Chat with Brian Bennett
Welcome to SportsNation! On Monday, ESPN.com's Big Ten 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 Monday at 3 p.m. ET!
Brian Bennett (3:00 PM)
Hello, everybody, and welcome to another Big Ten Monday chat. I'm here for the next hour to talk about whatever is on your mind concerning Big Ten football.
Brian Bennett (3:00 PM)
Fire away with your best questions.
Sean (East Lansing, Mi)
Who do you think has a better chance of winning the big ten after seeing all of the spring games, Michigan or Michigan state? Everywhere I am reading (besides this blog) that Michigan is the "clear" favorite. How can that be? I feel like Denard Robinson is vastly over rated because he tends to completely dominate weaker competition and then fizzle out during games where the other team plays defense, I mean the rest of the team is getting better but I don't think they are ready to compete with MSU this year.
Brian Bennett (3:02 PM)
I certainly don't base any of my opinion on spring games. But after seeing the teams up close this spring, I still think Michigan and Michigan State are the two best right now. I give an edge to the Spartans because of their defense, lines and depth, but the game is in Ann Arbor. The Legends race should be a lot of fun
Jeff (Whitewater WI)
The way that I look at the Badgers schedule, I feel that the biggest games that the Badgers have are not the obvious two (Michigan State and Ohio State), but the three biggest road games (Penn State, Purdue and Nebraska). All three of those teams got severly beat down in Madison a season ago and looking for revenge. Ohio State and Michigan State, yes they are big games, but they are both at home and Wisco is nearly unbeatable in Madison. And with Purdue and Penn State being in the Leaders Division race, I only see that has more motivation for those two to beat Wisco. As a Badger fan, these three concern me the most. Whats your take on it, BB?
Brian Bennett (3:04 PM)
I agree with you, Jeff. Wisconsin has been dominant at home but not nearly as good on the road in recent years. The Badgers likely will have to win at least one of those three road games to win the Leaders, and the Penn State game could be especially big.
Who was your most surprising BIG pick in the draft either where they were picked, or that they weren't picked?
Brian Bennett (3:06 PM)
I was surprised that the three Illinois players -- Jenkins, Allen, Wilson -- went so high after not generating much buzz. Also thought DeVier Posey went higher than I expected. Was surprised that Mike Brewster didn't get drafted at all, that Konz fell so late and that McNutt was a sixth-rounder.
Mochila (Grand Rapids, MI)
What Legends contender would be hurt the most by losing their starting QB: Michigan (Robinson), Michigan State (Maxwell), or Nebraska (Martinez)? Bonus: who would be hurt the least (depth)?
Brian Bennett (3:07 PM)
Good question. I'd have to say Michigan, just because Denard Robinson is so capable of taking a game over. Yes, he has his faults, but I wasn't real impressed with Devin Gardner as a passer this spring. Michigan State would miss Maxwell, but it's not like he had a ton of experience. And though Martinez is very valuable, Nebraska isn't a high-powered passing team anyway.
I was surprised to see two Illini in the first round of this year's draft. With these sort of playmakers, what was it that made them go 6-6 last year? And does this project on their individual work ethic or lack of coaching capability?
Brian Bennett (3:09 PM)
There is always more than one factor, and the Illini were in a lot of the games they lost. The lack of a big-time running game, decent pass protection and an option next to Jenkins really hurt, as the defense was strong all year. And special teams was a disaster in the return game. You have to blame some of it on Zook, because Illinois underachieved with that talent.
GBK (Lincoln Park)
So while I'll admit it looks like there is significant progress towards the playoff or plus one or whatever they want to call it, I still don't see how the Big 10 benefits with the bowls hosting the semifinals. If a Big 10 team "hosted" based on it's tie in with the Rose Bowl, that's zero advantage. And then to expect fans to travel potentially Pasadena and then to let's say, Miami? Who can afford that? Can't wait to see how much money the schools lose on that, like many do now for bowl games.
Brian Bennett (3:11 PM)
That's true. The model where high seeds get to play in their traditional bowls does help keep the Rose Bowl important and a big goal for the Big Ten and Pac-12. But it does not help at all geographically. I think those games would sell out, but it would place a burden on Big Ten fans, no doubt.
Buck Rausch (Lincoln, NE)
My Huskers are hungry this year. Last year you knuckleheads picked them to win the division and jinxed them. Go ahead and crown the Michigan boys, we don't want your kiss of death. Enjoy the blog, keep it up. What kind of production do you see coming from the Nebraska offense? What do you think the defense will look like next year--better, similar, or dropping off from last year?
