Chat with Brian Bennett
Welcome to SportsNation! On Friday, ESPN.com's Big Ten reporter 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 Friday at 2 p.m. ET!
Brian Bennett (2:00 PM)
Hello, everybody. Welcome to a special edition of the Big Ten chat. Couldn't make it on Monday because of a scheduling conflict, but I'll be here for the next hour to help you get a head start on your football weekend. Fire away with those questions!
Thelen (Westphalia, MI)
Hey Brian, I think UM bombs away tomorrow, especially down the UM sideline where our coaches can "assist" the refs with the very complicated task of identifying pass interference. If we get two PI calls to each interception I think we win. Over under numbers: 4 PIs 2 INTs
Brian Bennett (2:02 PM)
Thelen, I think Michigan's best strategy will be to try and throw it as much as possible. I've seen nothing this year that suggests the Wolverines will be able to mount any kind of running game other than Gardner scrambles. Michigan State dares you to beat it with the pass, and if teams can get the calls like ND did, that can work. Going to be huge for Gardner to be precise on his throws.
Joshua Converse (Batavia, IL)
As much as I want to gag, but tOSU best interest is to root for UoM and Wisky this weekend? I don't think beating a MSU team in the BT game will do much for their perception on a national level. No matter where they are ranked at that time. Having Wisky climb the polls is good for us and the BT. Thoughts?
Brian Bennett (2:04 PM)
Josh, I'm not sure it matters. Let's face it: Ohio State is not getting into the BCS title game unless two of the three teams ahead of it loses. And if that happens, the Buckeyes are in great shape to make the title game. The only way style points matters is if Baylor goes undefeated and one-loss Stanford makes a push from down in the polls. But there's not much OSU can do at this point to rise above the teams ahead of it without those teams losing.
Tanner (Gretna, Nebraska)
Do you agree that Taylor Martinez needs to sit the rest of the season and give the backup Tommy Armstrong playing time to get more ready for next season when Martinez is gone?
Brian Bennett (2:10 PM)
Sorry, guys, my internet totally went out for a few minutes.
Brian Bennett (2:11 PM)
To answer the Tanner's question: No, I don't think that factors into it at all. Nebraska has to play for right now. The Huskers still can win the Legends Division, and who knows if a bad month of November could lead to a coaching change. Next year is next year, and Armstrong has had plenty of experience. The question is only whether Armstrong gives Nebraska a better chance to win right now than an injured Martinez, and I think the answer is yes.
Craig (Braintree, MA)
It seems to me that the keys to the MN/IN game is Minnesota not turning the ball over and whether they can win the battle of the trenches.
Brian Bennett (2:12 PM)
I'm not too concerned about Minnesota winning the trenches. Huge advantage there for the Gophers. Key, I think, is maintaining long drives and scoring touchdowns off those drives. Keep the IU offense off the field as much as possible, and run the ball all day.
It would seem that it is now a lost season for the Illini. What changes are needed for this program to finally move in the right direction? It would appear Beckman stays for another year. Thoughts?
Brian Bennett (2:13 PM)
Clearly, the defense needs an upgrade, and that has to come in recruiting. Wouldn't be surprised to see some more juco help there. Offense has come along, and there has been improvement this year. Team is still very young at a lot of spots.
Jon (Seattle, WA)
Hi Brian! I'm in no way accusing you of bias. Hate when people do that. In fact, I'll take it in the complete opposite direction and say you and Adam have been generous with Wisconsin's ranking in the blog. My question is what is keeping you guys from putting them in a BCS Bowl in the projections? Your ESPN colleagues (Mark S. and Brad E), CBS Sports and the Big Ten Network all have the Badgers in the Orange or Sugar Bowl. Is it that you think they'll slip up before the end of the season or not reach the top 14 in the BCS?
Brian Bennett (2:14 PM)
Two things: One, the Badgers weren't even in the initial BCS standings and are now just No. 24. It's still a long climb up, and Wisconsin does not play another ranked team the rest of the way. Two, I'm not sure the Big Ten will get two BCS bids this year because the perception of the league is low. Is Wisconsin deserving? We think so. But we're trying to project what will happen, and right now we don't see it. Things can quickly change, of course.
