Big Ten Mailbag: Big Ten sleepers? Ohio State QBs? Playoff picks?

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Big Ten Mailbag: Big Ten sleepers? Ohio State QBs? Playoff picks?

You have questions, and I have answers. You know what that means … it’s time for me to reach into my mailbag and answer your latest Big Ten queries. Let’s begin.

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I noticed that everybody gives a lot of love to Ohio State and Michigan State. That is all well and good. But who are your sleepers? – Steven

There are three candidates in the Big Ten West. I have been on Minnesota’s bandwagon since the summer. And, I’m staying on it. I think the Golden Gophers can win the Big Ten West—as long as Mitch Leidner throws well. I also like Illinois. If the Fighting Illini come back from North Carolina with a win, Illinois could be a real factor in the West. A big reason why: Wes Lunt, who is the most talented quarterback in the division. And this team seems to be galvanized by the tumultuous start to the season, when Tim Beckman was fired a week before the opener. And then there is Northwestern, the most surprising 2-0 team in the Big Ten. You can win a lot of games with a good defense and running game. And those are two of NU’s top strengths. I see no sleepers in the East.

The sample size is too small, but how much of an effect will Tom Herman leaving have on the Ohio State offense and the quarterback play? Will there be a drop-off in QB play with Tim Beck now coaching the position? The QBs at Nebraska weren’t All-World, and the OSU quarterbacks don’t look great after two games. – Jason Wolfe

Herman was a fine quarterback coach and OC for Ohio State under Urban Meyer before landing the Houston job. Beck did OK at Nebraska working with QBs. But, no doubt, the Buckeye quarterbacks have been uneven so far in 2015, though Cardale Jones did look good in the opener at Virginia Tech. It’s fair to remain skeptical. Time will tell how Beck and the Buckeye signal-callers do. It will be fascinating to see how this position plays out in 2015. The handling of the quarterbacks (who starts, how they are rotated, etc.) may have more of an impact on the position than any coaching by Beck.

If Iowa is 2-0, why are you ranking them 7th behind four 1-1 teams in your power poll? – Brad

Beating FCS Illinois State and Iowa State was nice. But, neither is a juggernaut. Why should other teams be penalized for playing (and losing) to elite teams? While other teams should be rewarded for playing (and beating) lesser teams?

How can you seriously have Northwestern ranked 8th? Is that some kind of sick joke? I’m a Badger fan and don’t even necessarily think we should be ranked ahead of them. – Matt Anderson

True, you can make a case for NU to be higher. The Wildcats’ season-opening win vs. Stanford is one of the best in the early goings of 2015. But why penalize a team like, say, Wisconsin for playing Alabama? Would NU have beaten Bama? Would the Badgers have beaten Stanford in Madison? I think we all know the answer to those questions.

Did you watch the Minnesota game at all? The Gophers desperately need a different playmaker at quarterback to step up. If Mitch Leidner really is our best option at QB, we are in big trouble the next couple of years. – Travis Fawver

I know, Leidner never will be confused with John Elway. And his 1-of-7 start at Colorado State was brutal. But, he did deliver the big TD pass to KJ Maye late in the game and finished 23-of-45 for 233 yards with two TDs vs. the Rams. I know true freshman Demry Croft is “sexy” and probably more talented. But can Minnesota really reach its potential with him under center?

If you had to guess right now, what four teams will be in the playoffs? – Mac Wiggins

Ohio State is a certain. I also like TCU, Alabama and Clemson.

Who do you think is the best running quarterback in the Big Ten after two weeks? I would say that Iowa’s C.J. Beathard has to rank right up there. He juked and danced all over the field Saturday and left Cyclone defenders in his dust. Give him a little love, will you? – John

Beathard looked good vs. ISU, running 10 times for 77 yards. He ran eight times for 26 yards and two TDs in the opener. But I think a few other Big Ten QBs are better runners: Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett come to mind.

Learn anything about Purdue this weekend? – BLRMKdave

Not really. Purdue played a FCS team in Indiana State it was supposed to beat. And, it did beat. I think the next two games will tell us all we need to know about the 2015 Boilermakers. Virginia Tech comes to West Lafayette this Saturday. Then, Bowling Green visits. Win both, and Purdue will get all the credit it deserves. Heck, winning one of the two games would be great. But, dropping them both? Most felt for the Boilermakers to have a shot at a bowl, they needed to start 3-1. Well, they are 1-1. See the importance of these next two games?

No mention of Penn State DE Carl Nassib for top players of Week 2? – Brad

The big fella deserved a tip of the cap. He had three sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception in the Lions’ 27-14 win over Buffalo on Saturday. In two games, Nassib has four sacks and 5 1/2 tackles for loss. He has been a disruptive presence on Penn State’s line and caught a tipped pass for an interception against Buffalo, too.

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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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