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 2 p.m. ET!
Brian Bennett (2:00 PM)
Hello, everybody, and welcome to another Big East/ND chat
Brian Bennett (2:01 PM)
As you may have noticed, it was Big East spring wrap-up day on our college football page, so we can talk about that. Or whatever else is on your mind. Fire away.
chase (richmond, va)
WVU's defense clearly won't be what it was last year. Do you see this being more like 2006 where the offense won in spite of the defense? Or do you see it more as a 2007 type of defense, where the unit is solid but overshadowed by the explosiveness of the offense?
Brian Bennett (2:03 PM)
It's not going to be like the '07 defense, which was loaded with veterans. Probably more like '08, when the defense was young and needed some time to gel. Stewart and Casteel both made the '08 comparisons this spring.
Mike (Albany, NY)
In the Spring wrap up for Syracuse you mention DT as a question mark which is true, but in the defensive scheme Syracuse uses how important is size at DT? You mostly see Cuse using the Linebackers plus S and FS to stop the run so is DT really that large an issue or is it something they can overcome?
Brian Bennett (2:04 PM)
I think they can overcome it because they rely on speed and quickness more than size anyway. The bigger concern is a lack of experience and depth there right now. And when they do line up against some bigger, power teams (USC and UConn come to mind) it could be a problem.
jay (princeton, nj)
Great job with the blog, brian. So you have RU predicted to be in the cellar largely based on the assumption that the O-line will again be dreadful and the D-line has questions. However, both lines showed promise in the Spring. If the lines are mediocre in 2011, where can this team end up in the BE (RU has WVU, Pitt, USF, and UC all at home)
Brian Bennett (2:05 PM)
Promise is an optimistic term, but you're right -- they just need to be mediocre for this team to be much better. Talent at the skill positions is there. I think this team could finish as high as third in the BE if everything comes together.
Ben (Morgantown, WV)
Who will finish higher in the BCS standings, TCU or the BE champ (WVU)
Brian Bennett (2:07 PM)
Good question. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the BE champ. TCU has some tough road games this year and lost a lot off last year's team. They're probably in for at least a slight dropoff.
Which BE team has the highest ceiling/lowest floor? In other words, which one is hardest to project right now?
Brian Bennett (2:08 PM)
I'd say Louisville is the hardest to project right now, because the Cardinals had so many injuries this spring and replace so many seniors. Yet they have a lot of good young talent coming in. I really don't know what to expect from them in 2011.
Brent (New York)
Out of WVU/LSU, USF/Notre Dame and Syracuse/USC, which would be considered the biggest upset? Which game would do the most to improve Big East's image?
Brian Bennett (2:10 PM)
I'd say Syracuse-USC as the biggest upset, simply because if the Orange were to go across the country and win that game, even against a down Trojans program, that would be impressive. No question, WVU beating LSU would do the most for the league's image. We're talking about a potential Top 5 SEC team there. People notice that stuff.
DK (Washington, DC)
Hey BB, when speaking about your Big East games to look out for, you mentioned WVU and Pitt could end up being a 50-45 type game. I know Jeff Casteel lost some talent on Defense, but give him a little more credit!?
Brian Bennett (2:11 PM)
Hey, we'll see. The Pitt defense also has a chance to be pretty good. But I just know the previous Holgorsen/Graham meetings have all been shootouts.
Hey Brian!Now that spring is wrapped up, what will USF's receivers and offensive line need to do to put the fear of 40 points a game into the rest of the Big East?
Brian Bennett (2:13 PM)
The receivers need to be running tons of routes and catching all kinds of balls this summer. They had a bad spring collectively. The offensive line has got some talent and just needs to build chemistry and depth. This is not a 40 points per game kind of offense, but the defense and special teams are good enough where USF doesn't need to score that much.
Charles (Louisville, Ky)
Brian, speaking of wrapping things up, who was your Derby bet? And how about some early handicapping on the Preakness.Does Animal Kingdom have the talent to be a triple crowner?
