Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, April 26, 2013

There is still so much to talk about, with spring football winding down and the NFL draft in full swing. Can Illinois win? What's up with expansion? What's the deal with football ticket prices? Time for me to reach into my mailbag.

Keep those cards and letters coming.

Do you feel that Illinois has a legit shot to win at least a game in the Big Ten this season? And could it get two or more non-conference wins? – Jeremiah Thompson

Illinois has some issues to solve in its second season under Tim Beckman. The offense was a mess last season. And the defense lost most every significant playmaker from a year ago. But the Fighting Illini showed signs of progress in the spring under a revamped staff. Still, look at this schedule:

Day Date Opponent
Sat. Aug. 31 vs. Southern Illinois
Sat. Sep. 7 vs. Cincinnati
Sat. Sep. 14 vs. Washington*
Sat. Sep. 28 vs. Miami (OH)
Sat. Oct. 5 at 25 Nebraska
Sat. Oct. 19 vs. Wisconsin
Sat. Oct. 26 vs. Michigan State
Sat. Nov. 2 at Penn State
Sat. Nov. 9 at Indiana
Sat. Nov. 16 vs. 3 Ohio State
Sat. Nov. 23 at Purdue
Sat. Nov. 30 vs. 17 Northwestern

It helps to have just one true road game through the first seven games of the season. But the schedule is filled with too many challenges for this program to win any more than five-MAYBE six–games overall.

The Big Ten needs to expand but not at the expense of putting Ohio State and Michigan in the same division. How stupid is that? The only Big Ten game many people watch all year is the championship game. So, if that is a boring matchup-which it could be if Michigan isn?t playing Ohio State-many people won?t watch. So, the two very best teams should play in the championship, and that means keeping the Wolverines and Buckeyes in different divisions. Instead of the annual meeting in the last regular-season game, have them play a month BEFORE the championship. – Joe

Well, I disagree with you many fronts. Having Michigan and Ohio State in the same division is fine. Look, if Alabama and Auburn can play in the same division, then Ohio State and Michigan can, too. And just because both won?t in the title game together will not diminish the value or watch-ability of the Big Ten title game. Yes, last year?s title game between Nebraska and Wisconsin wasn?t competitive. But the inaugural tilt between Wisconsin and Michigan State was. And, it was well-attended, too.

Do you actually believe that attorneys could challenge a Grant of Rights agreement for a conference? I hope you're right. (I'd like to see the Big Ten make more moves). – Luke Carter

Life observations seems to tell me that lawyers can pretty much do whatever they want-especially really good lawyers who are paid a lot of money. Also: big, powerful entities seem to always get what they want in the end. Look at history and businesses. I don?t think a Grant of Rights is gonna prevent a school or league from doing what it wants. But, I could be wrong. Nonetheless, Jim Delany has publicly said the ACC agreement makes expansion unlikely. ?Given everything that has gone on, yes,? Delany said at a recent gathering of conference commissioners. Still, stay tuned.

There are advantages/disadvantages both ways, but do you believe it's better to recruit the best players or best players that fit a system? I ask because Urban Meyer recruits to a system on offense, while Jim Tressel recruited the best players and built the offense around them. – Jason

Every coach has an offensive system and a defensive system. So, I think it makes the most sense to recruit players who fit your system. It?s not just about accumulating highly-rated recruits and trying to fit them in. A staff needs to have a plan in place-and recruit players best equipped to carry it out.

As an Ohio State alum, and since OSU increased ticket prices, how close are we to having schools price out the fan or alumni in terms of football tickets? – Alex Chapman

I know it has to be a concern. Some schools require fans to donate annually for the right to buy tickets. Others require PSLs. It has become a very expensive proposition. But, until attendance figures dip, I don?t think there will be any urgency for schools to enact cost controls.

Why do I feel disappointed that the Big Ten seems to not be moving toward the south in terms of conference expansion? Why do I feel the SEC made better moves by adding Texas A&M and Missouri, compared to the Big Ten adding Rutgers and Maryland? – Brian

The Big Ten isn?t going to make any hasty moves. Jim Delany is very smart and calculating. While Rutgers and Maryland initially won?t add much from a competitive standpoint, they figure to improve over time as they are able to benefit from the resources and other benefits that come with being a Big Ten school. Immediately, Rutgers and Maryland expand the Big Ten?s footprint into two massive TV markets. That will add value to the league?s future TV deals. As for Missouri, it seems it really wanted to be part of the Big Ten-but the league for some reason didn?t have as much interest.

Do you think that Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin has any chance of being picked up in the draft? – John Cronley

His draft prospects are slim, but you never know. Playing in Bill O?Brien?s sophisticated pro-style offense has to help McGloin?s stock. And, he excelled in the system, too. But his lack of physical attributes (arm strength, quickness) may hold him back. At the least, I think McGloin will be a free agent.


About Tom Dienhart 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.

And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.