Chat with Brian Bennett
Welcome to SportsNation! On Wednesday, ESPN.com's Big East blogger Brian Bennett will stop by to talk some football.
Bennett joined ESPN.com in August 2008 after nine years at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., where he covered college sports and the University of Louisville beat. He lives in Louisville.
Send your questions now and join Bennett Wednesday at noon ET!
Brian Bennett (12:00 PM)
Hey, everybody. Going a little earlier than normal today because of the Charlie Strong press conference this afternoon. Glad you could spend part of your lunch hour (on the East Coast anyway) with me today.
Could it be that BK is just testing UC's comittment to building a championship program and milking them for every dollar he can get (knowing UC cant match ND's deep pockets)?? With this theory...he's staying!!
Brian Bennett (12:01 PM)
That's a very optimistic viewpoint, Michael. I assume you also believe in Santa Claus?
Hey Brian,Lots of love for Pitt in your all-conference selections, but no Bill Stull or Dan Hutchins, even though Pike was out for several weeks and Hutchins led all kickers in points. He also kicked a game-winner, just like the WVU kid and only had 13 attempts. I'm not saying Hutch or Stull deserve the honors, but what is your thinking behind those picks?
Brian Bennett (12:02 PM)
I had Stull as the first-team quarterback until the final week. He did not play very well in his final two games, both losses. Pike, though he missed four games, finished with five more TDs and only 80 fewer passing yards than Stull.
Brian Bennett (12:03 PM)
As for the kickers, Bitancurt connected on 92.9 percent of his attempts, compared to just 79.2 percent for Hutchins. And Hutchins had some big misses late in the year.
Lee (Dayton, OH)
Good rundown on the Mountaineers today. With the silly season of coaching changes upon us, do you think WVU will be able to keep its coaching staff intact again this year as it did last? Latest rumor involves running backs coach Chris Beatty and UVA, possibly as offensive coordinator.
Brian Bennett (12:04 PM)
I'd be surprised if you didn't see some movement. Bill Stewart put together a really good staff, and West Virginia was the only team in the league last year not to have any staff changes. Don't expect that to happen two years in a row.
Brian, I understand that if Brian Kelly were to go to Notre Dame, he is expected to recruit players during the month of December instead of helping prepare the Bearcats to play against Florida. But, considering his current reputation, is he in a position to tell ND that he will coach in the Sugar Bowl? I just think given everything his players have accomplished this year, he owes them by coaching against Florida in the most reputable game in school history. Especially since their hard work and efforts had a HUGE affect on his success and credibility as a coach?which obviously has a lot to do with why ND is trying so hard to get him. He came into the spot light by coaching Cincinnati. Would he have ever been considered for the ND position if he had stayed at Central Michigan (despite how many championships he would have won)? He owes Cincy a lot.
Brian Bennett (12:06 PM)
It's a tough situation. Would there be hard feelings between Kelly and his players? Could he give the team his full focus as it would deserve? I think it's easier for coordinators to stay on and coach their bowl games, but for a head coach who has so many responsibilities, it's probably best to go ahead and move on.
Doug (Cincinnati, OH)
Question of the day, I'm sure: Does Brian Kelly leave UC for Notre Dame? And if so, who is your pick to replace him? I'm leaning toward Jeff Quinn, but have also heard Butch Jones, Kerry Coombs, and Turner Gill mentioned.
Brian Bennett (12:07 PM)
I've said all along that Kelly would go if Notre Dame offered. So the ball's in the Irish court now. I think you hit the nail on the head with Quinn, Jones and Coombs, though Gill seems headed to Kansas. I'd also throw Skip Holtz in there. If ND is going to take your coach, why not replace him with the son of an ND legend?
how good could uconn be next year? i feel next year could be the year uconn finally makes the push as a bonafied contender in the big east
Brian Bennett (12:09 PM)
I was just looking at that as I wrote my UConn season recap for this afternoon. The Huskies lose only six senior starters on offense and defense (not counting Andre Dixon). So there will be a lot of returning talent. They'll need to develop some more receivers, as Marcus Easley leaves, and tighten up the defense. But there's no reason why UConn shouldn't contend in '10.
