Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, May 31, 2012

It?s the last day of May, and the Big Ten football news is still percolating. Isn?t life beautiful? Let's take a look at three big games for Penn State, a schedule update, and, yes, some more college football playoff talk.

Three bigs: Penn State fans, get out your red Sharpies and circle these three games. Bob Flounders of the Harrisburg Patriot-News calls them ?swing? games, and they will go a long way toward determining how good or bad Bill O?Brien?s maiden voyage is.

  • At Virginia, Sept. 8
  • At Illinois, Sept. 29
  • Ohio State, Oct. 27

I think Flounders has this correct. These all are winnable games for the Nittany Lions, who are aiming to finish in the upper half of the Leaders Division and make a push at Wisconsin and Ohio State for the top spots. The Big Ten opener at Illinois is especially critical against a Fighting Illini team and Leaders Division rival that like Penn State is breaking in a new coach. Win here, and the Nittany Lions? confidence will receive an ample boost.

Be careful: Montee Ball calls his arrest for trespassing during a street party earlier this month in Madison a blessing in disguise. Seems funny, huh? A blessing? Really? Read on. I have just one thing to say: Welcome to the fishbowl world of celebrity status, Montee! It?s not always a pleasant place to be.

Good aim: Not only is Iowa?s James Vandenberg perhaps the best passing quarterback in the Big Ten, he also apparently is a heck of a hunter. Check out the bear he bagged.

Schedule time: It looks like Nebraska will play Southern Miss in the New Orleans Superdome in 2013. It would be a home game for the Golden Eagles, who would move the game from Hattiesburg to the Big Easy. Why? Money.

For Huskers fans, this figures to be a de facto bowl, as the Big Red would take over the Superdome and Bourbon Street to make this a virtual home game for the Cornhuskers. Is there a more passionate and dedicated fan base in the nation?

More on playoffs: Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World News says a college football playoff should reward conference champions.

I have to agree. Though I would like to see the four best teams make the playoffs, I think there would be too much controversy surrounding how the teams are picked. So, why not just make the criteria more cut-and-dry by making a conference championship mandatory for all playoff participants? Sounds good, right?

Now, to make this playoff idea even better, let?s just make it eight teams. I think once we are two or three years into it, we all will be dissatisfied and want to see more teams. Fans and schools would be happy about it. And so would TV execs. So, let?s avoid the inevitable and just start with eight teams. We are gonna end up there, anyway.

SRO, whoa: Get out your wallets, Michigan fans. Standing-room-only tickets for the season-opening Alabama game in Arlington, Texas, are on sale. But, before reading about the price, you may want to sit down.


My take: I feel bad for the guys, but Wisconsin will be OK at quarterback. Maryland transfer Danny O?Brien looks poised to start, and former walk-on Joel Stave has turned heads. The Badgers are set for a run at a third straight Big Ten crown. It?s good to be Bret Bielema.

My take: On the surface, it doesn?t look like this is a standout season for tight ends in the Big Ten. But a handful of these guys look special. Take Iowa?s C.J. Fiedorowicz. He is only No. 5 on this list. I think he should be higher. In fact, he may end up being the top tight end in the conference and one of the best in the nation. And keep an eye on Michigan State?s Dion Sims. senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, all of his work is at, and you can subscribe to it all via his RSS feed. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below.

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