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Thursday, March 14, 2013
Ultimate Big Ten 2013 road trip: Week 4

By Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg

Adventure? Excitement? A Big Ten blogger craves not these things. Unless we're talking our gameday trips, and then we want to be at the best venues for the best possible matchups.

Alas, we don't have an unlimited travel budget or complete freedom to choose which games to cover each week. Gotta be company men sometimes, you know. But we can imagine how we would travel during the 2013 season in a perfect scenario, and perhaps use this as a Jedi mind trick on our bosses. (Waves hand. "These are not the expense reports that you're looking for.").

Anyway, please note that we're limiting ourselves to one game per week and trying to diversify between the bloggers when it makes sense. Don't confuse this with our actual itinerary. Here's where we'd like to be for the week of Sept. 21.

The slate:

Missouri at Indiana
Western Michigan at Iowa
Michigan at Connecticut
Michigan State at Notre Dame
San Jose State at Minnesota
South Dakota at Nebraska
Maine at Northwestern
Florida A&M at Ohio State
Kent State at Penn State
Purdue at Wisconsin

Bye week: Illinois

Brian Bennett's pick: Purdue at Wisconsin

Once again, not a very appealing week of nonconference games, outside of Michigan State-Notre Dame and potentially fun, high-scoring matchup between Missouri and Indiana. So sign me up for that rarest of species: a Big Ten game in the fourth weekend of September. This game was moved up at the Badgers' request because of late-developing deal with BYU, which comes to Madison on Nov. 9.

That change is our benefit, as we get to see a conference game earlier than normal. I covered last year's Wisconsin-Purdue game, which didn't turn out to be much of a game at all. But who knows what to expect with this year's meeting since there will be two first-year head coaches involved, and both teams have pretty wide open quarterback competitions at the moment.

The Badgers still figure to be favored this time around, especially at home. But they'll also be coming off a potentially tough road game at Arizona State the week before. Purdue will have to hope its defense has rounded into form before facing what should still be a very explosive Wisconsin offense, led by running backs James White and Melvin Gordon. The loser of this game will find itself already in a hole in the Leaders Division race. It might not be the sexiest matchup, but if I can see a conference game this early, I'm in.

Adam Rittenberg's pick: Michigan State at Notre Dame

I'll be attending Spartans-Irish for the second consecutive season, although I'm hoping for a much more entertaining game this time around. Michigan State entered last year's game ranked No. 10 nationally, but the underdog Irish dominated the Spartans and showed the first real trouble signs for an MSU offense that ended up sputtering most of the season. The Spartans' attack not surprisingly is the big question mark entering 2013. Assistant Dave Warner takes over the play-calling duties and will share the coordinator title with new arrival Jim Bollman. Although we'll learn a little about the Spartans' offense against Western Michigan and South Florida, the true test comes against a Notre Dame defense that loses Manti Te'o but brings back defensive tackle Louis Nix, linebacker Prince Shembo and others.

Michigan State had a nice run going against its top two rivals -- Michigan and Notre Dame -- until losing to both squads last season. It's important for the Spartans to re-establish themselves in the Notre Dame series as they aim for their first win in South Bend since 2007. After losing five games by four points or fewer, Michigan State should be in every game this fall because of its defense. A road win against a rival and the national runner-up from 2012 would give Michigan State plenty of confidence heading into the Big Ten. A strong performance for Andrew Maxwell or another Spartans quarterback would be especially huge.

Previous Trippin'

Week 1: Adam at Northwestern-Cal, Brian at Purdue-Cincinnati
Week 2: Brian and Adam at Notre Dame-Michigan
Week 3: Brian at UCLA-Nebraska, Adam at Wisconsin-Arizona State