On Friday, Steve Helwagen, the Big Ten senior writer for 247Sports.com, conducted his weekly Chat on the Big Ten message board (linked here).
Below is the archive of Friday’s Chat, plus Helwagen also provides an updated look at how the Big Ten races could pan out.
Steve, I'm having an argument with a pompous Trojan on the Blue Board about whether or not Braxton Miller is one of the top 5 sophomores in the nation. What are your thoughts? Who, if anybody, does he trail in your expert opinion? Is he top 5 nationally?
Helwagen: I've never really thought about it in terms of classes. But most pundits right now have Miller in their top 10, if not top 5, for the Heisman Trophy. He's only one-third of the way through the season and we'll see how he does against better competitiion down the line.
ESPN.com publishes a weekly Heisman watch:
Out of 15 guys listed, there are only 3 sophomores. WVU QB Geno Smith leads the way.
Oregon RB De'Anthony Thomas is fourth, Miller is fifth and USC WR Marquise Lee is 10th. I'm sure more sophs will come and go as the season wears on. But I think that says a lot there. After 4 games, he is among the best of the best regardless of class. He's thrown 2 picks in 4 games.
He has a lot of work still to do and a long way to go still in his development. But we've seen so far is pretty good. Let's see if he's still there next week after going against an MSU defense that dominated OSU last year.
How can you see Wisconsin losing by that much to Nebraska? Do you see us just Sh***ng the bed? If Ohio State loses on Saturday, who do you see as the best team in the B1G?
Helwagen: I picked Nebraska to win 41-23. Various reasons:
Nebraska has looked real good last 2 weeks, albeit against terrible competition. But they seem to be back on top of their game.
Wisconsin, on the contrary, hasn't gotten out of the starting blocks yet. there's a chance this is the week they put it together. If Ball can rumble for 150, they have a chance.
But Wisconsin is starting a RS freshman QB on the road in a VERY hostile environment. I was at Lincoln last year one week after Wisconsin obliterated Nebraska by 30. That crowd acted like it never happened and willed that team to a comebcak from down 20 to win.
Nebraska has Burkhead back to go with Martinez and Abdullah. They can diversify and attack a Wisconsin defense that is still finding itself.
And you have the revenge factor. Wisconsin rubbed Nebraska's nose in it last year, not that they ran it up or anything like that. They just beat them from pillar to post with Wilson and Ball just doing whatever they wanted. I think Pelini has them keyed way UP to return that favor in UW's visit.
My question to you is why you think Wisconsin will keep this close, based on what we've seen? Yes, Nebraska got trampled by UCLA's offense. But otherwise has been pretty good. Not sure Wisconsin can even get half those yards based on what I've seen so far. What am I missing?
If Ohio State loses on Saturday, you'd have to say MSU is tops in the Big Ten. But the top 5 or 6 teams -- OSU, MSU, Michigan, Nebraska and maybe NW, Wis and Purdue -- are all so close with each other that who's "the best" will probably vary from week to week.
The winner of Wisconsin-Nebraska could also make a case as well, I guess.
What's the biggest reason for Iowa's lack of success this season thus far in your opinion?
Helwagen: Talent, I guess. Do they have the kind of blue chippers they need to be dominant. Iowa has kind of flown under the radar with 3 star guys who they coach up to become competitive with 4 stars. They've had some studs, obviously, like the OL they've produced and a Clayborn, etc.
But by and large, the typical Iowa player is a guy who works his tail off and plays over his head each Saturday and that's how Ferentz has knocked off some big teams here and there over the years. Now they are struggling to play with Iowa State and losing to MAC teams at home.
I am going to assume they do not have difference makers they need on the D-line (because those guys start the momentum and tempo for every team).
Also, you've had staff changes and that takes a while to assimilate with new coordinators.
And the RB position has been an unmitigated disaster the last 4-5 years. I think for my doctoral thesis in college football studies I will write a 30,000-word essay on what's happened at that position for Iowa in the last 5 years. Just stunning.
When I looked at them before the year, i saw Vandenberg (3,000 yard passer) throwing to 2 proven receivers. I assume they would have no problem. I was wrong, obviously. The OL must not be up to snuff and teams don't have to respect the run game, Weisman's play notwithstanding. He's not a HR threat. So you can back off and keep plays underneath. That's what I see and feel.
