Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, September 3, 2015

You have questions, I have answers in this week?s mail bag. The best thing of all: It?s game week, as many of your questions point toward an interesting opening of the season that includes several tilts that will play a role in shaping the Big Ten?s perception on a national level.

Read them all and send fresh comments and questions at the the bottom of this post.

Is this the year Minnesota takes home The Little Brown Jug, Floyd of Rosedale and Paul Bunyan?s Axe? – Ryan

I think Minnesota has a good chance to pull off the trifecta. The Gophers have the Little Brown Jug and Floyd of Rosedale. But getting the Axe from Wisconsin has been difficult. The losing to the Badgers has to stop if the Gophers want to get over the proverbial hump in the Big Ten food chain. Minnesota has lost 11 in a row to Wisconsin and has just two victories (2001 and 2003) vs. the Badgers since 1995, going 2-18 in the last 20 meetings. The teams meet Nov. 28 in Minneapolis. Save the date.

[ MORE: Pick Week 1 winners | Power Rankings | Best of Week 1 | Week 1 previews ]

Why so high on Michigan? The Wolverines have far more holes top to bottom than Nebraska or Penn State. Are you jumping on the Jim Harbaugh bandwagon hype? Good coach, yes, but he can't turn it around overnight. -Mike Whiffen

If talent matters, and it does, than Michigan should be good. I think this is the third-most talented roster in the Big Ten. Then, sprinkle in the mojo of Harbaugh and-Voilà!-you have a nice debut season. I?m not saying Michigan will win nine or 10 games. But this is an eight-win team. And, history tells us Harbaugh typically does well in his debut season. He went just 4-8 at Stanford in 2007, but that program was in bad shape. Michigan isn?t in bad shape. Harbaugh went 7-4 at San Diego and 13-3 with San Francisco in his debut runs.

What would Illinois have been ranked if Tim Beckman had not been fired? – Timmy B.

I would say 12th or 13th. Now, who knows how the team will respond to the tumult of a sudden and unexpected coaching change this close to the start of the season. Just bizarre. But I have faith in interim boss Bill Cubit. He is the perfect man for this difficult time.

From what you've seen of Michigan State, do you give the Spartans any chance to win at Columbus in November? – Bob Keto

Heck yes! Michigan State looks to be Ohio State?s peer on most every level. If a running back emerges, the Spartan offense will be fine. Honestly, whoever runs the ball in East Lansing should be OK working behind the best line in the Big Ten. A bigger concern is the cornerback slot. Inexperience reigns at a key spot that MSU relies on to play press/man coverage. If that position gets buttoned up, the Spartans should have a good shot to up-end Ohio State in Columbus on Nov. 21. I can?t wait for the game.

How many games do you think Iowa will or can win this season? – Paul Zander

Let?s go through the schedule together ?

Illinois State W
At Iowa State W
Pitt W
North Texas W
At Wisconsin L
Illinois W
At Northwestern W
Maryland W
At Indiana L
Minnesota L
Purdue W
At Nebraska L

That?s 8-4 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten. And, to me, that?s a best-case scenario. A 6-6 or 7-5 mark would not surprise me. Kirk Ferentz won?t be judged on just wins and losses, I don?t think. So much of 2015 will be judged by whom Iowa beats and whom it loses to.

Do you think Purdue has a good shot at beating Marshall? What about Indiana this year? A bowl game maybe for the Hoosiers? – Kirby Vaughn

I think Purdue has a shot vs. the Thundering Herd, but it will be a challenge to win in Huntington. In fact, Marshall?s talent may be on par with Purdue?s; at the least, there isn?t a big different in personnel, which doesn?t bode well for the Boilermakers. A big key for Purdue will be avoiding getting into a shootout with Marshall. It can?t win. The Boilers need to use their big o-line, run the ball, shorten the game and avoid turnovers to have a shot. As for Indiana?s bowl hopes, I like them. This is Kevin Wilson?s best team yet. A big key will be going at least 3-1 in non-conference action. That home game vs. Western Kentucky on Sept. 19 is huge. IU must win it.

How good are the Ohio State wide outs and tight ends? – Jerry Grimes

No doubt, the unit took a blow when emerging sophomore Noah Brown suffered a season-ending broken leg last week. This already was a position that lost Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, along with TE Jeff Heuerman. Still, don?t weep for the Buckeyes. Junior Mike Thomas may be the top wideout in the Big Ten. And sophomore James Clark is emerging. Redshirt freshman Terry McLaurin is a burner, and redshirt freshman Johnnie Dixon drips with potential along with sophomore Parris Campbell-among other youngsters. And Tight end Nick Vannett is poised for a big senior send-off. Sprinkle in H-backs Braxton Miller, Jalin Marshall, K.J. Hill and Dontre Wilson, and OSU will have plenty of good options to throw to in 2015.


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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