Reader mail: Fans fired up over football rankings

It’s that time of the week when I reach into my mailbag to answers your questions. It seems many of you had an opinion about my post-spring Big Ten power rankings. Good. In fact, football is on the minds of many of you. And, that’s a good thing. The openers are less than four months away.

So let’s get to it.

When will Indiana prove us all wrong and finally make a bowl game after their normal 3-0 start? Oh, and here is my Big Ten ranking:

1. Ohio State

2. Nebraska

3. Wisconsin

4. Northwestern

5. Michigan

6. Michigan State

7. Indiana

8. Penn State

9. Purdue

10. Minnesota

11. Iowa

12. Illinois

- Ryan Smith

Wow! Indiana No. 7! Interesting. I think Indiana has a shot to go bowling this season for the first time since 2007. The Hoosiers weren’t far off last season. Those close losses to Ball State, Michigan State and Navy were costly in a 4-8 season. The top skill talent from last year’s offense that ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten (442.0 ypg) is back. And look at the schedule.

  • Aug. 29 Indiana State (Thur.)
  • Sept. 7 Navy
  • Sept. 14 Bowling Green
  • Sept. 21 Missouri
  • Sept. 28 Bye Week
  • Oct. 5 Penn State
  • Oct. 12 at Michigan State
  • Oct. 19 at Michigan
  • Oct. 26 Bye Week
  • Nov. 2 Minnesota
  • Nov. 9 Illinois
  • Nov. 16 at Wisconsin
  • Nov. 23 at Ohio State
  • Nov. 30 Purdue

There are six winnable games for a program with good momentum under Kevin Wilson, who enters his third season in Bloomington. I looked at Indiana’s 2013 schedule here.

***

What do you think the Hawkeyes have to do to at least get into a bowl? And who do you think should be the starting quarterback? – HawkMan

To avoid missing a bowl for the second season in a row—which hasn’t happened since a three-year dry spell from 1998-2000—the offense needs to develop a passing game, a drain on an attack that ranked 11th in the Big Ten in scoring in 2012 (19.3 ppg). I think the ground game will be fine with the likes of Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri running the ball. But some wideouts need to emerge. Hello, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Tevaun Smith, Jordan Cotton, Jacob Hillyer.

I think in the end, Jake Rudock will be the starter at quarterback over Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard. He has to have more than seven TD passes, however, which is all Iowa had last year. Rudock has a nice arm.

***

In your recent post about future Big Ten non-conference schedules, you should have mentioned Rutgers—which joins the Big Ten in 2014. Check it out. They are pretty good. – Jim

No doubt, the Scarlet Knights’ future non-con schedules look good. Here is a look at who Rutgers plays from other major conferences.

  • 2014: at Navy
  • 2015: Kansas, Army (at Bronx, N.Y.)
  • 2016: UCLA
  • 2017: at UCLA
  • 2018: at Kansas, Miami (Fla.)
  • 2019: at Miami (Fla.)

And here is a look at who Maryland,-which joins the Big Ten in 2014, plays from other major conferences in upcoming seasons.

  • 2014: at USF, West Virginia
  • 2015: USF, At West Virginia
  • 2016: at West Virginia
  • 2017: at Texas, West Virginia
  • 2018: Texas

Again, not a bad series of games, especially going against West Virginia and Texas. Daunting.

***

I rank Michigan and Ohio State as just about even and tied in my power rankings. Not buying the Urban Meyer effect that most are giving the Buckeyes. They were always good and tough. This year will be no different, but they will be beatable. Michigan should be better this year than last year. Last year, the offensive line for Michigan was subpar. Taylor Lewan coming back just bolsters that unit, which will allow it to gel earlier. That will allow Derrick Green and Fitz Toussaint room to run. – James F.

You may be correct. We all are chugging the Ohio State Kool-Aid pretty quickly. But why not? The offense should be better than last season—and it already was pretty good, ranking No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring (37.2 ppg). And I think the defense will be improved, too, even though the front seven is largely new. Plus, look at the Buckeyes’ schedule.

  • Aug. 31 Buffalo
  • Sept. 7 San Diego State
  • Sept. 14 at Cal
  • Sept. 21 Florida A&M
  • Sept. 28 Wisconsin
  • Oct. 5 at Northwestern
  • Oct. 12 Bye Week
  • Oct. 19 Iowa
  • Oct. 26 Penn State
  • Nov. 2 at Purdue
  • Nov. 9 Bye Week
  • Nov. 16 at Illinois
  • Nov. 23 Indiana
  • Nov. 30 at Michigan

Ohio State will be favored in every game but the final at Michigan. To me, the Wolverines have more unknowns. I can’t get excited about anyone on the defense. Lots of good players. Any great ones? And the offense needs some playmakers at receiver. And will the running backs be OK? Fitz Toussaint needs to be healthy, and incoming freshman Derrick Green needs to be a stud.

***

Remind me in November that you picked Michigan State fourth in the Legends Division. – Dirk Dieters

You have my email address. Drop me a line. I just don’t know how anyone can pick the Spartans over Nebraska, Michigan and Northwestern in the Legends. MSU has questions at every skill spot—and it best weapon (RB Le’Veon Bell) left early. But, I may be wrong. I have been before! The Spartans will have a great defense that could carry the offense until it finds itself—but it remained lost all of 2012.

