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 (this week's is actually on Monday). I'm here for the next hour, so fire away with your best questions
Joe (Zzyzx, CA)
Brian, lot's of speculation regarding divisional realignment. I think the B1G should be thinking outside of the box and scrap the static divisions. Change the teams every year based on the prior year finish. I think if would provide greater competitive balance and make the league feel more inclusive.
Brian Bennett (3:02 PM)
So a little relegation feel to things, eh? While I wish that soccer model would be used more often in American sports (and I am in no way a soccer fan), I don't like the idea of changing divisions every year. For one, it would mess with rivalries and continuity of scheduling, and it would be a nightmare for the league office to do all new schedules every year.
OSU is losing a lot of starters from their defense front this offseason while UM is losing a lot of experience on the OL. Which position grouping is generally harder to replenish with younger talent and which team, in your opinion, is in better shape to reload?
Brian Bennett (3:04 PM)
Generally, I would say the offensive line, just because so much of good OL play revolves around chemistry. (And there are five OL instead of only four DL. Math!). Ohio State loses all four starters from the DL but has a lot of young talent there. Michigan also has talent waiting on its OL but it is really unproven. If Lewan had left, I would have given OSU a big edge there. As it is, it's probably about equal.
Tom (Columbus, Ohio)
I read the article about changing the Legends and Leaders name and I have gone back and forth on the issue myself. I like the concept of the names but I think it is too direct and comes off as elitist. I think there are other subtle ways of marketing this concept and it is by what players are doing on the field now in pro sports. Tom Brady comes to mind; it looks like he is on his way to another Super Bowl. I think for recruiting efforts, the conference has to make a clearer direct correlation about what former athletes are doing now and the success stories. Look at Russell Wilson, he was seconds away from bringing his team to the NFC playoff game. He is a great face for the B1G. He is well spoken, great preparation for every game, stays cool under pressure and delivers. I think these stories need to be more on the forefront to enhance the already storied brand of the B1G. It makes it feel a bit more youthful while still using history to our advantage. This I think is especially important to teams that don't have the history of the Ohio State's, Michigan's, Nebraska's, Penn State's. Thoughts?
Brian Bennett (3:06 PM)
I see what you're saying (though marketing Russell Wilson as a Big Ten product still seems a little weird to me, since he played his first three years in the ACC). I think there are better ways to do that than by using grandiose terms for your division names, which neither help you from distinguishing which team is where nor save you from relentless mockery if the league suffers any sort of dip.
Lou (Gaithersburg, MD)
I don't understand why the league is even hesitating on alignment/division names issues. Everyone knows an East-West breakdown would work and make everyone happy. Everyone. At this point, it just looks like Delany is posturing just for the sake of posturing. Shocker, right?
Brian Bennett (3:08 PM)
I agree, and it doesn't even have to be strictly accurate from a geographic sense. Just look at Missouri in the SEC East or other examples from pro sports divisions.
Peter (Atlanta, GA)
Could Devin Gardner go back to WR if Shane Morris develops quickly?
Brian Bennett (3:09 PM)
Anything is possible, I suppose, but I'd highly doubt it. Gardner showed he could be a very good QB, and that allows Michigan to redshirt Morris and build a bridge to the future of the position.
Brian Im a bit disappointed at you and Adam. I believe Northwesterns facility upgrade may be the best upgrade in the history of the big ten and you guys arent talking to much about it. If you see the planned picutres and blueprints its literally right on the beach. Its less the a two minute walk till your on the beach. However has Jim Phillips talked about the saftey issues of being near the beach? Those who live in Chicago know that the lakes waves can get pretty high during nasty storms. Last winter the waves were preadly costly in terms of damages to the city. Did he say if this is going to be issue and how they prepare to plan against it?
Brian Bennett (3:11 PM)
We wrote about the upgrade the day it was announced, discussed it on the subsequent podcast and have mentioned it several times since. While the facility upgrade is a huge deal for Northwestern, there's not even a date yet for a groundbreaking and fundraising is only about a third of the way there, so it's a ways off. We're not engineers, so we haven't studied any safety concerns. But again, Northwestern has time to figure those things out.
mike (rayland ohio)
brian, everyone always says that the sec is such a great conference and the big ten is overrated and weak, after the bowl games (with the exception of alabama) i think the sec isnt as far ahead of the big ten as everyone thinks. Michigan blew their game and if nebraska played any defense they had a shot against georgia. and if osu and psu had been eligible for bowl games i think the big ten would have faired much better overall what about u?
