Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, November 18, 2013

Just two weeks are left in the regular season, and things are heating up down the stretch. Among the hot button issues: Who is the second-best team in the Big Ten? Michigan State or Wisconsin? Read about that, and more, in my weekly mailbag. Keep those cards and letters coming.

Do you think Michigan State could beat Ohio State? I don?t. – Shaun Taylor

Anytime a team plays defense like Michigan State plays defense, it?s going to have a good chance to win every game. And, you?ve seen that play out this fall. It would be a classic matchup to have that Buckeye offense square off with the Spartan defense. The game may come down to the MSU offense vs. the OSU defense. And, I would have to give the edge to the Buckeye defense.

Wisconsin vs. Minnesota will be two top teams in what will be the biggest Axe game in over a decade. I'd say that qualifies as a big-time game. – Matthew Anderson

Yes, the battle for Paul Bunyan?s Axe will be good. Wisconsin is playing about as well as any team in the Big Ten-if not the nation. The defense has been very impressive this season. And Minnesota has been one of the feel-good stories of 2013, bolting to an 8-2 mark and winners of four league games in a row for the first time since 1973. I can?t wait to see the clash. Minnesota has lost nine in a row to Wisconsin and is just 4-18 vs. the Badgers since 1991 in the battle for Paul Bunyan?s Axe. This one is gonna be pretty simple: Whoever can run and stop the run will win.

Would you please justify Minnesota AND Nebraska being ranked ahead of Iowa? Just silly IMHO! – John Kiel

You can make a case for Iowa to be ahead of both schools. The Hawkeyes did win at Minnesota earlier this season. But I think the overall resumes of the Gophers and Nebraska are a bit more impressive. The Hawkeyes will have two good chances to impress with season-ending games vs.  Michigan and at Nebraska. Win those, and Iowa will get plenty of respect in the power poll. But, let?s go ahead and compare resumes:

Minnesota wins: UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois, San Jose State, Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana, Penn State.

Nebraska wins: Wyoming, Southern Miss, South Dakota State, Illinois, Purdue, Northwestern, Michigan.

Iowa wins: Missouri State, Iowa State, Western Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue.

Do you really think the Hawkeyes have beaten a more impressive group of teams than Minnesota or Nebraska? I guess I disagree. So, I rest my case.

Can you tell me how Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah isn't getting any love for his performance against MSU? The Spartans were hyped as the best D in the country and nobody is talking about them anymore or how impressive the Nebraska offense was. Deserves some mention. – Drew

No doubt, Abdullah was impressive vs. a Michigan State defense that entered last Saturday No. 1 in the nation in total defense (210.2 ypg) and No. 1 in rushing defense (43.4 ypg). What did Abdullah do? He ran 22 times for 123 yards, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. It was a yeoman effort and Abdullah?s nine 100-yard rushing game of the season. And he leads the Big Ten with 1,336 yards rushing. Have people stopped talking about the Michigan State defense? Uh, no. Oh, and the Spartans won the game, which is one reason why more light hasn?t been shone onto Abdullah?s effort.

Do you think Penn State?s Allen Robinson is the best receiver in the country? – Justin Brosious

There are some who have better numbers, but Robinson has to rate among the best in the game. He recently was named a Biletnikoff semifinalist. Robinson has made 81 catches for 1,204 yards and six touchdowns. And he?s done it all with a freshman quarterback throwing to him and not having much complementary help around him at receiver. It?s really quite incredible.

It seemed like Ohio State went through the motions against Illinois and some play was sloppy. Was it because of the early 28-0 lead? Or is there anything the coaching staff can do to inject some energy for OSU? – Jonathan

It has to be difficult for the Buckeyes to get up for some of the teams on their schedule. But, that?s what good teams do. They take control of an opponent and never let up. Ohio State has done that on several occasions this season. I just think fans should stop worrying about OSU trying to score ?style? points. (Baylor will fall back on its own, I think. Give it time.) I don?t think any amount of style points is going to help the Buckeyes ascend the BCS standings. Ohio State?s best and likely only shot to get to No. 1 or 2 in the BCS standings will be to just win out and then hope a team ahead of it loses.

Who should Wisconsin fans root against to help the Badgers get an at-large BCS bowl? – David Aronson

Wisconsin needs to finish in the top 14 of the final BCS standings to be eligible for an at-large selection. The Badgers are No. 19 now. So, whatever teams you see ranked ahead of the Badgers leading into the No. 14 spot, root against those! Here are the teams from No. 14-18:

  • 14. UCLA
  • 15. Fresno State
  • 16. Northern Illinois
  • 17. Arizona State
  • 18. UCF

Don?t you wonder where Wisconsin would rank if not for the injustice of that loss at Arizona State?

What are you drinking to put Michigan State ahead of a good Wisconsin team that got screwed at Arizona State and lost by a TD to Ohio State? Come on, Tom!! – Gary Engberg

Losses still count as losses, right? It just came time for me to acknowledge Michigan State as the second-best team in the Big Ten. The win at Nebraska was a nice signature victory for the Spartans that sealed the move. When you look at Wisconsin?s schedule, what teams of note have the Badgers beaten? UMass, Tennessee Tech, Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois, Iowa, BYU and Indiana. That?s it.

Michigan State has toppled Western Michigan, South Florida, Youngstown State, Iowa, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan and Nebraska. The loss was at Notre Dame.

Be honest: The MSU resume is more impressive. It?s just too bad these schools can?t play this season.

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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