Big Ten

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag
October 9, 2013 5:00:19 PM PDT
By Brian Bennett

Mail time ...

Mark H. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: My comment/question is in regards to Ohio State. If it were not for the bowl ban last year, Ohio State probably would have received more votes and more "love" in regards to the polls. They probably would have been in the BCS title game, and with the way Notre Dame played and the way the OSU defense came together, they could have won the national title. If OSU runs the table this year, that would be 25 consecutive victories. The last time that was accomplished was the USC dynasties of 2003-2005. I agree their schedule is not the greatest (however some of that is out of their control due to when games are scheduled) in regards to quality of opponents. However, it is difficult to win 25 games in a row in any sport. When will OSU start getting the credit that they deserve? It seems ridiculous that a team could win 25 straight and not play for a national title. Yes, the schedule is not extremely tough, but not all of our games are against FCS opponents. When will OSU get their shot and the past stop hurting them?

Brian Bennett: I'm not in any way convinced that Ohio State was BCS title caliber last year, but if the Buckeyes had gotten in against Notre Dame, there was a good shot they would have won it (And SEC fans would never have stopped complaining about it). Yet I don't think any past Ohio State performances or history is hurting this team as much as the schedule and the perceived weakness of the Big Ten. Right or wrong, people just don't think the Buckeyes have played strong-enough competition, and though their wins over Wisconsin and Northwestern were terrific, they were in a dogfight at the end of those games.

Urban Meyer's team is actually in a good position in the USA Today coaches' poll at No. 3 (the AP poll makes no difference in the BCS formula). Yet it's not so simple as saying a loss by Alabama or Oregon will get Ohio State into the top two. The Florida State-Clemson winner is likely to leapfrog the Buckeyes, and Stanford could do the same if it beats Oregon. If you're an Ohio State fan, you've got to root for the Pac-12 and ACC champions to each have one loss. If that happens, then the Buckeyes should get a shot if they run the table, which is becoming an increasingly likely scenario.

The problem is, as I wrote Sunday, that the top teams just aren't losing much this year. That could change in the second half. A few key games to keep an eye on in regards to Ohio State's chances:

Saturday: Oregon at Washington. The Huskies gave Stanford all they could handle last weekend. Beating Oregon will be tough, but the game's at home for U-Dub.

Oct. 19: Stanford vs. UCLA: If the Bruins can win in Palo Alto, the Cardinal would already have one loss heading into its Nov. 7 showdown against Oregon.

Nov. 30: Clemson at South Carolina. Say the Tigers beat Florida State (the game is in Death Valley). Then the Gamecocks could knock the ACC out of BCS title contention here.

Nov. 30: Florida State at Florida. Same deal as above for the Seminoles. (Yes, Ohio State fans might have to root for the SEC). The Noles also play Miami on Nov. 2.

Ohio State is going to need some help somewhere. But it must also actually win its next seven games first.

John from Fort Lauderdale writes: Don't know about you but I love this Ohio State team. Just got done playing a physical Wisconsin team and played on the road at Northwestern, with the Wildcats having a week off to prepare, and they still won! I have to give credit where credit is due, OSU didn't play their best game by any means, and I think Northwestern played with more passion and played as best they could.

Brian Bennett: What's interesting to me about these Buckeyes is that Meyer has kind of the rock-star persona, at least in college football land, and there's lots of buzz about Ohio State's speed and athletes. But, really, the 18-game winning streak has been more about grinding it out. For me, the offensive line has been the biggest key to everything. It's the best line in the Big Ten, and the Buckeyes can wear teams down at the end of game by simply lining it up and running. They've done that ever since the win at Michigan State last year and did it again in the second half in Evanston. Speaking of which ...

Confused Fan from Somewhere, Ohio writes: All spring and summer building up to the season, Urban Meyer stressed how last year Ohio State didn't exactly run the spread offense he wanted, and it was more of a pro style. Then he'd talk about how the real spread offense was going to be run this year. The first few games we saw a little bit of the H-Back with Jordan Hall/Dontre Wilson but it was very little. Now that we have Carlos Hyde back it seems like they've got right back to the offense we ran last year. This last week against Northwestern, Hall didn't even play, and Wilson had zero carries or receptions and the H-back was nonexistent. When will we see the REAL spread offense if at all?!?!?

Brian Bennett: We saw it a bit more against Wisconsin, when Wilson was used quite a bit. But Meyer went old school Big Ten against Northwestern. I think he and Tom Herman recognized that Ohio State had the advantage up front and that was the best way to beat the Wildcats, who to their credit have increased their speed on the perimeter in recent years under Pat Fitzgerald. But Northwestern isn't the biggest team physically at a lot of positions. Hey, you do what you have to do to win games, and the combination of speed and power is what makes the Buckeyes tough to spot. They did score 40 in Evanston, though two of those came on non-offensive touchdowns (and the last one made a lot of people in Las Vegas mad. Or giddy).

Mike from Macungie, Pa., writes: I'm sure you're getting a lot of grief from the Penn State fans for your Indiana article, but I did want to say it was very well written. It was a tough game to watch, and an even tougher loss to swallow, but Indiana played REALLY well and we did not. Anyway, as always keep up the good work, and hopefully you can write about Penn State's one-week turnaround against Michigan!

Brian Bennett: I haven't gotten any grief, and I actually went to Bloomington figuring I'd pick up a feature story on Penn State heading into Michigan week. Then Indiana pulled the upset, and it turned into a bigger and much different story than I anticipated. And apparently more than Indiana fans expected, because the stands were sadly about half empty.

