Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, April 20, 2012

You have questions, I have answers in this week?s mail bag, which is dominated by spring football questions. Why not? Ohio State, Penn State and Minnesota play their spring games this weekend. Wisconsin and Michigan State play April 28. Here we go.

I know about Maryland quarterback Danny O?Brien coming to Wisconsin this fall. Are there any other transfers coming to the Big Ten?

O?Brien is the biggest and the one who figures to have the biggest impact, as he will be eligible this fall and appears to be a lock to start for a strong Badger team. Michigan State still is awaiting word on receiver DeAnthony Arnett to see if the NCAA will grant the Tennessee transfer a waiver to allow him to play this fall. If not, he will have to sit out 2012. Kyle Prater is another receiver who is hoping to receive an NCAA waiver to play this fall after transferring from USC to Northwestern. Arnett and Prater each would figure to play big roles for their respective teams in 2012 if eligible.

Who do you think will win the Penn State quarterback job? – Bob

Senior Matt McGloin and junior Rob Bolden are the top competitors. Junior Paul Jones also is in the mix but appears to be a longer shot. Freshman Steven Bench will arrive in the fall and could become a factor-but right away? Bottom line, I expect McGloin or Bolden to win the job to start the season. And I think McGloin has a leg up in the race, as he has looked better in spring drills. McGloin lacks a big arm, but is grasping the offense and limits mistakes. And that?s key, as the Nittany Lions may have to rely on the running of Silas Redd as the passing game develops early in 2012 for a new Penn State attack that will resemble the New England Patriots? scheme Bill O?Brien ran in the NFL.

Despite the fact Purdue is picked to be in the middle of the league, at best, it does seem like it may have enough talented quick players to be a dark horse–if their quarterbacks (likely) and linebackers (possibly) play well. Is that so farfetched? -Bob

It may not be so farfetched. You are spot-on with your analysis of the quarterbacks and linebackers. But the biggest key for the Boilermakers will be injuries, which have been crippling-literally and figuratively-for most of Hope?s first three seasons in West Lafayette. Other keys: defensive players adapting to three new coaches, including a new coordinator. And the offense needs to pass better, a task that will be helped if some wideouts step up. The Leaders Division isn?t stacked. Yes, Wisconsin will likely be the big favorite, but Ohio State is ineligible; Penn State and Illinois have new coaches; Indiana is in just its second year under Kevin Wilson. So, yes, Purdue could surprise in 2012 if things go well.

Saw your list of top non-conference games for Big Ten teams. Do you think Michigan can beat Alabama down in Texas in the season-opener? -Joey

Beating Alabama will be a tall order for Michigan. Yes, the defending national champions have lost lots of talent from what some consider to be one of the best defenses in modern college football history. Players like linebacker Courtney Upshaw, safety Mark Barron, corner Dre Kirkpatrick and linebacker Don?ta Hightower are gone. But the Tide has plenty of reinforcements. And count on Bama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart stuffing the box and making Denard Robinson throw. Yes, bruising back Trent Richardson is gone, but the Tide still will have a physical ground game that will be a test for the Wolverines? rebuilt defensive front. This will be a difficult game for Michigan to win. But, if the Wolverines do, they will be stamped legit national title contenders.

What were some of your impressions of Illinois? spring game?

Some good, some bad. New coach Tim Beckman didn?t show much. Redshirt freshman running back Josh Ferguson turned some heads with his burst of speed, showing he may be a big-play maker that this attack needs. The staff also played star cornerback Terry Hawthorne at receiver, a position of need. And defensive end Michael Buchanan was a force off the edge, perhaps showing he may fill the big void Whitney Mercilus left after turning pro. But, bottom line: The jury remains out on the Illini. And that?s seemingly just how Beckman wants it.

Should Ohio State fans tone down their excitement for the 2012? – Avery

Go ahead, go crazy. Get excited. Ohio State landed one of the top coaches in the nation in Urban Meyer. The defense should be among the Big Ten?s best. The offense? Questions remain about the passing game, as receivers need to emerge and quarterback Braxton Miller needs to show he can run Meyer?s spread attack. Still, I think there?s a chance Ohio State could compile the best record in the Big Ten. That won?t earn them anything but pride in 2012. But it will be a heck of a catalyst toward the future.

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