It seems that the 2010 Wisconsin-Iowa game sent those two programs headed into two different directions. Wisconsin has dominated since (well, they got a little lucky last year) and Iowa has really fallen off. I'm hoping my Hawks can pull it out this weekend for a little revenge and to gain some more momentum in restoring the program. What do you see as the most important issue facing Iowa in this game? Is the obvious with just trying to contain Wisconsin's run game?
Brian Bennett (2:16 PM)
There is something to that, though Kirk Ferentz said this week you could point to the 2010 Northwestern-Iowa game as well. But surely Wisconsin has had an edge as a program the past few years. Containing Wisconsin's running game is always job No. 1, and only Ohio State has been able to do it. I also think Iowa needs to be able to pass the ball effectively. Wisconsin is very good against the run on defense, though with a gimpy (at best) Borland, that could help the Hawkeyes.
Gene Smith (Better Job, USA)
BB, Would you be surprised if Gene Smith goes to Texas, Hires new coach? Build? Or is OSU the Better Job??
Brian Bennett (2:18 PM)
I would be surprised. Texas may be an ever so slightly better job just because of location, but the two are about as even as you can get. Ohio State has just about the same resources. Smith is also a Midwest/Ohio guy. Don't see why he would leave.
Mike (PSU'13) (NYC)
I honestly think John Butler should be fired or demoted. Penn State has played horrible defense. Do you think B.O.B. will try to hire a veteran D.C. or replace Butler with Larry Johnson or Ron Vanderlin.
Brian Bennett (2:20 PM)
The PSU defense has been really bad. I'm just not sure you can blame it on Butler. There are obvious depth and talent issues on that side of the ball. Major dropoff from last year. I think Butler deserves a bit of leeway because of that, but you're right that this has to get turned around sooner rather than later.
Do you think Langford will get 100 yds on Saturday? The O line for MSU has really stepped up lately.
Brian Bennett (2:21 PM)
I think the game plan will heavily feature Langford, but I'll say he finishes shy of 100. Maybe like 85 or 90. Michigan has been pretty decent at stopping the run. Connor Cook is going to have to make some plays.
Josh (Madison, WI)
Brian, I dont know why but it seems that ever since you starting covering the B1G that you have never been a fan of Wisconsin. Even when others, including Rittenberg, are high on the Badgers you never are sold on them. Did you get rejected from going to school at UW or why do you look down on them?
Brian Bennett (2:23 PM)
With all due respect, Josh, that's one of the most insane things I've ever heard. I've got the Badgers ranked No. 15 right now, have Wisconsin players leading the races for Big Ten OPOY and DPOY. Went to Madison last month and wrote a huge feature on Chris Borland. Have mostly written and said only good things about the entire program for three years. Come on, man.
Alien Spartan (Somewhere In Open Space)
Brian, Shalique Calhoun is going to take Gardner down so hard you may feel the tremors in The Blue Grass State. I sincerely hope he doesn't get hurt. That aside, what do you suppose is the real reason Alabama cancelled their home and home series with MSU?
Brian Bennett (2:25 PM)
Will be interesting to see how effectively Calhoun, Bullough, Allen and others can corral Gardner and whether they can force him into bad throws/decisions. I think the likelihood of a 9-game SEC schedule, which Saban is pushing for, is why Alabama canceled the series. The Tide wants some schedule flexibility (i.e., being able to schedule a couple of weaklings). Not real sure why MSU couldn't have served as one of its three nonconference games but guessing the Tide want more of a marquee name for that one spot.
Jim (Grand Junction, Colorado)
If Bo Pelini is in danger of being fired, will he use the traditional ploy of firing his assistants in-order-to gain more time, and if so, will it work?
Brian Bennett (2:26 PM)
Pelini has been very loyal to the guys on his staff and has promoted from within often. Any changes would likely come on the defensive side of the ball. But since he's supposed to be the defensive mastermind, would it make any difference?
how much will a victory against BYU help the Badgers they are a borderline top 25 program?
Brian Bennett (2:28 PM)
It would help a little. Problem is beating BYU means that the Cougars would have a hard time getting any poll traction afterward, so it's a bit of a Catch-22. That has a chance to be a really good game, by the way, featuring two coaches who know each other well.
Chris (Broadview Heights, OH)
Do you know how long the Big 10 championship is set to be held in Indianapolis? While there is some value in having something you can set your watch to, with the geographic expansion of the league it might be nice to have some rotating sites like Ford Field in Detroit or Soldier Field in Chicago. Could even have an NYC option now with Rutgers added to the mix for some $$$'s (which we know the Big 10 enjoys).
