Reader Mail: Big Ten Fans Review Our Rankings

You have questions? Yes, you do. And, of course, I have my answers. It’s time for my latest Big Ten Mailbag and my readers brought some great heat this week. What’s burning your brain? My myriad player and unit rankings, which seem to have rankled some of you who think I have gone cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. Not true. I’m sane … and I’m a Quisp man.

We also cover questions on Minnesota’s Jerry Kill, a college football playoff, and Wisconsin’s quarterback situation. Read this post and send me your fresh questions at the bottom. And don’t forget to come find me on Twitter and Facebook, too.

I saw where you ranked Northwestern’s receiving corps No. 9 in the Big Ten. But I think you missed the boat and should have ranked the Wildcats higher. They have some amazing talent. – Lunker35

Northwestern lost its top wideout in Jeremy Ebert, who made 75 catches for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. Plus, tight end/super back Drake Dunsmore is gone after ranking second with 45 catches for 522 yards and six scores.

Who is Northwestern’s leading returning receiver? Projected starting quarterback Kain Colter.

So, in my mind, any lofty projections for the Wildcat receiving corps are based on potential—and that’s it. Yes, USC transfer Kyle Prater is an intriguing talent rarely seen in Evanston. But he made one catch in two years in an injury-filled tenure for the Trojans.

Tony Jones also could be good, but his 2011 was ruined by injury. Demetrius Fields is a solid guy, but he’s not a star. Christian Jones could end up being the best of the bunch. He’s a big target but has yet to blossom. Sound familiar?

So, there you go. I just don’t see how you can rank this receiving unit that high entering the 2012 season.

The Big Ten must not be very good if Michigan’s Denard Robinson is considered the top quarterback in the league, per your rankings. He doesn’t pass well and seems to struggle to make good decisions. – Bill Tedd

Yes, Robinson remains a work in progress as a passer. And, frankly, he probably is what he is at his point as he enters his senior season. “Shoelace” never will be Dan Marino. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t the top quarterback. The guy arguably is the most dangerous runner in the nation who is capable of scoring any time he touches the ball.

Remember: Nebraska’s Eric Crouch wasn’t a pretty passer back in 2001, but he won the Heisman Trophy. You can be a great quarterback and not throw perfect spirals, or throw 50 passes a game or have impeccable decision-making skills.

Bottom line: make plays … and win.

I always wish Minnesota the best of luck—when they don’t play Nebraska! I think Coach Jerry Kill will get the program turned around. I was wondering: How is his health? – Bob Jones

I talked to Coach Kill about a month ago and he told me that his health is good. He experienced seizures on two occasions last season, one on the sideline during a game. But, again, all reports are that Kill—who in 2005 battled kidney cancer and won–is OK and ready to go.

Like you, I think Kill eventually will get the Gophers turned around. The guy has won at every stop: Saginaw Valley State; Emporia State; Southern Illinois; Northern Illinois. He’s a special coach with a close-knit staff whose blueprint works.

What are your feelings on a proposed playoff? – Matt

Every conference has sounded off on what they prefer—and it looks like we have two camps: The SEC and Big 12 vs. the Big Ten and everyone else. The primary difference: The SEC camp wants the four best teams in the playoffs; the Big Ten wants conference championships to be part of the selection process.

Me? I would like to see the top three conference champs that rank in the top 6 in the nation make it—and the fourth spot filled by a “wild card” team that ranks in the top six.

And I would want a selection committee involved in the process. And I want the national semifinal games played on the campus of the higher-seeded teams. Then, the national title game can be played at a neutral site.

Bottom line: Stay tuned. Conference commissioners will meet on two occasions this month to discuss details of a playoff. And we could have a format decided soon thereafter.

I think you have the Michigan State quarterbacks ranked too low. Yes, Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook have little combined experienced. But give Michigan State some credit. – Jim Conlin

I have given Michigan State a lot of credit, but I just don’t know how you can rate the Spartan quarterback situation very high. I like what I have seen and heard about Maxwell. He has waited his turn and seems well prepared for the job as he begins his junior season. But, can he do it when the lights are turned on? With a receiving corps that is being reworked? Perhaps, but I just can’t rank MSU’s quarterbacks that high coming into the season. We shall see.

Russell Wilson vividly made Badger fans realize what a valuable asset an experienced quarterback with multiple skills is. What is your take on Wisconsin’s current quarterback scenario? – Alan

I think Wisconsin has a nice situation at quarterback. Danny O’Brien will arrive from Maryland with a nice resume as a passer. Still, it will be difficult to be more accurate or better than Wilson, who hit 72.8 percent of his passes for 3,175 with 33 touchdowns and just four picks in 2011. O’Brien threw for 4,086 yards and 29 touchdowns at Maryland. He’s athletic but lacks the dynamic skills that Wilson possessed. Still, O’Brien is a good fit for what Wisconsin wants to do and should have success in an offense that will have a lot of weapons. Wisconsin could win a third consecutive Big Ten crown.

Did you see the bowl game this past season between Oklahoma and Iowa? If you did, you would have realized that Hawkeye center James Ferentz should have been No. 1 on your list of offensive linemen. He completely dominated the d-line and line-backing core of Oklahoma and had by far the best game I’ve ever seen by an o-lineman. – Nathan Merz

I did watch that bowl game from my hotel in Los Angeles while at the Rose Bowl. You are correct. Ferentz was good in that game. No doubt, I could have ranked him higher in my ratings of Big Ten offensive linemen.

I have him No. 7 behind Wisconsin’s Ricky Wagner, Michigan’s Taylor Lewan, Ohio State’s Jack Mewhort, Michigan State’s Chris McDonald, Nebraska’s Spencer Long and Northwestern’s Brian Mulroe. In the end, you may turn out to be correct. But, I like my list.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, all of his work is at btn.com/tomdienhart, and you can subscribe to it all via his RSS feed. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below.

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