Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, September 3, 2013

The season has started, and my mail box is getting stuffed with comments and questions. You know what that means: I have to reach into my mail bag and answer some of your queries as we head into Week Two of the season. Thanks for all of the interest! Keep the cards and letters coming!

I think the criticism of Wisconsin QB Joel Stave is a little harsh, especially compared to the love given toward Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg. Stave hit 9-of-17 passes for 197 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Hackenberg hit 22-of-31 passes for 278 yards with two touchdowns and two picks. Not a huge difference. If you're gonna bash Stave, then the love fest for Hackenberg should stop. In my opinion, both played alright, and both did nothing to think they shouldn't be starting QBs. – Dillon

Good points. Fair enough. I think they hype surrounding Hackenberg tends to cause many people-myself included-to hyperventilate too much and overstate things. Yes, Stave was solid, but he sure looked iffy in the first half vs. UMass. Still, Hackenberg was a bit more impressive in the opener-and he has a greater upside. And he is a true freshman who was making his first start ever; Stave is a vet.

Do you think the Huskers have an offense that will pick up the slack for a young defense in big games? – Marcus

I think the Nebraska coaches have to hope so after the defense was gashed for 602 yards by Wyoming in the opener. Look, I think the Husker defense will improve-youth and a bad early matchup conspired against the Nebraska defense in Week One. The Husker offense should be plenty good enough to cover for the defense as it continues to gain its bearings and develop chemistry. In fact, Nebraska may have the best offense in the Big Ten. A great early test for the Cornhusker defense will be UCLA?s visit on Sept. 14. No way Nebraska can allow 600 yards to the Bruins and win.

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Do you think Tom Osborne would have success coaching football today? – Mark Joye

Why not? Yes, times have changed since the Nebraska icon retired after the 1997 season. But I?m sure Osborne would have adapted to the changing times and still been a successful coach.

Aside from Wisconsin's outstanding running game and strong o-line, where do you rate its defensive ability? Holding UMass to zero points is a sign of things to come from the defensive prowess of the Gary Andersen era.  I think there is more to come on defense. – John Mac

Yes, pitching a shutout is a great start for new coordinator Dave Aranda and his 3-4 scheme. As you note, I don?t think Aranda revealed much vs. UMass. This defense surely has lots of coverages and pressure packages we have yet to see. Stay tuned. This is gonna be fun to watch this defense evolve.

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Do you think that Michigan can knock off Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State and maybe win the Big Ten? – Tim Mapes

Sure! But Devin Gardner needs to show more as a passer, tossing two picks. He relied too much on his feet last week vs. Central Michigan. And running back must continue to develop behind Fitz Toussaint. True freshman back Derrick Green is moving up the pecking order and could evolve into a nice complement to Toussaint.

Indiana?s defense showed promise in the opener vs. Indiana State. As players like Darius Lathum, David Kenny and Rashard Fant mature, do you see the Hoosiers? improving on defense? – Glenn

No doubt. I was excited by some of the young players on defense I saw during our BTN bus tour stop in Bloomington. And you mentioned a few of them. The athletic ability quotient on this defense is improving. Another guy to watch is safety Antonio Allen, who could end up being the best of the bunch. This is a program on the rise.

I was wondering if you think Michigan State is going to try harder on offense and if the Spartans will be more prepared for bigger games, like Norte Dame and Michigan. – Noah Muneio

Look, I?m sure Michigan State tries hard every week on offense. If you don?t try hard, you don?t play. I can?t imagine Mark Dantonio will put up with anything but max effort. And MSU will be prepped for big games, too. This is a good staff. But, facts may be facts: There could just be personnel issues/shortcomings on this roster on offense. Issues need to be settled at quarterback and running back. And more is needed from the wideouts. Time will tell. Just one game has been played, so let?s give it a bit more time. Check back with me in a month.

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Don?t expect Minnesota to have an easy ?W? when it plays at New Mexico State this week. Remember what happened a couple years back? The Golden Gophers were supposed to beat NMSU and lost in Minnesota to the Aggies. – Arturo

Oh, I recall that game. Tough loss. It?s also the game when Jerry Kill had a seizure on the sideline. A rough day all around. But I think the Gophers have come a long way since that loss in 2011, Kill?s first season in the Twin Cities. This program is much-improved-especially on defense. And the offense is coming around, as well.

Do you honestly think Nebraska will beat Michigan in Ann Arbor this season? – Cliff

I have to stick by my prediction of Nebraska winning the Legends. So, yes, I think the Huskers will prevail in A-squared when they meet Nov. 9. Who knows what the teams will look like by then? No doubt, the Cornhusker defense will have to continue to improve. Can the Wolverine defense mute the high-powered Nebraska offense? Some good storylines.

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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