Here is the archive of this week’s Chat with Steve Helwagen, the Big Ten senior writer for 247Sports.com.
Here is the Chat archive:
Who will have the best 2014 class?
Helwagen: The current top 5 nationally for 2013 is USC, Alabama, Michigan, Florida and Ohio State. It appears Michigan and OSU are running away and hiding from the rest of the Big Ten.
Regarding 2014, I think it's too early to say who might have a great class then. I know OSU will only have 15-18 available spots in that class. Should be a decent year in Ohio, although I know 247 only has one Midwest guy in its early top 20 for 2014. That tells me the usual ACC/SEC powers that recruit well will be the top five and it will be hard for a Midwest team to be ranked that highly.
Again, until schools start getting verbals for 2014 it's impossible to predict. My guess is the trend we are seeing now (Michigan and Ohio State separating themselves) will only continue.
Steve, there's no nice way to say it so I'll be frank: The Big Ten looks like dog excrement. I'm sort of glad we proved it in weeks two and three instead of waiting until the bowl season this year. With the daunting bowl schedule the Big Ten typically has (Rose bowl vs. Pac 12 champ, 3 New Years Day games against SEC teams, Insight Bowl vs. improved middle of the road Big 12 teams, etc.), plus the ineligibility of Ohio State and Penn State, plus Wisconsin looking like garbage without Bielema's former assistants, plus MSU starting a quarterback who folds under pressure like an accordian, do you think it's possible we finish the bowl season winless as a conference? Has that ever happened before?
Helwagen: I don't think winless has ever happened, at least in last 20 years. they went like 2-5 a year or 2 ago, which was terrible. You are spot on that not having OSU (or a real PSU) in the mix hurts because that moves everybody up a notch. It is looking like a one-BCS bid league ... unless, say, Michigan and Michigan State each end up around 10-2.
That's actually a good thing (other than the lost revenue) because it won't move an undeserving, underwhelming team into one of those Jan. 1 games against what will be dynamite SEC opposition (take your pick from UGa, South Carolina, Florida, etc.).
Agreed on even the Insight Bowl (or whatever it's called now) ... Big 12 will send a good team there too.
MSU has to hope that Maxwell comes along. I think he will be fine in the long run.
Somebody somewhere will win a bowl game. But they could be underdogs in nearly every match-up.
Any indication from anyone, that OSU corners, two of whom are pretty darn good, are going to start playing some bump and run? Until now, they've given receivers such a wide cushion! Or does anyone even consider that to be an issue?
Helwagen: Meyer talked about that this week. He said they have good corners and bringing blitz pressure puts them more on an island.
This is a case where one domino knocks down the next domino. Nate Williams has been slowed and Mike Bennett has been out. So the D-line has not been as effective as they need them to be, so they've had to bring blitzes. The blitzes worked well against Cal, so my guess is we will see more of them. (My guess is with superior talent they will be very vanilla against UAB and then try and unleash hell on Maxwell and Martinez the next 2 weeks.)
It all has to fit together and make sense. You don't just play bump-and-run to be macho. It has to fit into the overall scheme. I think Fickell favors what has worked for them for years, playing it safe, giving up stuff underneath and stopping them in the red zone.
Steve, Braxton Miller is starting to get a bit of early Heisman hype. So far, his numbers are pretty good, averaging just over 200 yards a game through the air and 125 yards a game on the ground. Is this just a product of bad competition? Do you think he'll continue to dazzle when the Big Ten schedule opens or will he fizzle out against tougher competition (like Denard Robinson the last few years)?
Helwagen: This is a great question. I think Miller will be as good as his OL and his improving WRs allow him to be. Devin Smith, Philly Brown and Jake Stoneburner give him every opp to succeed, but wll they still get open against Big Ten opposition? Probably better than they did last year.
Let's look at who they've played:
Miami, probably a 6-6 team in the MAC
UCF, probably a 9-3 or 8-4 team in C-USA
Cal, probably a 5-7 or 6-6 team in Pac-12 (they will have to hustle to win 5 because Pac-12 is looking tougher than it did on paper)
Once they get past MSU and Nebraska, OSU should be cruising for a while. They get Illinois and Purdue at home and that helps.