Brian Bennett (2:15 PM)
Did most of my betting at the Oaks and won big. Had Archarcharch as an Oaks-Derby double bet and he ended up in an ambulance. Typical of my Derby selections. I worry Animal Kingdom hasn't raced enough to handle the rigors of the Triple Crown
One of the critical issues with the Scarlet Knights is depth at QB. Everybody talks about how there is Dodd , and then the two incoming freshman. How come everybody is ignoring QB Steve Shimko when he has a 9 month head start on those freshmen, played at the spring game, and at 6'6" is a great size for a pro-style offense?
Brian Bennett (2:15 PM)
Shimko has been hurt a lot and has never been able to really get going. And in the times I've seen him, he hasn't looked real impressive
Jordan (Lakeland, Fl)
Love the blog Brian. Check in almost daily. I was just wondering if you can understand why some of us USF fans may not be too big on the possible idea of ucf coming on board in the Big East. Do you think we should stick to our convictions or is it time for us to get off our high Bull?
Brian Bennett (2:16 PM)
Oh, I completely understand it. At some point, though, it has to be about the greater good for the league as a whole. I'm not sure Villanova adds much.
Brian,Why has there been no apparent consideration of Southern Miss as an expansion candidate? Although I do understand the lack of a serious media market (same problem as ECU) they bring strong tradition in the heart of SEC country and a nice (but small) stadium/facilities!
Brian Bennett (2:17 PM)
You answered your own question.
Which front seven would Brian Bennett, the tailback, least like to rush against this season?
Brian Bennett (2:18 PM)
As opposed to Brian Bennett, the Oregon quarterback? May sound crazy, but I think I'll say UConn. That defense is pretty stacked.
What's your take on how BJ Daniels will do in his second year under Skip Holtz? Will it be enough for USF to win the Big East this season?
Brian Bennett (2:19 PM)
I've got to think he's going to be better, with another year under his belt. He's still not the most accurate passer in the world, but he needs to stay within the system. I worry about his receivers. The passing game needs to be good, not great, for USF to win a lot of games because the other pieces are there.
George (Ringoes, NJ)
How much of a difference can Cignetti's play calling make for the Rutgers Offense, O-line in particular?
Brian Bennett (2:21 PM)
It's certainly a more natural fit for the personnel, and we'll see an end to the endless Wildcat stuff. The O-line is better suited for a pro style attack, but there are still serious questions there. Things will be better, though they could hardly get much worse than in '10
Nate Kearney (Jersey)
How do you think the Cardinal defense will fare this year overall?
Brian Bennett (2:23 PM)
I think the defensive line has a chance to be better than last year, and the linebackers will be solid. The cornerback situation is really shaky right now. But Charlie Strong and his staff know how to teach defense, and they'll figure out a way to make it a good unit.
Looking at the Pitt recruiting, it seems like it is taking some time to progress, with some kids that were very high on Pitt pre-Wanny firing committing to other schools. Do you think it is because the new coaches, the new scheme, or being angry because Wanny isnt there anymore?
Brian Bennett (2:25 PM)
Hey, it takes time to build relationships, and Graham and his staff just got there in mid-January. They're also recruiting a different type of player for a different type of system, and much of his staff was used to recruiting Texas and Oklahoma. Give him some time.
BB welcome back from the race. Question for you: Why no Love for ECU and expansion? Recruit in ACC country and the VA Beach area), Its rather close or closer than some others mentioned for expansion and they have a decent TV market. Also the Athletic facility upgrades as well..East Carolina is selling football season tickets at a record pace. The Pirates have surpassed the 20,000 mark in season ticket sales for the upcoming campaign. This marks the fifth straight season that ECU has reached 20,000, but this is the first time it has reached this mark by May 1. After selling a then-record 16,258 season tickets in 2006, ECU reached 22,000 the following season. The Pirates sold 21,293 season tickets in 2009 before setting a new record with 23,436 in Ruffin McNeill's first year as coach in 2010. East Carolina set new school records during the 2010 season in total attendance (297,987) and average attendance (49,665). In addition to topping Conference USA in average attendance for the third straight season, ECU stood second nationally among all Bowl Championship Series non-automatic qualifiers in 2010, trailing only BYU (61,381). The Pirates' 99.33 capacity percentage also ranked 24th among the 120 FBS programs.They are as good and better than alot of the current BE schools in attendance and travel well for bowl games.
