Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, April 27, 2012

Is it fair to play national semifinal games on neutral fields instead of home fields? What do I think of the Gophers this spring? How good can my Indiana Hoosiers football team be this year? Is Urban Meyer's past avoidance of power running due to not having big backs? You have questions. And, as usual, I have answers in this week?s mailbag.

Send me questions for next week over here on the mailbag page. And stay in touch with me on Twitter (@BTNTomDienhart) and Facebook page (, too.

Is it fair to play national semifinal games on neutral fields instead of home fields? Are games in Florida, California, Texas, etc. really neutral for Big Ten schools? – James

You are preaching to the choir, James. In a recent post right here on, I said my preference is for national semifinal games to be played on home fields. Let?s have No. 1 play No. 4 on No. 1?s home field. And let?s have No. 2 play No. 3 on No. 2?s home field. To me, home field is a reward for having a better team during the course of the regular season-and it?s something for elite teams to ?play for? down the stretch of the season-just like in the NFL, where teams want to ?sew up? home-field advantage. Plus, I?d love to see Alabama, LSU, Florida, Texas or any southern school have to travel north for a playoff game.

But the powers-that-be think logistics make home-field games unlikely. By that, they fear some hosting schools would have a small stadium with limited revenue potential. Too bad. Does EVERYTHING have to be about selling more tickets and renting more luxury suites? When do the actual merits of the competition take precedent? Just so sad. In the end, expect these semifinal games to be played in the BCS bowls-and not on home fields.

What did you think of the Gophers this spring? The word out of Dinkytown is that the secondary looks drastically improved and quarterback MarQueis Gray looks great, but he may not have any Big Ten level receivers to throw to. – Michael

I have heard some good reports from the Twin Cities on the Gophers as they enter Year Two under Jerry Kill, who debuted with a 3-9 mark last year. Finding someone to replace the production of wideout Da?Jon McKnight will be difficult. He accounted for more than 42 percent of the Gophers? receiving yards last year and 40 percent of Minnesota?s receiving touchdowns. Much is expected from senior Brandon Green. And speedy youngster Devin Crawford-Tufts also could play a big role. Malcolm Moulton and Marcus Jones, coming off a knee injury, Isaac Fruechte, Victor Keise and A.J. Barker are others receivers to watch.

Just be straight with me, Tom: Will the Gophers go to a bowl game and win a rivalry game or two? Minnesota fans desperately want the Axe back this year. – Jamie

Wow, this is some type of record-TWO Minnesota questions in the same mailbag. Yes, I think there?s a decent chance to reach the postseason. But it?s gonna be difficult for the Gophers to reach their first bowl since Tim Brewster took the program to back-to-back bowls in 2008-09 (Insight Bowl losses).

The schedule sets up for a nice start, with games at UNLV and at home vs. FCS New Hampshire, Western Michigan and Syracuse. So, a 4-0 start isn?t out of the realm of possibilities.

That would mean Minnesota would need just two Big Ten wins to net bowl eligibility. There are games on the road at Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Nebraska. The home games are vs. Northwestern, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State.
I see at least two-maybe three-good opportunities for wins in there. So, who knows?
As for winning the Axe from Wisconsin? I think Minnesota has a better chance to go to a bowl.

In addition to Michigan State having the best defense in the conference, I believe it's entirely possible that it also has the best offense. What is your opinion? – Susan

Whoa ? slow down on chugging that green Kool-Aid. Yes, the Spartans look good. So good, in fact, that some feel Michigan State will win the Big Ten (hello, Gerry DiNardo). The defense should be killer, with nine starters back. Who?s gone? Star tackle Jerel Worthy and stud safety Trenton Robinson. Still, this could be Mark Dantonio?s best defense yet-and the best in the Big Ten.

The offense? It will be good, but I don?t know if it will be the best in the Big Ten. The offensive line looks strong, and I like LeVeon Bell at running back. But the receiving corps has been gutted with the departures of B.J. Cunningham, Keith Nichol and Keyshawn Martin. And tight ends Brian Linthicum and Garrett Celek also are gone. Plus, star quarterback Kirk Cousins is gone.

I know Andrew Maxwell is supposed to be a great quarterback, but it will be difficult to replace Kirk Cousins? leadership and savvy. And while the young receivers have talent, they still have to show they can do it on Saturdays.
I think Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska could have offenses that rival if not exceed Michigan State?s attack. Stay tuned.

Every coach evolves and changes, but will Ohio State completely abandon power running? And could that be a hindrance to any national championship aspirations? Is Urban Meyer's past avoidance of power running due to not having big backs? – Jim

Yes, Meyer had smallish running backs at Florida, but his attack still had a physical element with Tim Tabor running the ball. So, don?t mislabel Meyer as being a coach with a finesse spread offense. He still wants to be physical, but prefers to do so by spreading out defenses and then punching them in the nose. Ohio State has 6-2, 200-pound running back Warren Ball coming in and 6-2, 215-pound back Bri?onte Dunn already is on campus and went through spring drills. Those are two running backs with some nice size. So, fear not-Meyer has some big backs to execute a physical running game in 2012.

How good can my Indiana Hoosiers be this year? Indiana has a lot of JC transfers coming in. -Ryan

I talked to Kevin Wilson this week. He is optimistic as he enters his second season in Bloomington. He debut was tough, as the Hoosiers went 1-11 with the lone victory coming against FCS South Carolina State. Indiana has brought in six junior-college transfers, with five being on defense-two linebackers, two defensive backs and an end. Wilson likes how all of them played in the spring. Indiana also brought in a JC quarterback in Cam Coffman, who will push Tre Roberson for the job. Wilson is really looking to improve the passing game. He knows it?s vital for the Hoosiers to score more points to help cover for a defense that probably still will struggle at times in 2012. Last year, Indiana was 10th in the Big Ten in scoring (21.4 ppg). It was last in scoring defense (37.3 ppg). Do the math. senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, and all of his work is at Send questions to his weekly mailbag, subscribe to his RSS feed, and check out his video Q&A.