Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, November 17, 2014

You have questions, and I have answers in my weekly Big Ten Mailbag. Questions about football power rankings, basketball storylines and more. Enjoy!

Ohio State is so young and loaded with talent. Can you see it ranked No. 1 next year in the preseason? – Brian Keating

Hold on! We haven?t even finished the 2014 season. So many factors will play into how highly the Buckeyes rank in the 2015 preseason polls. Namely: Who will turn pro early around the nation? No doubt, Ohio State figures to be in the conversation for a very high ranking next season, as most of their top talent figures to be back. If the Buckeyes don?t make the playoffs this year, they should have a great chance next season. But let?s wait to see how this year pans out! Maybe OSU will get into the playoffs this year ? and win it all!


Any thoughts on Christian Hackenberg transferring to a team that features a pro-style offense? – Jim Sullivan

It is no secret that Penn State?s offense does not ideally match Hackenberg?s skill set. And he has struggled this year, but I think that?s mostly due to a spotty offensive line. I don?t know if Hackenberg would transfer at this stage of his career. He?ll be a true junior next season. I think he would be best off to spend a second season in this offense and try to make it work.

Can Ohio State win out and take the Big Ten? – Eli Miller

You have to like the Buckeyes? chances. They have home games left vs. Indiana and Michigan, both of which they?ll be a big favorites. Then would come a Big Ten championship game clash (vs. Wisconsin?), which could prove to be a stumbling block for the Buckeyes. Still, this is a motivated and hungry team, especially after reaching the Big Ten summit last year and losing to Michigan State to end the program?s 24-game winning streak.

How do you see the quarterback question next year at Ohio State playing out? – Lawrence Garner

I am on record as saying the decision for Urban Meyer and Co., is simple: Start J.T. Barrett. It?s an easy choice, too. Sorry, Braxton Miller. Miller lacks the pocket savvy and passing ability of Barrett. Plus, Miller is injury-prone. How would Miller be used if Barrett starts? Dunno. Maybe spot him in for packages to take advantage of his monster skill: running.

What chance do you think Michigan State has of getting in a good bowl game? And do you believe that the Spartans will be a contender for the national championship in the future? – Kyle

No doubt, the Spartans are positioned to be a contender for big things each season for the near future. Mark Dantonio has built a strong program with a foundation that is solid. He?ll have the Spartans in the hunt for Big Ten title honors annually. And if that?s the case, MSU also will be in the hunt for a playoff spot. As for a bowl in 2014, my guess would be that the Spartans may end up in a ?Selection Committee? Bowl if they win out. At the worst, MSU figures to be in the Citrus or Outback Bowls vs. a SEC team.

Per your power rankings, I would put Nebraska No. 5 and Minnesota No. 4, but we will see who is better this Saturday when they meet. I also would put Michigan up at least one more spot from No. 10 to No. 9 over Rutgers. Other than that, it seems right. – Jeff Hinsley

I just didn?t see anything on Saturday to cause me to move a thing. Rutgers beat Michigan earlier this season-and RU won on Saturday, too. As for Nebraska ? yes, its loss at Wisconsin was bad, but the Gophers lost at home to Ohio State. Plus, Minnesota has a really bad loss (at Illinois). Nebraska has no losses to an inferior team.

I'm a huge Northwestern fan. Had fun in South Bend this weekend as my Cats kept their bowl hopes alive. I'm not worried about Illinois, but Purdue has looked good in recent weeks. What are your thoughts on our chances? – Phil Bransha

Who saw that NU win coming at Notre Dame?! Incredible. I am very happy for Pat Fitzgerald. That victory may have saved the Wildcats? season. NU needs to win out to get to 6-6. And both remaining games are very winnable. Like you, I would be more worried about Purdue than Illinois. But know this: Each team has lost five of six; the Boilermakers have lost four in a row. But from a competitive standpoint, Purdue is playing better than Illinois. And it was off last week, giving the Boilers time to heal up coming off a run of games vs. Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

You should have mentioned Northwestern in your Big Ten basketball storylines story!

Yes, I probably should have mentioned the Wildcats. Chris Collins has the makings of a rising program. NU played better than I anticipated in Collins? debut last season. And he went out and added one of the best recruiting classes the program ever has seen, led by 6-7 Vic Law, who may be the most talented player on the roster. NU isn?t ready to punch its first ticket to the NCAAs. But it has a good shot at its first NIT bid in three years, as long as vets like JerShon Cobb, Alex Olah and Tre Demps play well.

Will there be more Big Ten hockey schools in the future? – Jim Anderson

Not sure, but it doesn?t seem like a good climate to add sports in these economic times. The problem with schools adding a sport is the fact it comes with Title IX repercussions. If a school adds hockey, it must add to women?s athletics, too. Personally, I think it would be fun if the Big Ten added one or two hockey teams to the six that already exist: Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin. To me, the most logical would be Illinois and Rutgers. Maybe Nebraska.

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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