Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, June 25, 2012

It?s Monday. And I have all the top Big Ten grid links right here, including some news on rankings. Who doesn?t love rankings? Am I right, people? Of course I am. The Lincoln Journal Star has assembled a 1-12 ordering of its ?dandy dozen? Big Ten players for 2012. What do you think?

Having Wisconsin running back Montee Ball No. 1 is what they call in the biz a ?no brainer.? But Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead at No. 2? Hmmmm. I?m not so sure about that.

Nothing against Rexy. He?s a great back. But I would put Michigan State defensive end William Gholston and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson ahead of Burkhead. I just think each is more dominant at their respective position.

Trophy talk: All of the early 2012 Heisman lists are out. And all of them include Michigan?s Denard Robinson as a top contender. But how serious of a candidate is the Wolverine quarterback? The great Kyle Meinke of offers three reasons D-Rob will be a Heisman finalist-and three reasons why he won?t.

Meinke cites Robinson?s experience, improvement as a passer and likely improved ability to limit turnovers as reasons why he can be a finalist. But a diversified backfield, rugged schedule and specter of injury from overuse are reasons why ?Shoelace? may fall short.

Whether he wins it or not, Robinson will leave as the most dynamic player in Michigan annals. And that?s saying a lot.

Throw it out there: There is a lot to like about Michigan State?s program, coming off consecutive 11-win seasons as it rides one of its most successful waves in years. But, work remains for Mark Dantonio as he enters his sixth season in East Lansing.

The top issue: The passing game.

Is Andrew Maxwell the answer at quarterback? And will some receivers step up? Key questions, but it may be picking nits to a degree. This is a loaded Michigan State program that may have the best defense in the Big Ten, along with a top running back in Le?Veon Bell and a great offensive line in addition to a top coaching staff.

New faces: It?s only late June, but the Michigan freshmen already are on campus prepping. Last year, freshmen Blake Countess and Desmond Morgan saw action on defense. And the incoming freshmen could get a chance to play big roles this fall. It all begins now during informal summer workouts.

The areas that need the most help: offensive and defensive lines. But, as any football watcher will tell you, those are areas where it is difficult for youngsters to step in a play early.

But, stay tuned.

Back to the future: In case you missed this, former Nebraska coach and current Husker A.D. Tom Osborne recently told Sirius XM radio that his 1997 team wanted to play Michigan. But the Rose Bowl got in the way.

Michigan beat Washington State and Ryan Leaf in the Rose Bowl, while Nebraska toppled Tennessee and Peyton Manning in the Orange Bowl. Each team claimed a share of the national championship. The next season, the BCS began.

And listen up, BCS haters: The fact that these teams didn?t meet to settle who was No. 1 may have led to the creation of the BCS: "I think those kinds of scenarios led to the BCS and the desire to get one and two together," said T.O.

Had Michigan and Nebraska met, who would have won?

I think the Cornhuskers would have prevailed. Nebraska was a dominant team, winning games by scores like 59-14; 56-26; 29-0; 35-0; 69-7; 77-13; 54-15. And the Huskers did it with a roster loaded with studs like Grant Wistrom, Aaron Taylor; Jason Peter; Ahman Green and Scott Frost, among others.

I?m not saying that Nebraska would have steam rolled Michigan. Instead, it would have been a close game, given how strong the Wolverine defense led by Heisman winner Charles Woodson was. But in the end, I think Michigan would have had a tough time scoring enough to beat the 1997 Cornhuskers.

I just wish we could have seen it all play out on the field instead of in our minds.


My take:  This is what summer time is all about: Debating on who will be the No. 3 quarterback. I love it! 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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