Mailbag: Nebraska's chances of making Big Ten title game?

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You have questions, and I have answers. Please Keep them coming. It seems many of you are miffed and rankled by my latest Power Rankings. Now, on to your queries.

Do you think Nebraska has any chance of making it to the Big Ten championship game? – Austin Hunter

Yes, the Cornhuskers easily could make it to the Big Ten title game, especially if they keep playing like they did vs. Florida Atlantic on Saturday. The offense is a triple-threat of the running back run, the quarterback run and the passing game. That’s a huge challenge for any defense. Still, I want to see how Tommy Armstrong passes vs. better competition. The defense also must continue to show it won’t suffer the letdowns that have plagued it on occasion the past two years. How will the unit deal with adversity when it hits? Still, the team looks to have the personnel to make a run for the program’s first league title since 1999.

[ MORE: Nebraska DE Randy Gregory doubtful for Week 2 ]

After the Hawkeyes’ first game, do you think they will still have a good season? – Jacob Maurn

I do. People need to remember: Don’t overact from one week, especially the opening week. People are so quick to ordain a team a contender or write it off based on ONE week. It’s just crazy. Was Iowa impressive in dispatching Northern Iowa? No. Did most people think UNI would push the Hawkeyes? Yes. Did Iowa find a way to win? Yes. If the Hawkeyes had opened vs. Florida Atlantic or Appalachian State, I bet they would have won with ease. Just keep things in perspective.

I don’t understand how you can rank Iowa ahead of Nebraska and Michigan in your Power Poll. You guys must’ve been polling some Iowa tavern’s regulars. – Brandon Nelson

Why should I penalize Iowa for beating a Northern Iowa team that is better than Florida Atlantic (who Nebraska beat) and Appalachian State (who Michigan beat)? I am not going to downgrade teams because they happen to “win ugly.”

With major league sports teams, Fortune 500 companies, multiple parks, lakes, big-name concerts and an improving college football program with a new stadium and improved facilities, why can’t the Gophers football attract four-star athletes? – Rich Fine

You make some good points, but I have to disagree with your notion that Minnesota has “improved” facilities. Time and again, Jerry Kill has talked about the need to improve facilities. He hopes ground will be broken on a football facility this spring. Stay tuned. The Gophers did ink a four-star recruit last February in running back Jeff Jones. And there are seven three-star recruits committed for 2015. No doubt, with better facilities, Kill likely could attract even better players. But this staff excels at developing three-star guys. Star ratings don’t mean everything.

What will Ohio State have to do to win it all this year? – Dr. Julius Del Pino

I was encouraged from what I saw from redshirt freshman QB J.T. Barrett. Is he a playmaker like Braxton Miller? No. Can he make something out of nothing like Miller? No. Still, Barrett is a promising passer who showed some savvy as a decision maker, too. Players around Barrett will have to make more plays. And the Buckeyes have plenty who are capable, including Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson, among others. The defense also looks improved. If so, Ohio State still could win the Big Ten—and get into the playoff. That Nov. 8 game at Michigan State will be huge.

Does Michigan match up with Ohio State and Michigan State? And can the running game hold up? – Gavin McLean

No doubt, the running game looked good for Michigan in the opener vs. Appalachian State. The Wolverines ran 36 times for 350 yards, averaging 9.7 yards per carry behind Derrick Green (170 yards rushing) and De’Veon Smith (115). The much-maligned offensive line looked good, getting a consistent push. It’s amazing that Michigan is starting a true freshman at left tackle in Mason Cole. How good is he gonna be in a few years? Still, tougher tests loom, beginning with this Saturday’s trip to Notre Dame. If the Wolverines can run—and win—in South Bend, it will prove a lot and show what this team probably can expect in Big Ten play.

Does Michigan State have a good chance to make the playoff if it can knock off Oregon? – Greg Schaub

No doubt. If the Spartans can return from Eugene, Ore., with a win, they seemingly would have a terrific shot at grabbing one of those four playoff spots. Look at the rest of Michigan State’s schedule:

  • Eastern Michigan
  • Wyoming
  • Nebraska
  • At Purdue
  • At Indiana
  • Michigan
  • Ohio State
  • At Maryland
  • Rutgers
  • At Penn State

Do you see a game where the Spartans will be an underdog? I don’t. MSU just has to guard against complacency, stay hungry, remain focused and be ready for every team’s best shot. I trust Mark Dantonio to keep this team on task. This is the team to beat in the Big Ten, but don’t overlook Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

If Rutgers opens 5-0, will that be enough to seal this season’s B1G debut a success? – Policy ThinkShop Blogger

That will mean beating Howard, Penn State, Navy and Tulane. And, yes, I think the Scarlet Knights would have a good shot to do that. The visit from Penn State will be difficult, as will the trip to Navy. Still, to open 5-0 would be huge for RU. But to be a “success,” I think Rutgers needs to win a couple Big Ten games. Imagine the Scarlet Knights being 5-0 with Michigan coming to town on Oct. 4?

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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.


