Surf through Dienhart's Wednesday links

Looking for a way to unwind from the dizzying amount of election coverage? You have come to the right place. Sink your teeth into this barrage of Big Ten football news. If your favorite person lost an election last night, they can take a cue from Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who is handling some tough times with great decorum and aplomb.

Iowa is in the throes of an ugly three-game skid that is threatening to derail the season and keep the Hawkeyes from a bowl game. But you won’t see Kirk Ferentz blowing up about it. So, should Iowa fans be optimistic about the future, Coach Ferentz? “I’m optimistic. We’re going to continue to work hard. That’s what we’ve tried to do for 13-plus years.”

That’s classic Ferentz.

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Prepare to perhaps pack your bags and head to Kansas City, Nebraska fans. It sounds like there’s a chance that 2013 game with Southern Miss may be played in Arrowhead Stadium. It would be a “home” game for Southern Miss … but not really.

The great Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal agrees with me when he wrote that Danny O’Brien is the best bet at quarterback for the Badgers this Saturday at Indiana.

Yes, O’Brien hasn’t set the world on fire since arriving as a transfer from Maryland (see the two-minute drill at Nebraska and second half vs. Michigan State), but he’s experienced. And that’s a lot more than you can say about the other option: Curt Philips, a fifth-year senior and run-first quarterback whose has dealt with three knee injuries that kept him out of 2010 and 2011 seasons. He has played sparingly in two games this season. O’Brien has started three games in 2012 and 17 for the Terrapins before transferring. Bottom line: Wisconsin just can’t afford to turn the offense over to a signal-caller who isn’t game tested and is an unknown commodity as a passer. By the way: Bret Bielema won’t announce a decision on his signal-caller until Saturday.

Speaking of Wisconsin, a big reason for O’Brien’s struggles early was a spotty offensive line. Well, that unit is coming around. Credit Bart Miller, whom Bret Bielema promoted from G.A. to take over after firing Mike Markuson. The kid can coach.

Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel points out: Despite the fact Wisconsin was held to 19 rushing yards and 13 points in an overtime loss to Michigan State in Game 9, the play of the line has improved dramatically under Miller. The most telling statistics: Wisconsin has averaged 216.8 rushing yards per game and three rushing touchdowns per game over the last six games compared to 123 rushing yards and less than a rushing touchdown per game in the first three games.

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With three games left, Penn State still has a lot to play for, says Bob Flounders of the Harrisburg Patriot-News. With games left at Nebraska and at home vs. Indiana and Wisconsin, the Nittany Lions could finish 9-3 or 6-6. It will be interesting. But as Flounders points out: You can argue a 9-3 mark would be better than any Penn State season since 2005, given the conditions this team has had to deal with.

Flounders also wonders:

  • Can fifth-year senior quarterback Matt McGloin get to 3,000 yards?
  • Is a 1,000-yard season possible for redshirt sophomore running back Zach Zwinak (545 yards)?
  • Can sophomore wideout Allen Robinson (689 yards) become the Lions’ first 1,000-yard receiver since Bobby Engram?
  • Will senior linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges finish strong and lock up first-team All-Big Ten status?
  • Can O’Brien last an entire game, 60 whole minutes, without going for it on fourth down?

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The issue of the week at Michigan, according to Kyle Meinke of MLive.com: What should the staff do with Devin Gardner?

Meinke points out that Michigan has a quarterback-turned-receiver-turned quarterback who is the team’s best receiver, but only reliable backup option at quarterback. And he might be the best player at both positions next year. What should Michigan do with Devin Gardner?

It seems to be quite a conundrum.

I say: Stick with senior Denard Robinson, but keep Gardner at the ready to play quarterback. He looks like the starter in 2013.

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While there has been a lot to like about Minnesota, its linebacker corps could stand to improve.

The group was supposed to be the strength of the defense, but it hasn’t been physical enough. If foes get to the second level of the Gopher defense, they often rip off big plays. This must stop if Minnesota wants to become bowl eligible.

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No doubt, Michigan State was frustrated by some of the calls by officials in the loss to Nebraska last week. And some vented on Twitter. But those tweets quickly were pulled down.

Mark Dantonio says he had nothing to do with the removal of the tweets. But he did say: “From my perspective, I can only control what we can control. The football game on Saturday, we had an opportunity to win that game.”

Dantonio is exactly right. And it’s time to move on from the loss. The Spartans are off this week and need to focus on the last two games. Michigan State, 5-5, still isn’t bowl eligible.

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As for Nebraska, it is focused on keeping control of its destiny in the Legends Division with a home win over Penn State this Saturday. In this video, Lincoln Journal-Star scribes Steve Sipple and Brian Christopherson look at three questions entering the Penn State game.

My big key: Stuff the Nittany Lion run game and get after Matt McGloin.

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If Purdue wants to stop the defensive bleeding, the solution is simple: Make a play. Mike Carmin of the Lafayette Journal Courier points out that the Boilermakers have given up five touchdown passes the last two weeks. And they don’t have an interception since safety Landon Feichter picked off Kenny Guiton during the overtime loss at Ohio State — a span of 63 consecutive passes. Purdue had eight interceptions in the four non-conference games, but has only three against Big Ten teams.


TWEETS THAT MATTER

My take: I think this always is overrated. You still have to execute. Does Indiana REALLY think Wisconsin is gonna come out and do something radically different?


My take: Credit Ted Roof. No need to get fancy when you have good players, especially along the front seven. Oh, and Roof is pretty good.


My take: Not having the big fella will hurt.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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