After year two of Bill Stewart at WVU, I am still questioning if he really is the right man for the job. Would you say that the Pitt win might have bought him another year or two?
Brian Bennett (12:10 PM)
I think the Pitt win was big for momentum purposes, but I don't know how much he needed it. Stewart has won 18 games in two years with a chance for No. 19 in the bowl. That's not too shabby.
How much better would a WVU/Va Tech (or even WVU/Clemson or Miami) game been that forcing a mediocre 6-6 team (that is starting an inexperienced QB now) to face a ranked WVU?
Brian Bennett (12:12 PM)
Yes, this is basically a scripted sideshow for Bobby Bowden. West Virginia should be the heavy favorite over a bad 6-6 Seminoles team. On the flip side, the history books will show a 10-win season and Gator Bowl victory if the Mountaineers finish the deal.
James (Clemson,SC (Missing Morgantown))
Right now, how many teams do you think will be ranked at the start of next year's season for the Big East, and will this Big East bashing finally cease a little bit (considering the disappointment years for the Big 10, ACC) Keep up the good work!Let's Go Mountaineers!
Brian Bennett (12:14 PM)
It's hard to say without knowing yet who's leaving early and how the bowl games go. I'd say Pitt and West Virginia have a good shot at being ranked. Cincinnati will depend on the showing against Florida and the coaching situation. I doubt any other league team will be ranked in the preseason.
so the regular season ended, now lets take a quick look at next year.is PITT the pre-season favorite out of the gate? They return Dion Lewis, Jon Baldwin, and if Frank Cignetti can turn Bill Stull into a good QB, he can turn Sunseri, Bostick (remember Bostick is 2-0 in his last 2 starts...) or Possible one of a few quality Freshman QBs we have coming in (including the one we ripped away from PSU). Add that with Sheard is sticking around, and Romeous may stay as well (yes, he is probably gone but the possibility remains he stays), Dan Mason fills the role for Gunn, Andrew Taglianetti is back and healthy (it was his injury that led to playing time for Fields). we also have Great depth on the Lines, especially considering Pinkston is coming back at LT, and Brandon Lindsay was effective in his time replacing Romeous from the line-up.I might be a little biased, but when you look at all the other teams, BK is looking like he already started packing for the ND job mid-season, WVU possibly loses Devine, and loses a fair amount of defensive starters. Rutgers possibly, but they also lose quite a bit. so, is it not fair to say PITT is the initial favorite to win the league?
Brian Bennett (12:16 PM)
They will be among the favorites, but I think Pitt loses more than you may realize. My gut says Greg Romeus will go pro, and that means Pitt loses three key players from both lines, along with both tight ends, two corners and a valuable middle linebacker. But there's still enough talent there to make the Panthers one of the favorites.
Allen (Raleigh, NC)
Hey Brian, Merry Christmas to you. I know it is way too early, but looking into next year who do you think is at the top of the Big East to start the season next year. Considering the possible loss of Kelly at Cinn, and early entries to NFL.
Brian Bennett (12:17 PM)
I think you have to look at Pitt, Cincinnati, UConn and West Virginia. Rutgers and South Florida still have a lot to prove. Syracuse and Louisville still far away.
Have you ever seen a coach search like this one before? If it's not Brian Kelly what are the odds it's Randy Edsall?
Brian Bennett (12:18 PM)
The last Notre Dame search was pretty wild, too, but there was no Twitter back then. I get the sense that Edsall is more of a fallback candidate now if Kelly does not work out.
Glad Louisville is hiring Charlie Strong. Though I am a big Gator fan and hate to see him leave, he really deserves this shot. Long overdue!. How long with fans and administration give him to get back to the Petrino level of success? Who do you see as his new OC since he is a defensive guy?
Brian Bennett (12:21 PM)
I agree that Strong is long overdue for this shot. Louisville fans seem to be very excited about this, and I think they'll give him a long leash because of the credibility he brings. As for offensive coordinator, I've heard some talk about Florida receivers coach Billy Gonzales, but it's still early in the process
BB, What do you think of the Orange's scehdule for next year. To me I think 6 wins is a definite possiblity if the guys come back healthy and they don't get ripped apart again?
