Posted: Wednesday July 13, 2011 12:14PM ; Updated: Wednesday July 13, 2011 12:48PM
Stewart Mandel

Wilson's impact at Wisconsin, Ohio State penalties backlash; more mail

Story Highlights

Russell Wilson's experience and talent could help the Badgers win their division

Vast majority of fans thought Ohio State's self-imposed penalties were too light

Plus: Texas A&M's Big 12 chances, Utah's burden, church-and-state issue, more

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Russell Wilson posted some impressive numbers at NC State, but should benefit from playing with a more talented Wisconsin team.
Russell Wilson posted some impressive numbers at N.C. State, but should benefit from playing with a more talented Wisconsin team.
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI

July 12 was a big day in both college football and video-game land: EA Sports' SI VideoNCAA Football 2012 came out. I'm sure there are already plenty of sleep-deprived junkies who have moved 47 teams to different conferences just for the fun of it and are already two-and-a-half seasons into dynasty mode.

I'm also sure those who are truly serious about making the game as realistic as possible have manually created a 5-foot-11, 201-pound, right-handed senior quarterback (ratings numbers up for debate) and added him to Wisconsin's roster.

Will Russell Wilson at Wisconsin be like Cam Newton showing up at Auburn? Or will he be more like the sad experiment with Sam "Check-Down" Keller at Nebraska? Personally I think it's a mix. Is something like 9-3 or 10-2 a fair guess?
-- Tyler W., Eden Prairie, Minn.

I appreciate the Sam Keller reference right after I brought up EA Sports.

Wilson is already in much better shape than Keller simply because his new coach is not Bill Callahan. But I've noticed an interesting divide in public opinion since the former N.C. State quarterback decided to play his final season in Madison. There are those who see a potentially dreamy marriage, with a talented Wisconsin team that figured to have a major question mark at quarterback suddenly gaining a talented and accomplished three-year college starter. And then there are those who think the first group is putting far too much stock in a player who threw 14 interceptions last season and ranked just 62nd nationally in pass efficiency. Yes, he threw for 3,563 yards, but he did so while attempting 527 passes, which equals 6.76 yards per attempt. Newton, by comparison, averaged 10.19.

In recent years, yards per attempt has become an increasingly cited figure by advanced stats advocates, and there's no question teams that win a lot of games tend to have quarterbacks who excel in this department. (Eight of the top nine players in this category last season won at least 10 games.) But a quarterback is also dependent in large part on his supporting cast, and Wilson barely had one the past few seasons. The Wolfpack's leading rusher last season, Mustafa Greene, ran for 597 yards. Despite Wilson's unquestioned scrambling ability, N.C. State's offensive line allowed 39 sacks last year, more than all but seven teams nationally. My point is: Wilson had to do it all, and that surely contributed to him forcing a lot of bad throws that skewed his stats in the wrong direction. Even then, Wilson had his team in position to reach its first ACC title game had it won at Maryland the final week of the season (it lost 38-31).

At Wisconsin, Wilson will have a pair of running backs (Montee Ball and James White) unlike any he had in Raleigh. Though the Badgers lost two All-America offensive linemen (Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt), his new line will still be a significant upgrade. He won't be asked to put the team on his shoulders, but rather to use his talent and experience to help push Wisconsin over the edge in big games. I don't expect him to replicate predecessor Scott Tolzien's 72.9 completion percentage or 165.9 efficiency rating, but he should throw for more yards than Tolzien's 2,459 and add an intriguing wrinkle with his mobility. He will not have a Newton year (few ever will), but if he picks up the playbook and takes to his new coaching staff, there's no reason he can't have a better season statistically and help the Badgers win their division.

"Reasonable" Ohio State penalties? Yeah, right. So the kid who shoplifts a candy bar from the store only needs to put back the empty wrapper? I can't for the life of me see how you came to this conclusion when normally you appear of sound mind.
-- Erich, San Diego

I know you are probably getting tons of e-mails ripping you for your [Ohio State] article. So I would like to commend you for being the voice of reason. You could have taken the easy route like a lot of other media and just laughed off the self-imposed penalties announced by Ohio State saying they were too light. Along those lines, how bad do you think the backlash will be if the NCAA upholds Ohio State's self-imposed penalties and maybe tacking on 5-6 scholarship reductions.
-- Phil, Cleveland, Ohio

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If you want to guess what the backlash would be, just know that I received a whole lot more e-mails like Erich's than Phil's after that column -- and Erich's was one of the few clean enough to print. The vast majority of college football fans who want the NCAA to thoroughly demolish Ohio State viewed the school's light penalties as yet another thumbing-their-nose-at-the-rest-of-us moment from Gene Smith and Gordon Gee.

But the point of that column was that the jury can't sentence someone for murder if the prosecution only charged him with assault. It's not an ideal analogy, but you get the point. While I understand that angry USC fans feel Ohio State should get its own USC-level sanctions, the fact is the NCAA enforcement staff (the prosecution) did not levy as serious a charge against Ohio State (unethical conduct by a coach) as it did USC (Lack of Institutional Control by the school). No employee besides Tressel is mentioned in the violations. So it's hardly surprising the school feels Tressel should bear the sole burden for his crime.

Now, do I personally believe the punishment should end there? Of course not. It's an insult to our collective intelligence to think no one else on the Buckeyes' payroll -- an assistant coach, a manager, a graduate assistant, anyone -- "knew or should have known" (to use language from the USC case) that a significant portion of the team was hanging out at Ed Rife's tattoo place on weekends. Or that the compliance department was on top of all of Terrelle Pryor's "loaner" cars. Meanwhile, Gee and Smith have done a complete 180 on Tressel since that infamous press conference. Why push him out the door over the same crime for which you originally suspended him two games unless there's some additional reason for concern? The NCAA Committee on Infractions is not bound to follow precedent, and has discretion to impose whatever penalties it sees fit. Also, the people on that committee don't live in a vacuum. I'm sure they're aware of the public outcry over this case and may feel moved to act accordingly. But Ohio State was simply responding to the charges on paper, hence its "reasonable" -- if unsatisfying -- response.
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