Who doesn't love a good road trip? Big Ten fans certainly do, as they hit the highways by the tens of thousands every fall weekend to see their favorite teams play. We here at the Big Ten blog also love road trips, and we also love taking a peek at where we might be going throughout the 2012 season. While the Big Ten hasn't released its complete 2012 schedule just yet, the conference slate is finalized and so are the key non-league contests.
With this in mind, it's time to revive an idea Bennett first hatched on the Big East blog in 2009: the Ultimate Road Trip. We both will review the games for each week and select the one we'd most like to attend. Now it's worth mentioning for the umpeenth time that we don't pick the games we cover each week. To repeat: WE ... DON'T ... PICK ... WHERE ... WE ... GO. The fine folks in Bristol do, and we'd be happy to provide their home phone numbers and personal email accounts if you'd like to complain (especially Bevo's).
The magic of aviation would allow us to attend more than one game in a given weekend, but this is a road trip, dammit. One game per weekend.
Without further ado, let's get started with Week 1.
Week 1 Games
Minnesota at UNLV (Thursday)
Boise State at Michigan State (Friday)
Southern Miss at Nebraska
Iowa vs. Northern Illinois (at Chicago)
Michigan vs. Alabama (at Arlington, Texas)
Northwestern at Syracuse
Western Michigan at Illinois
Ohio at Penn State
Miami (Ohio) at Ohio State
Northern Iowa at Wisconsin
Eastern Kentucky at Purdue
Indiana State at Indiana
Adam Rittenberg's pick: Boise State at Michigan State
As much as I'd love to go to Vegas or attend the Danny Hope Reunion Bowl, there are really only two choices for opening weekend: Boise-MSU and Michigan-Alabama. I fully admit the Michigan-Alabama game has greater implications for the Big Ten, as a win against the defending national champion and the standard bearer in college football would do wonders for the league and the Wolverines. But I'd rather be in Spartan Stadium the night before for what I think will be a better game. Despite 11 victories in each of the past two seasons, a co-Big Ten title in 2010 and a Legends division title in 2011, Michigan State is still looking for more national respect. The Spartans took an important step in the Outback Bowl, but they're looking for that ultimate breakthrough season that lands them in Pasadena or another first-rate January destination.
While Michigan State could be pegged as the preseason Big Ten favorite, some point to key personnel losses like quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy as too much to overcome. This is a huge game for the program to show it can reload and potentially be an even better team. In the bigger picture, Michigan State has a perfect opportunity to show how far its program has come on the national stage. Boise State has built its reputation on winning games like this, going into the backyard of a major-conference team in late August or early September and emerging victorious. Sure, Kellen Moore is gone, but Boise is Boise, and the Broncos will be tough to beat. Michigan would get more of a boost from beating Alabama, but Michigan State can put itself on the right track for another special season by beating Boise. The atmosphere should be absolutely electric, and if this game is anything like the last one I attended in East Lansing, I'll be thrilled.
Brian Bennett's pick: Michigan vs. Alabama
While the Michigan State-Boise State will be very interesting and a lot of fun, it's not getting a ton of national buzz, most likely because of the loss of Moore. The Spartans will be breaking in a new quarterback and some new faces at receiver, too, so this game could be a little disjointed, at least on offense.
Buzz won't be lacking for the Wolverines' showdown with the Crimson Tide. You've got the defending national champions taking on the reigning Sugar Bowl winner. The Big Ten takes on the mighty SEC on at least somewhat neutral turf. Some criticized Michigan last year for playing an easy schedule, getting a nice draw in New Orleans and not even winning their division. Well, Brady Hoke and his team can prove they're for real beyond a doubt by taking down 'Bama. This won't be the same Tide that stomped on LSU in January; Nick Saban's squad suffered some key personnel losses on defense and at running back with Trent Richardson gone. Michigan also will be replacing some of its most valuable players in departed seniors David Molk, Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen, and you do not want to have holes in your trenches against Alabama.
But this is still two of the bluest of blue-chip programs in the history of college football. It's still Denard Robinson versus that Saban defense. The winner will be an early national-title favorite. And it will all take place in the grandeur that is Jerry's World. Sign me up.