Chat with Brian Bennett
Welcome to SportsNation! On Monday, 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 Monday at 3 p.m. ET!
Brian Bennett (3:00 PM)
Hello, everybody, and welcome to another Big Ten Monday chat. I'll be here for the next hour, so fire away with questions. (And, yeah, I'll be keeping one eye on what I surely hope is not the final Cardinals game of the year).
Rob (Dayton, Ohio)
What can the B1G do (other than win games against non-conference opponents) to improve their national perception? I think they need to start appealing to the younger generation and become a 'cool and hip' conference rather than the rigid, 'stuck in the past' perception we seem to have a reputation for...
Brian Bennett (3:02 PM)
Winning big games is obviously the most important thing. But I think the past two Saturday nights helped in that regard. You had two incredible atmospheres and two great games featuring tons of great plays. Getting the best games in primetime at night would exposure, especially compared to those noon (11 am CT) kickoffs when kids are still half asleep.
Jeff (Corner of Big 12 and SEC Country)
Brian-You and Adam have repeatedly said that no team should be penalized in their ranking because they had a bye week. How do you then explain demoting UW from 3 to 4 in your B1G Power Rankings?
Brian Bennett (3:03 PM)
It was a tough call this week. It's hard to put a two-loss Wisconsin team ahead of 5-0 Michigan. And when Arizona State lost to Notre Dame, that gave the Wolverines a bit more of an edge. It's very, very close. This weekend's games will tell us a lot
Ryan (East Lansing, MI)
With the improved play on offense, does Michigan State have a legitimate shot of making it to the Big Ten Championship game?
Brian Bennett (3:06 PM)
I don't want to go overboard after one good performance, but that was encouraging. I liked the way Connor Cook played, and the receivers finally stepped up and made plays. Michigan State really should be 7-1, 4-0 heading into the Michigan game, which is at home. The Spartans have as good a shot as anyone in that division right now.
Ron (Michigan) [via mobile]
Michigan saw some big improvements against Minnesota such as Gardner making better decisions, the offensive line giving him a lot more time to throw the ball and the encouraging maturation of Funchess. However, I'm still very concerned that the offensive line didn't open up more holes for Fitz and Green. Also, the defensive line got pushed around all day and they continue to be a major disappointment. Besides Countess, the secondary also gives up a lot of yards through the air. So what's going on with these recruits that Hoke has gotten the past few years? Is Hoke and his staff just not developing these guys like they should or were the kids overrated coming out of high school? Should they make the play calling less complicated? What's your thoughts on this?
Brian Bennett (3:07 PM)
Some excellent questions, Ron. I thought the O-line play was better, but still not overpowering. And outside of Countess, who would be considered even a first- or second-team All Big Ten candidate on that defense? Surprised that Hoke and Mattison haven't developed more guys yet on that side of the ball. I know much of the talent is young, but that defense is nothing special right now.
It seemed like when the Buckeye D went man-to-man on the outside and dialed up the pressure from the front 7, Northwestern just couldnt deal with it. Why havent we seen more of that from Fickell and Withers?
Brian Bennett (3:09 PM)
Ohio State certainly tried to go man-to-man against Wisconsin, and it worked as far as stopping the run but not the pass. Blitzing hasn't been a particularly effective weapon for Ohio State for some reason, though there were some good moments in the second half vs. Northwestern. The issues in the secondary are a little troubling, and the Buckeyes, I think, caught a break in that the Wildcats only threw the ball once on their possession that ended on that 4th-down stop
Craig (Braintree, MA)
Do you see a future with Nelson or Leidner at QB for Minnesota or too early to tell?
Brian Bennett (3:11 PM)
I like both guys and am particularly intrigued by Leidner's combination of size and skill. The problem in my mind is a lack of playmakers at the receiver position. Minnesota just doesn't seem able to push the ball downfield. Kill and his saff have to recruit the heck out of that spot.
Jon (Seattle, WA)
If Wisconsin takes care of Northwestern, what are the chances they win out and if they do, will they make a BCS Bowl?
