Mailbag: Big Ten East favorite, Michigan pass-catchers & more

Mailbag: Big Ten East favorite, Michigan pass-catchers & more

B1G HIGHLIGHT - Amara Darboh rises for the Odell Beckham Jr.-esque catch vs. BYU.

My Big Ten Mailbag is filling up. So, let’s answer some questions! Who is gonna win the East? Does Michigan have the best fleet of pass catchers in the Big Ten? Are we anointing Jim Harbaugh too quickly?

Let’s go!!

Who do you think will win the Big Ten East? – Steven Spivey

It could be a terrific race, with Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan the favorites. Michigan State is the defending champ, but it has lots of holes to fill—beginning at quarterback. Michigan remains a bit of a work-in-progress, which like MSU needs a new signal-caller. That brings us to Ohio State, which has key personnel to replace after seeing a national-high 12 players drafted. But, unlike the Spartans and Wolverines, the Buckeyes welcome back a stud QB in J.T. Barrett, who is a legit Heisman contender. And, because of that, I think Ohio State will win the East.

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Why is IU’s trip to FIU bizarre? They want to get down to Florida, as that’s a recruiting hotbed and the Hoosiers certainly aren’t going to play at FSU or Florida. IU also doesn’t have the clout to demand every game be in Bloomington, hence home and homes. We still have seven home games anyway, so it’s moot. – Adam

I can’t recall a Big Ten team EVER playing at Florida International. The school only recently joined C-USA and not long ago was in the Sun Belt. I just can’t imagine the buzz or attention a school will get playing at a place like FIU—even among Sunshine State recruits. But, hey, that’s just me. Plus, what happens if Indiana gets beat? A few years ago (2011), IU played at North Texas … and lost. I would rather play a major Power Five team on the road. More to gain from an exposure standpoint—and the current players would be more fired up to play the Seminoles or Gators than the … what is FIU’s nickname?????

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Harbaugh hasn’t won anything yet and you are already crowning him “king of college football.” Let him win a few more games and Big Ten championships before we put him in the hall of fame! – Bob Smart

True, Harbaugh hasn’t won a thing at Michigan. But, it’s impossible to discount the excitement and energy he has created in a little over a year. No school has as much mojo as Michigan. Harbaugh took the Wolverines to 10 wins his first year. Who saw that coming? No one. What can he do once he has a roster of his players? Yes, the hype around Harbaugh can get out of control. Still, it’s fun to think of the possibilities as a Big Ten fan. The conference needs Michigan to be elite again, as the program hasn’t won a Big Ten crown since 2004. A strong Michigan program will make everyone one else in the league better, as coaches look to keep pace with Harbaugh on the recruiting trail.

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Amid all the talk about what Harbaugh, what Jabrill Peppers will bring playing multiple positions, and how the QB battle will shake out, aren’t people overlooking what might just be the best receiving corps in the Big Ten? Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are both big-play threats, Jake Butt is the best tight end in the conference and arguably in the nation. This is a deep receiving corps that should make things much easier on a new QB and much harder on opposing secondarys. – Ken Looker

No doubt, Michigan will have a top-flight corps of pass catchers. In total, Michigan returns 159 catches, 2,145 yards and 17 touchdowns between its three leading receivers (Darboh, Chesson, Butt). Entering 2015, those numbers from the previous season were much lower: 71 catches, 838 yards and 4 touchdowns. Behind Darboh and Chesson is talent like Grant Perry and Drake Harris. Yes, the new QB will be pleased to throw to this collection of pass-catchers. But don’t overlook Nebraska’s receiving corps. In fact, it may be the best in the Big Ten. The Huskers will feature the likes of Alonzo Moore, Jordan Westerkamp, Stanley Morgan, Brandon Reilly and De’Mornay Pierson-El.

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Where do you think the Gophers will finish? – Greg Kwrlen

I think the Gophers have a shot to win the West, thanks largely to a forgiving Big Ten schedule. The on-field keys will be getting a more balance offense (I’m looking at you, passing game.) And the defense needs to retool its secondary. If it all happens, Minnesota could surprise and win the West. But I think Iowa and Nebraska are the favorites.

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The prevailing opinion in New Jersey is that Rutgers finally has a Big Ten worthy coach. Do you agree? – Bob Poole

I liked Kyle Flood … but, I digress. Yes, Chris Ash is a sharp, young coach with great pedigree. He is a bright defensive mind who earned his chops coaching the secondary. The work he did with the 2014 Ohio State defense was impressive, as the Buckeyes won the national title. Ash also has built a good staff. I am intrigued by 28-year old OC Drew Mehringer and his go-go offense.

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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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