Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, September 18, 2012

Lots of questions in today's Big Ten headlines. Will Rex Burkhead play this weekend? How dangerous is this upcoming opponent for Illinois? What does Michigan's Brady Hoke think about the future of the series against Notre Dame? Find those items and plenty more in my links in this post.

And as always, let me know what you're thinking about your team and the Big Ten so far. I read the comments in this post, I have a weekly mailbag where you can email me directly, and I'm on Twitter @BTNTomDienhart

Burkhead's back? It was a site that had to please Nebraska fans: running back Rex Burkhead was back on the practice field yesterday.

He has been out since injuring a knee in the opener vs. Southern Miss. In his absence, Ameer Abdullah has played well, running for 167 yards in the Arkansas State game last week. Braylon Heard and Imani Cross also have run well. But having Burkhead back in the lineup should provide a spark to the Nebraska team.

The question now: How much will he play against Idaho State this weekend? I say little-if at all. Why risk it? Save Burkhead for the Big Ten opener.

Alarming opponent: No doubt, the Illinois defense will be stressed when it plays host to Louisiana Tech on Saturday. The Bulldogs have notched 112 points in two games. And in a season-opening win over Houston, La Tech ran an NCAA-record 118 plays. Yes, Sonny Dykes? team operates at a quick pace. And it was a quick-paced Arizona State offense that posed issues for the Illini defense two weeks ago. Remember?

This is a dangerous game for Illinois. Can Charleston Southern come back this Saturday for another game?

Filling in: Iowa has learned to deal with attrition at running back, reaching deep on its depth chart for answers. Mark Weisman and Michael Malloy have stepped up with Damon Bullock (head) and Greg Garmon (elbow) out. But the aforementioned duo may be on the field this week when Central Michigan comes to town.

But if Bullock and Garmon remain sidelined, Weisman looks capable of carrying the load vs. a MAC team. Last week vs. Northern Iowa, Weisman ran 24 times for 113 yards and three touchdowns. Let the kid be the man one more week and keep Bullock and Garmon fresh for league play.

Passing drought: On the subject of Iowa, the Hawkeyes have no touchdown passes in three games. When was the last time Iowa opened the season on such a dubious run? It was 1999, Kirk Ferentz's first season. And Iowa didn?t toss its first scoring pass until the fifth game that year.

Future outlook: With Notre Dame set to join the ACC in a few years, some have wondered if any Big Ten should continue to play the Fighting Irish. How does Michigan?s Brady Hoke feel about playing ND? He wouldn?t be heartbroken if the series ended.

Tough year so far: The great David Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot-News doesn?t think much of the Big Ten this season.

The Big Ten is 4-8 vs. BCS foes. The wins? Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Boston College (all beat by Northwestern) and Cal (Ohio State). And all of those triumphs have come by 10 points or less.

Want more? The Big Ten went down to the wire before pulling out victories vs. ?powerhouses? Northern Illinois (Iowa), Northern Iowa (Wisconsin) and Utah State (Wisconsin, again).

Oh, and there have been losses to Ohio (Penn State) and Ball State (Indiana). Keep your chin up, big fella. Things will improve. Right? Right?!

Wrap it up: Tackling. It has become a dirty work at Ohio State, which has struggled at times with this basic football fundamental. How spotty has the tackling been the first three games? Foes already had notched 13 plays of 20 or more yards. Urban Meyer is-What else?–fuming.

Speaking of Ohio State, Mark Schlabach of looks at some traditional powers that are off to 3-0 starts. One is Ohio State. What?s good about the Buckeyes fast start? What is there to worry about? What?s the verdict?

Gopher it: Don?t think a quarterback controversy can be a good thing? Chip Scoggins of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune begs to differ. Well, if he?s right, Minnesota is in good shape with Max Shortell and MarQueis Gray perhaps soon embroiled in a ?controversy? once Gray returns from an ankle injury. Shortell was impressive last week.

Once Gray returns, Scoggins suggests the staff uses both signal-callers, since each brings a different skill set to the field. Hey, it?s worth a shot.

'Cats competition: More quarterback battles are taking place at Northwestern, where Pat Fitzgerald says Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian are competing for the job.

Badger secret: Speaking of quarterback quandaries, Wisconsin may be facing one between Danny O?Brien, who gave way to Joel Stave at halftime last week. Who will start this week? The staff knows who will start. You? You don?t, but stay tuned.

Neither quarterback excelled against Utah State. O?Brien hit 5-of-10 passes for 63 yards and lost a fumble; Stave was 2-of-6 passing for 15 yards. Where have you gone, Russell Wilson?

Line it up: The quarterbacks and offense in general would benefit from better line play. The man on the spot? Interim offensive line coach Bart Miller.

The 27-year-old Miller has talent to work with, but his unit needs to focus after a false start and three holding calls. Plus, the unit failed to help the attack convert four times on third downs of two yards or less in the first half vs. Utah State. Oh, well. It?s still early.

Stay the course: Without a doubt, Michigan State has a lot to fix after a dreadful 20-3 home loss to Notre Dame. But all hope isn?t lost for a team that still may be the Big Ten?s best.

On the to-do list: fix the pass blocking, pass game and kicking. But know this: MSU has responded to bad losses well in recent seasons. Remember, the Spartans are 24-6 overall the past three seasons. And as Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free-Press points out, five of those losses were lopsided. To wit: Michigan State got whipped, 31-13, at Notre Dame last year and still notched 11 wins and won the Legends.


My take: Yet another head-scratching stat from a senior season that isn?t going as planned for Montee Ball.

My take:I will admit: I wasn?t sure how much better of a passer Martinez would be. But he has proven me wrong.

My take: I have a feeling ol? Urban is gonna put an end to this–ASAP.

My take: A well-deserved honor. Kid has been one of the Big Ten?s top surprises.

My take: Barker has been a revelation and quickly is becoming one of my favorite players. How can you not cheer for him?

My take: The Wildcats are playing South Dakota. Let me type that again. The Wildcats are playing South Dakota. No need to stress out, Mark. senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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