Brian Bennett (3:14 PM)
I think your second point is not really up for debate, unless you want to make the argument that OSU would have made the title game and thus the lineup doesn't change a lot. As to your first point, I said after the bowls that the Big Ten isn't that far away from the top SEC teams ... except Alabama. The Tide are on a different level, especially when you give Nick Saban a month to prepare.
Kerry (Landenberg, PA)
I am a die hard Hawkeye fan. What do you think of Jake Ruddock? Will any other QB's challenge him? Also, best and worse case scenario?
Brian Bennett (3:16 PM)
Honestly, I'm not sure what to think of Rudock. He redshirted in '11 then didn't get to play last year. Practices aren't open. So who really knows? He has good size and had a nice high school career. I'm more worried about the receivers and whether the Greg Davis offense can adapt. Best case scenario is Rudock is about as good as Vandenberg 2011. Worst case is Vandenberg 2012.
Everyone is saying that OSU's 2014 will be better than next years team but our offense will lose Hyde and miller could declare for the draft so is it quite possible this year will be the greatest chance we have to win a championship with Meyer?
Brian Bennett (3:18 PM)
I suppose Braxton Miller could declare early, but unless he makes great strides as a passer in 2013, that would surprise me. He's not an NFL QB right now, even with the recent popularity of more zone read stuff in the pros. I still see him being back in 2014, and the RB position should be fine. And I think Urban Meyer will get several cracks at a title as long as he wants to stay as the Buckeyes' coach.
When I look at the team rankings in the recruiting wars, outside of OSU and Michigan, no other school is in the top 20. While a few may close well (Nebraska, PSU), none of them is likely to break into the top 10-15. This seems to be a chronic problem. I don't understand how a rich, well respected conference can continuously lag in the most important phase of program development. Is it coaching? Mis allocation of resources? Unless you get the players, all the talk of B1G's current mediocrity being "cyclical" is just that----talk.
Brian Bennett (3:22 PM)
Matt, I would suggest you take a look at the recruiting package that's on the front of ESPN's college football site today. It shows that the top teams in the country are winning with players from the recruiting hotbeds of Florida, Texas and California. That's obviously not stunning news. But the geography is undeniable. The best players are there, and the Big Ten is at a disadvantage in recruiting those areas.
John (Auburn Hills, MI)
After Urban recently snagged one our best prospects out of a Michigan pipeline (Cass Tech), should we be worried about Hoke vs. Meyer head to head?
Brian Bennett (3:23 PM)
Of course you should be worried. This isn't the first or the last time Hoke and Meyer will go head to head for a top prospect, whether he be from Michigan, Ohio or wherever. I think both programs will get their fair share of guys. If it starts to favor one team, that will be huge. This will be fun and fascinating to monitor.
Pavlov's Dog (Mother Russia)
Purdue picked up Jim Bollman as their new Offensive Line coach, they apparently have not watch how grotesque the Ohio State Oline was as a unit while he was there. Purdue just set their program back about 10 years with that hire.
Brian Bennett (3:25 PM)
Hasn't been confirmed yet, but it has been reported. Not really surprising, given Darrell Hazell's Ohio State ties. No doubt the Buckeyes' offensive lines seemed to underachieve at times with Bollman, but they also won a lot of games.
FFX Lion (Jim Thorpe, PA)
Brian, I loved the lunch links today. Regarding one of the stories, what do you think about Penn State's possible strategy of scheduling easier non-conference opponents in the next few years? Is the risk of poor attendance too much or should O'Brien embrace this "just win baby!" strategy?
Brian Bennett (3:27 PM)
I think it was really interesting and agree with it. Penn State is going to be hit hard by sanctions with regards to depth, so why try to butt heads against elite programs in the nonconference schedule in the next few years? It's not like the SOS will help any kind of postseason berth. Better to try and get more wins, build confidence and image. There will still be Big Ten showdowns to look forward to.
chris (bloomington, IN)
Who has the weakest and strongest none conference schedule in 2013?
Brian Bennett (3:30 PM)
Minnesota's is the easiest. UNLV, New Mexico State, W. Illinois and San Jose State. Creampuff City. Toughest might be Purdue: Notre Dame, Northern Illinois and Cincinnati, along with Indiana State.
Madam Ruby (the Alamo)
My crystal ball is broken and there's a Wildcat fan in my shop with a fistful of cash who wonders whether Fitgerald will ever leave Northwestern, so please help me fill in the blanks from a future article from the Daily Northwestern: Pat Fitzgerald made the difficult decision to Northwestern for ______ after ___ seasons as head coach, racking up ____ wins and winning ___ Big Ten titles.