Brian Bennett (3:12 PM)
The toughest remaining game is probably at Iowa. The Badgers play Penn State in the finale, and who knows how many healthy scholarship players the Lions will have left by then. BYU could also be problematic. But I think Wisconsin would be a healthy favorite in every game after this weekend. Good enough for a BCS bowl? Hard to say. So many other variables at play right now. Not being ranked at the moment does not bode well, however.
So OSU wins two consecutive night games against quality, ranked opponents and people are still talking about their weak schedule. Has any other team beaten consecutive ranked opponents in primetime this season?
Brian Bennett (3:14 PM)
Not sure what primetime has to do with strength of schedule. Georgia has played a much better overall. schedule and has better wins. People shouldn't underrate the past two weeks for the Buckeyes, however. Both were very, very good wins over quality opponents.
Walt (Naperville, IL)
Given the hype that Northwestern had arrived on the "Big Stage," were you surprised by the amount of Scarlet and Gray at Ryan Field on Saturday? Was that more of a reflection of Ohio State fan support of the lack of Northwestern's?
Brian Bennett (3:16 PM)
Not surprised. Northwestern's issues in attendance are well documented (heck, I wrote 1,000 or so words on it last week), and Ohio State has one of the most dedicated fan bases around. The Buckeyes actually have more alumni living in Chicago than the Wildcats.
As you note, one of those "ranked" opponents is not ranked anymore. It was a home game, against a team that lost to Arizona State. An Arizona State that did not look particularly good against Notre Dame, who is also barely ranked. I don't see how anyone can think OSU deserves a trip to the national championship game this year with this schedule unless they are the lone unbeaten in the country.
Brian Bennett (3:17 PM)
I tend to agree, though Wisconsin will be ranked again. Ohio State needs the Pac-12 and ACC champs to both have one loss to really have a shot. The Buckeyes are ranked far enough ahead of Oklahoma that they might hold them off, but the FSU/Clemson winner and Stanford/Oregon winner will be ranked ahead of OSU without a loss somewhere.
Matt (Detroit, MI)
Before the game, everybody was starting to get very high on Iowa. Now that MSU beat them up everybody has cooled quite a bit. Which do you think is the more accurate assessment of the Hawkeyes? Since ND is questionable at best, I am trying to get a read on my Spartans. Should I be back all-in after a big win in a hostile environment? Or should I remain cautious after a road win against a poor team?
Brian Bennett (3:19 PM)
I think Iowa is a solid team with a nice front seven on defense and a strong offensive line. I was incredibly impressed at how Michigan State's held down what had been a powerful running game. Iowa isn't great but should be a bowl team. That was a great win for Michigan State and one it had to have
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Do you think the Wildcats rebound and get another shot at the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game?
Brian Bennett (3:19 PM)
It's going to be tough with the schedule. Bouncing back emotionally and physically and going to Wisconsin this weekend is really difficult. I'm going to be at that game. Can't wait to find out how both teams respond from their Ohio State setbacks.
Mike (Alabama) [via mobile]
If Michigan goes on the road and wins convincingly at Penn state will that change the perception everyone seems to have or will it take a win over Indiana after the Penn state game to do that
Brian Bennett (3:21 PM)
No one is going to go gaga after a Michigan win over this Penn State team and certainly not over Indiana at home. It will all be about November for the Wolverines, as it will most Legends teams. The November schedule -- at MSU, at Iowa, at Northwester, vs. Ohio State, vs Nebraska -- is unforgiving.
Tommy [via mobile]
Was Penn State lose to Indiana a hiccup or the start of a long season?
Brian Bennett (3:23 PM)
I think Penn State has real depth and personnel issues. I don't think the Lions will go 8-4 again, especially not with games remaining against Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska. But there's still enough talent and O'Brien is a good enough coach that Penn State should at least win six or seven games. Does that count as a long season, when considering the sanctions?
Jake (State Farm )
In a matter of 24 hours, the Hawkeyes predictions went from an 8-9 win team to a team struggling to find 6 wins. Was the MSU defense really that good, and where do you think our two wins would come from? I know how much you hate Iowa !