Brian Bennett (3:14 PM)
Sorry about that jinx. We expected the defense to be a lot better than it was a year ago. The Huskers could match last year's defensive numbers, but in order to get to the next level (i.e., a conference title) they need to be better and more consistent on defense than they were a year ago. I question whether there are enough true difference-makers on that side for it to happen. On the other hand, I think the offense has a chance to be as explosive as any in the conference.
Beau (davenport, Iowa)
the thought was McNutt's high draft pick would help Iowa get some better WR. I was shocked he went in the 6th. does this hurt future Iowa recruiting? or will Greg Davis's need for Speed get Iowa some talented WR?
Brian Bennett (3:15 PM)
I doubt it will have much impact on recruiting. Iowa can sell overall player development as the Hawkeyes had six players drafted. McNutt just didn't have the blazing speed NFL teams look for, though I still believe he's too talented not to be a productive pro receiver
Ian (Hillsdale, MI)
Brian, what do you make of the Aaron Green transfer? As a die-hard Huskers fan, I am saddened at this news, but it doesn't really surprise me. Is this part of a growing trend in college sports that kids just can't wait a year or two before being given their shot? I mean, being the backup for REX BURKHEAD, a bona-fide Heisman contender, doesn't mean Aaron lacks talent....
Brian Bennett (3:17 PM)
Yeah, it happens. Remember that Green was a hotshot recruit, so he might not have been thrilled about the prospect of being the No. 3 back for the second straight year, with no guarantee that he'll be the top dog next year. It's a little odd that he's leaving while his brother is still on the team, but kids are impatient these days.
Kirk Cousins (Landover, MD)
Brian, will I get a chance in Washington behind RGIII or did I land in the absolute worst situation I could have?
Brian Bennett (3:19 PM)
I thought the Redskins' call to draft Cousins and RGIII was very curious. Not because I think Cousins is a starting QB in the NFL right now -- he'll be a very solid backup, with the opportunity for more if he develops. But if you're making RGIII the centerpiece of your team, you need to build an offense to his strengths, namely his mobility and throwing the ball deep. Cousins is a much different player. It's like drafting Denard Robinson and James Vandenberg for the same team.
I keep hearing how O'Brien will open up PSU's passing game. How specifically can he attain this with a marginal QB and depleted offensive line? Even the returning TEs are suspect
Brian Bennett (3:21 PM)
I think he can do it through better coaching of the quarterbacks, a more intricate passing game and using the tight ends and backs as weapons. It's not going to be the most high-powered passing game in the world, but it should look more competent.
Zach(Kokomo,Indiana) [via mobile]
For right now, who's the starting quarterback for purdue?
Brian Bennett (3:22 PM)
I think a healthy Marve might be the guy. Hope seems to have a lot of confidence in him, and Marve is the best pure passer of the bunch. But I suspect we'll see all three play during the course of the season.
Blackhawk (Grand Rapids)
I can't agree with your answer to Mochila's question. Did you see Cook play on Saturday? Can you say that Gardener would be worse?
Brian Bennett (3:24 PM)
Cook was OK when not going against the team with the most defensive starters, and remember he had no experienced receivers to throw to and little help from the running game. I'm not saying he's great, but the dropoff from Maxwell isn't as severe.
Brian, Ron Brown. Your take.
Brian Bennett (3:24 PM)
Don't want to get into politics and religion here, but I think Brown needs to shut the heck up and coach.
Hi Brian, Any chance Stave can hold off O'Brien and win the Badgers QB job?
Brian Bennett (3:25 PM)
I doubt it. While Wisconsin says it will be a competition, and Stave has had more time in the system, O'Brien has a huge edge in game experience. Stave has been decent but not a world-beater by any imagination.
Are you surprised at Urban Meyer's recruiting hauls consisting mostly of defenders and offensive linemen for all the talk about lacking perimeter playmakers?
Brian Bennett (3:27 PM)
Not at all. Meyer knows that's how you build a program. Stockpile the lines and defense, and then fill in with skill position players, who are easier to find and often can step in and play more quickly.
Did you move to Big Ten Country yet or are you still slumming it in Kentucky?
Brian Bennett (3:29 PM)
Slumming it? Matt, you picked the wrong week to say that, as there's no place better to be than Louisville in the first week of May.
Heading to Louisville in a couple weeks for a bachelor party. As the expert, what is the one bar we cannot afford to miss? You are welcome to join!
Brian Bennett (3:30 PM)
If you like top-notch beer, try the Holy Grale. Thank me later.
Which Legends division QB will throw the most TDs in conference play in 2012?
Brian Bennett (3:31 PM)
That's an excellent question, as you have a lot of run-first QBs in Denard, Colter and Martinez. My pick would have to be James Vandenberg, which is the reason I'm guessing you asked.