I think it's premature to tout Miller for the Heisman. I look at this as a developmental year for him. NEXT YEAR is when I think he could make a real push (although there will be no Stoney, no Jordan Hall). But that's going to be his year, IMO.
I don't understand why Northwestern is not in the Top 25 poll? They are undefeated and have played a tougher schedule than OSU and many other D-1 teams.
Helwagen: I agree, but I don't think media or coaches give their 3 BCS opponents so far (Syracuse, Vandy and BC) much credence. NW is 28 in AP and 30 in the coaches poll. That's not much respect for a team that is the only one with 3 wins over BCS conference opponents. (Notre Dame and some others could join them this week with wins.)
They should be 4-0 after beating South Dakota and then possibly 5-0 after playing Indiana next week.
What I like with Northwestern is they have outlasted these teams (which should all end up between 4 and 7 wins) while playing left handed. Colter has been in and out of the lineup. Siemian came in and led them to wins. I think I'd have more sets where they play together (like I've said for Minnesota and Gray/Shortell. Shortell is the future there, not Gray.)
I'm going to say NW could end up 8-4 and possibly 9-3 if something falls their way (beating Iowa or Neb at home, for example). I like them and they always always seem to compete.
Michael Bruntz said...
Steve, what's your diagnosis of what's going on at Wisconsin?
Helwagen: Growing pains. They've had some key guys banged up. Turnover on the staff. This is a glaring example of the importance of continuity. They lost 6 assistants and it showed right away.
They had a great first half against UNI (I think they were up 19-0). But their last 5 halves of football have been absolutely atrocious, at least by their standards.
They have been outscored a combined 45-30 since that first half against a I-AA team. That is NOT Wisconsin football.
I made the point that they really failed to put away Utah State. They could not get first downs at the end, which has been their calling card. Utah State missed a makeable FG at the end to lose more than Wisconsin won that game.
Now they have a QB controversy and looks like Bielema is leaning toward Stave over Danny O'Brien. I was never all that sold on O'Brien. They were like 2-10 at Maryland with him last year, right?
Bielema says Montee Ball has remained positive through this. he averaged 135 a game last year and is around 108 or so this year. They need to ramp that back up.
The OL turnover has hurt, obviously. So did the injury to Abbrederis.
You add it all together and you have a team and program somewhat in disarray right now. They should beat up UTEP this week. They go to Nebraska next week and if you don't think Pelini won't have that team up after way they got their nose rubbed in it last year, you don't know Pelini.
The schedule after that really goes their way with MSU and OSU visiting Madison and they are at Purdue (probably toughest road game after Nebraska).
They are looking at 8-4 most likely, which should still be enough to win the division (among eligible teams).
This just shows that you can't just throw the helmet out there and live who you've been. You have to have a plan and work the plan every day and every game or you get beat (or in their case look bad while winning).
Michael Bruntz said...
How do you see Northwestern's season ending up from here on out?
Helwagen: Great question ...
They are positioned to have a great season if they can win their home games and take 1-2 on the road. I don't think they will win the division. I'd say as of today:
South Dakota, W
at PSU, maybe a W unless PSU can continue its upward tick
at Minnesota, W (at worst they should be 6-1 here)
Nebraska, L (Pelini will want this one)
Iowa, toss-up (this is their make or break game, to me)
at Mich, L
at MSU, L
I think 8-4 is a distinct possibility. That is a GREAT year for them.
The swing matches are at PSU and Iowa. Win one, lose one and they are 8-4 by my estimation.
Bill Kurelic said...
Who are you going with as conference MVP's now that you have seen the first few weeks of action?
Helwagen: Oh, man. I think Denard Robinson and Braxton Miller have run away from the rest of the pack on offense. I'd say whoever does the best in the Big Ten and probably wins their head to head match-up will be the guy there. I can't see anybody else in that hunt right now. They will both get every chance to put up numbers. If one gets hurt, that would tilt it toward the other.
