Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, January 21, 2016

Time to dig into my mailbag. What does Iowa have to do to take the proverbial next step on the gridiron? How long will it take D.J. Durkin to rebuild Maryland? Is Iowa?s Jarrod Uthoff a top draft pick?

I address all that and more. Send your notes to me at the bottom of this post – I read them all. Remember I'm on Twitter and Facebook, too.

[MORE: Team-by-team look at top 5 football replacements |  Read previous editions of Tom Dienhart's Mailbag]

Do you think Jarrod Uthoff will be drafted in the first two rounds of the NBA draft? Do you think Mike Gesell is an elite point guard? – M Koelker

First know this: Uthoff may be the Big Ten Player of the Year. He?s a skilled shooter with an outstanding all-around game. The NBA? It looks like he may be a second-round pick, if you believe some early projections. He needs to get stronger. As for Gesell, he is elite, the type of bulldog I want on my team. The biggest compliment you can pay him: He makes those around him better. Gesell is clearly in a class with Indiana's Yogi Ferrell and Maryland?s Melo Trimble.

How long do you think it will take D.J. Durkin to make a difference at Maryland if? My guess is 2-3 years. – Michael

I think you probably are about spot on. Honestly, it probably better not take him too much longer than three years in today?s ?instant gratification? society. The days of the five-year rebuilds are over. Durkin is an astute defensive mind and a voracious recruiter who has built a good staff. And he has improving facilities to recruit to, as well as having a school that sits in prime recruiting territory. Good thing he has a defensive background, as Maryland needs a lot of help on that side of the ball.

Please give me your opinion on Michigan State. Why are we always in the shadow of others? – Michael Maczulski

It?s tough, I know. Michigan State often gets overshadowed by Michigan in its own state. It happens to other schools. Iowa State (Iowa); Kansas State (Kansas); Purdue (Indiana); Auburn (Alabama) ? and on it goes. This stuff goes back generations and involves momentum that was begun years ago based on a school?s success and subsequent fan following. Can the script flip? Yes, but it takes time, lots of time. Of late, Michigan State has been superior to Michigan in football and hoops-and elite national in both sports. So, just take solace in that.

What is the one thing that Iowa can get better at in 2016 to make the College Football Playoff? – Mike Wilkinson

Pretty simple: The offense needs more explosive ability. To wit: Iowa was just No. 11 in the Big Ten in passing (204.4 ypg). Too often, the Hawkeyes had to plod along with multiple-play drives. More big plays are needed. QB C.J. Beathard has a good arm to push the ball down field, but there is a lack of dynamic wideouts and running backs. Keep an eye on young wideout Jerminic Smith. He may be a difference-maker. Akrum Wadley has some juice at running back. Still, this offense needs more.

With Michigan losing three starters at linebacker (Joe Bolden, Desmond Morgan and James Ross) but also gaining a great coordinator in Don Brown, do you think the defense will be just as good in 2016 as it was 2015? – Logan

The Michigan defense was pretty good last year. It ranked No. 3 in scoring (16.4 ppg); No. 2 in total defense (280.7 ypg); No. 5 vs. the run (122.2 ypg); No. 1 vs. the pass (158.5 ypg) under coordinator D.J. Durkin, who left to take the Maryland job. The Wolverines had three shutouts in a row at one point. You noted the linebackers gone, and that is the biggest area of concern for Michigan. It also lost ?Buck? Royce Jenkins-Stone and end Willie Henry. But talent looms, especially in a secondary with corner Jourdan Lewis and safety Jabrill Peppers. I think the defense will have a shot to duplicate the 2015 success.

Who do you like to replace Jake Rudock at Michigan? – Vinny Nerti

I like Houston transfer John O?Korn, who sat out last year after transferring and soaked it all up. He started as a true freshman at Houston before slumping as a sophomore. He is a good talent who has thrown 34 touchdowns. Everyone else on Michigan's current roster has combined to throw for just one career TD. Shane Morris is back, as well as Wilton Speight. Alex Malzone and Zach Gentry are young prospects who will be pushed by hotshot recruit Brandon Peters. There also is thought that Jim Harbaugh may bring in a grad transfer.

With Michigan State losing so much talent, what do you think the ceiling is for the team next year? Can the Spartans still compete with Ohio State and Michigan? – Garry Armstrong

There is some top-shelf talent departing East Lansing, including the likes of defensive end Shilique Calhoun, offensive tackle Jack Conklin, quarterback Connor Cook and wideout Aaron Burbridge. But many key players return in 2016. The defense welcomes back S Demetrious Cox, LBs Jon Reschke and Riley Bullough and T Malik McDowell, among others. The offense has back G Brian Allen, TE Josiah Price, WR RJ Shelton and RB LJ Scott, to name a few. Still, I would slot Michigan State behind Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten East. The offense has a lot to prove, and the defense needs to make strides in the back end.


Email Tom Dienhart using the form below.

And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.