Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, October 22, 2013

It?s that time of the week, time for me to reach into my mailbag. Keep those cards and letters coming, as there is much to talk about. This week, Ohio State?s BCS title game hopes, Michigan?s defense, Purdue?s Darrell Hazell and much more. So, let?s get started.

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Wisconsin continues to develop good tight ends who can play at the next level. Who are your top TEs in the B1G? I would like to see where you rank the Badgers Jacob Pedersen, among others. – Cory Funk

Yes, Wisconsin has become a factory for tight ends, in some respects. Some of the Badgers? recent products include Owen Daniels, Travis Beckum, Lance Kendricks and Garrett Graham. No doubt, Pedersen is one of the top tight ends in the league. My rankings:

1. Michigan?s Devin Funchess
2. Indiana?s Ted Bolser
3. Wisconsin's Jacob Pedersen
4. Penn State?s Jesse James
5. Iowa?s C.J. Fiedorowicz
6. Minnesota?s Maxx Williams
7. Illinois' Matt LaCosse

Can't figure out Connor Cook's backward slide last week. Do you think it had to do with unfamiliarity with Purdue or with bad weather? – James Spasterson

No doubt, Connor Cook had his struggles vs. a very pedestrian Purdue defense, but they weren?t due to unfamiliarity or weather. He was 13-of-25 passing for 107 yards last Saturday, misfiring on several throws to open receivers. Heck, at one point, MSU coach Mark Dantonio said he considered replacing Cook. Ugh. Look, Cook is still a work in progress who is gonna have days like this. That?s why it?s good to see Jeremy Langford emerge at running back. And the defense also can carry this team if Cook and the offense struggle.

Did Purdue make a good hire in Darrell Hazell? – Scott Hood

Time will tell, but it?s too early to make any clear evaluation. He seems to say the right things, has a nice staff and appears to have a plan. And his early returns on recruiting look good. It?s important to know this: Hazell inherited a very talent-depleted roster, so don?t read too much into this season?s won-loss record. By Year Three, we should have a good indication on Hazell?s skills.

If defense win championships, does that mean Michigan State will win it all? – Stephen Johnson

Hmmm. You may be on to something.

Devin Gardner will pass for 300 yards on November 2nd at Michigan State? Yes, that sounds about right, as long as we include return yardage. I think Gardner goes 17-for-33 for 144 yards with one touchdown and three picks. And the MSU secondary will run back two of the picks for scores. Gardner is a slower and much less-elusive version of Denard Robinson. Gardner can get some nice yardage with his legs, but he gets a lot after first contact with power. And taking direct hits is not the best thing for his health, and this will eventually take a costly toll. – JMac

No doubt, Gardner could be in store for a long day vs. that Spartan defense. He hasn?t been good on the road. So, couple a hostile environment in Spartan Stadium with a great defense and, well, it could be a long day for Gardner. The game at MSU will be the ultimate litmus test for this Wolverine offense that can look stunning good at moments-and inept at other times.

Do you think my Indiana Hoosiers still have a chance to go dancing? – Ryan Eaton

Yes, the Hoosiers will make the Big Dance. This is a team in transition without Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, but there is a massive influx of talent that will get the Hoosiers back to the NCAA tourney. Newcomers like Noah Vonleh, Luke Fischer, Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson should impact big-time. Or, by "dancing," did you mean, "bowling?" Just to cover my bases, I have to give love to Kevin Wilson?s crew, which looks primed to earn a bowl spot. IU has been to just one bowl since the 1993 season.

Can you rate the top five defenses in the conference? – Bill Prahler

Well, statistically, the top five defenses are: 1. Michigan State; Wisconsin; Iowa; Ohio State; Penn State. And, it?s difficult to argue with that quintet or order. Michigan (No. 6) and Nebraska (No. 9) are conspicuous by their absence. Yes, the Wolverines aren?t far away, but the Cornhuskers are. And that has to be a concern for a team that many feel will win the Legends Division. Can Nebraska really be a serious contender without a better defense? November will tell us all we need to know.

Do you think that Michigan will win at least 9-10 games this year? And when they play mistake-free, do you think that they are the best team in the Legends? – Jon Rinehart

Let?s look at the rest of 6-1 Michigan?s schedule:

  • At Michigan State
  • Nebraska
  • At Northwestern
  • At Iowa
  • Ohio State

You?d have to like Michigan?s chances at Northwestern and at Iowa, but the trip to Iowa City may be dicey. But getting a third victory to push the win total to nine may be difficult for the Wolverines. So, this is looking like an 8-4 squad-and maybe 7-5. As far as Michigan being the best team in the Legends Division when it plays mistake-free, I don?t think so. There are still offensive concerns on the line and with Devin Gardner?s decision making. And the defense is good, but not outstanding. I think Michigan State or Nebraska is the best team in the Legends. What?s great is all of these teams still must play each other in November. It?s gonna be great.

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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