Big Ten football mailbag: Counting down the days to football

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten football mailbag: Counting down the days to football

Time once again to reach into my mail bag and answer your questions. Full disclosure: Your “letters” don’t actually come in a “bag,” but I do click on your emails when they land in my inbox. Among this week’s questions: What will be Nebraska’s record in 2014? Can Rutgers get to a bowl? Is Iowa the best team in the West? Any reason to doubt Ohio State? Let’s go!

I think Nebraska will win the West. Iowa was a fluke last year, barely getting by in a lot of its games. I have the Hawkeyes third or fourth in the West this season. I believe by the end of year, the Huskers may even have a shot at the playoffs. Only time will tell, but I’ll be back at the end of season to see which of us predicted right.🙂 – Dan Johnson

I think the Huskers have a lot of potential, but I am worried about the play up front—especially on defense. There are some big holes to fill at tackle. And who will be the pass rusher? Is the pass defense any better? It took some big hits last year and sprung some leaks. Without a better rush, the secondary may struggle again. And on offense, is the front solid? And will Tommy Armstrong improve as a decision maker? Bottom line: Nebraska has more issues than Iowa, which is why I’m going with the Hawkeyes.

What’s your prediction for the Huskers record? Nebraska has tough opponents on the road with Wisconsin, Ohio State, Northwestern and finishing with Iowa on the road. How will they fare against those opponents? – Regg

As of today, here you go.

Sept. 3 Fresno State W
Sept. 10 Wyoming W
Sept. 17 Oregon L
Sept. 24 at Northwestern W
Oct. 1 Illinois W
Oct. 8 OFF
Oct. 15 at Indiana W
Oct. 22 Purdue W
Oct. 29 at Wisconsin L
Nov. 5 at Ohio State L
Nov. 12 Minnesota W
Nov. 19 Maryland W
Nov. 25 at Iowa L

How does 8-4 sound?

A lot of people are saying this will be the year that Michigan will take down Michigan State and reclaim that “Big Brother” title. But should the Spartans really be counted out? How good of a shot does MSU have at knocking off the Wolverines again next season? – Vinny

Well, it helps that the game will be waged in East Lansing. The 2015 season marked the fifth time in the last six years that MSU won double-digit games. And the program has played in major bowls each of the last three seasons, reaching the playoffs for the first time last season. No doubt, a strong foundation has been laid as Mark Dantonio enters his 10th season in East Lansing. But Michigan State has many challenges looming as it looks to reload and repeat as East Division champion. One of the biggest: find a QB. Gone is Connor Cook, the winningest signal-caller in school history (34-5 record) and the school-record holder for most passing yards with 9,194 and passing TDs with 71. Senior Tyler O’Connor is the top contender. He is famous for starting and leading the Spartans to a huge win at Ohio State last season and figures to win the job. Another big key: Developing both lines.

We need Ty Isaac to get it going at Michigan. He’s a great thoroughbred. I hope this is his year. – Jeffery Alfred

Michigan needs a difference maker at running back. De’Veon Smith is healthy and a proven option. Drake Johnson is healthy, too. Ty Isaac is out of the doghouse and physical force who is slimmed down and dialed in. And keep an eye on true freshman Kareem Walker and Kingston Davis. Walker comes more touted than Davis, but Davis is a bigger back that Harbaugh loves. It will help the backs if the line continues to improve. And, it should. Keep an eye on center with Graham Glasgow gone. Left tackle Mason Cole has shifted to fill the void.

The Buckeyes will be fine next season. They are loaded at every position. The backups have been chomping at the bit to play and they are ready. The spring game showed the potential for this year’s team and it looks really good. – Dave

No doubt, Ohio State has talent. And, even more vital, the Buckeyes are hungry after failing to the win the Big Ten East last year after being the favorite coming off a run to the 2014 national championship. I like Ohio State to answer the bell and win the Big Ten this fall while earning a playoff spot.

When I look at Rutgers’ schedule, I can’t see more than four wins, and I don’t see that many but gotta hope for at least 4 wins. What’s the old Mike Ditka saying? If you beat the teams you are supposed to beat (Howard), play better than equal against teams you are equal with (3-1) and play .500 against opponents who are better than you (3-4), you should go to the playoffs (bowl games) every year. And that is what Rutgers needs to do: Win the equal games and try and escape with a win here or there against the superior teams. – Gene Marcinkiewicz

This looks like a transition year for first-year Rutgers coach Chris Ash. But that doesn’t mean the Scarlet Knights can’t make it to a bowl. Rutgers may be able to scratch out six wins, as it could beat Howard, New Mexico, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana and Maryland. The keys will be getting good QB play in a new quick-tempo offense. And the defense needs to tighten as it breaks in three new linebackers.

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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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12:00 PMMaryland at NorthwesternWatch
1:00 PMMinnesota at PurdueWatch
1:00 PMRutgers at IowaWatch
1:00 PMIowa at Ohio St.Watch
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1:00 PMWisconsin at IndianaWatch

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