Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, September 26, 2014

Week Five is on our doorstep like the morning paper. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the upcoming Saturday of Big Ten action in ?Fourth And Long.?


Michigan?s season already appears to be at a crossroads and the calendar hasn?t even flipped to October. The Wolverines are 2-2 with an offense that?s searching for answers, not the least of which is an apparent quarterback controversy. The program is 4-8 in its last 12 games-2-8 in its last 10 vs. FBS schools. And the offense ranks No. 12 in the conference in scoring (24.0 ppg). Minnesota comes to the Big House on Saturday. A loss to the Golden Gophers could send Michigan careening into a tailspin that could be difficult to climb out of. Yes, this game is that big for Michigan. The Gophers are very beatable. And the Wolverines need to do just that.

As far as the quarterback situation goes at Michigan, Brady Hoke says he won?t name a starter until game time. Whatever. I will be surprised if Devin Gardner does not retain the job over Shane Morris. With so much riding on the final eight games, I don?t think Hoke can afford to hand over the controls to an inexperienced passer like Morris. Gardner still gives Michigan the best chance to succeed. Besides, it won?t matter who takes snaps unless the line get things buttoned up.

We got a good chuckle when Minnesota beat San Jose State last week despite completing just one pass for seven yards. In fact, the Gophers had as many interceptions as completions vs. the Spartans. Time to stop yucking. Minnesota has to get its passing game in gear with Big Ten action here. The Gophers are last in the Big Ten in passing (99.8 ypg) and last in total offense (336.0 ypg). Even if Mitch Leidner is able to play this week at Michigan, I wonder if Minnesota ever will take flight through the air in 2014. This could prove to be ruinous to the Gophers? chances to compete in the West in 2014.

Let?s all get honest here: C.J. Beathard should be starting at quarterback for Iowa when the Hawkeyes kickoff at Purdue. All he did was take over for an injured Jake Rudock in the second half last week and guide Iowa to what could end up being a season-defining victory at Pitt. Beathard hit 7-of-8 passes for 98 yards vs. the Panthers. He can pass downfield. Rudock can?t. And this offense needs a legit vertical threat so defenses can?t gang up on the Hawkeye rushing game. You think it was a coincidence that Mark Weisman ran for a season-high 88 yards last week vs. Pitt?

The most potentially exciting game of the weekend? That?s easy, it?s Maryland at Indiana. This game should feature over a 1,000 yards of combined offense and with at least 80 points between the teams. Make sure there are fresh light bulbs in the scoreboard at Memorial Stadium. Maryland is No. 12 vs. the pass (261.2 ypg); Indiana is No. 13 (287.0 ypg). See where I?m going with this?

Melvin Gordon ran just 13 times but gained 253 yards with five TDs last week in a 68-17 win vs. Bowling Green in which the Badgers had a whopping 644 yards rushing. Don?t be shocked if Gordon comes close to 250 yards rushing again this Saturday vs. a rebuilding South Florida club.

Don?t be shocked if the Cincinnati at Ohio State game remains up for grabs in the fourth quarter. Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel is probably as good or better than any signal-caller that the Buckeyes will face this fall. Is the Ohio State defense ready? It?s No. 1 in the Big Ten vs. the pass, allowing 99.3 yards per game. But none of OSU?s first three foes-Navy, Virginia Tech, Kent State-had an aerial game like UC?s. How will a secondary with three new starters respond? Will the scheme of new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash be effective? This could be very interesting-and enlightening.

The Big Ten has just two unbeaten teams in Nebraska and Penn State, which are both 4-0. And I will be stunned if both don?t move to 5-0 after this weekend. The Cornhuskers play host to an Illinois team that has some firepower but doesn?t figure to have an answer for a Nebraska offense that is No. 1 overall in the Big Ten (559.8 ypg) and No. 2 in scoring (45.5 ppg). And will Northwestern even score on Penn State? The Wildcats are last in the Big Ten in points (21.0 ppg), while the Nittany Lions are No. 1 in scoring defense (11.0 ppg).

Rutgers should dispatch Tulane on Saturday, moving the Scarlet Knights to 4-1. I never saw that coming back in August. That would set up a huge visit from Michigan next week. How crazy will High Point Solutions Stadium be on Oct. 4 for the visit from the Wolverines if that?s the case? Rutgers? debut in the Big Ten couldn?t be unfolding any better.

Michigan State (yawn) plays (yawn) Wyoming (yawn). Pick a score, any score. How about Spartans 55, Pokes 7? Sounds OK to me. Bring on Nebraska for a huge game next Saturday in East Lansing. I can?t wait. It may be a preview of the Big Ten title game.

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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