Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, September 24, 2013

It?s time for me to reach into my mailbag to answer the questions that are pressing your mind as we chug into the teeth of Big Ten season. The cards and letters keep streaming in. Thanks. Keep ?em coming. Now, let's get to your latest Big Ten queries, ranging from Kenny Guiton's NFL prospects to Sam Ficken's improvement.

Matt Cassel was a backup at USC but went on to get drafted and have a NFL career. Do you think Ohio State?s Kenny Guiton could follow a similar path? – John Patton

Yep. Guiton has proven more than adequate as a Big Ten starter. He has looked good so far in leading the Buckeyes to wins over San Diego State, Cal and Florida A&M with Braxton Miller out with a knee injury. Guiton did his best work in 2012, when he came off the bench vs. Purdue and guided Ohio State to a miraculous comeback from an eight-point deficit late in the game to keep the Buckeyes unbeaten. Guiton has a decent arm, instincts, athletic ability, smarts and savvy. He has a nice future.

I think you should have mentioned the reason why Ohio State was playing Florida A&M last week. It was because Vanderbilt canceled a series with the Buckeyes. That left OSU looking to fill a date. – Bill

Good point. I should have mentioned that in my coverage last week. Perhaps it wouldn?t have made Ohio State look like such a bully. But, this gets me thinking how much I would have loved to have seen the Buckeyes play Vanderbilt.

With Devin Gardner?s recent bad play, how much longer before Brady Hoke possibly gives freshman Shane Morris a chance? – Tom Albaitis

You raise an interesting point. Devin Gardner the last two games: 28-of-55 passing (51%) for 347 yards with two touchdowns, five interceptions and five sacks. Not good. For the year, he has 10 turnovers (eight picks and two lost fumbles) in four games. His confidence has to be shaky. I think Hoke has to give it some thought. This obviously isn?t working, as Michigan has been lucky to beat two bad teams in Akron and UConn. What?s gonna happen when the Wolverines get into the teeth of their Big Ten schedule? My guess: Michigan will let Gardner continue to start until a loss occurs. I bet the staff feels that if Gardner is pulled, it could really damage his psyche.

[ MORE: What's wrong with Michigan's Devin Gardner? ]

You and your BTN buddies continue not to believe in Minnesota. The Gophers excel at not turning over the ball and limiting penalties. This is how you beat teams you are not supposed to beat. Couple this with a growing smash-mouth offense, and things are looking up. Go ahead,- keep underestimating Minnesota and keep spending time on the same teams like Michigan, Nebraska and Michigan State who all get way too much time on your network. – Mike S.

Hey, I like what Minnesota is doing. This team doesn?t beat itself, as you point out. That?s a sign of a well-coached squad. But, who have the Gophers beaten that they weren?t supposed to beat so far in 2013? No one. We will find out more in Big Ten play, beginning with Saturday?s visit from Iowa. I like what I see. Still, I think the offense needs more balance. And more big plays are needed on defense, too. That said, Jerry Kill has this program pointed up.

Ohio State to the BCS title game?!?!?! NO WAY!!! – Dusty

You don?t think so? Well, it could happen. The Buckeyes may not be one of the two most talented teams in the nation. But they are talented enough-and they have a very favorable schedule. Some concerns: Can Braxton Miller stay healthy? Is the defensive front savvy and does it boast enough play makers? Is the offensive explosive enough? The Buckeyes essentially have a three-game schedule, beginning with Wisconsin?s visit this Saturday. That?s followed by a trip to Northwestern. Then, OSU finishes the season at Michigan. Then would come the Big Ten title game.

Please write about how you think Iowa is going to make it bowling. I keep looking at the schedule, and I see them winning five games max. – Taylor

The Hawkeyes are 3-1 right now. The remaining schedule:

  • At Minnesota
  • Michigan State
  • At Ohio State
  • Northwestern
  • Wisconsin
  • At Purdue
  • Michigan
  • At Nebraska

It is daunting. But I don?t think it?s crazy to think Iowa can beat Minnesota, Michigan State and Purdue. That?s six wins. And-who knows?-maybe the Hawkeyes can pull off an upset along the way. But, no doubt, Iowa figures to be cutting it close to making a bowl.

Michigan is off this week. But will a decisive win against Minnesota the next time out be enough to consider the past two weeks a fluke? – Dustin Applegate

Uh, no. Not to disrespect Minnesota, but it?s gonna take more than a win over the Golden Gophers in the Little Brown Jug game on Oct. 5 for me to consider the Wolverines back on track as a legit Big Ten contender. Looming trips to Penn State, Michigan State and Northwestern will tell us much more about the Wolverines.

Where's the love for Penn State kicker Sam Ficken? Last year, media everywhere, including BTN, talked about his misses and how he cost PSU the Virginia game. Saturday, he hit a 54-yarder, and there's no mention? – Tallygal

All hail Ficken! He no longer can be called ?Missin? Ficken.? The guy has nailed all 16 of his extra points this season. His 54-yarder last week was tied for the fourth-longest field goal in school history, behind a trio of 55-yard kicks by Chris Bahr, and is the longest in a home game for a Nittany Lion. It is also the longest field goal for a Penn State player since Herb Menhardt hit a 54-yard field goal against N.C. State in 1979. Oh, and he made our noncon All-Big Ten team.

Are you serious? You think Northwestern has been more impressive than Ohio State? The Buckeyes have won all three games by at least 20 each. I know that OSU will run all over Northwestern on Oct. 5th. – Jeff Senenfelder

You can make a good case for Ohio State being the most impressive Big Ten team thus far. I just think the Wildcats have played a better schedule and looked good in dispatching their foes, save for some early struggles vs. Western Michigan and Maine.

Do you think that Braxton Miller will be ready for the Big Ten season? My main worry is rust. – Joel Stands

Rust very much could be an issue. Urban Meyer has said Miller will play vs. Wisconsin on Saturday if he practices well this week, but how will he perform after essentially missing three games? His timing has to be off. And he would be facing a very good Wisconsin front seven.

I'm certainly not a coach, but it seemed like Purdue linebackers were rushing the quarterback instead of pointing on Wisconsin's two good runners who cut up the Boilermaker defense. Is this an accurate observation? – Dick

Yes. But Purdue?s linebackers didn?t do much of anything overall at Wisconsin on Saturday. And, honestly, don?t expect the linebackers to do much of anything all season. This is one of the worst collections of linebackers I ever have seen on a Big Ten roster. I?ll just stop there and heed the advice of my mother: If you have nothing nice to say, don?t say anything at all.

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.