Dienhart's Mailbag: You Ask, He Answers
Have a Big Ten football question you want answered? I’m Tom Dienhart and I want you to fire off an email to me. This is a great place for us to interact with each other, sharing our passion for all things Big Ten as the season prepares to hit the home stretch. This week, some questions focus on the chances of schools like Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan State winning a division or league title. See what other queries were posed.
Do you think Michigan State will beat Iowa? – Daniel Flynn
Dienhart: I love the Spartan defense and the play and leadership of quarterback Kirk Cousins on offense, but they have struggled the last two weeks in losing at Nebraska, 24-3, and needing to rally to beat Minnesota, 31-24, at home last week. Making matters more difficult for Michigan State is the fact the Hawkeyes are unbeaten at home and coming off an emotional win over Michigan in Kinnick Stadium. And I’m sure the Spartans recall their visit to Iowa last year, which resulted in a 37-6 thumping by the Hawkeyes. I think Michigan State is the better team, but I’m not sure the Spartans will prevail.
If games were 59 and 1/2 minutes, Wisconsin would be 5-0 in the Big Ten, 9-0 overall. Was the Badgers big drop in the polls an accurate assessment of their abilities? – Ted
Dienhart: No doubt, Wisconsin still would be unbeaten if games were just 59.5 minutes long. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Hail Mary passes doomed the Badgers in those crushing losses at Michigan State and at Ohio State. But the team looked back on track last week in dismantling Purdue. In the end, I’m not so sure the drop in polls was an accurate assessment of Wisconsin. I still think this may be the best team in the Big Ten—and one that deserves to be among the Top 10 in the nation. Alas, you have play the full 60 minutes. Because it didn’t, Wisconsin finds itself in a two-game hole in the Leaders.
Do you think Ohio State has a good shot at winning the Big Ten?– Hunter Danford
Dienhart: I do, but it will take some help to get a seventh consecutive Big Ten title. The good news for the Buckeyes is that they’re hot. Since a 3-3 start (0-2 Big Ten), Ohio state has ripped off three consecutive triumphs to remain in the thick of the Leaders Division race (see the standings). The Buckeyes need to win out: at Purdue; vs. Penn State; at Michigan. And Ohio State also will need the Nittany Lions to lose another game—and it could happen, as Penn State also has games left vs. Nebraska and at Wisconsin in addition to its visit to Columbus.
I like the way Ohio State is playing defense. This is a rugged crew, especially along the front seven. The offense is developing around running back Dan Herron and quarterback Braxton Miller, who remains a work in progress as a passer. In the end, I like Ohio State’s chances.
Do games outside of the division count toward the champion of that division? – Hugh
Dienhart: Overall, all games are created equally. However, if a three-way tie has to be broken in a division, league officials first will compare the records of the tied teams against each other. If that doesn’t break the tie, then officials will compare the records of the teams in the division to determine who goes to the Big Ten title game. So, in a sense, games within your division have more juice that those vs. teams in the other division when it comes to breaking three-way ties.
What are Iowa’s chances of winning the rest of its games? – BC
Dienhart: It will be difficult, beginning with a visit from Michigan State this weekend. That’s followed by season-ending trips to Purdue and then the biggie: at Nebraska. A win over the Spartans is a must—and it’s possible. The Hawkeye offense is playing well behind QB James Vandenberg, RB Marcus Coker and WR Marvin McNutt. But the big key will be the defense. It must play like it did in handling Michigan last week, especially in stopping the run. And Iowa also has to show it can win on the road, where it is 0-3 this season. If there was any hangover from the Minnesota loss, it didn’t show vs. the Wolverines. Now, Iowa looks primed for a fast finish.
Earlier this season, there were three former Purdue quarterbacks starting in the NFL: Drew Brees for the Saints, Kyle Orton for the Broncos, and Curtis Painter for the Colts. Do you know which school has had the most quarterbacks starting at the same time? – Joe Miller
Dienhart: I’m not sure any school has had more starting at the same time. USC has been a great quarterback factory of late, with Carson Palmer (Raiders), Matt Cassel (Chiefs) and Mark Sanchez (Jets) all starting. And Matt Leinart (Texans) also is in the NFL. At some point in the 1980s, Miami had Jim Kelly (Bills), Bernie Kosar (Browns) and Vinny Testaverde (Buccaneers) starting. Maryland saw Boomer Esiason, Frank Reich and Neil O’Donnell have a run in the 1980s and early 1990s. Michigan also has been prolific of late with Tom Brady (Patriots) and Chad Henne (Dolphins) in the league and often starting in tandem.