Brian Bennett (12:23 PM)
Well, let's see. The Orange are playing Boston College, USC and Washington (on the road) in the nonconference schedule. Those, obviously, won't be easy. They have to go to USF, West Virginia and Cincinnati. It's going to be quite a challenge, and there are still a lot of holes in the roster. I think 6-6 might be a reach, with that schedule
Chuck (Morgantown, WV)
What should the Big east do about finding a better bowl to replace the Gator Bowl for the next few years?
Brian Bennett (12:24 PM)
Chuck, that's already been decided. The Champs Sports Bowl will be the No. 2 Big East bowl for the next four years.
What's the best new emerging rivalry in the Big East in your opinion?
Brian Bennett (12:25 PM)
I think Pitt-Cincinnati is emerging after the last two years. I also see Syracuse-Rutgers getting more heated down the line.
pete (laurel md)
you saw the Pitt Cincy game...the fix was in right? How do you pick up a face mask flag. Plus the pass interference on the 1st drive and the personal foul on deccico on the 2nd drive...come on you have to believe in the conspiracy now
Brian Bennett (12:26 PM)
There were some questionable calls, but a conspiracy? Sorry, I don't believe that. You're complaining about calls from the first two drives when Pitt led 31-10? And Pitt still scored on the drive after the facemask reversal. So the zebras aren't to blame for this one.
Brian, it seems that ND won't give up being an independent to join the Big 10. Is there any way that you could a Big East school joining the Big 10? Possibly Pitt, WVa, or Cinci?
Brian Bennett (12:28 PM)
It's possible that the Big 10 could make overtures to Pitt, Rutgers and possibly Syracuse in the coming years, though nothing appears imminent. The Big East needs to be proactive this time around.
Adrian (Boston, MA)
If Brian Kelly leaves, can Cincinnati still stay competitive with Pitt, WVU, UConn and now with Charlie Strong at Louisville vying for a spot?
Brian Bennett (12:29 PM)
The Bearcats are still going to have a lot of talent next year. Long term, it depends on the hire. It's hard to replace a guy like Kelly. He is going to be a three-time Big East coach of the year winner, after all
How long until UofL is a STRONG contender in the Big East?
Brian Bennett (12:30 PM)
It will be after endless puns in newspaper headlines and stories using his last name.
Why wouldn't UC be ranked next year to start? They hardly lose anyone. The have Zach who proved to be a great QB, and Hazelton a transfer from USC to take over for Mardy, with the rest of the WR and TE crew back. On defense they have plenty of guys coming back. I see a little drop off but not much.
Brian Bennett (12:31 PM)
Eric, I agree with you, but you know how this goes. Cincinnati couldn't get any respect despite going to the Orange Bowl last year. Now they may be replacing a coach, and I expect there to be some skepticism among voters, especially if they lose to Florida.
I really enjoyed watching Mike Williams (when he actually played) tear it up on the field for Syracuse. With all his off the field problems, do you see NFL teams taking a chance on him?
Brian Bennett (12:32 PM)
He's too talented not to get a chance, and, heck, there are scores of receiver divas in the NFL. Quitting your team raises a huge red flag, though, and I think he cost himself a ton of money. If he gets drafted, it will be late.
What is it going to take for Rutger to get over that hump? New Coach, better players, new coordinators. Don't get me wrong I don't want to go back to the Terry Shea days, but another 7-9 win season with a awful schedule isn't going to fill the new stadium. What needs to happen?
Brian Bennett (12:34 PM)
I understand your frustration, and I'm not sure what the answer is. I'd say that Rutgers was really on a roll at the end of last year and of course had a great 2006 season. This year, it had a freshman quarterback and a lot of young players. Recruiting has gone pretty well, so the time to strike is in the next couple of years.
Any idea who WVU QB will be next year?
Brian Bennett (12:35 PM)
It will be Geno Smith. The kid is mature beyond his years. Looking forward to seeing how he develops.