Brian Bennett (3:25 PM)
I hate Iowa? Really? OK, you'll have to give me one possible reason why that would be the case. Do you think a cornfield killed my grandpa or something? Like I said, the Hawkeyes are a solid team. But the MSU loss hurt. The remaining sked: Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan, Nebraska. Iowa should blow out Purdue, but it will not be favored in any of those other games. Doesn't mean it can't win some of them, especially the ones at home, but it's an uphill climb.
Nebraska is out of the AP poll and off the radar. What kind of performance against who will make folks sit up and take notice that the Huskers might be better than the early returns have indicated?
Brian Bennett (3:26 PM)
Going to sound like a broken record here, but ... November. Nebraska opens the month against Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State. Huskers should be 6-1 at the start of that stretch with still much to prove.
What has Wisc really done to be ranked 4th in the power rankings? They do have 2 losses and probably a third coming against NW. The Ariz st loss to ND this weekend doesn't make that L look very good at all. They seem to be getting respect for beilema's history.... Their wins are Purdue, Umass, and Tenn Tech. They haven't won a game this year that's vs. legitimate good team. Close losses deserve a higher power ranking?
Brian Bennett (3:28 PM)
You have a point about the schedule, but we're also basing it on the eye test. I've seen Wisconsin in person, and that just looks like a really good team to me. Very underrated defense, obvious offensive weapons. Played Ohio State to the wire on the road. And it's not like the rest of the league is swimming in great wins.
I think most people in Minnesota agree with your Bowl Projections now and have Minnesota out of the picture. Minnesota seems to have taken a step backward in year 3 under Jerry Kill and actually has a worse Big 10 record under Kill than under Tim Brewster after 18 games. Thoughts?
Brian Bennett (3:29 PM)
I don't know if it's a step backward, because Minnesota is better than what it showed the last two weeks, I think. But there's just such a lack of explosiveness on offense that's hard to overcome. Minnesota only needs two more wins to go to a bowl, but it will be the underdog in every game the rest of the way. Yes, even at Indiana.
Is it unfair to consider next weeks game against Wisconsin a "must-win" for Northwestern? The legends won't be easy to win with two losses, but I think it's certainly possible, and I think OSU and Wisconsin ont he road are going to be the two toughest matchups of the season.
Brian Bennett (3:31 PM)
Not must-win only because it's not a division game. If Northwestern were to lose but win out, it could still take the Legends, even though it would need some help. That division is so even, though, that 6-2 with a perfect intra-division mark might do it.
What kind of a career do you think Danny Etling will have at Purdue?
Brian Bennett (3:32 PM)
He looks like a very talented kid. Purdue obviously needs to surround him with better talent. The worry is that a lack of success right away might hurt his confidence. But he's got all the tools, from what I've seen.
The Huskers looked much improved defensively against Illinois. Think the black-shirts can continue to get better and help Nebraska contend in the Legends?Also, is there a QB controversy in Lincoln? Martinez has his detractors and the strong play of Tommy Armstrong will do little to silence them.
Brian Bennett (3:33 PM)
It was encouraging, especially against an Illini team that looked to have the skills to exploit Nebraska's D. I think the schedule is working out well to allow Pelini to really work with the young players. They shouldn't sweat too much at Purdue this week, then get another bye before Minnesota. And, no, I'm not buying the QB controversy. What makes anyone think a healthy Taylor Martinez wouldn't have put up great stats against South Dakota State and Illinois?
You referred earlier to the lack of passing on Northwestern's final drive Saturday night, and many NU fans would agree, It seems as if Fitz and OC Mick McCall get too conservative with leads in the fourth quarter, which would explain the Wildcats' fourth-quarter issues against strong teams. Your thoughts?
Brian Bennett (3:36 PM)
I get what they were trying to do: bleed the clock so they could win with a TD and not have to put the defense back on the field. But the passing game had been so successful and -- get this -- Kain Colter is completing 83 percent (!) of his passes this season. (And why not take a timeout before that fourth down play to make sure you get it absolutely right?). Still, the inability to stop Ohio State's running game or convert more scoring opportunities into touchdowns early is what killed the 'Cats on Saturday.
