B1G mailbag: Hot seat in Lincoln, Ohio State solutions?

Nebraska is 2-3, but is it too soon to blame Mike Riley for the team's close losses? AP Photo/Nati Harnik

Baseball playoffs. Big Ten play. How great is October? Wait, you're the ones who are asking the questions around here.

Brian Bennett: No. It can't be, not after five games. I understand the frustration fans must be having with the 2-3 start and the various maddening breakdowns, but if you're going to fire a respected coach after one season the year after dumping one who averaged nine wins per year, well, who do you think would want to sign up for that job?

There's no question Mike Riley and the Cornhuskers have been saddled with some unbelievably bad luck in close games, but they also haven't played well enough throughout all four quarters to avoid those situations. It's a learning curve, especially in the Big Ten. This isn't the pass-happy Pac-12. Sometimes, you just have to run the ball over and over and grind out a win on the road in bad weather, as the Illinois game presented last week. Riley will learn that. He deserves time to figure it out, and to bring in his own players.

But if Nebraska doesn't beat a flawed Wisconsin team at home this week, things could get even uglier. And the Huskers could be in danger of missing a bowl game. Speaking of which ...

Brian Bennett: The Golden Gophers should - emphasize should -win at Purdue this week. But they almost lost to the Boilermakers at home last year, and the way their offense is playing, nothing can be taken for granted. After that, Minnesota has Nebraska and Michigan at home, Ohio State and Iowa on the road and then Illinois and Wisconsin at  home. They have to win at least three more, and might only be favored in one or two (Illinois and Nebraska, maybe).

So this week's game against Purdue looms especially large. I believe enough in the Gophers' talent and coaching staff to think they'll find a way to six wins, but it won't be easy.

Brian Bennett: I wrote on Monday about how there aren't many obvious answers right now. The general reaction I get when I talk to those who watch the team closely is confusion.

Limiting turnovers is of course the first step. Nothing stops an offense more than that, and the Buckeyes' 13 giveaways in five games is simply too many (though six turnovers vs. Alabama and Oregon last year didn't hurt too much). Ohio State needs to be able to stretch the field vertically a little more, because it looks to me like teams are crowding the box against them with no fear of Devin Smith getting behind them.

What I'd really like to see, though, is for that offensive line to regain its nastiness. The "Slobs" were knocking people off the ball during that postseason run a year ago, and I haven't really seen it much this year, save for those long runs by Ezekiel Elliott in the second half vs. Indiana. We try to make things too complicated sometimes, but football still comes down to blocking and tackling, and all the talent in the world won't help Ohio State unless Cardale Jones has time to throw and its skill position players have space to operate.

Brian Bennett: Wolverines fans are riding high right now, and rightly so. For Michigan to win the playoff, it pretty much has to win out. Even though that opening loss to Utah - which is ranked No. 1 in our current ESPN.com power rankings - looks much better in hindsight, it's still going to be tough for a two-loss Big Ten team to make the College Football Playoff.

I love the way Jim Harbaugh's team is playing, but I'm not sure it can beat Michigan State and Ohio State, especially with its limited offensive capabilities. But the Spartans and Buckeyes don't exactly look invincible at the moment, do they? So anything is possible, though I still see Michigan as more of a 9-3 or 10-2 team this year. Which is still fantastic, and perhaps enough for a New Year's Six game if things break right.

Brian Bennett: Ian is putting me on the spot! Fair enough. I had Wisconsin and Ohio State in the preseason. I'm sticking with the Buckeyes in the East Division until proven wrong. I have far less confidence in the Badgers because they can't run the ball. If I have to pick right now, I'll take Iowa because of the Hawkeyes' highly-advantageous schedule the rest of the way. But these picks are subject to change, on a weekly basis.