When Rich Rod left our beloved WVU football team, I wondered how he could leave his home state, his alma mater, and head to Michigan when the team was so close to a National Championship game. I then came to grips with the great recognition that comes with being the Michigan head football coach. Despite the recognition, it seems to me that a truly football-loving coach would find greater reward in building a program from ground up into a national contender.With Brian Kelly likely heading to South Bend, why do coaches always opt for the bigger program instead of taking the notoriety that comes with building a program into something great? (as we can all see what seems to be happening with Rich Rod, it may not be the best decision)
Brian Bennett (12:37 PM)
You have to remember that these guys all have healthy egos (and I don't think anyone would argue that fact about Kelly). They all think they can win at the highest level, and you have to have that belief to be successful. And of course, with bigger programs come more money, resources and ardent fans. The downside is more pressure and less patience. But if Kelly were to get Notre Dame back, he'd be a college football legend. Don't think he doesn't know that.
Richie (Tolland, CT)
What do you think UConn's chances are against South Carolina. I personally think they have a pretty good shot, esp with the 1-2 duo of Dixon and Todman, and finally getting the passing game going, esp with Easley receiving some great long catches.
Brian Bennett (12:39 PM)
It's going to be interesting, because it's strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness. The Gamecocks' defense is very good against the run, while South Carolina's offense is shaky. And we know how good UConn is at running the ball, but the Huskies' defense has been weak of late. It should be a close game -- but aren't they all for the Huskies?
what made kelly the best coach in the big east, besides the obviuos, wins..
Brian Bennett (12:41 PM)
That's a good question, Pete, and one I'll probably be writing about if there is a change. I'd say that first of all, Kelly is a terrific communicator. Not just with the media and public, but he gets his message across to his players and they believe in him. Thus, he's able to do things like move Connor Barwin and Demetrius Jones to defense, and they immediately buy in.
Brian Bennett (12:42 PM)
And then add to it his outstanding acumen for offense and his ability to develop players, and that's a big part of the recipe
Hey BB how come Notre Dame is looking for a coach now not at the end of the bowl games...if Brian Kelly were to take the job now he wouldnt be able to coach his bearcats in the sugar bowl...So it there some sense to looking for coaches before the post season even begins?
Brian Bennett (12:43 PM)
It's all about recruiting. Teams want to replace coaches as fast as possible to both hold their current commitments in place and to put together a strong class by signing day in February. Unfortunately, that ends up disrupting a lot of teams in bowl games.
Tim (The Hood!)
Does "The Ville" sound stupid to you?
Brian Bennett (12:44 PM)
It's OK as slang, but not on uniforms. If I'm Charlie Strong, I insist in my contract that my team's uni's never say that again.
big m (st. louis, mo)
rating dion lewis what do u think he would need to work on the be able to take his game to the next level (nfl).
Brian Bennett (12:46 PM)
Wow, the guy's pretty darn special already. There will be questions about his size, but not his production or toughness, especially after that 47-carry day last week
graham (new orleans (well in a few weeks))
BB! Great blog. Long time reader first time typer. Which bowls will you be attending. Want to check out the mother of all UC tailgates in New Orleans?
Brian Bennett (12:46 PM)
Haven't got my official assignments yet, but I highly suspect I'll be in New Orleans
A lot of people are disappointed with Pitt's matchup in the Meineke Car Care bowl. You, yourself, called UNC a "middle of the road" ACC team. If you could pick an opponent for Pitt, who would it be?
Brian Bennett (12:47 PM)
Yeah, there's just not a lot to gain by beating North Carolina. If Pitt could have played, say, Miami or Virginia Tech it would have been a much better test. Even playing South Carolina in the Papajohns.com Bowl would have been better since at least it's an SEC opponent.
Alot of talk going around Ohio with the UC fan base that if BK leaves then UC should go after the Offensive Coordinator and offer him the gig...What are your thoughts?
Brian Bennett (12:49 PM)
I think Jeff Quinn is an excellent candidate for the job. He's been Kelly's right-hand guy forever, so the continuity would be there. He also coached Central Michigan to a bowl win after Kelly took the Cincinnati job. The only concern would be that he's an offensive coordinator who doesn't call plays, since that's Kelly's domain.