Hey Brian. My 8-4 prediction this season for my Lions is clearly not going to happen. I don't think I expected the defense to be this bad, I thought we had quality young gentlemen to come up and plug the holes left by last years seniors. I don't agree with the notion the sanctions are really hurting the D. It looks more to me like an overall lack of talent and poor gameplanning. How long before we see a true PSU defense again?
Brian Bennett (3:38 PM)
Yeah, Tom, I'm not seeing 8-4 either. I agree on the lack of top-shelf talent, but Penn State also doesn't have the luxury of rotating a lot of guys to stay fresh, and players have had to play a bit out of position because of injuries/depth. This is one of the worst Penn State defenses in years. How long? It might be until the scholarships get back up to speed.
It seems like you and Adam hold Nebraska and Michigan in a tier above MSU at this point. I guess my question is why based on what you've seen so far? It seems all three are pretty even to me.
Brian Bennett (3:40 PM)
We probably give a little more edge to teams that score a bunch of points than ones that play great defense and win tighter games. Not necessarily a good thing on our part. I agree that all are pretty even. In fact, after Ohio State, not a lot of separation in this league from 2 through six or seven. But we've got to rank them. The rankings will change throughout the year
Why is MSU's D so much better than every other defense in the league? And who's would you rank second?
Brian Bennett (3:42 PM)
The obvious answer is players. To go deeper, credit Pat Narduzzi as not only a great coordinator, but one who's been there a while and has been together with Dantonio -- a defensive minded coach -- for a long time. They've got a great plan and have recruited and developed to it beautifully. A big key is their cornerback play. They get physical and can play a lot of solo coverage, which helps the safeties and LBs concentrate on the run or bringing pressure. It can be a high wire act at times (see Notre Dame) but for the most part it works.
Nebraska fans need to pump the breaks on the Tommy Armstrong talk, right? I'm as excited as anybody about the kid... NEXT YEAR. Armstrong doesn't have Martinez' breakaway speed, and he isn't proven against the best defenses in the league. There was at least one read T-Magic would have housed last week that Armstrong could not, and Martinez has led late comebacks against Ohio State, Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Penn State. T-Magic has earned the right to be the guy as soon as he is healthy, hasn't he?
Brian Bennett (3:43 PM)
Totally agree. Reminds me of the Guiton-Miller "controversy." People get enamored with the shiny new thing. This is still Martinez's team.
Brian Bennett (3:43 PM)
Wacha's been great. Can the Cardinals please get some runs?
Caleb (Los Angeles)
How is it that Iowa always falls for a fake punt on 4th and long and the opponent ALWAYS picks up the first? It just doesn't seem possible.
Brian Bennett (3:44 PM)
It is strange, isn't it? Teams must see something in Iowa's return team that they can exploit. But at this point, you think the Hawkeyes would be on high alert for fakes, particularly against a Dantonio-coached team
Nick (East Lansing)
As a spartan fan, I agree with you in ranking teams with good offense above those with a good defense. Rule changes have made it so defense no longer wins championships, offenses do (see MSU@ND).
Brian Bennett (3:45 PM)
Yeah, I mean just look at what's going on in the NFL. Alabama has won national titles on the strength of its defense, but its offensive lines have also been overpowering and it has elite talent. It's a hard formula for other teams to copy.
When Gary Andersen was hiring assistants, the one hire that didn't get a real positive reaction from the B1G blog was Andy Ludwig as OC. Now that you've seen him in action with the Badgers, has your opinion changed?
Brian Bennett (3:47 PM)
It's really hard to be critical of anything Ludwig has done. The Wisconsin offense looks like a classic Badgers attack. He has smartly kept the power run game as the focus, and the passing game is improving. Even some plays that didn't work were more on poor execution than design, since receivers have been wide open on some pass calls. Ludwig's done a nice job.
Lou (Tampa, FL)
What surprises me the most re: PSU (other than the unusually porous D) is the lack of imagination in the run game. You'd think with three RB's each of which with a different style and an 18-y/o QB, they'd show a lot of different looks and dare I say "gadgets" in the run game. But that's not the case. Seems counter-intuitive to me.
