Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, July 1, 2016
Before lighting my sparklers and grilling hot dogs, I thought I?d go through my Big Ten Mailbag.
I tackle questions about the Nebraska quarterbacks, Iowa?s prospects for regular-season perfection and Wisconsin?s chances to slow LSU RB/beast Leonard Fournette in the season opener, among other subjects. Let?s go!
What is the likelihood that Iowa runs the table in the regular season again? The Hawkeyes get Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan and Northwestern at home. The toughest road matchup is at Penn State, which didn't look too formidable last season. It seems like Iowa could be favored or in every game this fall. – Nick Colsch
It is very difficult to run the table for any team. For Iowa to do it two years in a row? I doubt it. Yes, the Hawkeyes have lots of talent and the schedule is forgiving, but they figure to get tripped up along the way. Beating Michigan will be difficult. And don?t underestimate the trips to Minnesota and Penn State, which you mention. And don?t look past the visit from FCS power North Dakota State. A 12-0 regular season? Don?t see it. But 10-2 is very possible for Iowa.
With Tommy Armstrong leaving next year, do you foresee a QB transfer at Nebraska? Would maybe A.J. Bush leave if he doesn't get the job? It will definitely be an interesting race. – Frank
The quarterback spot always seems to sort itself out, right? Not everyone can be satisfied-and transfers at the position are very common. I have to think Patrick O?Brien will probably win the job in 2017. Tulane transfer Tanner Lee also will be in the mix. Still, O?Brien looks like the guy after arriving early on campus amid much hype and fanfare. As for transfer, I would not be shocked if someone leaves, especially if O?Brien wins the job, as he will have four years of eligibility if he redshirts this season.
Wisconsin's defense or LSU running back Leonard Fournette. Who ya got? – Josh
Can?t wait for this clash on Sep. 3 in Green Bay?s Lambeau Field. Fournette may be the No. 1 Heisman contender after he ran for 1,953 yards (a school record) and 22 TDs in 2015 and averaged a national-best 162.8 yards rushing per game. At 6-1, 230, he is a load and will test a Badger defense that is without coordinator Dave Aranda, who is now running the Bayou Bengal defense. Great storyline, right? To your question: I have to go with Fournette, even though Wisconsin?s front seven will be very good.
You are overlooking one team: PENN STATE. This is James Franklin's third year and we have a full roster of scholarship players. You will see more of Franklin's style of an offensive where the run game is first and the best. You will also see the kicking game improved and players believing in their coach and being ready for anything at any time of the game. Look for an upset or two by the Lions. – Ken Dimpsey
Yes, this should be Franklin?s best team yet as the roster is stocked with scholarship players and talent is improving. But some questions still loom. Specifically, the lines on offense and defense have a lot to prove. There also is a new QB-as well as a new offensive coordinator. Plus, Penn State must deal with Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in the rugged Big Ten East. I don?t see the Nittany Lions winning the East. But maybe they could crack the top three, while also notching a signature win under Franklin. Maybe PSU can knock off MSU when the Spartans visit in the finale on Nov. 26.
Does Iowa have the running backs to go along with its apparent good offensive line? – Erling Larson
The Hawkeyes have two nice options at running back in LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley. Daniels is a physical back who seems to struggle to stay healthy; he ran for 646 yards last year. Wadley is a niftier back who rushed for 496 yards and averaged six yards a carry in 2015. They should make up for the loss of Jordan Canzeri. No worries at RB in Iowa City.
Do you think Rutgers will struggle stopping New Mexico? I have seen the offense that New Mexico is running and it reminds me of Air Force. – D.J. Nimphius
The Lobos come to Rutgers on Sept. 17, coached by former ND boss Bob Davie who is in his fifth season in New Mexico. This will be a good team that could topple the Scarlet Knights. The defense will be strong with is 3-3-5 scheme run by former Wisconsin DC Kevin Cosgrove. The offense is different from Air Force?s attack. It also has questions. New Mexico runs the Pistol and uses two QBs. It will be a unique challenge for RU.
As a Michigan State fan, I'm more worried about our talented-but-young receivers than I am about QB Tyler O'Connor. What do you think? – Moe
Yes, O?Connor probably will be OK. He sure looked good in starting that game at Ohio State last year and helping engineer a big upset. The wideouts are a bigger question. Some big holes to fill, as MSU lost Big Ten wide receiver of the year Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings, Jr. R.J. Shelton is key. He has seen his production increase each year and must play a big role. Felton Davis III was a true freshman who played in seven games in 2015. The coaches wanted to get him some experience last season knowing he would be playing a big role this upcoming season. Felton was Burbridge?s backup last season. Monty Madaris also is back. And keep an eye on redshirt freshman Darrell Stewart. Two early enrollees, Donnie Corley and Cam Chambers, will be in the mix, along with potentially two other incoming freshmen in Justin Layne and Trishton Jackson. All four of those incoming freshman wide receivers were rated as four stars by Scout.com. Corley could be a real stud. Watch him.
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