Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, July 7, 2014
It?s a long, hot summer day, which means the college football season is fast approaching. Add it all up, and it's a good time to dig through my mailbag. You have questions, and I have answers. See my answers to your latest questions in this post.
I think it will be difficult for Ohio State and Michigan to win the Big Ten title game a week after playing each other in an intense rivalry contest. Or am I making excuses for last year?s Buckeyes? loss to Michigan State? – Don from Atlanta
You are making an excuse. Look, Alabama and Auburn play in the regular-season finale and have gone on to win the SEC title game often. Ditto Florida, which finishes vs. Florida State each season. No more excuses. Just win the game.
I agree that the top three teams in the West (Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin) could go toe-to-toe with the top three in the East (Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan). But Michigan would be challenged to beat any of the three in the West. – Bob
I think Michigan would have a shot to beat the Hawkeyes, Badgers or Huskers. I believe the Wolverines defense will be among the best in the Big Ten. There is talent from front to back in the likes of Frank Clark, Jake Ryan and Blake Countess. The key will be how the Michigan offense develops, especially the line. If it becomes solid, the Wolverines could be a real contender in the East-and more than capable of beating the top teams in the West.
How tough will Rutgers and Maryland be for the rest of the Big Ten? – Bill
I believe Rutgers may endure some growing pains as it moves into the league. I think the Scarlet Knights lack quality depth. And overall size along the defensive line could be an issue. This group got dominated in the Pinstripe Bowl last year by Notre Dame. I think that was a preview of things to come for RU. Maryland may have a chance to be a dark horse. Randy Edsall has a talented team across the board that is physical and possesses athletic ability. Big Ten East teams need to be wary.
We hear a lot about Maryland?s receivers, but do the Terps have a quarterback who can take advantage of their talent? – Chuck Braden
Maybe. Quarterback C.J. Brown is back for a sixth season. He?s a better runner than passer, but he has made good strides in coordinator Mike Locksley?s offense. He?ll work with what could be the top set of receivers in the Big Ten. You?ll be hard-pressed to find a better tandem than Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, who each saw 2013 end early after suffering broken legs vs. Wake Forest. Also, Nigel King and Amba Etta-Tawo are back. And Levern Jacobs returns, too, after leading the team with 47 catches in 2014. Plus, Marcus Leak, the Terps? second-leading receiver in 2012, if he's back after re-enrolling. Can Brown deliver the pigskin to them? I think so. He took a big step as a passer last year, hitting nearly 59 percent of his attempts. He hit just 49 percent in 2011.
Have you heard much about a receiver from Nebraska named Brandon Reilly? When all is said and done, he will be a Big Ten-caliber receiver. – James Urban
Yes, Huskers OC Tim Beck has mentioned him to me. Reilly is a 6-1, 195-pounder from Lincoln who is listed No. 2 on the preseason depth chart behind Kenny Bell. He will be part of what is one of the most talented and deepest wideout corps in the Big Ten. Another young WR that Beck likes is Alonzo Moore, who has speed to burn.
How do you have Penn State with the No. 1 offensive backfield and Nebraska at No. 5? Ameer Abdullah is on almost every preseason Heisman list. Imani Cross is a beast and fellow RBs Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor were highly thought of coming out of high school. QB Tommy Armstrong was 7-1 as a starter in his redshirt freshmen season. There are only one or two quarterbacks in this conference that are better than this kid. – Brian Snodgrass
You could make a great case to have the Cornhusker backfield higher. The four running backs are very good. But I?m not as sold on Armstrong as you. Yes, he was 7-1 as a starter with Taylor Martinez out. But Armstrong has a lot to prove as a passer. He completed just 51.9 percent of his passes and had nine touchdowns with eight interceptions. Not great numbers. He is FAR below Penn State?s Christian Hackenberg. There are several other QBs I?d take over Armstrong: Braxton Miller, Connor Cook, Jake Rudock, Nate Sudfeld, to name a few. And PSU has some nice running backs in Akeel Lynch, Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton.
Do you think Minnesota will win a Big Ten title within the next five years? – Peyton Anderson
Jerry Kill is making good progress, but winning a league title in the next five years may be asking too much. Much work remains to be done. The Gophers need better quarterback play. And where are the big-play receivers? The defense also needs more speed and athletic ability. I do think Minnesota may have a shot to win a Big Ten West title in the next five years. But, again, it may be asking too much to climb over Michigan State or Ohio State in the East and win the league. At least for now. The last time Minnesota won the Big Ten was 1967, when it shared the crown with Indiana and Purdue.
You ranked the best games week-by-week. Here?s my ranking of the top 10 games of this year.
1. Ohio State at Michigan State – Week 11
2. The Game – Week 14
3. Nebraska at Wisconsin - Week 12
4. MSU at Oregon - Week 2
5. Wisconsin vs. LSU – Week 1
6. Michigan at MSU – Week 9
7. Michigan at Notre Dame – Week 2
8. Nebraska at MSU – Week 6
9. Wisconsin at Iowa – Week 13
10. Nebraska at Iowa – Week 14
Not a bad list! Later this month, I will rank my best Big Ten games of the 2014 season. So many good ones to choose from!
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, 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.|