Coach of year: Kill or Fitz so far
Defense, Purdue's Kawaan Short maybe. Somebody will emerge. There are probably 10 candidates right now.
Evan Flood said...
Who should start at Quarterback on Saturday for Wisconsin? Joel Stave or Danny O'Brien?
Helwagen: We have such a limited sample size on Stave. He was 2 of 6 last week against USU. O'Brien has had OK numbers but ball security is an issue, it seems. As I said, I was never all that sold on O'Brien. He didn't win anything of note at Maryland.
Bielema has to go off what he and his OC see in practice. They must think they can get by with Stave and just churn Ball and the running game. They need to figure it out quickly, though. If they are still experimenting in three weeks, this will be a rough season.
Bill Kurelic said...
After the way Notre Dame played at Michigan State last weekend, what do you see happening when the Irish welcome in Michigan on Saturday?
Helwagen: It's going to be one heck of a game. Could be a high scoring game with Golson and Robinson trading punches all night long. It could be one of those 35-31 specials, although the ND defense looks much tougher than it has in recent years.
I have leaned toward Michigan all along. I have not picked it yet. ND is favored by 5, I believe. Golson has made it look almost too easy. But Michigan's D has only been OK. I guess ND in a close one.
Zach Osterman said...
Alright Mr. Steve Helwagen, let's talk hoops (since you were so kind as to drop in on my chat as well).
I'm quite interested in Ohio State, and you would be the man to talk to on that. Obviously a lot of production gone, with William Buford and Jared Sullinger out the door. So my question comes in a few parts:
1) Is Aaron Craft capable of stepping up his scoring production without sacrificing other parts of his game, like his defense and his distribution? Also, can he be that efficient offensively that it would be worth it, or is he a guy who you'd rather have scoring less but focusing more on his strengths?
2) Can Deshaun Thomas be THE guy, without being the guy who shoots too much or disrupts the offense? Obviously he's a great scorer and shot maker, but can he play in a role more central to his team's success than just scoring the ball, maybe with some of the same impact as William Buford, in being a guy who can score but isn't harmful in doing so most of the time?
3) I guess the public perception of Ohio State is that they didn't really replace Sullinger/Buford with headliners like usual — Sullinger and Thomas followed Mullens and Buford, who followed Koufos and Turner, who followed Oden and Conley and Cook. But the 2011 recruiting class was deep, certainly, and it always seems like Thad Matta likes to keep his rotations short anyway, so there wasn't going to be much room for guys like LaQuinton Ross, Amir Williams, etc. Is that group ready to step into a bigger collective role, or do too many of those guys have proving to do before they can be counted on at this level.
Phew. That was long, forgive me.
Helwagen: Thanks for the questions, I will take them 1 at a time.
1. Great point on Craft. I have been saying all off-season he needs to step that up. he averaged 8.8 points and 4.6 assists per game last year. He had some games where he would get hot and reach the high teens. When Sully was out, Craft did try and ramp up his scoring and that was with mixed results.
If he can get up to 12-13 points a game, that would be huge. Thomas averaged 15.9 ppg last year and I think he will be in the low 20s, so that helps the bottom line as well. The ball is in Craft's hands and they do a good job of working it side to side, moving the defense and about 20-25 seconds into it finding a way to exploit something. That could be Craft on a 12-foot pullup. He needs to cash those shots and also hit, say, two 3-pointers a game. He won't be able to live strictly off penetration, though he will have some of those. He needs to watch a lot of Steve Nash film. That would help him.
2. Great point on Thomas. If they rely too heavily on him (dumping it into the post and clearing out, for instance), the offense will get stagnant. I know he worked on rounding out his game this off-season. It seems like he was a jump shooter and a garbage guy. He needs to score in other ways. I think he's in for a good year. He probably got 10-12 shots a game last year. That could go as high as 15 this year with no Buford or Sully. Much beyond that and it upsets the balance. Great point. I think he goes from 16 ppg a game to 21 this year.
