midseason firing in Champaign unless things go horribly awry.

B1G spring position breakdown: WR/TE

February, 27, 2014
2/27/14
11:00
AM CT
We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. The wide receivers and tight ends are up next.

Illinois: The Illini are looking for more from this group after losing top target Steve Hull, who exploded late in the season to finish just shy of 1,000 receiving yards. While running back Josh Ferguson (50 catches in 2013) will continue to contribute, Illinois could use a boost from Martize Barr, who arrived with high expectations but only had 26 receptions last fall. Another junior-college transfer, Geronimo Allison, could make an impact beginning this spring, but there's some mystery at wideout. Illinois looks more solid at tight end with seniors Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse.

Indiana: Despite the somewhat surprising early departure of All-Big Ten selection Cody Latimer, Indiana should be fine here. Shane Wynn is the veteran of the group after recording 633 receiving yards on 46 catches last season. Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson also depart, so Indiana will be leaning more on Nick Stoner and Isaiah Roundtree. The Hoosiers have high hopes for early enrollee Dominique Booth, a decorated recruit who could fill Latimer's spot on the outside. Productive tight end Ted Bolser departs and several players will compete, including early enrollee Jordan Fuchs.

Iowa: Almost all the wide receivers are back from a group in which none eclipsed more than 400 receiving yards in 2013. Balance is nice, but separation could be nicer for the Hawkeyes this spring. Kevonte Martin-Manley is the most experienced wideout and has 122 career receptions. Tevaun Smith also returns, and Iowa fans are excited about big-play threat Damond Powell, who averaged 24.2 yards on only 12 receptions last season. Iowa loses its top red-zone target in tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and will need Jake Duzey to deliver more Ohio State-like performances.

Maryland: When the Terrapins get healthy, they might have the Big Ten's best wide receiving corps. Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, both of whom sustained broken legs against Wake Forest last season, have the ability to stretch the field as both averaged more than 15 yards per reception before the injuries struck. Leading receiver Levern Jacobs also returns, alongside junior Nigel King and sophomore Amba Etta-Tawo, who averaged more than 16 yards per catch in 2013. Marcus Leak, who started seven games in 2012, rejoins the team after a year away. The Terps are unproven at tight end after losing Dave Stinebaugh.

Michigan: There's a reason why some Michigan fans want Devin Gardner to return to wide receiver for his final season. The Wolverines are thin on the perimeter after losing Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo. Redshirt sophomores Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are both candidates to start, and Dennis Norfleet could be the answer in the slot. But there's plenty of opportunity for younger players like Drake Harris, an early enrollee. Michigan's best pass-catching option, Devin Funchess, is listed as a tight end but plays more like a receiver. The Wolverines will be without their second-string tight end, Jake Butt, who suffered an ACL tear in winter conditioning.

Michigan State: Remember all the justified angst about this group a year ago? It has pretty much gone away as the Spartans wideouts rebounded nicely in 2013. Bennie Fowler departs, but MSU brings back its top two receivers in Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings, who showed explosiveness down the stretch last fall. Aaron Burbridge had a bit of a sophomore slump but provides another option alongside veteran Keith Mumphery, who averaged 16.6 yards per catch in 2013. Josiah Price leads the tight end group after a solid freshman season.

Minnesota: Here's a group to watch during spring practice, particularly the wide receivers. Minnesota has proven it can run the ball and defend under Jerry Kill, but the passing game was putrid in 2013, ranking last in the Big Ten and 115th nationally. Youth is partly to blame, and while the Gophers still lack experience, they can expect more from promising players like Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones. Senior Isaac Fruechte provides a veteran presence. Minnesota looks solid at tight end with sophomore Maxx Williams, the team's receiving yards leader (417) in 2013.

Nebraska: The Huskers lose a significant piece in Quincy Enunwa, who led the team in receiving yards (753) and had three times as many receiving touchdowns (12) as anyone else in 2013. Kenny Bell is set to recapture the No. 1 receiver role, which he had in 2012, and comes off of a 52-catch season as a junior. Nebraska must build around Bell this spring with players like the mustachioed Jordan Westerkamp, who had 20 catches as a freshman, including a rather memorable one to beat Northwestern. Will Jamal Turner turn the corner this offseason? Juniors Sam Burtch and Taariq Allen also return. Cethan Carter started six games at tight end last fall and should take over the top spot there as Jake Long departs.

Northwestern: The passing game fell short of expectations in 2013, but there's reason for optimism as Northwestern returns its top three pass-catchers in Tony Jones, Christian Jones and Dan Vitale. The two Joneses (no relation), who combined for 109 catches in 2013, lead the receiving corps along with junior Cameron Dickerson. Speedy Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler provides a playmaking spark, possibly at slot receiver. Vitale, who had a somewhat disappointing sophomore season, has All-Big Ten potential at the superback (tight end) spot. Although Northwestern rarely plays true freshmen, superback Garrett Dickerson, Cameron's brother, could see the field right away.

Ohio State: A group that drew heavy criticism from coach Urban Meyer two springs ago is stockpiling talent. Devin Smith is the familiar name, a big-play senior who has started each of the past two seasons and boasts 18 career touchdowns. Ohio State must replace top wideout Corey Brown and will look for more from Evan Spencer. Michael Thomas has stood out in practices but must translate his performance to games. This could be a breakout year for H-back Dontre Wilson, who averaged nine yards per touch as a freshman. Buckeyes fans are eager to see redshirt freshmen Jalin Marshall and James Clark, and incoming players like Johnnie Dixon could make a splash right away. Ohio State returns an elite tight end in Jeff Heuerman.