Steve, with Devin Gardner moved to WR, who does UM rely on if Denard gets injured? Would they be up a creek if he went down?
Also, will Robinson get drafted? If so, what round do you see him going? What position would he play at the next level? Any chance he plays defense (like cornerback)?
Helwagen: I think Gardner could go back to quarterback in a pinch if Michigan needed him to. Denard is taking a beating right now, so that has to be a consideration at some point in Big Ten play.
They list Russell Belomy, a RS freshman, as Denard's backup with Gardner third. Hoke will go with the guy who gives them the best shot. Will they keep Gardner at WR next year and go with Bellomy then? That's something they will sort out in the spring. I think they are honestly OK if something happens to Denard with those other 2.
Yes, I think Robinson will get drafted, maybe in rounds 4-7 somewhere, maybe even higher if he does well rest of the year and tests well, etc. He is a unique talent. He could be a wildcat guy in the red zone or a decent enough backup, perhaps. Lot of ways you could use him. Heck, he may line up at RB in the NFL. He's listed 6-0, 197. If he gets to 210 or 215 maybe that's the route he goes. I think he has value as a situational player, maybe a special teams guy like a Josh Cribbs. They seem kind of similar.
Much was made in Nebraska about the loss to UCLA. On the road, at night, no burkhead, new coach. Can Nebraskas offense be an equal to Michigan States defense this year? I see this game as possibly the most important game of the year in the B1G at this point.
Helwagen: No question, that will be a biggie as well as those 2 teams' games with Michigan, too.
This week's game against Wisconsin will be a decent indicator regarding whether Nebraska can hang with MSU's defense. I want to see how the Huskers move it against a Big Ten defense and then think about how they will match up with MSU.
I also think MSU has struggled just a bit without having that stud Worthy up front. They are awfully good though anyway.
But, yes, I think with Martinez's improvement, emergence of receivers and 2 go-to weapons with Burkhead and Abdullah, the Huskers have a chance to challenge MSU. That game is at MSU and won't be easy. Nebraska will need to be imaginative against that great defense and keep them off-balance with screens and other misdirection plays, perhaps.
Michael Bruntz said...
Initial impressions of Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave?
Helwagen: Pretty plucky kid. Bielema says when Stave comes in a room, everybody lights up. He has that kind of charisma you want in a QB. He says he was a walk-on, but it was a preferred situation where all parties knew he would get a scholarship when one was available. So he is better than somebody you'd say is a freshman.
He is walking into a lion's den at Nebraska. I saw how OSU did with a freshman QB there last year (pretty good for a while, then swallowed whole).
I think over the course of the year, he will do fine. He needs Abbrederis to play big for him. If he's out, they are kind of dead in the water. they need the OL to play up to Wisconsin standards. I don't think we've seen that yet (hence the coaching change after 2 games).
Michael Bruntz said...
Let's play the what-if game, Steve.
Who is the one player in the conference that a team couldn't live without -- that one guy who would sink his team with a season-ending injury.
Helwagen: I'd say MSU's Le'Veon Bell. He has been propping that team up and carrying that offense.
After that, I'd say any of the frontline QBs like Miller, Denard, Martinez and Maxwell.
NW and Minnesota have each gone 4-0 rotating 2 guys at QB. That hasn't worked for Illinois, though, with Scheelhaase out.
Penn State is 2--2, but it seems like if something happened to McGloin they would be back to square 1 especially after Jones just quit.
My first answer to your question would be Bell and then probably Miller at OSU. They represent so much of their team's offense.
Michael Bruntz said...
Do you still catch yourself saying Mon-tee instead of Mon-tay?
Helwagen: I think he should go back to being Mon-tee, he's had nothing but bad luck since the move to Mon-tay
Michael Bruntz said...
Best player you've seen play live in the Big Ten?
Helwagen: Oh, man, what a great question ...
I go back live to the early 1980s watching OSU games and then broadening out. Some great ones I've seen ...
