Mailbag: Our expert tackles your questions

The cards and letters keep coming in. Thanks. And, by the look of things, many of you are excited about what Minnesota is doing. No doubt, to be 8-2 and riding a four-game winning streak is pretty incredible. Michigan has many flummoxed. And Nebraska’s rise has stirred the masses.

Let me dig in on answering some of your letters.

Let’s get to your notes. And if you have new questions – football or basketball –  scroll down to the bottom. I read all of my mail. I’m also on Twitter via @BTNTomDienhart.

As far as skill positions (QB, RB, WR, TE, DB) go, Urban Meyer is still for the most part using players he inherited from Jim Tressel. How different will things look once every player is a Meyer recruit? – Jonathan

They should look as good—if not better—once the roster is loaded with Meyer recruits. But, it won’t be markedly different. Look, Ohio State always is going to have good players. And Meyer inherited some good ones from Jim Tressel. Guys from the 2013 class like running back Ezekiel Elliott, athlete Dontre Wilson and receivers James Clark and Corey Smith will continue to blossom.

OSU has commits from 2014 studs like receivers Curtis Samuel and Terry McLaurin who will make an impact. Bottom line: The talent will remain good in Columbus. The big difference: Meyer is recruiting players who fit his offensive scheme. That’s where you’ll see the difference.

Big Ten standings
Leaders
Conference Overall
Ohio State 5-0 9-0
Wisconsin 4-1 7-2
Indiana 2-3 4-5
Penn State 2-3 5-4
Illinois 0-5 3-6
Purdue 0-5 1-8
Legends
Conference Overall
Michigan State 5-0 8-1
Nebraska 4-1 7-2
Minnesota 4-2 8-2
Iowa 3-3 6-4
Michigan 2-3 6-3
Northwestern 0-5 4-5

Why does Michigan’s offensive line appear to be digressing? It seems to be completely bewildered with any blitz package. -Kenneth Gay

It is a conundrum. These guys still are young, so better days are ahead for a unit that has had to replenish its depth. How bad was it? When Brady Hoke arrived, there were only eight scholarship offensive linemen. This year, of the 15 scholarship guys on the o-line, 10 are in their first or second season. Hoke inked two offensive linemen in 2011. But of those two, only Chris Bryant is still around.

In the 2012 class, Hoke signed four linemen. Redshirt freshmen right tackle Kyle Kalis and right guard Erik Magnuson have started games. Ben Braden and Blake Bars have been reserves. Hoke’s 2013 class looks like the best yet with six signees. True freshman Kyle Bosch looks like a gem. Bottom line: stay patient.

I saw the Nebraska game in the Big House. The Wolverines need to devise an offense that moves quickly if they want to succeed. – Mike Hardy

When you have a unit that’s struggling to block, you have few options. No doubt, it appears Michigan needs to get the ball out quickly to the edges and let its players try to make plays in space. As for running the ball, the Wolverines need to let Devin Gardner do his best impersonation of Denard Robinson. That’s the only way Michigan has effectively run the ball with any consistency in 2013. I know the staff wants a more traditional/power attack, but it’s time to swallow pride and just move the ball anyway possible. That means reverting to the “Shoelace” attack.

Do you think the Gophers are that much better, or are they just playing teams whose defenses aren’t that good? – Brian

True, Minnesota’s resume lacks a lot of marquee victories. The best has been the 34-23 victory over Nebraska. And last week’s 24-10 triumph over Penn State was impressive. The Gophers will get opportunities to impress the last two games, when they play host to Wisconsin and travel to Michigan State. Those are two of the three best teams in the Big Ten and will be good measuring sticks. This is an improved Minnesota team. More importantly: It’s a confident Minnesota team—and that often means more than having great players.

Tommy Armstrong, Jr., tossed three interceptions vs. Minnesota and Northwestern. This could be the difference against a strong defense like Michigan State this Saturday. He lacks the breakaway speed that Taylor Martinez possesses that can literally change the outcome of a game. Is Martinez really not needed to beat Michigan State or Ohio State? – Stephen Johnson

No doubt, Martinez’s speed is special and game-changing, but he’s pedestrian as a passer. And a lack of playing time also impacted his timing as a runner. I think the Nebraska offense is better off getting its rushing yards from Ameer Abdullah and the tailback spot. Let Armstrong work as a passer, a skill he’s better at than Martinez, to take advantage of the Huskers’ array of wideouts. Yes, Martinez is special, but the Huskers are humming well on offense with Armstrong at the controls. Good thing, because reports indicate Martinez is done for the season.

