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Thursday, October 4, 2012
Big Ten Thursday mailbag

By Brian Bennett

Mail time!

Alex from NYC writes: Brian, if we look at the Big Ten now, the most dangerous QBs in the league are the dual-threat ones (Robinson, Miller, Martinez, etc.), while the traditional pocket-passers like Maxwell and Vandenberg really don't seem to impress all that much. 15-20 years ago, the concept of a dual-threat QB didn't seem to exist. Many of the best QBs in the country are now dual-threat, or at the very least, can make plays with their legs if they have to (i.e. like Russell Wilson last year). My question is this: do you think the days of the statue pocket passer are slowly fading away not just in the Big Ten, but in college football in general? It even seems to be slowly trickling up to the NFL as well, with guys like Cam Newton, RGIII and Tim Tebow.

Brian Bennett: Good question, Alex, and I think a couple of things are going on here. One, there are fewer true pocket passers in high school these days as more and more people are embracing the spread and athletic players at quarterback. The NFL is beginning to embrace more athletic quarterbacks in part because colleges aren't producing the traditional passers like they used to. Another factor is the number of Big Ten teams who use the spread or spread elements. Ohio State, for example, will always want dual-threat guys to run Urban Meyer's offense. Same for Nebraska. Having a quarterback who can run just gives the offense another weapon.

At the same time, though, I don't think you'll see the traditional type of passer die off in the Big Ten. Michigan State is committed to a pro-style offense. Michigan should go back toward that route once Denard Robinson leaves and hyped recruit Shane Morris arrives. Same goes for Penn State and Christian Hackenberg. So I think you'll see a mix of styles going forward, and that's part of what makes college football so much fun.


Chris from New Jersey writes: B.B., Big fan of yours from back in the Big East Blog days. It's probably a little early in the season, and may be completely off your radar right now, but here goes... If Rutgers can win the Big East, and then the Orange Bowl (Both are absolutely possible), do you think the Big Ten will come knocking? I don't want the Big East to die, but I also don't have a lot of faith in its future.. There were rumors not too long ago, but it never happened.... Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: Hey, Chris. Good to see the Big East has three ranked teams -- the same number as the Big Ten. Anyway, no league should base expansion decisions on one good season or bowl win by a team. Whether Rutgers wins the Orange Bowl or loses in the Beef 'O'Brady's shouldn't have any bearing on the process. The Big Ten looked at Rutgers during its expansion process two years ago but ultimately decided to go with just one team. The league right now is content at 12 teams and has no plans to expand. Were that to change, the Scarlet Knights would be near the top of the wish list. But it's not on the horizon right now.


Chris from Iowa writes: Hey, Brian: What is more likely? The Cardinals coming through to win a second consecutive World Series, or Nebraska escaping the B1G enough to go to the championship game, win, and beat whichever team is in the Rose Bowl?

Brian Bennett: I see, Chris. You're shamelessly using my love of the Cardinals to get into the mailbag. Well played, sir. I'll pick Nebraska. The baseball playoffs are a crapshoot with a lot of randomness built in, especially now with the one-game playoff that the Cardinals will play against the Braves. But all we need is a chip and a chair, as they say in poker. I've got Nebraska as the Legends Division favorite right now. It won't be easy, as that's a very balanced division. And then the Huskers have to win the Big Ten title game and likely beat a very good Pac-12 team in Pasadena. The chances of all of those things happening are probably 35 percent or less. But I'll take that over jinxing my Redbirds.


Joel from Minneapolis writes: Forget about win-loss for the moment and give me your take on who looks better on paper (stats): Indiana or Minnesota.

Brian Bennett: Stats only? Well, the Hoosiers are third in the Big Ten in scoring, second in total offense and first in passing. They're also last in total defense and rushing defense, which smacks of an unbalanced team. The Gophers are in the middle to lower part of the league in many offensive categories but are third in total defense. You also can't discount competition level or results, and Minnesota's wins over UNLV and Syracuse, though not wildly impressive, are better than anything Indiana has accomplished thus far.


Al from New York writes: Do you buy or sell on Taylor Martinez as a legitimate passing threat now? Basically just wondering if you think that teams will have to respect both his arm and legs for the remainder of his career. Yes his throwing motion may still look odd, but that seems less important when looking at his improved decision making, poise in the pocket, increased zip on balls, and overall accuracy with talented receivers. Who could have predicted before the season, that at Week 5 he'd lead the big 10 in passing efficiency and be 13th nationally?

Brian Bennett: Some good points there, Al, and Martinez deserves a lot of credit for his hard work in the offseason to make himself a better passer. He's never going to have beautiful mechanics, but he's showing better footwork and delivering a better ball. The Nebraska receivers are a lot better as well, and with the respect defenses have to give the Huskers running game, there are going to be open lanes for Martinez to throw. He's not going to make anyone think of Tom Brady with his arm. But as long as Martinez gets the ball where it needs to go and makes good decisions, he will be a legitimate two-way quarterback.