Art Schlichter at QB for OSU
Cris Carter at WR for OSU
Chris Spielman at LB for OSU
Keith Byars at RB for OSU (Heisman winner in 84 if not for Flutie Hail Mary vs Miami)
Jim Harbaugh at QB for Michigan
Desmond Howard at WR/KR for Michigan
Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter were something for a year or 2 there at Penn State
Eddie George and Orlando Pace were something for a year or 2 at Ohio State
The David Boston/Charles Woodson battles were great
Ted Ginn Jr. and Troy Smith were magicians
Those are probably most of the best ones I've seen live. They all bring something different.
Troy Smith had the greatest year at QB, arguably, than anybody in Big Ten history in 2006 (well, until the Florida game).
Eddie George was amazing as well, great blend of speed and power. He was 6-3, 227 of chiseled granite his senior year. Just awesome.
Oh and I forgot Drew Brees at Purdue. Man, did he put on a display once against OSU at West Lafayette. Amazing. It would be hard to rank the performances or the players. Too many to recall.
And, you know I haven't mentioned Ron Dayne from Wisconsin either. He changed the culture of Wisconsin football, really. He won the Heisman at Wisconsin, unthinkable just 5-10 years prior to that.
The best opponent of OSU's was probably Brees with that game at WL in 2000, I think he threw for about 4 bills.
Spielman had a 29-tackle game against Michigan in 1986 that stands out. Cris Carter made one highlight reel TD catch every game. And George/Pace were just dominant. I'd have to really think about it.
Steve, would you agree the problem with the Big Ten in a nutshell is the hiring of mediocre head coaches? Example: Illinois and Tim Beckman. Nothing against him personally, but let's talk about his football acumen. He was a DECENT head coach in the MAC. And that's only because he inherited some dynamic offensive players like Eric Page. Beckman is a defensive coach at heart and his defenses were atrocious at Toledo. He also didn't have much experience as a coordinator (only 1 or 2 years at Oklahoma State where his defenses weren't very good). He was just the cornerbacks coach at Ohio State. That was a good role for him -- position coach at a Big Ten school. Not head coach!
So, here you have Illinois hiring a mediocre coach from the MAC as their head coach. That's why the Big Ten is so bad. Too many ADs settle for crappy head coaches. The Big Ten should expect more. There is no excuse for Illinois to be the complete joke that they are.
Helwagen: Well, it has not been an optimum situation. Even if Scheelhaase had been healthy, I'm not sure how much Beckman was going to accomplish there. The big thing for him -- just like John Groce there in basketball -- will be to keep Chicagoland's best players at home. If they can both do that, they will be there as long as they want to be.
That's it and that's all. It is ALL about recruiting.
You can denigrate Beckman all you like. But he's been around some good head coaches with Meyer, Tressel and Gundy who have all won some games. He has the pedigree and turned Toledo around (I do hear your arguments, though, on how those accomplishments were somewhat hollow).
If he can keep blue chippers from his home state at home, he can do well there. If OSU and others keep raiding the Chicago area for talent, then he may be 3 or 4 years and out. It's hard to make a judgment after 4 games.
It all comes back to recruiting. The recruiting rankings do not lie.
Zach Osterman said...
You know how the good folks love basketball down my way, so I ask:
Who's your surprise team in the Big Ten? Who's your favorite? Who do you think might be getting a little bit too much love right now, if anyone? And why, for all three.
Helwagen: Great questions, just 14 days till the start of practice ... I am looking forward to what's going to be an awesome bkb season. This may be the best time for Big Ten hoops back to the late 1990s or early 2000s, when Indiana (in particular) was a usual top-15 power. The games involving OSU, Indiana, Michigan and MSU will all be wars.
My surprise team ... hmmm, maybe Minnesota. If Mbakwe can get back close to what he was, then they could be an easy 20-win team. Iowa also is coming on. I like what McCaffrey is building there.
my favorite is Indiana, and that's probably Big Ten's best bet to get to the ATL for the F4. Kentucky was a pat hand last year with the nation's best top 4. Nobody goes 10-deep as Indiana does, even without Patterson and Roth. They will be just fine. Their issue is there will only be one basketball, will everybody co-exist. But those vets suffered so much first year or 2 they should be willing to share since a possible 30-win season is in the balance. They could be Indiana's answer to Kentucky's Unforgettables (Mashburn and those walk-ons) who stayed true and brought them back to the promised land. They will be beloved figures there forever if they can make that happen.