3. And a good point here. They had a steady stream of national top-20 guys coming through there. That 2011 group is more top-60 variety. That could be a big drop-off. Williams and Scott were McDonald's A-As, but they didn't show like that last year. They had more of an Ivan Harris impact as freshmen (he was also a burger boy). They need Williams, Ross and Thompson to come through in a big way. Scott will still be Craft's caddie and learn from him and spell him.
This is a team that should be much better at the end than at the beginning. Maybe they don't win at Duke in Nov., but they could play with the Big Ten's best by March, if that makes sense.
But Craft and Thomas are among the top 30-40 players in the country, so they should keep them in any game they play provided they get even a little bit of help.
Steve, do you think the Big Ten should stay at 12 teams now that Notre Dame has officially moved on? I've seen a lot of griping recently that "the Big Ten missed the boat in conference expansion" and stuff like that. I totally disagree. Were we supposed to add Missouri and Pitt and water-down the conference? I like it at 12. Now if we could just get those 12 teams to not suck, that would help the cause. But do you like 12, or do you agree with those who say Delany missed the boat?
Helwagen: Stay at 12, a nice tidy 12. The Big Ten schools will make tons of money off of the Big Ten Network. Why share that with anybody else who can't carry their own weight?
There is no reason to water down the brand with other schools. Louisville?? I'm not sure that's a fit. Notre Dame was the only one worth adding and that ship has sailed. There is no other school in or near the footprint worth adding. Over and out. That is the litmus test for me.
Go up and down the 12 teams in this league, they all carry their own weight either as a national ftb power, national bkb power or they reside in a major metro area. There is no weak sister in this league. Why add one?
Let's sort it out:
Illinois -- Metro draw with Chicago, OK in bkb
Indiana -- Draw with Indy, great in bkb
Iowa -- Decent in ftb
Michigan -- Draw with Detroit, tops in ftb wins
MSU -- Good draw in Michigan, national power in bkb
NW -- Metro area with Chicago
Nebraska -- Football power nationally
Minnesota -- Metro area in Mnpls
Wisconsin -- Football power, metro area Milwaukee, decent in bkb
Purdue -- Bkb power, metro draw Indy
Ohio State -- All three and twice on Sundays
PSU -- Football power (current issues notwithstanding), metro areas with Pitt and Philly
Who's out there that brings this litmus test?
Louisville -- Great at bkb and ...
Cincinnati -- Emerging in both, but they already have that market somewhat with OSU. Outside I-275 nobody cares about UC.
Is there anybody else in the footprint even close?
And they aren't doing anything with Delany ... other than keeping throwing money at his feet.
If it's Northwestern-Purdue in the Big Ten championship game, predict the attendance at Lucas Oil Stadium.
I've got 32,389. At least both fan bases won't have to drive very far!
Helwagen: That would be quite a spectacle, for sure. Probably an entertaining football game. That Leaders spot could be a mess, for sure.
They could have made a case to just take the top two records in the 10-team league this year for the title game. You could have a 7-1 against a 5-3/4-4 or something like that.
It will always draw better than 60,000. They will paper it (i.e. hand out free tickets) so it looks good for TV.
Zach Osterman said...
And as an aside for the good folks at my website, might I glean from you a couple of pros and cons as to the argument for Indiana as a Final Four-capable team this season?
Helwagen: Pros for Indiana's Final Four case:
They have an experienced Zeller in the middle. He averaged 15/6.6 last year. He stokes each of those up a couple notches and he's an All-American. He took a beating last year and now will be ready to explode. Having a great 6-11 player on your side makes everything much easier at both ends.
They shot a nation's best 43 percent on threes last year. That could get better with Hulls maybe playing some two with Yogi Ferrell playing some one. Watford, Oladipo and Sheehey should all avg 10 ppg or more as well.
From 1 to 10, they have the BEST roster in the country. They have size, shooting, depth -- 2 deep at every position, it seems. It's not a pat hand like Kentucky, which had the best top 4 last year, but it's a great place to start.
They MUST buckle down on defense. There will be games when the shots aren't falling. The issue with taking so many lumps for several years is there isn't a cornerstone of defense. They'd play hard, they were young and they just gave up points. It was acceptable (Crean wasn't happy, but there was nothing they could do about it.)