Brian Bennett (3:48 PM)
We didn't really see a lot of Lynch last week, and only 17 carries for Zwinak seemed way too low to me against the Big Ten's worst rushing defense. O'Brien got away from the run too much vs. IU, no doubt about it.
Nebraska's defense still hasn't impressed me in terms of consistency or in terms of stopping the run, and that WILL bite them in league play, but I've been impressed with their ability to ball-hawk create turnovers. What is Nebraska's ceiling if this defense has basically established what it is going to be this year, and we don't see any marked improvements?
Brian Bennett (3:49 PM)
If the defense doesn't build on last week's performance and get much better vs. the best teams, a 9-3 record is probably the ceiling this year.
Brian Bennett (3:50 PM)
One hit allowed in the last 12 innings for Michael Wacha.
How many snaps do you expect from Ryan when he returns for Michigan in the next week or two? Do you think they will ease him in?
Brian Bennett (3:51 PM)
Brady Hoke talked today about being nervous over playing Ryan. Ryan is raring to go and has been cleared, but Hoke does not want to risk another injury. Still, if he's ready to go, you put him in there for as much as his conditioning will allow. He's Michigan's best defensive player.
Matt (Bedford, IN)
So is Indiana really as good as they appeared against PSU, or are we IU fans to expect a big let down on this whole Bowl game talk?
Brian Bennett (3:52 PM)
The offense can be that good if it maintains consistency, although another OL injury last week is worrisome. The defense has a long way to go still. The good news is Indiana still has Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota, all at home. Even if it can't pull off another upset, it could win all three of those to go bowling.
Who's the better I-back? Hyde or Abdulla?
Brian Bennett (3:54 PM)
Interesting question. Both very different styles, as Hyde is more physical and Abdullah is faster (though both are more than one-dimensional backs). Hyde's O-line is a bit better, and Abdullah might be a bit better as a receiver. I'd be happy to have either.
When will youth stop being an excuse in Ann Arbor?
Brian Bennett (3:55 PM)
It's a fair question. Isn't that also one of the great side benefits of having great recruiting classes? You can always point to youth and the future. And let's not forget: Michigan is 5-0.
Silver Bullets (OH-IO)
Forgive me, but why is everyone so high on MSU and not OSU when it comes to defense? Which high powered offense has MSU beaten so far to prove anything? Wisconsin? Northwestern? . . .
Brian Bennett (3:57 PM)
It's fair to say Michigan State hasn't played a great or even a really good offense yet. Meanwhile, Ohio State has faced Cal, Wisconsin and Northwestern. Still, the Spartans' numbers are off the charts, and they absolutely choked out a powerful Iowa running game. Plus, this isn't a new thing. MSU has been doing this now for years on D. It's legit.
Matt (St. Paul)
Brian, Jerry Kill missed another game due to seizures on Saturday. At what point does he and the AD have to sit down and discuss his and the program's future? I really like Coach Kill, but having him miss games is starting to get hard to swallow as a Gopher fan.
Brian Bennett (3:58 PM)
It's sad, but it's hard to argue it the other way. Missing parts of games is bad enough. Not even traveling with the team is something that just can't continue to happen. No one wants Jerry Kill to succeed more than me. I just don't know if this can continue to go on much longer.
Vincent Rath (Columbus)
Brian- Watching Ohio State the previous two weeks, I have noticed that Roby has been playing terribly. I don't mean to take away from Abbrederis, but Roby looked like he had no clue what he was doing out there against Wisconsin, and his game against Northwestern was just bad. I get that he has had a couple of good shining moments out there, but the plays he has given up are just too big. If he continues to blow coverage like he has, is there any chance that Meyer benches his All-American favorite?
Brian Bennett (4:00 PM)
Roby has had a few really good moments, but way too many bad ones. Abbrederis abused him, and Northwestern's WRs had a strong day as well. Roby's not getting benched, because Ohio State doesn't have a better player than him. But at this point he's not playing at an All-Big Ten caliber, much less All-American, and he has hurt his draft status. He might have been better served to jump after last season. A whole half season left, though.
Brian Bennett (4:00 PM)
OK, that's all my time for this week. Going to go fret over the Cardinals' impotent offense. Enjoy the week, everybody