Your Opinion?
Show Comments (10 Comments)
huskerfanbb on 9/1/2014 @ 5:51pm EDT Said:

Way too much credit given to UNI. Are they better than Florida Atlantic or Appalachian State? Probably. Are they the SEC powerhouse you make them out to be? No. Iowa got helped out a bunch by a flurry of penalties on UNI. Their running game was pretty pedestrian, too, given that they are supposed to have one of the best offensive lines and deepest backfields in the B1G. Yes, they found a way to win over a mediocre team, but Rudock putting it in the air that much isn’t a recipe for long term success.

Sean on 9/1/2014 @ 6:43pm EDT Said:

Not sure where the assertion that UNI is better than App St or FAU is coming from. Recruiting service ranks? Margin of victory or defeat against common opponents? Personal film study after watching all three play several games?

Bob Geigel on 9/1/2014 @ 9:34pm EDT Said:

If UNI played Nebraska, I would assume a close game. If that game was based on common opponents, Iowa, UNI would favored since they gave Iowa a better game than the blowout in Lincoln last Black Friday, 38-17. Iowa has the same cast of players, as does UNI from last year.

Andris on 9/1/2014 @ 10:27pm EDT Said:

IMO Tom didn’t give UNI too much credit. People have forgotten the miracle Iowa escaped on in 2009 before they went on to win the Orange Bowl. People don’t give the upper-echelon FCS teams the respect they deserve. FAU is historically comparable to B1G Purdue or B12 Iowa State. Iowa State, by the way, lost to their FCS foe by 20 this week. App St is no longer the powerhouse in FCS that they once were either.

When UNI beats Hawaii by 15+ next week you will understand what I mean. UNI will compete for an FCS title this year. Their running back would start for any Big Ten squad minus Nebraska or Wisconson.

Give Iowa’s secondary two weeks to regroup against BSU and ISU, and if they still don’t look up to speed then you can start thinking about dropping them on the power rankings.

@Huskerfanbb, where does Tom imply that UNI is a SEC powerhouse (even though it is my belief that they would beat the bottom six in the SEC)? All he did was say they were better than App St or FAU. The flurry of penalties was quite earned. Not sure how you debate not only back-to-back delay of games, but a delay of game on a KO and blatant holding and PI calls. There was even one to the endzone that wasn’t called. And while I would not like Rudock to pass that much, he put up great numbers (only nitpick is that he didn’t take enough shots downfield), and while the rushing game wasn’t overpowering, Iowa just didn’t want to bang up their backs when they didn’t have to.

LukeinNE on 9/2/2014 @ 12:08pm EDT Said:

Good lord Iowa fans remind me of Colorado fans. Back in the 2000s, CU fans chanted ’62-36′ wherever Nebraska was mentioned, as the Buffs stampeded into what is now 8 straight losing seasons.

With Iowa reliably struggling (16-19 against FBS opponents since Nebraska joined the B1G), it is sad, but not unexpected that they’d take the route of our old “rivals” from Boulder.

Lou on 9/2/2014 @ 1:33pm EDT Said:

UNI is an absolutely awful football team. Iowa looks about as good as they did 2 years ago. I don’t understand how this writer came to these absurd conclusions. Almost funny in a way. I agree with the comment on polling Iowa tavern locals, that’s the same logic and critical reasoning skills you’d see from a fan saw known for defacing NE fans’ vehicles and be all around jokes of the B1G.

Grant on 9/2/2014 @ 3:06pm EDT Said:

Living in Cedar Falls, I get to see and hear all about UNI, this team looks just as good if not better than the one that lost the FCS championship game a few years back. Johnson will be an NFL running back. I’m a big Husker fan but pay attention to Iowa as well. UNI is very good, North Dakota Sate is very very good. The top 10 FCS teams could easily complete with any FBS team outside the top 5-10 teams.

Dave Riggle on 9/2/2014 @ 8:32pm EDT Said:

We will see these Huskers in November! Another high school team coming to Lincoln this week. Not a measuring stick at all. Only boosts there fan based arrogance.

Matt Moore on 9/2/2014 @ 10:05pm EDT Said:

Yeah, LukeinNE, it’s not like a Husker fan to whine and complain that they are “Underrated” after one week of the season, either. Funny how so many in your fan base seem to believe the Hawkeyes are always an inferior team to your beloved Huskers. Yet you all sure seem to get highly excited for the slightest indication of someone not reaffirming how lowly the Hawks are in your opinions and how great your team is.

You wonder why so many Hawk fans don’t like your fan base? Look at your superiority complex and whiny, arrogant fan base. Most Iowa fans, not all, understand humility and realize Iowa will not likely start tearing off multiple National Championships in the future. However, sometimes it’s nice if we can just feel a little recognition and hope for a season without having to hear Husker fans whine about random writers having a little faith in our team. Again, get over it already, let the season play out.

Jake on 9/4/2014 @ 11:15pm EDT Said:

Dave do you even know football high school team then what’s uni because mcnees st is ranked higher then uni in the fcs poll.