They developed offensively. Now their defense has to match up to their offense, they can't expect to beat everybody 90-70. They will lose a critical game or 2 somewhere along the way if they do.
They need to understand they have not arrived. Last year was great, by IU's recent standards. They have to work every day to build toward a Final Four. Ohio State had some off moments last year and was banged up at times. But in March, they were playing their best bkb. It has to build over time and guys have to accept their roles. If they do that, they will be in the ATL.
One of the sports analysts (I believe it was Farrell, but am not sure) indicated that the declining image of the B1G TEN could adversely impact recruiting in the conference. In addition, other analysts have suggested that the poor perception of the B1G TEN could also harm the chances of the conference champion being selected for the national championship playoffs when that starts.
What are your thoughts on the declining conference image seriously impacting both recruiting and being selected for the national championship playoffs in the future.
Helwagen: It's a chicken-and-egg argument. The Midwest will produce enough football talent to outfit the Big Ten for years to come. Maybe we're already seeing the impact of SEC dominance for the last few years. But I can't believe this will hold forever.
If a Big Ten team can go 12-1, they will be in the playoff. Ohio State and Michigan will always recruit well. It's incumbent on the rest of the league to step up their game or they will get left behind.
Who do you think will be the best Heisman candidate from the conference at the end of the year?
Helwagen: There are only two: Denard Robinson and Braxton Miller. I had Denard as my league MVP before the season, so I will say Denard -- provided he keeps up his play agaiinst ND (averaged like 400 yards offense in last 2 wins).
the issue is the Big Ten is second-page news right now. They won't have anybody at the top of these lists because of the perception of the conference.
Now that we have 3 games under our belt, one quarter of the season being over, what w/l record do you predict for the Buckeyes?
Helwagen: I said 10-2 before the season with losses to MSU and Wisconsin. I'll still say 10-2. I think they could actually win one of those road games (maybe Wis) but they may also doink off a home game (Neb or Mich, possibly). Can Purdue or Illinois sneak up on them? Doubtful with both at home.
The Cal game illustrated some issues. But they still aren't at full strength. They need to get Hall and Hyde playing together on offense and Mike Bennett back in on defense. He is potentially better than his replacements on the D-line.
Mike Schaefer said...
Any thoughts on Minnesota's bowl chances?
Helwagen: Well, they are 3-0. I would think much better about it if they somehow beat Syracuse. They are only favored by 3 at home.
They lose that game and I'd say no chance.
Their BT sked is tough.
at Iowa, L
NW, probably an L
at Wis, L
Purdue, toss-up, likely an L
at Illinois, toss-up, likely an L
at Nebraska, L in a possible shootout
Michigan State, probably an L
Where are their 2 wins they'd need to get to 6-6? I think 5-7 is a max out for Minnesota. Maybe I will be surprised.
Mike Schaefer said...
No love for Taylor Martinez or Le'Veon Bell?
Hard to imagine either of those guys fading quietly if both teams stick around to the end. Bell's numbers aren't world-beater yet, but a few games against Big Ten defenses would help.
Also, hard to leave Martinez out of any discussion for Big Ten quarterbacks right now.
Helwagen: My guess on Martinez is they will balance that offense out with Burkhead and Abdullah helping him out. I like what they are putting together there. Martinez has done well so far. Losing to UCLA may not be the disgrace it was made out to be. Let's see how the Bruins do in the Pac-12 week in and week out.
His candidacy will come down to whether he can lead them to some big wins on the road (like OSU, NW, MSU and Iowa). If they can win 2 or 3 of those, he may have a legit shot. If he is so-so in those games, he won't get a look.
Bell did get off to such a huge start, but ND stopped him cold. He's an All-Big Ten RB. Is he an A-A or Heisman guy? I dunno. They will lean more on him if Maxwell sputters.
You have to project where things are headed as much as what they've done.
For Big Ten MVP, these guys would be next in line, I suppose. Thanks for bringing them up. I think I may have had some tunnel vision.
Hey, guys, thanks for participating. Enjoy the games this weekend and we will see you next week!