Big Ten Monday mailbag

It's time for a belated Monday mailbag. Before dinner gets cold, let's get straight to the questions.

Jim Lemaster from Columbus writes... As we approach the end of the season, we should have a good idea as to who the favorites are for B1G Coach of the Year. Considering the youth and the improvement we've seen during the season for the Buckeyes, I think Urban Meyer has to be in the running if not the favorite. Who else in the B1G do you think is deserving of consideration?

Dan Murphy: Urban Meyer is the frontrunner at this point, and for that he probably has J.T. Barrett to thank. Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman did a great job steering their rookie quarterback through his first season while slowly opening up the playbook. If anyone is going to take the Coach of the Year award from Meyer it will be Minnesota's Jerry Kill. The Gophers still have a chance to represent the West division in the conference championship game if they win their last two games of the season. If Kill gets his team to Indianapolis, he's got my vote.

Dan Murphy: The list for offensive player of the year is as short as coach of the year with two weeks left in the season. It's hard to imagine anyone but Barrett or Melvin Gordon entering the conversation at this point. Gordon's 408-yard performance against Nebraska has shifted momentum to his corner at the moment, but he'll have to be impressive against Iowa and Minnesota to close out the season. Barrett will have a chance to pad his stats against Indiana this Saturday and then against Michigan at home. It should be a fun battle to watch. Speaking of going head-to-head with Gordon...

Dan Murphy: That's a tough call, Timmer. Would you pay to see the nation's top runner against the fifth-best rushing defense? The Badgers get to see that matchup every week at practice. Wisconsin's defense held fellow star runner Ameer Abdullah to 3.8 yards per carry and 68 rushing yards Saturday. Their group of former walk-ons at linebacker is leading arguably the hottest defense in the country right now. If I had to pick a side though, I'm going with Gordon and his offensive line. I mean, 408 yards in three quarters! 408 yards!

Jordan from Katy, Texas writes ... About Indiana, this team is not making a bowl game this year and AD Fred Glass is keeping Coach Kevin Wilson for the foreseeable future. Getting those facts out of the way, what can fans expect next year or two-three years from now? Fans are wondering if this will ever be a winning program.

Dan Murphy: It's always been a little bit of a mystery to me why Indiana and Illinois are consistently behind the rest of the state schools in the Big Ten. To be fair, Indiana was at least showing signs of promise until the quarterback plague visited Bloomington. Getting a healthy, experienced quarterback in place could be enough to get the Hoosiers to seven or eight wins. It's hard to overstate how important that position is in today's offense-dominated world. To be a consistent winner, though, Indiana needs to change the culture. It's a basketball-first school, and it's hard to build a winner while playing second fiddle on your own campus.

Dan Murphy: There's no doubt that Indiana, Akron, Temple and UMass have boosted Penn State's numbers this season, but I don't think it's much of a stretch to consider them a top-10 defense for two reasons. First is the Lions' effort against Ohio State. No one has stifled Barrett as well as Bob Shoop's group since his early falter against Virginia Tech. The second reason is Penn State's offense. The Nittany Lions have put a ton of pressure on their defense. In one sense, a bad offense keeps games close and prevent opponents from picking up garbage yards late in the game, but on the other hand, some of the other elite groups (See: Wisconsin) don't have to deal with the game heaped on their shoulders every week.

Dan Murphy: Almost snuck out of here without a playoff question. Mississippi State's nonconference schedule didn't do it any favors this season. The Bulldogs still have Ole Miss and the possibility of an SEC title game to impress the committee, but Ohio State's resume definitely has the potential to surpass them. If Michigan State finishes the season 10-2, the Spartans could eek back into the Top 10 and give the Buckeyes a high quality win. If Wisconsin makes it to the Big Ten title game without another loss, that's another very good looking victory late in the season (provided Ohio State makes it to the title game and wins, of course). The bigger threat to the Big Ten's playoff chances lies with Florida State and the Big 12. Oregon, Alabama and the Seminoles deserve spots if they win out. I wouldn't want to have to choose between TCU, Baylor and Ohio State if all three finish with one loss.