Monday, March 26, 2012
Ultimate Big Ten 2012 road trip: Week 5
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
Enough with this nonconference nonsense. The Big Ten road trip should take place in Big Ten territory, and that's where we'll be for the final nine weeks. Conference play kicks off Sept. 29 with a decent slate of games throughout the league.
As a reminder, we're each picking one game per week during the 2012 season that we could attend if it were entirely up to us. We don't actually make the call on where we go, but in a perfect world, this would be our itinerary.
Let's look at the Week 5 games:
Ohio State at Michigan State
Wisconsin at Nebraska
Penn State at Illinois
Minnesota at Iowa
Indiana at Northwestern
Marshall at Purdue
Adam Rittenberg's pick: Wisconsin at Nebraska
There are two marquee games in Week 5 -- Ohio State-Michigan State being the other -- and I've already made two trips to Spartan Stadium during non-league play. Although I've already seen Nebraska at the Rose Bowl -- I know, I've got to diversify a bit -- park me in Memorial Stadium for this one as the Huskers try to avenge their ugly Big Ten baptism last year at Camp Randall Stadium. That night, Wisconsin established itself as the team to beat in the league. Nebraska might not be able to make as strong of a statement on Sept. 29, but the Huskers can affirm their place among the league's elite as a member of what looks to be the tougher division (Legends).
Wisconsin's nonconference slate is a bit trickier than it was in 2011, but the Badgers' first real test comes in Lincoln. Whoever wins the team's starting quarterback job will need a poised and polished performance in a hostile setting. The Badgers' defense will have to contain Taylor Martinez, Rex Burkhead & Co. Although this isn't a division game, it can set the teams on certain tracks for the rest of league play. The contest also features two of the nation's top backs in Burkhead and Montee Ball from Wisconsin. The Sea of Red will be geared up, and I want to be there to witness it all.
Brian Bennett's pick: Ohio State at Michigan State
The Badgers-Huskers matchup should be a really good one, but I'd be happy to head to Spartan Stadium and see Michigan State for the first time on my road trip. I was at Ohio Stadium last year when Mark Dantonio's team got a breakthrough win in Columbus, and though it wasn't a thing of offensive beauty, it was an intense hard-hitting game. I'd expect nothing less in 2012.
By this point, the Spartans will have already played Boise State and Notre Dame, so we should have a pretty good idea if they're for real and ready to contend for another Legends Division title. By contrast, this will be Ohio State's toughest test by far to start the Urban Meyer era. There was a little bit of bad blood between the two programs when Se'Von Pittman flipped his commitment to the Buckeyes this offseason, and this should be quite a battle. Michigan State's defense overwhelmed Braxton Miller last year, but Miller is a year older and will be better equipped to handle the pressure. With a bunch of Ohio products on the roster, Michigan State will be fired up. The winner might stake an early claim as the best team in the Big Ten.
Previously on the road trip ...
Week 1: Adam at Boise State-Michigan State, Brian at Michigan-Alabama.
Week 2: Brian at Penn State-Virginia, Adam at Nebraska-UCLA
Week 3: Adam at Notre Dame-Michigan State, Brian at Cal-Ohio State
Week 4: Brian at Michigan-Notre Dame, Adam at Michigan-Notre Dame