I think it would be foolish to count out OSU and MSU. If OSU's sophs make a big jump (Williams, Scott and Thompson, in particular), they will be back in the high 20s or more in wins.
Here's a stat: OSU's season record for wins before Matta got there was 27 (in 1960 when they won it and in 1991 with Jimmy Jackson). Matta has AVERAGED 27 wins since he arrived. All that's missing is that NC for him to challenge Fred Taylor as OSU's best coach ever. He is solid No. 2 there already.
And MSU, also foolish to count them out even though Day-Day has moved on. Izzo will have a great team (again) by Feb.
Too much love? Maybe Michigan. I like Hardaway and Burke, I really do. What do they have to go with them? Smotrcyz was in their top 6-7 guys and he transferred out. I want to see them early in the year. I know Beilein has some guys coming in.
I am a big John Groce guy back to his days at OSU. I want to see what he puts on the floor at Illinois.
NW loses Jershon Cobb to suspension and that could hurt them. It will be a great year for Big Ten hoops.
Helwagen: Hey guys, I gotta get packed to head up to East Lansing, which is one of my favorite places to visit in the Big Ten. They do it right up there and my guess is it will be on fire tomorrow with the Buckeyes in town. Enjoy a great weekend of Big Ten football.
Michigan gets a well deserved (and needed) week off.
Purdue-Marshall should be an entertaining offensive showcase
NW-Indiana will be intriguing to see how close Indiana really is getting and whether NW can open 5-0 and already pretty much punch its bowl ticket.
Ditto for Minnesota, can they beat Iowa 3 years in a row?? Is Iowa really THIS bad? Lots of intrigue there.
Illinois-PSU, one debuting coach will be 1-0 and one will be 0-1. My money is on the surging Lions, even on the road.
OSU-MSU, can Miller win a big one on the road? Can MSU win a big one, period, and put all the pieces together?
Wis-Neb, is Wis really THIS bad? Is Nebraska ready for prime time and ready to contend?
Great match-ups through and through!!!
Big Ten Updated Projections
Before the season, I shared my projections on how each team would do in the 2012 season. With Big Ten play starting on Saturday, we will adjust these projections. Here goes nothing:
* Ohio State (4-0) – Preseason Pick: 10-2 overall, 6-2 Big Ten (tied for first in Leaders Division; ineligible for championship or bowl game). Updated Pick: 11-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten. The Skinny: The Buckeyes are where we thought they’d be. A win at Michigan State on Saturday would mean a 12-0 season could become a possibility. But my guess is with defensive struggles as they’ve been, there may be a loss still somewhere along the way. Job One here is to prep the lads for a title run in 2013.
* Purdue (2-1) – Preseason Pick: 6-6 overall, 3-5 (tied for fourth in Leaders Division). Updated Pick: 8-4 overall, 5-3 Big Ten. The Skinny: This is a nice upgrade for the Boilers who, if they can beat Wisconsin at home on Oct. 13, could represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten title game.
* Wisconsin (3-1) – Preseason Pick: 10-2 overall, 6-2 Big Ten (first in Leaders Division). Updated Pick: 8-4 overall, 5-3 Big Ten. The Skinny: Something just hasn’t clicked for Wisconsin. That game at Purdue figures to be the swing game for the Badgers .
* Penn State (2-2) – Preseason Pick: 7-5 overall, 3-5 Big Ten (tied for fourth in Leaders Division; ineligible for championship or bowl game). Updated Pick: 6-6 overall, 4-4 Big Ten. The Skinny: It took Penn State two weeks to get going, but the Nittany Lions seem to be respectable.
* Illinois (2-2) – Preseason Pick: 7-5 overall, 4-4 Big Ten (third in Leaders Division). Updated Pick: 3-9 overall, 1-7 Big Ten. The Skinny: Major downgrade here for the Illini, who have been torn up by injuries. Tomorrow’s game with Penn State is kind of the season. A win could get them going back in the right direction. I don’t think Tim Beckman wants to think about a loss.