Brian Bennett (2:30 PM)
Indy is contracted to be the host until 2015, so two more years after this one. I could see Chicago getting a chance at some point, but the league really likes what Indy brings to the table for a number of reasons, including having the game indoors. Attendance hasn't been stellar, but with the likelihood of Ohio State in the game this year, I'd expect a huge crowd this year.
Nick (East Lansing)
One thing I haven't heard people mention much, at least that I've seen, is that the computer numbers are terrible for UW. The computers don't see that ASU loss as the messed up ending that it was, they just see it as a loss for Wisconsin. It's going to be hard for them to get ranked high enough in the human polls to overcome that and get into the top 14.
Brian Bennett (2:31 PM)
Yep, that's true. And Northwestern going in the tank also hurts Wisconsin big time.
I see a hard-fought game tomorrow, and I see MSU not being able to score much, maybe 13ish. I see a couple big plays by Funchess and/or Gallon, and a UM win...even though they really only move the ball 3 times. Thoughts?
Brian Bennett (2:32 PM)
That's kind of what happened last year, when Michigan won 12-10. So it's certainly possible again. But I think having the game in East Lansing, and the fact that Michigan State has improved quite a bit on offense, especially compared to last year's team, tilts the scales toward green. Of course, Michigan is so unpredictable it's hard to say what will happen for sure. Wolverines could play great or terrible.
tom (Eastern USA)
Do you think Allen Robinson leaves after this year to go into the NFL? Do you think he can make it at the next level?
Brian Bennett (2:33 PM)
I'm just speculating here, but yes I think he would. His stock will be high and without a postseason possibility for Penn State, there's not a whole lot of reason for him to stick around. He's got excellent size and speed, so I definitely see him being an NFL receiver.
Chances Iowa beats Wisconsin?
Brian Bennett (2:35 PM)
Better than average, for sure. Iowa is at home and matches up pretty well with Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes' three losses this year have come to teams that are currently 23-1, so we may be underrating them a bit. Iowa is going to have to find more ways to score than it did last week against Northwestern, but it definitely has a chance to win this game. I think it will be close going into the fourth quarter.
Ha...I guess I put too much thought into "who they played". MSU offense looked better against ILL, Indiana, and Iowa. I'll wait until they can score on any defense resembling "mediocre".
Brian Bennett (2:37 PM)
There's truth to that. But the simple eye test tells you that MSU is improved offensively. I mean, there were times last year and against bad teams earlier this year when the Spartans couldn't complete a forward pass against air. They definitely have more confidence now and Cook gives them a little swagger. My official prediction is MSU 17-14, so that tells you how much offense I think there will be in this game.
So Iowa has yet to give up more than 34 points in a game this season (Ohio State). Wisconsin's wins have all come when they have scored 35 points or more. Which stat will give this weekend?
Brian Bennett (2:38 PM)
I think the winning score will be under 35. There just don't figure to be a lot of possessions in this one, and both teams are good stopping the run.
JL (Warrenton, Virginia)
Speaking of players likely to go pro early, what about Ameer Abdullah from Nebraska. Although maybe under the radar, he hasn't left much to prove.
Brian Bennett (2:39 PM)
It's possible, and I'd throw Melvin Gordon in there as a third-year sophomore as well. The difference is that running backs just aren't the NFL draft commodities that they used to be. You may want to jump early to save some hits on your body, however.
Lisa (Central PA)
If you were a coach what advice would you give to Christian Hackenburg after the beating he took in Ohio? I know it was a rough day for him but I still see a poised kid with a bright future.
Brian Bennett (2:40 PM)
Yeah, I would just chalk it up to a learning experience. A true freshman going to play in the Horseshoe against the best team on the schedule is going to take some lumps. That will end up being good for him down the road.
Do you think Purdue will win another game this season?
Brian Bennett (2:41 PM)
It looks shaky, doesn't it? But with finishing the season against Illinois and Indiana, there is a chance. I have a feeling the Boilers will sneak one of those out.
Charlie (Chilhowie, VA)
Do you see Derrick Green getting more snaps this game as a more physical pounding type back as opposed to Fitz Toussaint? Love the blog by the way! It keeps us outside of Big Ten country in the loop. Great job guys and gals!