Brian Bennett (3:33 PM)
As I said Friday, Fitz is only 38, the same age as me. He has already coached for seven seasons and has 50 wins. While I think it would take a whole lot for him to leave Northwestern, can you really see him coaching there for, say, 30 years? That just doesn't happen anywhere any more. Eventually, he may want to try something else. But I think he can stay with the Wildcats for about as long as he wants if he keeps winning at this pace.
Craig G. (Fairfield, CA)
Hey Brian, who will have a greater immediate impact, Sonny Dykes or Mike McIntyre?
Brian Bennett (3:34 PM)
Dykes, because Cal is closer to being good than Colorado. It's important because remember that Ohio State has to go to Cal this year.
Brian, why is nobody else seeing a Steven bench led qb team winning no more than 4 games?
Brian Bennett (3:34 PM)
Um, I've never heard that prediction.
It's a bit of optimism on my part I admit, but could a Best case scenario for Wisconsin include an NC spot?
Brian Bennett (3:36 PM)
Everything would have to go absolutely right. Wisconsin would probably have to go 13-0 because its nonconference schedule isn't great (best game: at Arizona State). That won't stack up against other one-loss teams well. And the Badgers have to go to Columbus. The rest of the sked is pretty darn manageable, and there's a lot of talent on hand. But if the Badgers couldn't do it with Russell Wilson and Montee Ball ...
Dave (Marquette, NE)
As a Husker fan, I see only TWO issues to fix in the off-season. While not "small" issue it really is only two. Shore up the Defense and knock off the turnovers. If they can realistically fix the D (Top 25 Defense) and cut the turnovers in half.....Are we a Nat'l title contender?
Brian Bennett (3:37 PM)
Yes. But those are pretty big issues. Especially when you're talking about losing eight starters on D. And will Taylor Martinez take another leap as a senior? The schedule does set up well for the Huskers in 2013.
Brian, realistically what's the most # of wins Minnesota should ever expect to get to since they are in same division as Mich, Mich St and Neb and has cross over game with Wiscy? Anything better than 6-6? Ever?
Brian Bennett (3:41 PM)
Forever is a mighty long time. Sure, the Gophers can be better than 6-6. They did that this year, after all. Teams go up and down all the time. Will Minnesota be a national title contender? Probably not. But with smart nonconference scheduling and continued progress, the Gophers could be an 8-win type of team consistently and throw out the occasional breakout year.
Marc (Morton, IL)
As an Illinois fan Im already tired of Beckman. Not only did he put a terrible team on the field last year but he showed a lack of class off the field too (stealing PSU players, chewing tobacco on the sideline, etc.) How bad does he need to do in his 2nd year in order for the AD to be justified in firing him after only 2 years?
Brian Bennett (3:42 PM)
I think the tobacco thing was overplayed and was mostly piling on. The PSU recruitment seemed amateurish for this level, but at least he was trying to improve the program. Problem for Beckman is this year's schedule offers few breaks. I could easily see another 2-10 or 3-9 type of year. Two years is too soon to pull the trigger, but he needs to show improvement this year to get more fans on his side.
John (bucyrus, ohio)
Brian, love the blog! Do you feel Ohio State can compete for a NC next year? What do you feel may be their biggest weakness, i think the secondary
Brian Bennett (3:44 PM)
Flattery will get you everywhere, John. I think Ohio State will be in the mix, though it is hard to go undefeated two years in a row. I think the secondary should be good with Roby back along with Barnett and Bryant at safety. Biggest concerns for me are the DL, which is very talented but awfully young, and the WR position, which must get a lot better.
Does Melvin Gordon have a chance to be as productive as Montee Ball was the last couple of years? He appears to be more explosive.
Brian Bennett (3:46 PM)
It's an awfully high bar, especially when you're talking about Ball's 2011 season. We might never see that again. But Wisconsin people, including Ball himself, would tell you Gordon has more natural ability than Ball or maybe any other Badgers back we've seen. So the potential is certainly there.
Kevin (San Diego)
Brian, I'm sure that everyone in Maize & Blue land loved seeing how MSU struggled this year, and are probably relishing the idea of the Spartans returning to some out-dated concept of little brotherhood, as if UM is gonna reassume some rightful place in the stae of Michigan and the B1G in general. Can you please make sure such ones realize that MSU isn't going anywhere just because of one mediocre season, and that we do intent to be a B1G title contender for a very long time? Getting tired of having to do it all myself. Thanks.
