Big Ten Mailbag: Dark horse players, Penn State QB & more

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Big Ten Mailbag: Dark horse players, Penn State QB & more

It’s time for my latest Big Ten Mailbag, what with the basketball season in our rear-view mirror and spring football in full swing. Lots of interest in Michigan and its upcoming season. And who could be some dark horse offensive players next fall?

Who do you think are some dark-horse offensive players for the 2016 season? – Joey Brown

There are some interesting choices for the upcoming football season.

Here are some dark horses to watch for each school.

Illinois WR Mikey Dudek
Indiana QB Richard Lagow
Iowa RB Akrum Wadley
Maryland WR D.J. Moore
Michigan RB Ty Isaac
Michigan State WR R.J. Shelton
Minnesota TE Brandon Lingen
Nebraska WR Stanley Morgan
Northwestern WR Solomon Vault
Ohio State RB Curtis Samuel
Penn State QB Trace McSorley
Purdue WR Cam Posey
Rutgers QB Chris Laviano
Wisconsin QB Bart Houston

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How good do you think Michigan will be based on what you saw in the spring game? – Tyler Smith

Here were my observations. The Wolverines were pretty impressive in Jim Harbaugh’s debut in 2015, winning 10 games and capping the season with a bowl win vs. Florida. And I think they could be as good—if not better—in 2016. The defense will be among the best in the nation led by a boffo line. The key to making a push for the East crown will be the offense. Will the line finally be elite? And, even more vital, will a good quarterback emerge with Jake Rudock gone? Can Michigan win the East? Maybe. But it’s Ohio State’s division to lose at this point.

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You must have a man crush on Harbaugh!!! How about something once in a while about Iowa? There are other Big Ten fans out here, you know. Your bias against the Hawkeyes is showing again. – John

Just so you know, I took off my “I love Harbaugh” T-shirt to answer this question. OK. There. Me? Biased against Iowa? I don’t think that is accurate. I am a big fan of Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes. Just as Ferentz. I love the underdog. And no program exemplifies that better than Iowa, which gets more out of less on an annual basis than most any other program in the conference.

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Don’t you think Brian Lewerke or Messiah deWeaver has a chance to be a starter for Michigan State? – Dave

I don’t think either has a good chance, as I looked at the QB spot for each East Division team earlier this week. Fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor opened spring drills as the starter in East Lansing. I will be shocked if he relinquishes the post. Who can forget his effort starting for injured Connor Cook last year at Ohio State? That night, O’Connor hit 7-of-12 passes for 89 yards and a TD in engineering a stunning 17-14 win. O’Connor’s skill set and experience will be difficult to top by anyone else on the MSU roster in 2016.

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In all the videos and question and answer sessions, no one ever mentions Jake Zembiec as a possibility to play quarterback for Penn State in 2016. Is he being redshirted? Is he not at all being considered? Why is he not talked about at all? Thanks. – Valerie Trout

When I spoke to Penn State OC Joe Moorhead last week, he told me Zembiec has a lot of ground to make up. He is just a true freshman who enrolled early. Yes, Zembiec is a talented kid from Rochester, N.Y. But Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens have more experience, which is what will make it difficult for Zembiec to win the job this fall. He probably will be redshirted, while McSorley figures to win the starting job with Christian Hackenberg gone.

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Not a question but rather a comment on the quality of your interview with Penn State OC Joe Moorhead: excellent stuff. Keep up the good work. – Bill Mellas

Thanks, Bill. The check is in the mail. Moorhead was a fun guy to visit with. Very engaging. You can tell he’s a smart guy and former head coach—who is positioning himself to be a head coach once again. I am excited to see what he can with the Nittany Lion offense.

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Your interview with new Illinois A.D. Josh Whitman was a great read! I came away appreciating and understanding the direction Josh plans to take Illinois athletics, but more so impressed with Mr. Whitman himself. Learning more of the man, I attribute to your interview. Hope it was as enjoyable to be there as I had reading it. Many Thanks! – Craig Evans

Glad you enjoyed the interview. Josh is an impressive young man. Just 37 years old but so smart and savvy. Illinois appears to have landed a real gem who could turn around the fortunes of that athletic department. As a former student-athlete at Illinois, Whitman has a real appreciation for what Illinois can be. And his passion is evident.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

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, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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