[ MORE: Watch exclusive BTN Field Pass live video feeds one hour before kickoff ]

Nineteen Big Ten losses in a row for Illinois and it gets a “C” from you in your Saturday wrap up column? I wish you were my teacher in high school. – Henry Votsmier

I wish I was my teacher in high school! Well, that grade was for this past Saturday only. It wasn’t a grade to encompass the last two-plus years of Illinois’ losing skein. The Illini were average vs. Indiana last week. The offense did its part and looked good. The defense? It was awful. Add it all up, and a “C” seems about right.

Will Minnesota go to the Rose Bowl? -Jerry Petersen

Whoa! I’m not sure about that. Yes, it’s still a possibility. First, the Gophers have to win the Legends Division. That will require finishing with victories over Wisconsin and Michigan State—and then getting help in the form of losses by MSU and Nebraska. Minnesota then would have to win the Big Ten title game, likely facing Ohio State. So, add it up, and the prescription for Pasadena would be wins vs. the top three teams in the Big Ten, along with a big dose of help. That’s all.

[ MORE: View our Big Ten football statistical leaders page ]

Why in heaven’s name do you people NEVER think a Buckeye coach deserves to be named Big Ten Coach of the Year? Do you think all this success just happens? Jim Tressel NEVER won Big Ten Coach of the Year, and now you want to continue the trend by denying Urban Meyer. He took over a 6-7 team AND HAS NOT LOST SINCE. – Kerry Ragsdale

No doubt, often times coaches of highly successful programs get overlooked when it comes to handing out hardware. It seems we assume they should win, given the built-in advantages inherent in jobs like the Ohio State gig. But, as you point out, that’s not fair. There is lot of pressure to not just win, but to win big at places like Ohio State. Meyer is doing that. He no doubt will be a top contender—and would be very deserving.

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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)
Tony Piech on 11/12/2013 @ 3:03pm EDT Said:

Historically OSU is immediately eliminated from B1G COY. Folks need to realize this this award belongs to Kirk Ferentz and nobody else. The B1G should rename this award as the Ferentz Coach of the Year Award.

Jos on 11/12/2013 @ 4:43pm EDT Said:

I wonder how well Meyer would do if he had a bunch of 3 star recruits and walk-ons? Ferentz seems to make something out of almost nothing … I believe Iowa is in the top 5 schools in the country to send guys to the NFL. If Meyer can do that, I’m all for giving him the “Frentz COY” award.

Jeff on 11/12/2013 @ 5:02pm EDT Said:

LOL! Didn’t folks want Ferentz fired not too long ago?? Thanks for the good humor.

mark on 11/12/2013 @ 8:13pm EDT Said:

Before you have an award named after you it would be helpful to have won more than two conference championships and have an overall record better than a little over 50%.

B.J. on 11/12/2013 @ 9:16pm EDT Said:

When Meyer had a bunch of 2 & 3 star recruits at Utah he went 22-2 in two seasons including a 12-0 season capped off by a Fiesta Bowl win. Did I mention the school was Utah? The guy is a proven winner at any level.

delmar1950 on 11/13/2013 @ 8:45am EDT Said:

First of all Jos who wants 3 star recruits in the first place when you can recruit 5 star players as Meyer does. Why wasn’t you talking about Ferentz last year and the year before when he was and still is stealing money from Iowa. So much for Ferentz for COY he’s lucky to have a job and probably would have been fired if not for the large buy out that iowa would have pay him.

Dick Sherman on 11/13/2013 @ 12:49pm EDT Said:

Jerry Kill and his entire staff at Minnesota should receive COY mention. They’ve taken just average talent and have so far succeeded by excellent coaching (read: teaching and motivation).

    delmar1950 on 11/15/2013 @ 1:34pm EDT Said:

    Hey Dick what Jerry Kill did was get out of his team way so they could have the games on their minds instead of having to worry about whether or not their coach was going to fall out on the side lines. For that I give him high marks but as for COY no way.

      Dick Sherman on 11/15/2013 @ 4:34pm EDT Said:

      What if the Gophers did the impossible??? Knock off Wisconsin and Michigan State. Do you think Jerry Kill (and his staff) might be in the COY then?

delmar1950 on 11/17/2013 @ 9:44am EDT Said:

If they were able to do this then I would consider it but I don’t think that going happen and with OSU being undefeated and winning the Big ten Urban Meyer would probably get the award. Also he’d would be up for COY Nationally as well.