Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, October 1, 2013

The calendar says ?October,? and I can?t believe it. The season is almost halfway over, with most of the best action yet to come in November. I can tell by your cards and letters that you are excited. Keep the correspondence coming! Let?s dig into this week?s Mailbag!

This year?s Iowa team continues to look a lot like the 2008 team to me. The 2008 Hawkeye squad lost some early games but got on a roll with a win over highly-ranked Penn State and looked like one of the best teams in the country. That finish in 2008 helped shoot them into that great 2009 campaign. Do you think my first statement is an accurate statement? Why or why not? – Eric Zylstra

I think you may be on to something. That 2008 Iowa squad was fun. I?ll never forget that win over Penn State in Iowa City. It was electric! But, let?s not get ahead of ourselves. Yes, Iowa has looked good in recent weeks. But don?t put so much stock in a win at Minnesota. Settle down. The tale of Iowa?s season will be told the next four games: Michigan State; at Ohio State; Northwestern; Wisconsin.

Ohio State still seems a year away in terms of depth at certain positions and overall execution on both sides of the ball. Am I wrong in this thinking, because I'm comparing OSU to the likes of Alabama and Oregon right now? – J.C.

You may be correct, when comparing OSU to programs like Bama and Oregon. But within the Big Ten, the Buckeyes look like the cream of the crop. I still wonder about the Ohio State defense. Is it really national-championship caliber? And there still really isn?t a scary running back on the roster. Plus, can Braxton Miller stay healthy? I have my doubts. But as Urban Meyer continues to recruit at a high level, this team will get better and better.

Why do sports writers include what happened in the non-conference games when they make predictions about what will happen during the Big Ten season? – Brian

It?s all we have to go on, the only ?body of work? we can see, judge and thus project forward. Granted, it isn?t typically a reliable pool of evidence. But, what else are we supposed to use when projecting forward?

What about Chris Borland vs. Ohio State? Wow! Every time the Badgers needed a big stop, it seemed No. 44 was there.  He put on quite a show for his home state (Ohio), wouldn?t you say? – Katelyn

Without a doubt, Borland was a star and showed on Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio, that he may be the Big Ten?s best linebacker. He?s the quintessential example of a guy who plays like his hair is on fire. His energy and passion are inspiring.

[ MORE: Where does Borland land on our Big Ten Player Rankings? ]

I don't know if the NCAA overstepped in its sanctions against Penn State. But by reducing them, is the NCAA (or Penn State) showing that football still rules above all else? Weren't the penalties supposed to change the culture of football above all else? Isn't this why the NCAA needs complete restructuring (including a change in executives)? – Kathy Green

You make some good points, Kathy. I think the culture has changed at Penn State with a regime change, beginning with a new coach. The NCAA looked at what went on at Penn State as unprecedented-which it was. So, there was what I like to call a ?rush to punishment.? And it was unprecedented punishment with no due process. But, hindsight showed much of the punishment overstepped its bounds. Did the penalties (scholarship losses, in particular) really fit the crime? Plus, Penn State has been cooperative throughout and compliant, too. I think those things played roles in this move by the NCAA. As for football being put in proper perspective? I think it always will be overemphasized as long as millions and millions of dollars are involved. That?s not just a Penn State issue. It?s a national issue.

With the trouble Michigan is having at quarterback, is there a time in the near future that the staff would consider replacing Devin Gardner with Shane Morris? Or, do they stay with Gardner because he has much more experience than Morris? – Gordon York

I think the staff will give Gardner every last chance to sort through his issues before turning to Morris. No doubt, Gardner gives the Wolverines their best chance for success in 2013. But I have to think if the turnovers persist-and Michigan loses a few games-Gardner?s job will be scrutinized very closely.

Michigan?s offense isn?t dysfunctional. C?mon, man, you are comparing it to Michigan State?s offense. Really, it isn?t even close, Tom. – Scott

True, Michigan State?s offense looks to have more issues than Michigan?s. Quarterback, receiver and running back still are areas developing at varying degrees in East Lansing. Still, the Wolverine attack appears to be teetered on the edge, as the line has struggled to get a consistent push. That has impacted the rushing game and quarterback Devin Gardner. Still, Gardner has some issues to iron out when it comes to decision making in the passing game and protecting the football. But, I concede, MSU?s to-do list is longer.

If Michigan State and Penn State are having such problems and Illinois is doing so well, how could you place Illinois below them in your ratings? It doesn't make sense. – Tromboner

While I love what Illinois has done, I don?t think it has any wins over quality teams. Honestly, the Illini nearly lost at home to FCS Southern Illinois and beat an OK Cincinnati team and a horrid Miami (Ohio). Against a quality foe like Washington, Illinois got ripped for over 600 yards, while Nathan Scheelhaase put up a dud of a game. I think the overall body of work for MSU and PSU has been better. Not significantly better-but better.

How can you put Nebraska ahead of Iowa in your power rankings? The Huskers have a horrific defense and a mediocre offense. The Hawks would roll them. – Scott Stratton

We?ll find out when the teams meet in November. But, honestly, I am amazed at how jacked up fans get when their team beats bad teams. Entering Saturday, the squads Iowa had beaten had combined for one win. ONE!!! Now, the Hawkeyes beat Minnesota, and they suddenly are great? Iowa may end up being very good. Each team?s loss (Iowa to Northern Illinois; Nebraska to UCLA) was quality. Stay tuned.

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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