B1G mailbag: Michigan State's new-look passing, Purdue's tricky timing

It's been a couple of weeks since we dipped into the ol' Big Ten mailbag. Now that recruiting madness has subsided and spring practice is rapidly approaching, it's time to remedy that. What's on your mind?

Brian Bennett: That's kind of the key question of the offseason for Michigan State, isn't it? When you lose the winningest quarterback in school history (Connor Cook) and the Big Ten receiver of the year (Aaron Burbridge), plus another valuable senior wideout (Macgarrett Kings Jr.), there are going to be some concerns.

The Spartans haven't been this unsettled in the passing game since the disastrous offensive performance of the 2012 season, but I think they're better positioned to handle the transition this time. R.J. Shelton gives them a senior leader at receiver, and freshman Felton Davis got some experience late last season. This recruiting class included several highly-rated receivers, and I would expect at least some to contribute right away, with Donnie Corley being the most obvious suspect.

The quarterback question won't be answered until the fall, but Tyler O'Connor is a fifth-year senior who knows the system in and out and Damion Terry has some serious skills that he can hopefully harness. If either falters, there are promising youngsters in the pipeline.

The passing game might not be as prolific as it was at times under Cook, but the Spartans have a strong running game and the makings of another excellent defense. We'll find out if that's enough in a loaded division.

Brian Bennett: Athletic director Morgan Burke's announcement that he will retire in the summer of 2017 could make things very tricky for the football coaching situation.

Darrell Hazell is just 6-30 after three years and might have been let go in 2015 if not for a large buyout remaining on his contract. The best thing that could happen, of course, is for the Boilermakers to show major improvement this season, get to a bowl game and eliminate any consternation. But there's not much evidence that will happen, and nothing from Purdue's offseason inspires much confidence.

So what happens if Purdue has another miserable season in 2016? Would Burke fire Hazell and hire another football coach that his successor will inherit just six months later? Or will he kick that decision down the road for the next guy, even if the Boilers suffer through another poor season?

There is a third option, and that is to identify Burke's eventual replacement by this fall. That way, the incoming athletic director can have input and influence on the football coaching decisions. I know that Burke cares too much about Purdue to let the program continue to flounder much longer, so hopefully he can figure out a graceful solution.

Brian Bennett: True, because anything can happen. I can join the cast of "New Girl" in time for Zooey Deschanel's return. And I do have Iowa as the preseason favorite to repeat as West Division champions, thanks to the return of quarterback C.J. Beathard, Thorpe Award winner Desmond King and other key players.

But will the Hawkeyes go 12-0 again? No, I don't think so. Remember that they needed some things to go their way for it to occur in 2015, such as the 57-yard Marshall Koehn field goal to beat Pitt, Wisconsin's inability to hold on to the ball and some close calls against Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota.

Iowa's schedule remains pretty favorable, but the crossovers now include games at Penn State and at home against Michigan, which is a step up from Indiana and Maryland from the past two years. Another division title certainly could be in the cards, but expecting the harmonic convergence required for another 12-0 season is simply too much.

Brian Bennett: Hazell is the obvious answer here, and both Illinois' Bill Cubit and Minnesota's Tracy Claeys have to prove they deserved to be elevated from interim head coach and can earn contract extensions. But no Big Ten coach has more riding on 2016 than Mike Riley at Nebraska.

He doesn't have a lot to prove, since his long track record speaks for itself. But he does have to show he was the right choice for the Cornhuskers. Riley and the team ended 2015 on a high note in the Foster Farms Bowl but still went just 6-7. Anything less than the Bo Pelini Memorial 9-3 record this year will have Nebraska fans up in arms and could create a cloud of negativity that might be difficult to erase.