Penn State: The Lions have very different depth situations at receiver and tight end. They're looking for contributors on the perimeter after losing Allen Robinson, the Big Ten's top wide receiver the past two seasons, who accounted for 46 percent of the team's receiving production in 2013. Brandon Felder also departs, leaving Geno Lewis as the likeliest candidate to move into a featured role. Richy Anderson also returns, but there will be plenty of competition/opportunity at receiver, a position new coach James Franklin targeted in recruiting with players like Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall. Things are much more stable at tight end as the Lions return three talented players in Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman.

Purdue: If you're looking for hope at Purdue, these spots aren't bad places to start. There are several promising young players like receiver DeAngelo Yancey, who recorded a team-leading 546 receiving yards as a freshman. Cameron Posey also had a decent freshman year (26 catches, 297 yards), and Danny Anthrop averaged 18.4 yards as a sophomore. A full offseason with quarterbacks Danny Etling and Austin Appleby should help the group. Tight end also should be a strength as Justin Sinz, who led Purdue with 41 catches last season, is back along with Gabe Holmes, who returns after missing most of 2013 with a wrist injury.

Rutgers: The good news is tight end Tyler Kroft returns after leading Rutgers in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (573) last season. Kroft will immediately contend for All-Big Ten honors. Things are murkier at wide receiver, where top contributors Brandon Coleman and Quron Pratt both depart. Leonte Carroo took a nice step as a sophomore, averaging 17.1 yards per catch and enters the spring as the frontrunner to become the team's No. 1 wideout. Ruhann Peele is another promising young receiver for the Scarlet Knights, who boast size with Carlton Agudosi (6-foot-6) and Andre Patton (6-4).

Wisconsin: The quarterback competition will gain more attention this spring, but Wisconsin's receiver/tight end situation could be more critical. The Badgers lose Jared Abbrederis, their only major threat at receiver the past two seasons, as well as top tight end Jacob Pedersen. Players like Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe must translate their experience into greater production, and Wisconsin will look for more from young receivers like Alex Erickson and Robert Wheelwright. Help is on the way as Wisconsin signed five receivers in the 2014 class, but wideout definitely is a position of concern right now. Sam Arneson is the logical candidate to step in for Pedersen, but there should be competition as the Badgers lose a lot at the position.
Tags:

Northwestern Wildcats, Illinois Fighting Illini, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Michigan State Spartans, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Purdue Boilermakers, Big Ten Conference, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Football recruiting, Josh Ferguson, Christian Jones, Matt LaCosse, Jordan Westerkamp, Jeremy Gallon, Devin Smith, Tony Lippett, Michael Thomas, Tony Jones, Steve Hull, Cameron Dickerson, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Cody Latimer, Corey Brown, Duwyce Wilson, Isaac Fruechte, Jacob Pedersen, Jamal Turner, Jared Abbrederis, Keith Mumphery, Kenny Bell, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Kofi Hughes, Quincy Enunwa, Shane Wynn, Ted Bolser, Martize Barr, Devin Funchess, Allen Robinson, Kenzel Doe, Aaron Burbridge, Isaiah Roundtree, Drew Dileo, Dan Vitale, Kyle Carter, James Clark, Adam Breneman, Austin Appleby, Danny Etling, Donovahn Jones, Gabe Holmes, Dontre Wilson, Cameron Posey, Damond Powell, Evan Spencer, Johnnie Dixon, MacGarrett Kings, Garrett Dickerson, Jake Duzey, Maxx Williams, Sam Burtch, DeAngelo Yancey, Josiah Price, Dominique Booth, Geronimo Allison, Saeed Blacknall, Drew Wolitarsky, Robert Wheelwright, Tevaun Smith, B1G spring positions 14, Miles Shuler, Alex Erickson, Amara Darboh, Amba Etta-Tawo, Andre Patton, Brandon Coleman, Brandon Felder, Carlton Agudosi, Cethan Carter, Chris Godwin, Danny Anthrop, Dave Stinebaugh, Drake Harris, Geno Lewis, Jalin Marshall, Jehu Chesson, Jesse James, Jordan Fredrick, Jordan Fuchs, Justin Sinz, Leonte Carroo, Levern Jacobs, Marcus Leak, Nick Stoner, Nigel King, Quron Pratt, Richy Anderson, Ruhann Peele, Sam Arneson, Stefon Diggs, Taariq Allen, Tyler Kroft

Big Ten class rankings analysis 

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
2:00
PM CT

The Big Ten was on fire after landing eight commitments this week. Based on that, here was sure to be movement in the class rankings so here is a look at how the Big Ten stacks up.

Trending up

To say it has been a good week for Ohio State would be an understatement. The Buckeyes landed two top-50 prospects in the 2014 class with linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) and receiver Johnnie Dixon (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer).

Ohio State had already moved up to the No. 8 class in the country, and it is now sitting with the No. 5 class overall after the outstanding additions.

Purdue also needs some recognition as the Boilermakers have landed nine commitments in the month of December. Defensive back Ladarius Wiley (Los Angeles/Cathedral) is one of the most recent, and he could end up being a steal for Purdue.

The Boilermakers quickly went from having very few commitments to only having one spot remaining in their class.

Penn State is another team who rose in the rankings, moving up to No 24 from 26 with the addition of ESPN 300 defensive tackle Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln).

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