Brian Bennett (2:26 PM)
Whew. Long question. Rightly or wrongly, ECU isn't looked at as a big-market team. It's not easy to get to that campus.
Hi Brian. Assuming you are taking ND questions, too? If so, which is the greater culprit for higher expectations in South Bend this season: momentum from last year, or talent/system upgrade? Obviously it is both, but to what ratio?
Brian Bennett (2:27 PM)
Wanted to get the Big East ones first, but sure, Irish questions welcome. The expectations come from a combination of last year's finish, the high number of returning starters and the assumption that things will be better in Year Two of a new coaching staff. All of which are understandable. As for ratios, I don't know. I'm not much of a mathematician.
SU is trying to raise $$$ to upgrade its behind the scenes football facilities. Since you were just there, did you think they were such a detriment compared to other BE schools?
Brian Bennett (2:29 PM)
I didn't think the facilities were bad at all. The football offices are a little old but not embarrassingly so. The only problem is the football complex is right next to the gleaming basketball facility and pales in comparison.
Tim (Memphis, TN)
Why is Memphis not in the Big East? Makes more sense than Marquette. They have a medium media market, a fan base, and would be in a conference with many of its rivals.
Brian Bennett (2:30 PM)
Have you seen Memphis football lately? That's why
Tom M (CT)
It seems to me one of the major issues with the Mountaineer offense last year was ball security. Many of the primary culprits remain. How is Holgorsen going to fix that?
Brian Bennett (2:31 PM)
I know they were doing plenty of turnover drills this spring. Just like with Cincinnati, all you can really do is teach it and emphasize it. Holgorsen's offenses haven't had huge turnover problems in the past.
What do you think will happen with Floyd this season
Brian Bennett (2:32 PM)
I've said my hunch is that Floyd is suspended for the opener, if nothing more than to send a message. Which would be good news for South Florida.
Tim (Memphis, TN)
Have you seen Louisville football lately or half the Big East for that matter?
Brian Bennett (2:33 PM)
Louisville 56, Memphis 0, Oct. 9, 2010. 'Nuff said.
Other than the BCS, will the BE have the opportunity to notch any image raising wins in this years bowls? I know SYR beat a Big 12 team and pitt beat an SEC team in bowls, but neither were really talked about as an image builder. Even if WVU would have won, no one would have been impressed by a win over NC State. I guess my question is, does our current bowl line up allow us the opportunity to build our image, or do we have to win our BCS game annually?
Brian Bennett (2:34 PM)
You're right on the money, Paul. And don't forget there's a pretty good chance that Notre Dame takes the Champs Sports bid this year. That's why winning the BCS game is so critical. There are only so many marquee shots.
The 5 game stretch of @Iowa, Notre Dame, USF, @Rutgers, and Utah seem to be the biggest for Pitt this season. Realistically, how do you think Pitt will do during these 5 games?
Brian Bennett (2:35 PM)
I think Pitt has a really good chance of beating USF at home and winning at Rutgers. If it can get one or two wins out of the other three, that's a successful stretch. I'll say 3-2.
Do the poor bowl relationships the BE has hurt its image nationally? I haven't met anyone raving about the mienke care care/tire bowl
Brian Bennett (2:37 PM)
It's the other way around, Don. There's a reason why the Big East has the bowls that it does.
So BB and Paul you wouldn't consider USF's win over Clemson in the Tire bowl anything or the win in Miami during the season? I think USF has carried the torch for the BE OOC in the past few years, Thoughts?