Brian Bennett (2:42 PM)
Thanks for the kind words, Charlie. And, no, I don't think Green will get more carries. Toussaint has clearly been the guy all season for the Wolverines. I also think Michigan will have almost no success running the ball in a traditional manner, so Toussaint's value will come in pass blocking and catching out of the backfield, two things he's better at right now than Green.
Grant (San Francisco)
Which is more likely: One Michigan rushing TD or one MSU defensive touchdown?
Brian Bennett (2:43 PM)
An MSU defensive touchdown. Which I have predicted, by the way. Michigan turns the ball over a lot, MSU creates a lot of turnovers. Meanwhile, Michigan's running game is not very good and the Spartans have the best rush defense in the nation.
Matt (Des Moines)
Given "same but different" surronding Iowa/Wisky...you think this game will end quicker than last weeks' for Iowa(OT game)? Under or Over 2hr.50minutes
Brian Bennett (2:44 PM)
Ha. I'll take the over. That was a crazy fast game last week! Felt like the teams had a plane to catch.
Yinka Double Dare (Chicago)
MSU's offensive numbers are still below last year's even with the "improvement" against some of the worst defenses in the NCAA (and an outright stinkbomb against another terrible defense in Purdue). No way they're better on offense with the Langford/Deltron 3030 backfield than the guy who's starting on Sundays they had last year. Their defense looks even better than last year's though. Probably going to be an ugly game again this year like last year's was, right?
Brian Bennett (2:46 PM)
What stats are you looking at, YDD? Michigan State is averaging 29.9 ppg, compared to 20 last year. The team is rushing for about 50 yards more per game this year compared to last. Of course, those numbers could go down in November, but I'm not sure where you're getting your information.
Alien Spartan (Somewhere In Open Space)
It's true the B1G is weak yet again this year. Both youi and Adam have made that clear. Can a conference rebuild? I think it's possible.
Brian Bennett (2:47 PM)
Yes. I do think the league is better overall than it was last year, but not by a lot. Another team needs to rise up to Ohio State's level, whether that's Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, whomever. Just not much depth at the top, and that's a big problem right now.
Dave (Twin Cities)
I heard on the radio that BCS reps were up here last weekend looking into hosting the title game in some year...do you know what years they were discussing, and when they decide? Would be neat to have in Minneapolis.
Brian Bennett (2:48 PM)
Well, first, let's ditch the BCS letters, because they will be gone in about two months. But, yes, Minneapolis has bid on the 2017 national title game. It's the only Midwest city that so far has bid on a future title game. I think it would be outstanding to have it in Big Ten country. But the weather is going to be a factor to overcome, no doubt.
Hi Chantel, does a 1-loss Alabama or Oregon stay ahead of an unbeaten OSU in the final BCS?
Brian Bennett (2:49 PM)
Wow, you think I look like Chantel? Someone call a Hartford optometrist, stat!
Hank (Washington DC)
Will there be some heat on Brady Hoke if he doesn't start winning big games on the road?
Brian Bennett (2:50 PM)
Well, sure. It is Michigan, fergawdsake. But I do think Hoke has some goodwill built up from his first year and from the recruiting successes. But it won't last forever, especially if he doesn't win a Big Ten title (or even a division title) pretty soon.
Gill (Mpls, Mn)
Headline on ESPN Rumors: "An early red flag with Bennett's game". Care to comment?
Brian Bennett (2:50 PM)
There are a lot of red flags to my game, Gill. Thank goodness I'm married.
Dave (Twin Cities)
WI isn't at OSU's level? Lost a close game at the 'shoe at night...could've went the other way. In fact, I think every game in the last 5 years has gone to the end. That and WI winning the past 3 years...seems they're "at their level"
Brian Bennett (2:52 PM)
I see your argument. I can also counter with the fact that the Badgers lost six games last year. They've certainly achieved a lot. But Ohio State has won 20 straight and is in the national title mix. What was the last Big Ten team that was realistically in the national championship hunt?
Jabber (Des Moines)
Halloween, Brian...did you dress up?
Brian Bennett (2:52 PM)
No. I love Halloween, but football is the priority, so that holiday has become kind of nonexistent for me. And it stormed like crazy here all last night.