Brian Bennett (3:47 PM)
That is the challenge for Michigan State, to make sure 2012 was just a blip. The Spartans don't want to take a big step backward just as Michigan appears to be rising again. I think the program Mark Dantonio has built has staying power, especially defensively. But it needs to re-examine its offensive philosophy this offseason and find some answers in the passing game and on the OL
Brian's Biggest Fan (Bennett Land )
Can I get some info on hitching wagons? How come head coaches are so timid about benching starters, especially QBs??? If Martinez continues to refuse to throw away the ball while turning it over 2 or 3 times again next year, will it be plausible for Bo to bench him? I know he never would. Our backups must really be green...
Brian Bennett (3:49 PM)
Hello there, Zooey. While Martinez made some frustrating errors again in 2012, I do not think he was the problem. A lot of his turnovers came when he was trying to force things when Nebraska had fallen behind and its defense looked lost. He did put the team in some holes but was able to rally back. And there was not a better QB on the roster than him.
How cautiously optimistic should Northwestern fans be about next year? The team surprised this season and looks to be better for next, but our schedule also looks to get tougher. And I can't help think back on the hype leading up to the 2001 season, or even Michigan State's supposed Rose Bowl run this year. In short, what could be Northwestern's "worst case" for next season?
Brian Bennett (3:51 PM)
Cautiously optimistic is a good phrase for it. Yes, the schedule is pretty tough on paper. But the Wildcats are also set up well to deal with a tougher schedule with so many key players returning. I would say a worst case would be something like 5-7. And I should have mentioned their road game at Cal in the opener when discussing the Dykes question earlier.
living in the South the last 20 years, I get an up close and personal view of the SEC, but I still keep close tabs on the B1G.There is a wide gap in talent between the two conferences, not so much at the skill positions but most definitely across the lines.The SEC has big, fast, quick athletic linemen,...and lots of them.Depth is huge.Who do you think will be the first to successfully match that talent in the B1G,...OSU, Michigan or someone else?
Brian Bennett (3:53 PM)
Probably Ohio State. The Buckeyes have the best access to talent in the league and Urban Meyer can recruit nationally. I actually think the Big Ten matches up OK on the lines. While the league might lack a Clowney (who doesn't?) or the depth of top SEC teams, the Big Ten can and did hold its own in the trenches. I feel like the difference is coming down to top skill players. Where are the top-flight, NFL-caliber QBs and WRs in the Big Ten right now?
Mike (Columbus, OH)
Brian, I think Adam got lucky. You SHALL redeem yourself next year, and he will be buying the steak dinner. My only question is, did you have to buy his wife dinner, too. Or was this strictly a guys only wager?
Brian Bennett (3:54 PM)
Best question ever. My picks were just plain bad this year, and then I made matters worse by trying to make up ground with wild upset calls. His wife did not make the trip to Indy, so I escaped there. Though my wife did enjoy a steak at that dinner.
I always wonder about blog traffic. Would you say the offseason sees a spike or decline immediately following bowl games? I'm sure disappointed fan bases stay relatively quiet while optimistic ones flood your inbox.
Brian Bennett (3:56 PM)
You know, it's pretty interesting, BT. The numbers don't dip that much except when it gets really quiet, like in May and June (and not even then when a huge scandal or news story hits, like the Tressel case in 2011). In some ways, traffic is even bigger in the offseason, as fans of every team have reason to be interested/optimistic.
Samuel (Iowa City, Iowa)
Brian, when does Iowa hit bottom?
Brian Bennett (3:57 PM)
The Hawkeyes had better hope that 2012 was pretty much the bottom, although the scary news for them is that the schedule looks more difficult in 2013.
Jeff Woytal (Elgin, SC)
I'm a WI fan and believe UW has a better chance of advancing to the NCAA football playoff than does Arkansas (when Bielema left UW he cited one reason being that he believed it gave him a better chance to advance to the playoff). Am I looking through rose colored glasses?
Brian Bennett (3:58 PM)
The problem for Arkansas is that it will have to go against 'Bama, LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn in its own division every year. Of course, if you finish in the top 2 of the SEC, you have a chance at making the four-team playoff. But that won't be easy. Wisconsin will have an easier time in its division the next few years, having to really only beat out Ohio State. But the Badgers probably also have to finish undefeated or hope the Big Ten is really strong to get in.
Tom (Trenton, NJ)
Do you think that Rutgers will be competitive (when they move in in 2 years)or will they (or Maryland) be the new "doormat"?
Brian Bennett (4:00 PM)
I think Rutgers is closer to being competitive right now than Maryland. The Scarlet Knights have had some really good defenses, which should play well in the Big Ten. But Rutgers' offense is from the stone age.
Brian Bennett (4:01 PM)
That's all my time for this week, folks. Thanks for all the great questions, and enjoy your week!