BAMA fan here. Have loads of respect for Michigan, and think our upcoming game will be a tossup, but I gotta ask: Doesn't every right minded Big Ten football fan cringe at the Legends/Leaders monikers for the two divisions? In the SEC we use East and West--plain, simple and respectful of good tough football. I truly mean no disrespect, but aren't your LL designations a bit much?
Brian Bennett (3:32 PM)
I still very much find it cringe-worthy. But the longer we get into it, the less I find myself even noticing the names.
Greg (Cedar Falls, IA)
Brian - I know the Hawkeyes lost a lot of talent over the past 2 years, especially on D line. But to me, this sort of thing plays exactly into their hands. The Hawkeyes never perform when the spotlight is on them; all of Ferentz's successful seasons have been surprises. They have a senior QB, a stout back 7, a very favorable sched, and their new look offense may allow them some advantages at least in the beginning of conference play. Am I on to something or just another overly optimistic Hawk fan?
Brian Bennett (3:34 PM)
Iowa has had some great years while being underestimated. But I question whether you can truly win big in this league without a really good defensive line, and there are so many question marks on the Hawkeyes' D-line. The fact that many of the expected contributors there are so young fails to inspire much confidence.
Ronald (Kennett Square PA)
Brian, with Tim Beckman at the helm do you think Nathan Scheelhaus will have a break out year? He seems tailor made for that sort of offense.
Brian Bennett (3:35 PM)
I don't know about a break-out year, but hopefully he'll play better than he did in the second half of last season. The question is whether Illinois has enough weapons at RB and WR. Scheelhaase does not have an overpowering arm so will need his guys to get open in that spread.
Bret Bielema got 12 wins out of John Stocco, so I'm not sure O'Brien or Stave is all that important to the success of the season. Thoughts?
Brian Bennett (3:37 PM)
That's a fair point, but it's so hard to be one-dimensional on offense in college football anymore. Wisconsin doesn't necessarily needs its QB to play as well as Russell Wilson did, but it needs someone to make a few plays and not give the ball away.
Colonel Sanders (Kentucky)
Consider the quantity of elite recruits Brady Hoke is pulling in with the defensive-minded Greg Mattison sculpting a stout defense, what are the odds of Michigan winning a National Championship in the next five seasons?
Brian Bennett (3:39 PM)
There's little doubt that Michigan is bringing in a lot of talent right now, or that the Wolverines have really good coaches. The players still have to develop, they have to get good quarterback play and lots of other things have to go right. But I think both Michigan and Ohio State will at least be back in the national title hunt in the very near future.
Brian, have to agree that Kentucky is the place to be this weekend. With that said, what is going to be the best game of the year? I'm thinking Wisc @ PSU for the Leaders title.
Brian Bennett (3:41 PM)
So many good ones to choose from. Michigan-Michigan State should be outstanding, as should Nebraska-Ohio State, Nebraska-Wisconsin, Michigan-Ohio State and the one you mentioned. And don't forget Michigan State-Wisconsin. I don't know how to choose, but I'm getting excited for the season just thinking about it.
Ian (Hillsdale, MI)
Brian, all this stuff about a playoff. Why can't they do the campus sites whenever it is plausible, and let the smaller schools like Kansas State host them in bigger cities closest to THEM? Why not let the school decide where to play it? So, Oregon could play in Portland or even Seattle. Kansas State could play in Kansas City, etc. Why can't we reward the higher seeds like this? The campus atmosphere cannot be beat in college football.
Brian Bennett (3:43 PM)
I still like the idea of campus sites, and your plan is intriguing except for the logistics. How would sites know to prepare for such a game in advance? The one benefit of having the bowls serve as semifinal sites is that they know how to put on those games and can mobilize quickly.
Mochila (Grand Rapids, MI)
Please settle a debate. Better secondary: MSU or Michigan? Michigan returns all four starters in the secondary; MSU returns three starters, including 1st Team All-B1G Johnny Adams, and 2nd Team All-B1G Isaiah Lewis.
Brian Bennett (3:44 PM)
I like Michigan State's better. Adams and Dennard should be the league's top cornerback duo, and Lewis is really good.
will it give the huskers an edge against wisconsin if they decide to wair thier new alt unis that game
Brian Bennett (3:45 PM)
Yes, because uniforms make such a big impact. Ahem. Look, I expect Nebraska and the Sea of Red to be fired up into a frenzy for that game no matter what they're wearing.
Bob (On a bus around the country)
Brian, really should have thought more about the bus tour and gone to Kentucky this weekend. Any picks on who takes the derby? Looking forward to seeing you in State College
Brian Bennett (3:46 PM)
I've got a spare room if you need it. You really don't want my Derby pick since I haven't won money on the darn race since Silver Charm. Think it would be cool if Hansen won, though.
