Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, August 24, 2015

You have questions, and I have answers in my latest Big Ten Mailbag, this one from the Big Ten Network bus. Keep those cards and letters coming.

Ohio State will be without a few key players in the first game of the year. Who do you see most likely to step up on defense? Not only in filling in for Joey Bosa, but also for replacing Michael Bennett on the d-line? – Greg

Yes, OSU will be without Bosa, WR/H-back Jalin Marshall, WR Corey Smith and WR/H-back Dontre Wilson. The Buckeyes could move LB Joshua Perry to end to replace Bosa vs. Virginia Tech in the opener. As for replacing Bennett who graduated ? that will be very tough. The guy was a heart-and-soul player. Tommy Schutt is one guy who needs to play a bigger role. And he has had a good camp. I am eager to see Sam Hubbard at d-end, too.

Is Virginia Tech or Michigan State the most likely to find Ohio State?s weaknesses? – Gene

I?d say it?s Michigan State. The Spartans are more talented from top to bottom than the Hokies, especially along the line of scrimmage. And senior QB Connor Cook gives Michigan State a big edge over Va Tech, too. MSU has a better chance to be balanced on offense than Tech. The defenses may be a wash, however. Both are good.

Now that you have seen the Rutgers quarterbacks, do you have an opinion on who you would start? – Rocco Mazza

Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig both had their moments in the scrimmage we watched on Saturday night. In fact, I don?t think either really separated himself from the other. Each had their moments, making some nice passes. If I was the coach, I?d give them both playing time in the opener vs. FCS Norfolk State and try to use that environment as way of determining a starter. Having said that, Rettig may have more upside.

With the inexperienced cornerbacks that Michigan State has, how do you think they can stack up against the top wideouts in the Big Ten? – Jack Robach

It will be a test. Michigan State asks a lot of its corners, who are required to play press-man coverage that leaves them on an island. That scheme allows the other defenders to focus on the run. It?s a big responsibility on corners like Arjen Colquhoun, Demetrious Cox and Vayante Copeland. The Big Ten has some good wideouts that the Spartans will face, including Rutgers? Leonte Carroo, Ohio State?s Mike Thomas, Penn State?s DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis and Nebraska?s Jordan Westerkamp. It will be a challenge.

Wouldn't it be more advantageous for Ezekiel Elliott if Cardale Jones is the QB for Ohio State? His number would be called more since J.T. Barrett seems to participate in more QB run plays than Jones. – Robert Morrow

Interesting point. Elliott really came alive when Jones took over as QB, running for 220, 230 and 246 yards in the last three games. His season-high before that was 182 vs. Cincinnati.

Will James Franklin allow Christian Hackenberg play to his strengths this year? – Larry Serviolo

No doubt, Penn State wants Hackenberg to throw the ball. He?s a top talent with a great arm who probably is a future first-round draft pick. And he has some nice targets to throw to, as well. But offensive coordinator John Donovan told me during our visit to Penn State that he wants to be more balanced. Too often, the Nittany Lions had to pass too much last year. An improved line should help Donovan reach his goal of being balanced.

Do you think Christian Hackenberg will leave for the NFL after this season? – Dave Barr

I know he is done talking about it. If he has a big season, I could see him leaving. The NFL is very starved for good quarterbacks. And Hackenberg?s upside is as good any other signal-caller in the nation. My guess is he?ll ask for a draft grade/evaluation after 2015. And, if he gets a first-round grade, he may go.

How are the Michigan receivers looking this year? – Sean Steingass

The unit looks solid for Michigan. Seniors Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson are steady options with experience. Freshman Brian Cole may be special. Maurice Ways is another option. I really like tight end Jake Butt and think he may be the team?s top pass-catcher this season. Butt says the staff plans to move him around the field, looking for mismatches.

Do you think Michigan?s o-line will be better? Who will be the QB? – Ben Miller

I like the potential of the offensive line. There is lots of size and experience. And depth is better, too. Left tackle Mason Cole is a future star. Right guard Kyle Kalis is a force, like Graham Glasgow at center. The unit could start four seniors. As for the quarterback, I would go with Jake Rudock. Shane Morris is too inconsistent and mistake-prone for my likes. Is Rudock spectacular? No, but he?s a steady player who knows his limitations and has lots of experience. Long story short: Rudock gives Michigan its best chance to win.


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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