* Indiana (2-1) – Preseason Pick: 3-9 overall, 0-8 Big Ten (sixth in Leaders Division). Updated Pick: 3-9 overall, 1-7 Big Ten. The Skinny: Losing at home to Ball State and losing QB Tre Roberson to injury are two losses the Hoosiers aren’t likely to overcome.
* Michigan State (3-1) – Preseason Pick: 10-2 overall, 6-2 Big Ten (tied for first in Legends Division). Updated Pick: 9-3 overall, 6-2 Big Ten. The Skinny: I like QB Andrew Maxwell’s growth. And what’s not to like about Le’Veon Bell and the defense. The Oct. 20 showdown at Michigan could tell the tale. A win there could send the Spartans back to Indy (and maybe to Pasadena, too).
* Nebraska (3-1) – Preseason Pick: 9-3 overall, 5-3 Big Ten (fourth in Legends Division). Updated Pick: 8-4 overall, 5-3 Big Ten. The Skinny: The Huskers have rebounded nicely from the loss at UCLA. The schedule is arguably the Big Ten’s toughest, though.
* Michigan (2-2) – Preseason Pick: 9-3 overall, 6-2 (tied for first in Legends Division). Updated Pick: 7-5 overall, 5-3 Big Ten. The Skinny: The Michigan offense is back in the shop this week for major retooling after a six-point “effort” at Notre Dame. There are a lot of land mines still out there for the Wolverines.
* Northwestern(4-0) – Preseason Pick: 6-6 overall, 3-5 Big Ten (fifth in Legends Division). Updated Pick: 8-4 overall, 4-4 Big Ten. The Skinny: I like what I see here with the Wildcats. QB Kain Colter has been in and out, but the Wildcats just find ways to win. The Oct. 27 home game with Iowa seems pivotal to me.
* Iowa (2-2) – Preseason Pick: 10-2 overall, 6-2 (tied for first in Legends Division). Updated Pick: 6-6 overall, 4-4 Big Ten. The Skinny: Big downgrade here. Iowa must get it together and quickly. The season is passing the Hawkeyes by. They must win at home against Minnesota tomorrow … or a bowl game could become a dicey proposition.
* Minnesota (4-0) – Preseason Pick: 3-9 overall, 0-8 Big Ten (sixth in Legends Division). Updated Pick: 5-7 overall, 1-7 Big Ten. The Skinny: I wrestled with this one quite a bit. Does Minnesota’s 4-0 record mean it’s back or is it just a product of who they’ve played? (Their opponents have a combined record of 6-10 with two wins over I-A teams.) Tomorrow’s game at Iowa is make-or-break, I think, for the Gophers’ bowl hopes.
Big Ten Championship Game
* Michigan State vs. Purdue – Purdue gets the nod here over Wisconsin because of a head-to-head win over the Badgers. MSU and Purdue do not play in the regular season. On a neutral field in Indianapolis, I’d rate Michigan State a seven- to 10-point favorite over Purdue. I’d take MSU with a 32-21 win to advance to the Rose Bowl.
The Big Ten has put two teams into the BCS bowl pool in 11 of the 14 years of this arrangement. That does not appear to be a likely scenario this time around, though. The league only has two bowl-eligible teams in the top 25 polls this week.
Here’s how the Big Ten bowl tie-ins could work out (I will try and update these each week):
* Rose Bowl (at Pasadena, Calif.), Jan. 1, 5 p.m. (ESPN) – Michigan State vs. Stanford (Oregon will be in the national title game)
* Capital One Bowl (at Orlando, Fla.), Jan. 1, 1 p.m. (ABC) -- Wisconsin vs. Georgia
* Outback Bowl (at Tampa, Fla.), Jan. 1, 1 p.m. (ESPN) -- Nebraska vs. South Carolina
* Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (at Tempe, Ariz.), Dec. 29, 10:15 p.m. (ESPN) -- Michigan vs. TCU
* Gator Bowl (at Jacksonville, Fla.), Jan. 1, noon (ESPN2) -- Purdue vs. Tennessee
* Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (at Houston), Dec. 28, 9 p.m. (ESPN) -- Northwestern vs. Baylor
* TicketCity Bowl (at Dallas), Jan. 1, noon (ESPNU) -- Iowa vs. East Carolina
Note: The Big Ten will not have an eighth bowl-eligible team to fill the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.