Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, April 18, 2014

The Big Ten has put a bow on the basketball season, while spring football is about to wrap up. Lots going on. Keep those cards and letters coming. Now, let me get to some of your queries. This week, I was asked about the Penn State quarterback situation and losses on the Ohio State offense. One reader asked if Nebraska could win the Big Ten this fall and my answer may surprise you.

We also touch on Michigan football and basketball in a combo question. Combo questions are good because you get two for the price of one.

I think Penn State should use freshman Michael O'Connor as the backup quarterback this year and redshirt him his second year since there are no other options this year. I am fearful of Christian Hackenberg?s health because of potential problems with offensive line. – Paul Malin

No doubt, the Penn State offensive line needs to develop. The past two seasons, the Nittany Lions have had an experienced offensive line. However, depth and injuries have created several questions. A lack of depth has caused the staff to switch some players around to cover spots. And the shuffling figures to continue. Not sure if Penn State ever will have the luxury of redshirting O?Connor.

[MORE:  Read all of Big Ten Spring Football coverage ]

Why are there so many bowl games? The obvious answer is money. But is there really a need or a desire for 40 bowl games in college football? I realize TV needs programming — and college AD's will give you spin of the ?bowl experience? — but 80 schools playing in bowls is a bit much, no? – Jonathan

You are preaching to the choir. The bowl system, to me, makes little sense. Just a series on unconnected games that essentially mean little more than a regular-season game and build toward nothing. Making the system worse is many teams lose money going to bowls!!! Why not just let every school schedule a 13th regular-season game? That way, schools at least wouldn?t lose money. The start of a four-team playoff is welcomed addition. But a playoff devalues the other bowls even more. Why watch a bowl if it isn?t involved in the playoff?

Life-long Buckeyes fan here. I'm concerned about the offense losing so many pieces. Four linemen, a powerful running back and a top wide receiver. Braxton Miller is good; I didn't expect him to come back. Do you think my boys can contend for a B1G title let alone a national title? – Walter Rensch

Yes, there are concerns about Ohio State. You chronicled them well on offense. The running backs and receivers will be fine. And I think the o-line will round into form. But the biggest issues are on defense. The back seven has a lot to prove for a unit that struggled to stop the pass. New co-coordinator Chris Ash will help, as the DBs are playing a more aggressive style. The good news: The Buckeyes will have one of the top defensive lines in the nation. Yes, this team will contend for the Big Ten title. The national title? Perhaps, if the defense develops.

How do you think Michigan's football team looked in their spring game? And will Michigan be OK if Mitch McGary decides to leave for the NBA? – Lisa Smith

Can?t really tell too much from spring games. So, the same questions about Michigan persist with the chief one being about the offensive line. The interior looks more solid than the tackle spots for now. And is there a No. 1 running back? The defense should be a cut-above, but keep an eye on the pass rush. As for McGary, if he bolts, it will be a big blow. That would mean the Wolverines would have lost Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas, McGary and Jon Horford. That?s a lot. The top freshman is Kameron Chatman, a 6-6 wing who must hit the ground running. Michigan probably still will be a NCAA team, but it will be a long shot to repeat as Big Ten champ.

What will the format/schedule look like for the men?s basketball tournament at the United Center in March 2015? With 14 teams, how will the seeds/brackets and game dates be set up? – Dennis Mohrman

Format probably will look like the SEC tourney. Two games on Wednesday: No. 11 vs. No. 14 and No. 12 vs. No. 13. Everything else kicks in on Thursday. Check out the bracket here.

Can you see Nebraska winning the Big Ten this year or the next? – Brady Harrison

I think Nebraska may be the favorite in the Big Ten West. I think the defense will be strong, as the front seven looks ready to emerge. Guys like Randy Gregory, Vincent Valentine, Michael Rose, Nathan Gerry and David Santos help form a heck of a core. Tommy Armstrong needs to show improvement as a passer. If he does, the offense should be fine as it?s built around Ameer Abdullah.


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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