Conner (Louisville, Ky)
Will Charlie Strong have a major spring cleaning to do at Louisville? Do you see any of the previous coaches staying on? What about players? Do you see anyone besides a few of the standouts like Anderson, Ashley, Dempsey, etc. staying on?
Brian Bennett (12:50 PM)
I don't think Strong will have to boot guys off because of character issues or anything like that. What he's going to find, though, is there's not a lot of high-end talent to work with. I hope he's ready for that.
Adrian (Boston, MA)
Would USF be so bold to fire Jim Leavitt and hire someone that can give the Bulls and identity
Brian Bennett (12:51 PM)
No. Boldness isn't an issue. Cash is. Leavitt is the second-highest paid coach in the Big East and is signed to a long-term deal. South Florida doesn't have the money it would take to buy him out and hire another guy.
Walt (Columbus, Ohio)
The NY Times is reporting that an unnamed souce said UC wasn't trying very hard to keep Kelly - Seems like Kelly is trying to get out of town but still ratain an excuse since he wasn't really wanted. Seems a little thin skinned for the fishbowl he is climbing into
Brian Bennett (12:52 PM)
I'm not sure where that is coming from. While I'm convinced Cincinnati would do whatever it could to keep Kelly, you must remember the Bearcats are limited. The athletic department (and the university) are in a fiscal mess and it's having a hard time raising all the money for practice fields and stadium expansion. To think Cincinnati can afford to pay Kelly $3 million a year or something like that is just not realistic.
pete (laurel md)
BB,I will go to my grave thinking that if shady mccoy came back we go 12-0 and are in the mix for the title game thanks to a start in the top 20. Friends of mine say he would not have been any better than lewis but I think he would running behind this years line. What do you think
Brian Bennett (12:53 PM)
Could Shady have played defensive back against Cincinnati and NC State?
JD Springer (Greensboro, NC)
Great job on the blog all season, Brian. A two-part question for you: Why do you think very little was said about Kelly dropping the F-bomb on his QBs coach and shoving him away on national TV during the WVU game? And do you think Kelly's egotistical sideline rants are something Notre Dame should look at before hiring him?
Brian Bennett (12:55 PM)
Well, if you've watched Kelly the past three years, it was no surprise. He gets after people on the sideline. He's a very fiery guy in the heat of battle, but that doesn't seem to cause problems that linger. Does it matter to Notre Dame? You know, as long as you're winning you could probably punch small pets on the sideline and get away with it
Adrian (Boston, MA)
If you had one thing to console Bearcats if BK left, what would you say?
Brian Bennett (12:56 PM)
He gave you the three best years in program history, and you're in a much, much better place now than where you were three years ago.
top reason why the Strong decision will be good for Louisville? and one reason why it might not work out?
Brian Bennett (12:57 PM)
He's got all the credentials you'd want, and it may be easier to rebuild with a defense-first approach. Why it might not work out? Coaching hires are not science. There isn't a lot of talent to work with. And he may not stay long if he turns things around.OK, that was three reasons.
Cincy went undefeated this year, we all know this. And yet, they weren't even in the conversation for a bid to the BCS national championship game. Understanding that there were a high number of undefeateds this year, could a Big East team ever make it to the promised land?
Brian Bennett (12:58 PM)
Cincinnati was one second away from playing from the BCS title. Remember that an 11-1 West Virginia team was all set to go in 2007 before losing to Pitt. And I believe Louisville would have made it in 2006 if not for the loss at Rutgers. So yes, it's extremely possible. This was just a fluky year
You said at the beginning of the season that you didn't think a team could go undefeated in the Big East, will you say the same next year?
Brian Bennett (12:59 PM)
Maybe I should just give up preseason predictions, huh?
Memphis Rob (Memphis, TN)
How big a deal is it that African-American coaches seem to be getting shots at major programs where they can experience real success?
Brian Bennett (1:00 PM)
It's a huge deal, and the number of African-American candidates who are being hired or are under strong consideration for being hired right now may be the best development of the entire 2009 season.
Brian Bennett (1:00 PM)
OK, folks. That's all my time for this week. Thanks for spending the lunch hour with me.