Gus (North Carolina)
What Big Ten team is most likely to improve enough to match OSU in the future?
Brian Bennett (2:53 PM)
You would have to say Michigan just based on recruiting. But we'll see if that actually pans out.
What are the odds of Bo Pelini surviving after this season, and does the Carl Pelini incident affect Bo ?
Brian Bennett (2:54 PM)
I think it's all about how Nebraska finishes. A bad November with a couple of early losses could force Shawn Eichorst's hand. I don't see why the Carl Pelini situation should have any effect whatsoever.
Craig (Braintree, MA)
If the NFL can have a Super Bowl in Minneapolis or Detroit, certainly the NCAA can consider a championship game in snow and cold country especially with the indoor stadiums.
Brian Bennett (2:55 PM)
Most definitely. But the NFL also has incentive to rewards its owners with Super Bowl bids. That doesn't really exist in this case, and the fact is people are naturally drawn to warm-weather destinations. But I think the Midwest shouldn't be shut out of the process just because of that.
What do you make of Maryland moving to the Big Ten.
Brian Bennett (2:56 PM)
I've never been a huge fan of the addition, though I understand it's all about markets and demographics. Maryland got off to a decent start this year then fell apart in large part due to injuries. I doubt the Terps will ever be much more than a midtier Big Ten team.
Chuck S (Columbus, Oh)
Hey Brian! Great blog, tough break for the Cards, I believe Boston was destined to win that. Anyways, Do you think this year's Buckeye team is better than last year's Notre Dame team? I think they had the better D, but our offense seems to be able to control the tempo of the game because of our offensive line just blowing people up. And our D isn't as bad as people think it is, a lot of talent there. Thoughts?
Brian Bennett (2:59 PM)
Thanks, Chuck. Not too much to be sad about when it comes to the Redbirds. Won 97 games, had 10 rookies on the postseason roster, have the best farm system in baseball and have four WS appearances in 10 years. Life is good in Bird Land. Anyway, it's a good question you ask. Ohio State, I think, is much, much better on offense than Notre Dame but not nearly as good on defense. That Irish team also beat some very good teams (Stanford, Oklahoma, etc), while Ohio State doesn't have much on its resume. I think it would be a good, close game in a theoretical matchup
Brian, I just read that one of PSU's prize recruits, Daquan Worley, just tore his ACL. Given the scholarship limits Bill O'Brien is still working under, do they still honor the commitment or are they forced to move in a different direction?
Brian Bennett (3:00 PM)
I would imagine O'Brien will honor that commitment. It's a tough break for Worley, but you can come back just fine from an ACL. He'll just have to redshirt his freshman year. Still a big talent, and you don't give up on that
Brian Bennett (3:01 PM)
Time's up but will answer a couple more because of the internet delay earlier.
John (Twin Cities)
What is the best possible Bowl you think Minnesota could get to this year?
Brian Bennett (3:01 PM)
Probably the Wings Bowl in Arizona. The Gophers will have to make up for the fact that they're not seen as a good traveling fan base.
Dave (Twin Cities)
Come on Brian, dig deeper...just two years ago WI was a couple hail mary's from being in the NCG. I agree it'll take getting it done to get there, but in reality they are at the same level.
Brian Bennett (3:03 PM)
And that was with Russell Wilson putting up one of the greatest seasons ever and Montee Ball having one of the greatest RB seasons ever, and Wisconsin still lost three games. Three straight Rose Bowl losses. The Badgers have done great things and are close, but they're not quite there yet.
When is the stuck in the mud league going to make some whole sale changes image-wise? I understand they are adding teams and that they love their tradition.....but some simple face time on Thursday's, Saturday nights in November and other simple steps would make the league a lot more exciting and move the needle more than the UM MSU game will on Saturday
Brian Bennett (3:05 PM)
Well, we will see some November night games, probably as soon as next year. The league is moving conference games to earlier in the year, which is a great thing. The Big Ten doesn't really want to play on Thursdays, and I understand the reasons why, though I think an occasional one would be good. I'm not sure what else can be done besides getting better players and playing better. Michigan-Michigan State is a fascinating game, but because they are two teams ranked outside the Top 20, there's only so much attention you can get.
Brian Bennett (3:06 PM)
OK, folks. I've got to clear out of here now. Thanks for all the great questions and for being patient through that earlier delay. Have an outstanding weekend!