Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Big Ten Wednesday mailbag
By Brian Bennett
One week of actual football in the books means I've got a mailbag full of actual football questions. Life is good.
Greyson from Visiting San Fran writes: Sitting here, watching the Northwestern game and the Northwestern defensive players seemingly going down to stop momentum of Cal, do you think there will ever be a time where the NCAA will set in motion a rule that prevents this from happening (a player going down from an "injury," then returning a play or two later)? Perhaps forcing the player to sit out the entire series before returning? I don't remember this being much of an issue until the past season or two, but it not only slows the game down but seems to be an unfair loophole in the system for stopping the clock and slowing momentum.
Brian Bennett: Northwestern wasn't the only team accused of faking injuries last weekend to slow down tempo. Georgia also dealt with similar charges against Clemson, though both Pat Fitzgerald and Georgia's Mark Richt denied doing it. It's a very tricky question because it involves intent. Do we really want to regulate so that if a key player legitimately turns an ankle or has the wind knocked out of them, that he has to sit on the sidelines for an entire series in a potentially crucial situation? Perhaps a rule like that could work, if given the exception that the player could return immediately if there was a timeout.
But asking officials to judge whether an injury is real or fake seems like a dicey proposition to me. We're already putting a lot on their judgment calls, including the very controversial targeting penalty. This reminds me a lot of flopping in soccer and basketball; fans hate it, and the sports have tried to find ways to deal with it, but they have succeeded only partially because determining intent is so difficult. A blatant fake injury should be worth at least a delay-of-game penalty. But even the act of throwing a penalty, announcing it and setting up the play again slows down no-huddle offenses.
Tyler L. from Livonia, Mich., writes: I have a question about MSU, which is surprising because of my religious following of Michigan. But if little brother isn't playing Michigan, then I'd like MSU to win as much as possible. However, after Sparty's poor performance against Western Michigan, should they be hitting the panic button? While their defense was impressive and Jeremy Langford seemed promising, the offense could not move the ball, the pass blocking was poor, the play calling was unimaginative, Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook couldn't move the chains and the receivers showed little improvement from last year. So shouldn't Sparty fans pretty worried?
Brian Bennett: Yes and no. No, because the defense is once again so good, and from the looks of the Western Michigan game, more geared up toward generating sacks and turnovers. Michigan State has a chance to be in just about every game as it was a year ago. Yes, because the offense does not look any better than last season and could possibly be even worse because there's no Le'Veon Bell or Dion Sims around. I wonder if Mark Dantonio will regret not hiring a hotshot offensive coordinator from outside the program when he had the chance, because doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Still, it's only one week, and if you'll recall, even the 2011 Spartans struggled out of the gate offensively. I don't think this offense can match the one led by Kirk Cousins that year, but there are some young playmakers that Dantonio and his staff can develop. Reaching mediocrity on offense is all it will really take for this team to succeed.
George G. from Parts Unknown writes: Brian, do you think the Buckeyes' favorable schedule of weak competition will work for them or against them? Strength of schedule points should definitely work against them, but an undefeated record of pounding these lesser teams should keep them in the hunt the the national championship. What do you think?
Brian Bennett: Well, it's certainly not going to help, and it was disappointing to see this week's opponent, San Diego State, lose to FCS Eastern Illinois in its opener. The strength of schedule argument basically hurts Ohio State in any tiebreaker argument. If the Buckeyes are being compared to another undefeated power-conference team, the nonconference schedule could easily tilt the choice away from them. On the plus side, if Ohio State goes undefeated, it's going to be awfully hard to keep them out of the BCS title game unless there is more than one undefeated major conference champion, which is still a rarity. The other issue for Ohio State is that by having a weak schedule, there is pressure on the team to not just win, but to win in highly impressive fashion. Beating Buffalo 40-20 only brings out critics, and voters responded by moving Oregon -- who beat a pretty hapless FCS team in Nicholls State -- ahead of Ohio State in this week's poll. Those same voters will be looking to see Ohio State emphatically put away San Diego State this weekend after what the Aztecs did.
Devin from Vegas writes: All right, Bennett, so now you're officially on record as having IU beating Purdue, making a bowl game and Coach Wilson winning the B1G COY award. So if the improbable does indeed happen, riddle me this: Will Coach Wilson be on IU's sidelines next season? I would appreciate some odds that Wilson is at IU next year if all this does happen and if we wake up from this dream and real life intervenes?
Brian Bennett: This is the problem when you're at a program of Indiana's current stature. If you hire a coach who can elevate you quickly back to respectability, other schools will come after that coach. I know that Kevin Wilson is focused on getting the job done at Indiana and that athletic director Fred Glass and the school have made a major commitment to football, including impressive upgrades to the facilities there. But you have to wonder when Wilson is calling for fans to show up for games and the stands still aren't packed for last week's opener, and his offensive style of play will be very attractive to potential suitors. The Hoosiers have the money to match most offers; the question will be whether Wilson truly feels he can compete for championships in Bloomington or if he'll want a bigger challenge. Right now, though, the only task that matters is getting Indiana back to the postseason.
