BTN Tour Mailbag: Gophers & much more

Throughout the seasons, I answer your Big Ten football and basketball questions in my Big Ten Mailbag. During the BTN summer bus tour, I’m fielding questions from every stop along our 3,000-plus mile trek across Big Ten country. We saw the Gophers practice Saturday, and Minnesota fans sent me some questions. We’ll be at Wisconsin practice Monday, and here’s what I want to see from the Badgers. If you have a question, send it to me in the box at the bottom of this post or tweet it to me (@BTNTomDienhart).

I’m a Minnesota fan who has lived in Iowa for over 40 years. I have seen how coaches like Hayden Fry (Iowa), Bill Snyder (Kansas State) and Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin) built programs and think it can happen for the Gophers, too. I think Minnesota can win all of its non-conference games and at least three Big Ten games. Do you see any way the Gophers can win seven or more games this season? – Kirk Tofte

I came away very impressed with Minnesota after watching practice Saturday. The Gophers have a nice collection of skill talent on offense, with wideouts like Brandon Green, Devin Crawford-Tufts and Marcus Jones along with some nice looking youngsters like Andre McDonald and Jamel Harbison. Plus, there are two good tight ends. The running backs go four deep with the likes of Donnell Kirkwood, James Gillum, Devon Wright and David Cobb. And freshman KJ Maye is a wildcard who could play running back or receiver. And quarterback MarQueis Gray looks primed for a big senior season behind a line with potential.

[Watch the Minnesota Preview Show on BTN2Go]

The big key to Minnesota breaking through to a bowl will be the defense. There is lots of good young talent, but the line can’t get run over in the ground game. That will be a huge key. Ra’Shede Hageman could be one of the top tackles in the Big Ten. There is lots of veteran talent at linebacker, and the secondary teems with options. You are correct about the non-league schedule: Minnesota could go 4-0. The key Big Ten games will be visits from Northwestern and Purdue. Then, going to a bowl may come to down to road games at Iowa and at Illinois. Seven wins is possible—but it won’t be easy.

It was nice to read a non-locally written story that was positive about Minnesota. Where would you pick them in the Legends this season? – David Anderson

For as much as I like the direction of the Gopher program under Jerry Kill, there still is work to do. And it will be tough sledding in a Legends Division that is loaded. Without a doubt, Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska look to finish ahead of Minnesota. But, if the Gopher offense is as good as I think it can be—and the defense can become average—Minnesota could finish fourth with as many as seven wins. That is my best-case scenario.

Attention, Big Ten fans: If Northern Illinois beats Iowa in Soldier Field in the season opener for both teams, it won’t be an upset. The Huskies are a very good team that has the longest winning skein in FBS. My pick: NIU 31, Iowa 24 – Scott

Good point. That won’t be an easy game for the Hawkeyes. Kirk Ferentz knows it. But the Huskies have their challenges, too, with just three starters back on offense. One of the departed is star quarterback Chandler Harnish. The NIU defense figures to be stout, with eight starters back. And that will be a challenge for an Iowa team searching for answers at running back.

[BTN.com: Watch all of our football tour video]

Is it expecting too much to think Wisconsin can win its home games vs. Michigan State and Ohio State? – John D.

Of course it isn’t. First, this is a talented Badgers team on both sides of the ball. Second, Wisconsin will have revenge on its minds, as it lost heart-breaking games to both teams last year. MSU hit a last-second Hail Mary touchdown pass to beat Wisconsin in East Lansing, while Ohio State also hit a game-winning touchdown pass in the waning moments to topple Wisconsin in Columbus in 2011. The Badgers did get some measure of comeuppance vs. the Spartans by beating them in the Big Ten title game. Bottom line: These will be two of the biggest games in the Big Ten this year. Oh, and FYI: MSU visits Madison on Oct. 27, while Ohio State comes calling on Nov. 17.

Who do you think will be Indiana’s starting quarterback. Early reports seem to indicate that Tre Roberson may be the guy. – Pete

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson has said Roberson will be the guy over JC transfer Cameron Coffman and true freshman Nathan Sudfeld. The experience Roberson got last year was beneficial. In fact, because of transfers (Ed Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel), Roberson is the lone signal-caller with experience on the roster. He flashed some nice running skills as a true freshman in 2011, when he was thrust into the lineup. But Roberson must become a better passer after hitting just 57 percent of his attempts with six picks and only three touchdown tosses. Wilson has made no bones about it: He wants his offense to pass better, which he thinks will lead to more scores which is vital if IU wants to win more than one game this season.

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 via his RSS feed. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below.

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