Bren (Berkeley, Ca)
Too small to host a semi-final game?!?!? Perhaps you can explain how these same schools/towns host 6-7 games every fall?
Brian Bennett (3:47 PM)
It's not that they can't do it. It's that the sport's leaders see more money by guaranteeing huge stadiums. It's a pure money grab
Lloyd (Los Angeles )
Did you hear Darnell Autry former Northwestern RB turned actor is going to appear on an episode of New Girl?
Brian Bennett (3:48 PM)
I had not heard that, but if so, pretty cool. That show is actually really funny. I was only expecting to like it for Zooey but it's more than that.
Todd (Towson, MD)
Can PSU muster up 8 wins this year- I think it could be a tall order.
Brian Bennett (3:50 PM)
That's probably about the right over/under. The early swing game, in my opinion, is at Virginia. If Penn State can win that won, the Lions have a decent shot at starting 6-0. And they'll have three of the last five at home.
Urban "The Legend" Meyer (Utah, wait no, Florida, nope...OSU YES
Brian, really need your help. I'm thinking of bringing the team to the derby. What restaurants feature heart healthy menus?
Brian Bennett (3:51 PM)
Ha. Derby Week is not a time for the health-conscious here. Ask Hunter S. Thompson.
Shocker on liking MSU's secondary better. UM has the best DB in the league in Blake Countess (he will be after the season), the best pure tackler out of the secondary in Jordan Kovacs, a beast of a FS in Thomas Gordon, and 3 other CB's that would start for MSU in JT Floyd, Terrance Talbott, and Courtney Avery.
Brian Bennett (3:51 PM)
I disagree. Don't get me wrong, I like Michigan's players, too. But Kovacs is the only one I'd take over for Spartans' crew right now
Brian, a lot has been said about the lack of speed on the Wisconsin defense the past few years. From what you have seen this spring, do you think the Badgers will be more athletic(and better) defensively?
Brian Bennett (3:53 PM)
I didn't see a noticeable difference in the defensive speed. I think the Badgers are really good up the middle, at D-tackle, linebacker and safety. Speed off the edge is my concern. Gilbert could help that if healthy, but they don't have many guys like him.
Is January Jones off of MM for good?
Brian Bennett (3:53 PM)
I wish. I think they shot around her pregnancy and she'll be back, but the show is much better without her
Tim (Elgin IL)
What do you make of Iowa coaching changes? Fans have a lot of respect for Ferentz ability to develop people into NFL talent, but his game decisions and conservative style have hurt him. Will this change much?
Brian Bennett (3:54 PM)
I do not expect huge differences. This is still Ferentz's program. We could see some new wrinkles on offense and defense (and Iowa did throw the ball more last year than people realize), but that may be based more on this team's strengths and weaknesses than any real philosophy change.
What happened to William Gholston on Saturday?
Brian Bennett (3:55 PM)
Bruised knee. He tweeted today that he is fine. Shouldn't be an issue.
Waffles (So Cal)
Ok, Hoosiers vs Minny, who wins this one? Hope Minnesota earned some respect from you for what they did last season.
Brian Bennett (3:56 PM)
Yeah, I'd like Minnesota in that one. Wish the two teams would play. Would be a competitive game.
Brad (Valdosta, GA)
With Aaron Green transfering who do you see emerging as a reliable backup to Burkhead and Abdullah? The freshman Imani Cross or Braylon Heard switching back to offense
Brian Bennett (3:57 PM)
I think Cross would get a shot. But you're talking about the No. 3 back, and as durable as Burkhead is, I'm not sure it will matter all that much.
You're assuming that a Big Ten team will even make it to the playoff (or advance). I see no issue with the travel. We all know the championship will wind up being an SEC team anyhow.
Brian Bennett (3:58 PM)
You got the rings, so you can talk the smack. It is true that the Big Ten has to get in position to make the geography even matter.
Brady "The Leader" Hoke (Michigan Man Country)
Do you think that 114, 804 people will be in attendance at the Derby or is that only a UM thing?
Brian Bennett (3:59 PM)
It will be more like 165,000 people. Of which 100,000 won't see a horse.
Danny O'Brien (Sconnie)
Is any B1G team's schedule hard enough to get into the NCG with one loss?
Brian Bennett (4:00 PM)
All depends on whom that one loss is to, of course. But playing Alabama would greatly help Michigan in that regard, and Michigan State has Boise State and Notre Dame to bolster its argument. Penn State and Wisconsin don't have any marquee games on the nonconference schedule to brag about. But it also depends on what other teams do
Brian Bennett (4:01 PM)
It's 4 p.m., already? Well, that's all my time this week, folks. Thanks for getting Derby week off to a good start, and see you next Monday.