Matt from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hi, Brian. After watching Indiana last week, I feel that this team could potentially challenge for a New Year's Day bowl. Am I wrong about this? Their out-of-conference schedule is tough, but they should be able to outscore all four of their opponents. In the conference, you have to think they get wins over PSU, Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota just on offensive prowess alone. They probably won't beat OSU, Wisky or Michigan, but you have to think their offense has to chops to down low-scoring Sparty. If so, are we talking a 9-win team in a NYD bowl for the Hoosiers? I can't find a defense on their schedule that will hold them under 28 points.
Brian Bennett: Two optimistic Indiana questions in one mailbag! The Hoosiers are definitely creating some buzz. Let's take a deep breath first and remember that the Hoosiers played Indiana State last Thursday, but you're right to be excited over that offense Wilson has put together. If you want to dream of a New Year's Day bowl, I mean I guess it is possible; after all, the Heart of Dallas Bowl is played on Jan. 1. I'm still worried about that defense, which had its lapses in the opener, and future nonconference opponents Missouri and Bowling Green each looked good in their first games. Navy won't be easy this week, either. I agree with you that Indiana should be favored over Illinois, Purdue and quite possibly Minnesota, but Penn State is another matter. I still see this team getting to a bowl, but nine-win talk seems wildly ambitious at this point.
J.P. from Washington, D.C., writes: I promise I'm not bashing the refs, just looking for an explanation of the rules: In the Nebraska-Wyoming game, NU defensive end Randy Gregory was penalized 15 yards for "roughing the passer" on a play when he tackled the quarterback while the QB still had possession of the football. Gregory was not penalized for "targeting" or for leading with his helmet, he was not penalized for a "horse collar" tackle, and he was not penalized for a "hit on a defenseless player." Under what conditions (other than those I just described) is it considered "roughing" when tackling the QB while he still has possession of the football?
Brian Bennett: It was a very strange call, but apparently the referee simply said the wrong thing in announcing the penalty. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said Monday that the officials told him that Gregory was actually called for unnecessary roughness when he sacked Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith. Gregory hit Smith up near the neck, and in our new-age football times, that was enough to draw a flag. Pelini obviously disagreed with the call, and the "roughing" announcement was silly. Remember, it was the first week for the refs, too.
TJ from Ashland, Wis., writes: I know it's UMass, but didn't you think that Wisconsin's O-line looked solid? I don't know that I noticed one badly missed assignment or any problems at left tackle, or silly penalties? I know the success of the running game had much to do with ... you know, UMass. However, it looked a bit more dynamic to me. So what are your thoughts when considering, in the spirit of the saying "that a running back does more for an offensive line than the reverse," could you argue that the three tailbacks for Wisconsin might improve the overall running game from last year with Montee Ball? I know what Montee did during his time at UW, but I also know how many UW linemen went to the NFL during that time.
Brian Bennett: Of course, we have to take into consideration the strength of the opponent. But Wisconsin's offensive line certainly looked better and more cohesive than what we saw from it in the first few weeks of last season, when it was such a mess that Bret Bielema made a rare, in-season coaching change at the position. Gary Andersen said Tuesday that the line, as well as the tight ends and fullbacks, played really well and that all three positions were a big key in springing three 100-yard rushers (Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement). The Badgers play an FCS opponent this week and won't really show their true colors until Week 3 at Arizona State. But I think it's legitimate to say the overall running game can be better this year because of the O-line. The one worry: There is a lack of depth if injuries occur.
TJ from Elkhorn, Wis., writes: Between the handling of Dan Persa two years ago and Venric Mark this year, have my Wildcats become the New England Patriots of college football when it comes to injury reports? Also, over/under on when we find out what Venric's issue really is? I'll set it at Jan. 2 and take the over.
Brian Bennett: Well, at least we all knew that Persa had an injury, though we didn't realize the severity. The oddity with Mark is that I didn't hear or read anywhere that he was hurt. Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats did a remarkable job keeping that under wraps, especially considering that they have open practice sessions. We still don't know what Mark's injury is and might not find out what it is for a long, long time. Fitzgerald is generally a very open and honest coach, but when it comes to protecting injury information about players who can so dramatically change the course of a game and the other team's preparations, I can't criticize him for that.
Drew from Lafayette, Ind., writes: After the Boilermakers' major collapse in Cincinnati, what're your thoughts on the team and how they can bounce back?
Brian Bennett: Darrell Hazell said Tuesday that after watching the film, he was convinced that "there's a good team in our locker room." A wiseacre like me might joke that the good team needs to clear out before the Boilermakers get ready for their next practice. But in all seriousness, I definitely think Purdue is a lot better team than what it showed on Saturday, where things really snowballed in the second half. Chalk it up to the first game under a new staff and what Hazell called some communication issues. There is enough talent on the roster that the Boilers will improve and play a whole lot better than they did in Week 1. The problem is the brutal and unrelenting schedule after this week's Indiana State game. I just don't see many wins in the next two months.
Lucas C. from Pittsburgh writes: Good call... I bet Iowa loses to NIU. Way to pay attention to what Iowa has done to improve. Get your head out of OSU's and Michigan's ---. Iowa wins by two TDs.
Brian Bennett: The lesson here is if you're going to send me this type of email on a Friday, you'd better be very, very sure of your team's success. I was 12-0 in my picks this week. Just sayin'.