***

Minnesota plays host to Wisconsin and Nebraska this fall at TCF Bank Stadium. Will you agree that the Golden Gophers will upset both? – Randy Olson

I’m not so sure about that. I love the progress that Minnesota is making under Jerry Kill, who enters his third season in the Twin Cities. But beating either the Badgers or Cornhuskers will be a monumental task. Minnesota has lost nine in a row to Wisconsin and is just 4-18 vs. the Badgers since 1991. Nebraska has beaten the Golden Gophers 16 times in a row. The last Gophers’ win? A 26-14 decision in 1960.

***

About Tom Dienhart 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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10 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (10 Comments)
bob jones on 5/10/2013 @ 7:36pm EDT Said:

Nebraska has always enjoyed their games with Minnesota, maybe the most memorable was in 1983 when the scoring explosion [ Turner Gill, Mike Rozier, Irving Fryar] put up 84 pts in a hurry. Do admire Jerry Kill’s coaching ability and see him making nice progress with the Gophers.

Joseph on 5/13/2013 @ 4:43am EDT Said:

Yeah, i’m with “James F”. I’m not buying a guy that has won 4 BCS games(2 NC), and coming off of an undefeated having too much effect. But I do buy into Hoke. I mean he did win a BCS game that he didn’t deserve to be in.

I guess finishing 8-5 is as impressive as finishing 12-0.

Josh on 5/13/2013 @ 1:40pm EDT Said:

@Joseph
Hey, it’s an opinion, and it is not yours. What’s the big idea, is James F not allowed to have his own opinion, even if it is biased?

Will Edwards on 5/13/2013 @ 3:56pm EDT Said:

James F — It’s both funny and sad how delusional Michigan fans are in the offseason. Every year it’s the same thing, April recruiting championships and September Heismans. Look at what happens to Urban Meyer coached teams in his 2nd year. They are markedly better at every stop (Bowling Green, Utah, Florida). Last years 12-0 Buckeye team is more than likely going to be the weakest team in Urban Meyer’s tenure as the head coach at Ohio State. Honestly, Brady Hoke is going to get fired after another 3 or 4 years of losing to us. He’s a mediocre to above-average coach at best. Your offense is going to be a disaster this year. Michigan has no difference makers on offense or defense now that Jake Ryan is out. Oh yeah, Al Borges is still calling plays and last time I checked, Denard Robinson isn’t there anymore to make him look good against the Minnesotas and Iowas of the world. Look on the bright side, at least after another disappointing season without a B1G championship trophy you will have all offseason to proclaim 2014 as the year Michigan is “back”.

Joseph on 5/13/2013 @ 5:21pm EDT Said:

@Josh
He’s not buying a guy that’s a proven winner, but he buys a guy that’s never even won a conference title? How does that make any sense?

K. John on 5/13/2013 @ 9:03pm EDT Said:

Deinhart is a dope. Slot Penn State in at number two. If Hack develops quickly, they are hands down the top team in the Big Ten. Just look at the kids they have that rank as the top player in the league at their positions. Defensive end, defensive tackle, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, both safety positions, offensive tackle, offensive guard, wide receiver, running back and they have the top two tight ends.

Look at the positions groups that are tops in the league. Defensive line, linebackers, tight ends, offensive line, receivers, running backs.

Then there are the coaches. Bill O’Brien is the top coach in the league, period. Mac is the top offensive line coach in the country. Charlie Fisher is the top QB coach. Larry Johnson is the top defensive line coach in the country and top positions coach, Vandy is the top linebackers coach.

No team can come close to hitting all those marks. The only things standing in the way of an undefeated season is the potential for injury, the officiating (only reason they lost a conference game last year) and a young QB. That is it. They are the most talented, most athletic, fastest and best coached team in the Big Ten. And unlike most other schools, actually graduates their players and does things the right way. Always has, always will.

Joseph on 5/14/2013 @ 8:45am EDT Said:

@K.John
You can’t be serious. There is no way Penn State is better than Ohio State. Some of you Penn State fans are seriously delusional.

K. John on 5/14/2013 @ 10:44pm EDT Said:

If Hack develops faster than expected and they avoid injury, Penn State will be better. They are better at almost every positions. There were better last year. If they played on a truly neutral field, the game wouldn’t have been close in the fourth quarter. Jordan Hill was essentially unblockable in Big Ten play last year and Deion Barnes was close yet Penn State’s collective opponents went 22 consecutive quarters from Northwestern to Wisconsin without being called for a hold or illegal block. Penn State wasn’t just better last year, they were much better and if they avoid some potential serious pitfalls this year, (officiating bias and injury) while developing a QB, they will be much better this year. Deal with it.

Will Edwards on 5/15/2013 @ 1:25pm EDT Said:

K. John. Ohio State is going to run over your sorry, slow team this year at the Horseshoe.

Joseph on 5/15/2013 @ 8:13pm EDT Said:

K. John
Ohio State beat up on Penn State in Beaver Stadium, yet you’re saying they would have won on a neutral site? Delusional. Ohio State playing up to their potential makes them heads and shoulders above any BigTen team.