Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.
Today's Take Two topic is: Are you buying or selling Michigan State as a Big Ten title contender in 2011?
Take 1: Adam Rittenberg
Michigan State might be a better team with a worse record this year, so I'll have to sell. The schedule advantages the Spartans enjoyed in 2010 flip this fall, as they face one of the toughest road slates in the country for a team from a BCS automatic-qualifying conference. Michigan State must visit Notre Dame, Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern -- teams that combined to go 45-21 in 2010. While Mark Dantonio has stabilized and enhanced the Michigan State program during his tenure, he lacks many signature road wins. He'll likely have to pile up several this season to get the Spartans in the Big Ten title game. Michigan State's only two losses from 2010 took place away from Spartan Stadium -- both were noncompetitive games (Iowa, Alabama). Don't get me wrong, Michigan State has some excellent pieces in place for a repeat championship: a veteran starting quarterback in Kirk Cousins, an All-Big Ten running back in Edwin Baker, a potentially dominant defensive tackle in Jerel Worthy, an emerging star in cornerback Johnny Adams. But the question marks along the offensive line and, to a lesser extent, the defensive front seven, combined with the brutal schedule make it tough to buy Michigan State as the Big Ten champion.
Take 2: Brian Bennett
All good points, Adam, and there's no denying that the schedule set up perfectly for the Spartans in 2010. Michigan State also pulled off some nail-biters last year against Notre Dame, Northwestern and Purdue, and you never know if that kind of luck in close games will continue. But here's why I'm buying: This might be the best team Dantonio has fielded in East Lansing, if the offensive line works itself out. And the question wasn't whether Sparty would improve on last year's record or compete for a national championship, but rather if it could win a Big Ten title. Just take a look at the Legends Division. Nebraska is a consensus favorite right now, but the Cornhuskers have just as difficult a schedule as Michigan State, with road trips to Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan and a cross-division game against Ohio State. Plus, we don't know how the Cornhuskers will fare in their first season in the Big Ten. Winning in Lincoln on Oct. 29 won't be easy, and the Spartans seemingly never play well at Iowa. But I think they're more talented than any of the Legends contenders outside of Nebraska, and they should be right in the division race all season. They don't have to go 11-1 again; they just have to outlast others in the division. And if they get to Indianapolis, anything can happen.