Brian Bennett (2:39 PM)
Nice wins, but that was a 6-7 Clemson team and a 7-6 Miami team. Doesn't move the needle too much
Notre Dame, 2011-2012 National Champions? If not this season, then next?
Brian Bennett (2:39 PM)
I won't go that far. Getting to a BCS bowl, and actually competing in it, is the next step.
John Pet (Long Island, New York)
What do you think of West Virginia's special teams unit this year? Tavon Austin returning could mean explosive plays every game
Brian Bennett (2:41 PM)
It could, though Austin is going to have to do a lot of running in the offense as well. I'd be more worried about the placekicking right now after a very shaky spring by Bitancurt.
What is Bill Stewarts legacy? 10 years from now, what will history say about his tenure?
Brian Bennett (2:42 PM)
That he was thrust into the head-coaching position in what was not a well thought-out decision. But he kept the program from backsliding and in a good position to compete, even if his teams didn't quite grab the brass ring
Kevin R. (Washington, DC)
Every time I read something about Todd Graham's high-octane offense, the writer makes a comment about how it will be a refreshing and much-needed change of pace from the old system that Wannstedt had in place. Now that Cignetti is the O-coordinator at Rutgers, do you think the Scarlet Knights will fall victim to the same conservative boring offense that plagued Pitt?
Brian Bennett (2:44 PM)
Pitt's offense definitely wasn't boring in 2009 ... the Panthers averaged 32 points and were second in the league in scoring. But the offensive coordinator takes his cue from the head coach, and Wannstedt often had a play-not-to-lose mentality in key situations.
Recently, in the "handicapping" the Big East Race you mentioned PITT's chances were likened to that of a horse going from dirt to turf.... After the Kentucky Derby, are you re-thinking that just a bit?
Brian Bennett (2:45 PM)
If the rest of the field in the Big East is as slow as the Derby, then maybe Pitt can be Animal Kingdom
Don interesting point you bring up, So BB If the BE is relegated to these bowls with the Notre Dame tie in, than what dose Notre Dame bring to the conference ? Would the BE be playing in worse bowls without them
Brian Bennett (2:46 PM)
No question, and conference officials have admitted as such. No way the Big East gets the Gator Bowl/Sun Bowl deal without ND from 05-09, and they probably don't have Champs Sports now without them.
Are there any other talks or rumblings from any other conferences about trying to take from the Big East? If so, would WVU be the prime target?
Brian Bennett (2:47 PM)
With the new TV deals being signed all around the country, things are pretty stable for now. I don't think you'll see any major realignment now for a few years at least.
First off i wanna say that I have tremendous respect for Bill Stewart. lets forget about the Fiesta Bowl for a minute, Bill Stewart has graduated more played than Rich Fraud even did. He's produced nothing but 9 and 10 win seasons in his tenure and is a great role model and is turnign our athletes into great young men and instilling life lessons and values in them and you have to respect that. With that in mind, what do you think the chances are WVU losses a game to say Marshall or a lower tier bug east team and Oliver Luck decides to have Holgerson step in now instead of later?
Brian Bennett (2:48 PM)
No, I don't see how that makes much sense. Too much turmoil for the middle of the season for a college team. He'll let this play out like it should
Brian, is there any fanbase more diluted than ND?
Brian Bennett (2:49 PM)
Diluted? Like, there's too much water in them?
Chad Bo (Charlotte NC)
Hey Brian, the blog is great and thanks for all of the great articles. How about a quick response with who you'd pick to win the Backyard Brawl this year if you had to choose today.
Brian Bennett (2:49 PM)
West Virginia. Game is at home, after all, and the Mountaineers have less change to adjust to than the Panthers.
If both the BE and Nova ultimately decide that Nova's entry in football at this time would pose too many issues, etc., is the vibe that the BE stays 9 or are they set on a 10th team at some point in the next year or two? If so, market appears to be main factor, would that put UH in consideration for that 10th team invite?