Brian from Whiteman Air Force Base writes: With the majority of the top teams in the B1G facing off this weekend (NEB vs OSU, PSU vs NW, Purdue vs Mich), who do you predict the top 3 teams will be on Sunday? Or does a lot of it depend on how a team wins or loses?

Brian Bennett: I can almost assure you the winner of the Nebraska-Ohio State game will be No. 1 in our power rankings next week, as the Buckeyes and Huskers are one-two right now. The only way that wouldn't happen is if they play a very sloppy, ugly game. As for the spots behind them, it's anybody's guess. It will depend on who beats whom and how they look doing so. I will say we'll be keeping a very close eye on the Michigan-Purdue game, because that should tell us a lot about both clubs and their chances to win their respective divisions. Whoever wins there could be looking at a serious power rankings bump.


Josh from L.A. writes: I have a question which is probably tainted by some Maize and Blue sunglasses I'm wearing in sunny LA. Denard will always be one of my favorite players, and he's the best representative of a university that someone could ask for. He's taken a lot of heat for his game against ND, but how much of that do you actually put on him versus on Al Borges for not putting Denard in a position to win the game? I personally don't think Borges is a bad coordinator, but out of Michigan's 4 losses in under Hoke, 3 of those games (MSU, Iowa, ND) could have easily gone Michigan's way with some better play calling.

Brian Bennett: Josh, I'm jealous of your weather, though I like living in a city where I can actually walk to places. I've taken issue with some of Borges' play calling. I especially did not like the Vincent Smith pass near the goal line against Notre Dame and do not buy Borges' justification for the call. That was just too clever by half. At the same time, Denard Robinson had some very easy throws that most quarterbacks would have completed in that game against the Irish, and he made some awful mistakes. Notre Dame is also not the easiest team to run against, and its defensive weakness is in the secondary. I think the bye week came at a good time for Michigan to re-evaluate its play calling and how best to utilize the strengths and weaknesses of Robinson. I'd expect a lot more running this week at Purdue.


Eric from New York writes: Hi, Brian! Although it stinks that PSU is bowl-banned, us fans would love to see PSU crack into the top 25 rankings. What would it take? If PSU wins out (a fair chance I believe), would this be enough?

Brian Bennett: Penn State did not receive any votes this week in the Associated Press poll and is of course ineligible for the coaches' poll because of probation. The Nittany Lions' national perception would be a lot different if Sam Ficken had made just one more field goal at Virginia. I think Penn State will have to win its next three, which would include a victory over Ohio State on Oct. 27, to get serious consideration for the Top 25. That would make the team 6-2 with wins over two ranked squads. Depending on what everyone else does, that could be enough.


Carl from Chicago writes: Everyone is talking big about OSU's defense, which did stop Mich St fairly well. But they also haven't played any stellar offenses with the best being Cal. Cal has averaged though week 5 about 385 yards a game and put up over 500 yards on OSU. UAB even out gained OSU with over 400 yards. I know they just put on a decent defensive show at Mich St but dont you think the OSU defense is a little over rated considering its 10th in yards per game inside the B1G and 59th nationally?

Brian Bennett: I guess it depends on what ratings you're reading, Carl. We have consistently written and said here that the Buckeyes' defense has disappointed, and I wrote before and after the Michigan State game that the Spartans presented a perfect matchup for the Ohio State defense's style of play. These Buckeyes are built more to stop pro-style, traditional Big Ten offenses than spread attacks. Which is why the Nebraska game is so interesting. The Huskers have by far the best offense Ohio State will have seen and can create some major matchup problems. This weekend will tell us a lot more about how far along Urban Meyer's defense is.


Max from Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., writes: Help me out, Brian. Can you explain all the negative press about MSU? Seventh in the Big Ten power rankings? I wonder if the so called "experts" saw their game with OSU this weekend. A one-point loss to a team that all the "experts" say has the most talent in the league. A missed field goal and a horribly blown call by the officials being the difference. Writers seen to want to have it both ways. Braxton Miller played great or the MSU defense couldn't make stop when needed. Which is it? If MSU is as bad as has been written, why is OSU number 1 in the rankings? If OSU is so good why did MSU drop so far? After all they do have the Big Tens best non conference win. Or doesn't that count any more?

Brian Bennett: Max, you make some fair points. We can only base our power rankings on what teams have done, and the fact is Michigan State has lost two of its last three games, both of them at home. The only win in there was a very underwhelming performance against Eastern Michigan. Has the competition level been difficult for the Spartans? Absolutely, and that's a great reason to believe that they can bounce back. At the same time, the offense just can't find the end zone (one total touchdown against both Notre Dame and Ohio State). For now, Michigan State is trending in the wrong direction. But there's a lot of time to turn that around.


Dennis from New York, NY, writes: Brian, I know Miami isn't in the Big 10, but could you please make a pick of Miami over ND (the game is at least being played in Chicago, home of the Big 10 HQs)? After ND's perfect track record against your picks (and the Big 10), I think we should keep the streak going, no?

Brian Bennett: You got it: Canes by three touchdowns. I accept credit cards and money orders.