Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, November 9, 2015

You know the drill: I reach into my Big Ten Mailbag and answer your love letters. Lots of buzz about Michigan. And is there any way an unbeaten Iowa club could be kept from the playoffs?

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Here are my answers to your latest questions:

Nebraska over Michigan State ? Northwestern over Penn State ? Iowa over Indiana ? Wisconsin over Maryland. What do these four games from last week have in common? – Kelly Feldman

Yes, Big Ten West over Big Ten East! The West went 4-1 vs. the East, with the lone loss being Minnesota at No. 3 Ohio State. The West is pretty good. Iowa is an elite team, while Northwestern and Wisconsin are salty, too. But, still, the East gets the nod as the overall better division with Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan leading the way.


What is your honest opinion on the Mike Riley hire? Do you think it will turn out to be a good decision? What does Nebraska need to do to be a powerhouse again? – Noah Nelson

It is still early in his tenure, but I think Riley has a chance to be successful. It?s not like Nebraska is that far off from thriving this season, what with close losses to BYU, Miami, Wisconsin, Illinois and Northwestern. I think he?ll be just fine, but areas need to be enhanced. The two most glaring spots that need improvement: the offensive line and pass defense.


What if Michigan goes to the B1G championship and an undefeated Iowa squad beats the Wolverines in that game? Of an undefeated Big 12 team, an undefeated Clemson, a one-loss Notre Dame, a one-loss Alabama and an undefeated Hawkeyes ? who would get left out? – Jim

There are still so many moving parts to the playoff picture. But under the scenario you laid out, I think it would be difficult to leave an unbeaten Big Ten champ out. So, who would get left at the curb? I think it would be one-loss Notre Dame.


Why isn?t Iowa QB C.J. Beathard being considered for the Heisman? – Lynn Erickson

Beathard has been impressive. How much so? He?s the first Hawkeye quarterback to win the first 10 starts of his career. And, it?s all about winning. Still, stats also matter when it comes to the Heisman. And, Beathard?s aren?t great, especially when compared to the nation's top quarterbacks. He is No. 4 in the Big Ten in passing efficiency, completing 60 percent of his attempts for 1,598 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions.


How can you rank Michigan No. 3 in your power poll? Who have they beaten? The Wolverines should've lost to Minnesota. Your bias is showing. I'd expect this ranking from a Michigan fan, not a regular BTN contributor. Ridiculous. – Dave

Well, the Wolverines have wins over two ranked teams: BYU and Northwestern. And they were dominating. Michigan should have toppled No. 7 Michigan State but lost on a miracle play. So, the Wolverines? resume isn?t bad. The last two games will be interesting: at Penn State and vs. No. 1 Ohio State. I think Michigan?s resume is on par with Michigan State?s-and I think the Wolverines have been the better and more consistent throughout the season than most teams in the Big Ten.


Try to hide your bias for Michigan a little bit. No team is tougher? I can think of two teams for sure. Then comes the defending national champions. – Jason

Michigan bias? You have all wrong. I have a bias for good, tough, well-coached teams. And, that?s what the Wolverines are. It?s mind-boggling to think what a difference a new coaching staff has made.


If Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska and Rutgers all end up 5-7, do any of them go bowling? Which ones and why? – Matt Ziegler

This year there is a strong possibility several 5-7 teams will be needed to fill the 80 bowl slots. Jerry Palm of projects there will not be enough 6-6 teams to fill all the slots. And Palm projects about five 5-7 teams could become bowl eligible. The Big Ten has a few such candidates. And 5-7 teams with the highest APRs will be get cracks at bids. Of the teams you mentioned, I think Indiana and Nebraska have the best shots to earn bowl slots at 5-7. The Hoosiers are 4-5 with games left vs. Michigan, at Maryland and at Purdue. The Huskers are 4-6 with games left at Rutgers and vs. Iowa.


Just wanted to give some "props" to Wisconsin QB Joel Stave. Pretty cool story that a Wisconsin native and former walk-on is one win away from equaling the all-time wins mark for a Badger starting quarterback. Stave has made some poor throws over the years. But he has made some gigantic plays, too. He might be one of the most under-appreciated and underrated quarterback in the country. Thoughts? – Doug G.

Yes, Stave has done well in Madison. His stats may not be off-the-charts great, but sports are all about winning. And, as you note, Stave has made the Badgers a winner. Plus, I like his resiliency, coming back from his battle with the ?yips? last year to reclaim his job and have the team in the hunt for the West title.


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