Brian Bennett (2:51 PM)
The Big East seems intent on getting to 10 but is in apparently no hurry. The Villanova thing is still the first option, and it looks like that is going to drag on into the summer
Evan M. (Atlanta)
With the BE littered with new coaches (7 out of 8 teams with HC tenures of less than 4 years), whose name will we hear the fastest on new openings? Are any of these coaches truly committed to their school, maybe Marrone being an alumis?
Brian Bennett (2:52 PM)
Teams will come after Charlie Strong hard if he continues to win and recruit like this. Any coach can say he is committed to a school, but things change quickly when another place rolls out a wheelbarrow full of cash
With the NCAA investigation at UCF going on do u see that killing any chance they have joining the BE and the AQ schools?
Brian Bennett (2:53 PM)
It's extremely poor timing, for sure. Let's see what comes of it first, though.
When does the BE negotiate a new TV contract? Is is possible the BW may do what the Pac-12 successfully did, expand to 12 teams in order to land a monster contract?
Brian Bennett (2:54 PM)
Negotiations are beginning, but the current contract runs until the end of the 2012 season. The Big East isn't going to come anywhere near the $3 billion deal the Pac-12 got, and there just aren't three teams to add who would bring that much more value.
What was the point of giving Nova the decision deadline? They didnt answer and apparently BE conference officials dont care. Meanwhile the cautiously optimistic fan awaits news that Nova has declined the offer.
Brian Bennett (2:55 PM)
It's fair to say this whole situation has not been handled well. Especially when you compare it to the decisive leadership of Larry Scott and Jim Delany.
I think the most diluted fans are in the south, lots of drinking going on down there.On the other hand, every fanbase is deluded, some just have more reason to expect better things from their team than others. ND fans should expect more out of ND, they are a historically great program, all it takes in college is a great coach and the rest follows, Kelly has the track record that suggests he may be a great one, what do you think Brian?
Brian Bennett (2:57 PM)
They should definitely expect more, and there's no reason why Notre Dame can't be a consistent Top 15 program. Can the Irish compete on the same level year in, year out with Texas, Alabama, Florida, LSU, et al? Probably not. But there's no reason they can't get to BCS games, and I think they have the right guy in place.
Are there any All-Americans on BE rosters this year? I know we have some good players, but I dont see any one making any preseason AA teams. Do you any individuals stepping up to that level this season?
Brian Bennett (2:57 PM)
Probably not preseason, though Bruce Irvin might get some love.
Nabi (Charleston WV)
With Fr. Peter Donohue letter coming out today, what is your new take on the Villinova situation? From that letter it looks like to me it was a nice try but not going to happen. Your thoughts?
Brian Bennett (2:58 PM)
Sounded like a whole lot of nothing to me.
Jordan (Morgantown, WV)
Why are so many people picking WVU as a dark horse BCS Championship contender? Making me and almost everyone else in Morgantown nervous, dude.
Brian Bennett (2:58 PM)
I think it's a bit much. Big East favorite? Absolutely. But the league is very balanced, and WVU has some holes to fill.
Jason H (Raleigh NC)
Im a huge WVU fan, but this question pertains to USF, they got D.Scott(who was once considered the top hs rb) and another transfer RB, will Skip have USF in the top 25 this year?
Brian Bennett (2:59 PM)
I think they have a chance. I had them in my preseason Top 25 but knocked them back a bit after not being impressed with the receivers this spring.
An article posted in the lunchtime links claims that Nova would add more to the Big East Television deal than adding UCF or Houston but I find that hard to believe. How does adding a team that is already in the conference for other sports add more than adding a market that you have yet to tap into?
Brian Bennett (3:00 PM)
I'd like to see those figures. I know Philly is a big market, but so is Houston. And both are pro towns where the local college team is way down the list of priorities
Brian Bennett (3:00 PM)
That's all my time this week, folks. Thanks for all the great questions. Talk to you soon.