Terry from Newport News, Va., writes: With the obvious decline of the product PSU can put on the field; will Bill O'Brien's NFL stock fall? Should he have bolted after last season? I'd hate to see him leave but It looks like a couple .500 or less seasons in our future.

Brian Bennett: O'Brien would not want to work for any NFL franchise that somehow sees this as an indictment of his coaching ability. While O'Brien didn't have his best day in Bloomington -- I thought he should have played for points early, and I didn't like how he went away from the run against the Big Ten's worst rush defense -- a decline by Penn State would have so much more to do with the roster and scholarship issues than the head coach. The Nittany Lions are playing a true freshman quarterback and have, for them, a shocking lack of big-time playmakers on defense. Former college head coaches like Greg Schiano and Chip Kelly aren't exactly setting the NFL world on fire. But O'Brien's background as the highly successful former New England Patriots offensive coordinator ensures he will remain a hot commodity at the next level.

Andrew from Bloomington writes: After reading several posts about the IU/PSU game, the vast majority of bloggers say it was an awful loss for the Lions and rarely credit the Hoosiers for a BIG (pun intended) victory. They especially like to blame Zwinak/Lynch/Belton instead of actually crediting IU for having SOME semblance of a run defense (WHAT?!?). I understand BO'B is working under the circumstance of reduced scholarships, but shouldn't people be giving more credit to Indiana for a win they needed for bowl eligibility?

Brian Bennett: I got the sense, from talking to Kevin Wilson and some players afterward, that Indiana wasn't surprised by that performance. In fact, they felt like that's how they should have been playing. If you'll recall, the Hoosiers put up a lot of yards on teams last season, but they didn't always translate that to points. They were able to do that in the second half on Saturday, and it was clear that their receiving corps, led by Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes, was too much for Penn State's secondary. Wilson has also been adding young talent to the defense, and while it's far from a great or even good unit, it finally made some plays in key moments. It helped that Penn State didn't have a lot of options outside of Allen Robinson in the passing game, and that O'Brien didn't stick with the run. I think Zach Zwinak could have had a really big day if he'd gotten 25-to-30 carries instead of only 17.

Brian from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., writes: Do you think Ameer Abdullah's beastly game against Illinois was: A) A one-time, supernatural occurence, B) A product of a leaky Illinois front 7, or C) A sign that Ameer has finally found his running style and rhythm?

Brian Bennett: I'd go with a combination of B and C. Abdullah has had big games before, though nothing quite as large as 225-yard effort on Saturday. He's always had the talent to be a great back in the Big Ten. I do think Abdullah has asserted himself and become a leader on the Nebraska offense, especially with Taylor Martinez out. And Illinois' defense is probably going to struggle against the better offenses in this league. Add in the fact that it was a windy day in Lincoln best suited for running the ball, and the conditions were ripe for an Abdullah explosion. Wish I'd had him on my Big Ten fantasy team, though I still crushed Rittenberg last week.

Pat from Madison, Wis., writes: Brian, I think J.J. Watt's and Russell Wilson's respective success in the NFL does more for Wisconsin's perception among recruits than either wins, or TV exposure. Now that practically every program can be seen on TV, traditional programs lose that carrot for recruits. As the NFL is the dream for the very best prospects, they'll want to know if there is a track record of success at the next level. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: I was just thinking about this the other day. Wisconsin can lay claim to two of the biggest stars in the NFL right now, and it's something they need to capitalize on. Gary Andersen knows this, and on Monday he talked about how he sent out care packages full of Badgers gear to former players. I'm sure he wouldn't mind seeing Wilson and Watt wearing a Wisconsin hat or sweatshirt while doing national interviews. As Andersen and the Badgers look to improve their national recruiting presence, they should emphasize how playing in Madison can lead to greatness at the next level.

Nick from Big Ten Country, USA: I need you to look deep into your crystal ball for me. No lotto numbers or anything silly like that, just important stuff like Michigan's future this season. When the season's finished what will the Wolverines' identity be as a team? Will we be able to look back on the success/failure of the team and point to how Devin Gardner overcame his turnover issues or will he let it define him? Will we be able to hang our hats on a solid defense that keeps us in games and makes stops when they're absolutely necessary? Will we focus on a young Michigan team that grew up in a hurry or showed their youth? Will it be another successful failure in which we find ourselves in some combination of 10+ wins, a win over Ohio, or a BCS bowl but no BIG Championship?

Brian Bennett: The crystal ball may work better after this weekend, because I'd like to see if Michigan can go get it done in State College. We know the Wolverines are awfully good at home, but the road has been a different story. And though Penn State has some issues, it also probably has the best offense Michigan's defense has faced. Like all Legends Division contenders, November will define the season for Brady Hoke's team. Michigan plays on the road against Michigan State, Iowa and Northwestern and has Nebraska and Ohio State at home that month. Rigorous.

Before the season, I picked Michigan to miss out on the Legends title because I thought the team was a bit too young. The schedule was viewed as highly advantageous, but I'm not so sure about those November road games, much less this weekend. This is a team that should improve, especially if Jake Ryan comes back mostly healthy. But I think we will eventually view this year as one of transition for Hoke's program, with something like a 9-3 record and Capital One Bowl appearance. That's what my crystal ball says for now. But check back later.

Tags: Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Brady Hoke, Urban Meyer, Kevin Wilson, Carlos Hyde, Gary Andersen, Jake Ryan, Kofi Hughes, Ameer Abdullah, big ten mailbag, Cody Latimer, Bill O'Brien, Allen Robinson, Zach Zwinak, Dontre Wilson

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