Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, September 16, 2016
I get emails. And, I answer them. Can Minnesota win the West? Do I love C.J. Beathard? Who would I take between Ohio State's Malik Hooker and Jabrill Peppers? I address those subjects and more.
What do you think of Minnesota's chances to win the West? – Joe
I have said for some time that I think the Golden Gophers are a dark horse to win the West. Tracy Claeys is a smart coach with a good staff. And this is a mature program. I also like the fact the defense is strong-as usual-and the Gophers have a senior quarterback in Mitch Leidner playing behind what looks like an improved line (bigger, stronger, tougher). On top of all that, Minnesota has the most favorable schedule in the Big Ten. Neither Michigan, Michigan State nor Ohio State is on the schedule. It all could come down to November, when Minnesota plays road games at Nebraska and at Wisconsin.
Can Penn State crack into the top three of the Big Ten East? – Philip
It is going to be difficult for the Nittany Lions to leap Michigan State, Ohio State or Michigan in James Franklin's third season. Yes, conditions are improving in State College, Pa., as scholarships are back to normal levels and depth is improving. But that depth for the most part is still young. That youth is evident on the offensive line and defensive line. Bottom line: There is talent on campus-but this roster is still too young to move past one of the Big Ten East's big boys. Year Four will be the prove-it season for Penn State under Franklin. Check back in 2017.
What team has surprised you the most so far? – Jim
No real big surprises so far. But seeing Maryland get to 2-0 in the impressive fashion that it has is impressive (52-13 vs. FCS Howard and 41-14 at Florida International). A big key for the Terps: They have committed no turnovers after having a Big Ten-high 36 last season. Maryland should beat UCF this Saturday to move to 3-0. From a negative standpoint, Northwestern's 0-2 start is a stunner. Losing at home to Western Michigan and to FCS Illinois State was surprising for a Wildcat squad that harbored big dreams coming off a 10-win season. It's not too late to get things turned around, but the NU offense needs to gain some traction-and the Cats need a win Saturday vs. Duke.
Can Wisconsin navigate its tough Big Ten schedule? – Matt
Entering the Big Ten slate with lots of momentum will help the Badgers, who figure to be 3-0 after playing Georgia State this Saturday. That opening win vs. LSU in Green Bay, Wis., was a great launching point. The heavy lifting begins Sept. 24 with a trip to Michigan State. That's followed by a trip to Michigan. After an off week, the Badgers play host to Ohio State, travel to Iowa and welcome Nebraska. Can Wisconsin go 3-2 in that stretch? If it can, I think it would be a big success. The season ends with a visit from Minnesota, which could be a big game, too.
I need some love for Iowa QB C.J. Beathard. He is 15-0 as a regular-season starter. There is no one more valuable to his team in the Big Ten. Beathard should have won league MVP last season. Go ahead, it's OK to like Iowa … and Beathard! – John Kiebel
Hey, I am a big fan of Beathard and the Hawkeyes. This program has so much momentum. And the rise of Iowa since the start of 2015 is traced to Beathard. The staff tabbed him as starter over Jake Rudock just after the 2014 season ended with a disappointing bowl loss. Beathard has proven to be an all-time great. And he's a big reason why Iowa is the favorite to win the West Division and get back to the Big Ten championship game.
It's like choosing between steak and lobster. But I would have to take Peppers over Hooker at this moment. While Hooker has great promise, Peppers is the proven commodity who some feel is the best defensive player in the Big Ten.
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