Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, August 16, 2013

Our trek across Big Ten country continues, as we've now visited 10 of the 12 camps. Nebraska and Iowa, you're next. Until then, it?s time to dig into my mailbag. Lots of interesting questions as we inch closer to the start of the 2013 season. Keep those cards and letters coming! Thanks!

It seems as if the staff at BTN and the national media are convinced the Big Ten?s future will be built around the return of Ohio State and Michigan to prominence. Is there a reason to believe that schools like Nebraska are going to be mired in second-class status in the future? – Erik

No, there is no reason to think Nebraska or Wisconsin will slide. Rather, it looks like the fortunes of Ohio State and Michigan are just rising rapidly under Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke. Look at the talent procurement. It?s stunning to see what each school is doing in recruiting, which will make it difficult for others to keep pace. Still, just trying to keep pace with OSU and Michigan will make schools like Nebraska and Wisconsin and others better.

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How would you compare Northwestern with Ohio State? Can they beat the Buckeyes when they visit Evanston on October 5? – Joe Wildcat

From 1-85 on the roster, Northwestern can?t match up with Ohio State. But the Wildcats have better front-line talent and depth than at any time in history. After watching the team workout in Camp Kenosha, I was impressed by the athletic ability, especially on defense. Players like Deonte Gibson and Chance Carter were impressive up front. Tyler Scott and Dean Lowry also are imposing on the line. And Chi Chi Ariguzo may be as good as any linebacker in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes still have better overall team speed. And when the clubs meet, OSU will have the most talented player on the field in quarterback Braxton Miller. And that may end up being the difference. But these teams could meet again in the Big Ten title game. Wouldn?t that be something?

Urban Meyer said the 2012 Ohio State offense wasn't really his (or coordinator Tom Herman's) style and it was more of a pro-set. Since the Buckeyes led the Big Ten in scoring in 2012, should the team be moving toward more of a spread with the infusion of more players tailored to the attack? – Jonathan

Well, Ohio State was a spread team in my mind last year. I mean, Braxton Miller is the ultimate spread signal-caller when it comes to executing the read-option. There was a lack of a true game-changer aside from Miller, but OSU may have that guy in true freshman Dontre Wilson. Still, I think schemes are highly overrated. This all comes down to the players. Great players can make any scheme look like a genius.

How's Ohio State running back Rod Smith looking? – Brian W.

Big. Tough. Strong. Good.

In the recruiting process for 2014 for Michigan, I've been surprised at the lack of success in recruiting receivers and lack of aggressive interest. Do you think the existing receiver personnel is of the caliber we should expect? – Craig Brown

Well, I?m not sure what you are talking about. According to, Michigan has commitments from two four-star recruits as well as one from a three-star. And the staff has a commitment from a five-star recruit in the 2015 class. Couple all of that with young studs like Amara Darboh and Jehuu Chesson, and Michigan is loaded at receiver for the near future. Plus, there are some nice upperclassmen in Jeremy Gallon, Jeremy Jackson and Drew Dileo. Plus, the tight end spot is becoming a strong area with the likes of Devin Funchess and Jake Butt.

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I really like Jerry Kill as the Minnesota coach. It remains to be seen if he and his staff can recruit at a high enough level to compete for division titles, but there seems to be no doubt he knows what he's doing on the field. In fact, he reminds me a lot of Kirk Ferentz. I think the Gophers are trending up and look like a 7-5 team this year. Your thoughts? – Tim

I have been on record for some time about my admiration for Kill. I think he?s a terrific coach who has a great staff. In fact, his staff hasn?t changed since he arrived in the Twin Cities. Many of his assistants have been with him for years. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover may be the best of all of them. He?s a bright mind and great teacher. The Gophers never will get top-shelf talent; this is a developmental program. And Kill and Co., have proven adept over the years at finding rough gems and polishing them. Be patient, my friend. As for this year, 7-5 would be a best-case record. I think this may be a 6-6 team. And in the future, I think Minnesota will have a good shot to win the Big Ten West.

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.

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