Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Ultimate Big Ten 2013 road trip: Week 6
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
As we'll remind you, oh, several thousand times during the fall, we don't pick the games we cover each week. But in a perfect world -- one with an unlimited travel budget and invisible editors -- we'd craft our own football itineraries. We can dream, at least, and that's exactly what we're doing here.
We're each picking one Big Ten game to attend each week throughout the season. Although we can't stand to be in each other's presence, we'll sometimes pick the same contests because they're simply too good to pass up.
Conference play is here so we're staying relatively close to home in Week 6.
Here are the options:
Ohio State at Northwestern
Michigan State at Iowa
Minnesota at Michigan
Penn State at Indiana
Illinois at Nebraska
Open dates: Purdue, Wisconsin
Adam Rittenberg's pick: Ohio State at Northwestern
It's not an overly appealing first Saturday of Big Ten play, although there could be some sneaky good games like Penn State-Indiana. The safest bet for me is staying close to home to catch Ohio State-Northwestern in a potential prime-time showdown. Ohio State's road schedule is pretty favorable until The Game in Ann Arbor, but the Buckeyes shouldn't look past a Northwestern team that won 10 games last season and likely will enter the fall ranked. Don't be surprised if both teams are undefeated entering the game, and Northwestern comes off of an open week. Both Ohio State and Northwestern also make trips to Cal in September, which should help with preparation.
The game features two potentially dynamic spread offenses led by athletic quarterbacks in Braxton Miller and Kain Colter. Both teams return productive running backs in Venric Mark (Northwestern) and Carlos Hyde (Ohio State), and both finished in the top 20 nationally in rushing last fall. It will be interesting to see who gets the edge at the line of scrimmage between Northwestern's offensive front and Ohio State's defensive front, as both groups are replacing multiple starters from 2012.
The teams haven't met since 2008, and Ohio State has dominated the all-time series (59-14-1). Since Northwestern's 1995 program renaissance, it has held its own with every Big Ten team but Ohio State. If Pat Fitzgerald's team wants to take the obvious next step and compete for a league championship, it needs a good showing against the Scarlet and Gray with two weeks to prepare. Urban Meyer's crew looks to build confidence before a fairly manageable stretch of the season.
Brian Bennett's pick: Penn State at Indiana
Ohio State-Northwestern is the best of the bunch here, but since my itinerary already had me checking out the Buckeyes the previous week alongside Adam, I need some variety (and some space after too much time with Rittenberg). So I'll take the somewhat unconventional choice of Penn State at Indiana, two potentially very interesting teams I haven't checked out yet on this ultimate road trip.
True, there has not been much to see here historically, as the Nittany Lions are 16-0 all-time against the Hoosiers. But Indiana has put up a good fight in Bloomington on a few occasions, such as in 1994, 2004, 2007 and 2011. Keep an eye on Kevin Wilson's young team, which brings back just about every player on the two-deep and has an opening schedule that could lead to at least a 3-1 start. We think this might be the year the Hoosiers break through and get back to a bowl game, but winning league contests at home are a must for that to occur.
And, of course, Penn State remains a fascinating story as Bill O'Brien guides the program through Year 2 of the sanctions. If the Lions get past Syracuse in the season opener, they'll have an excellent chance of being 4-0 when they open Big Ten play at IU. This game should feature some of the best pass-catchers in the Big Ten, with Indiana's Shane Wynn, Kofi Hughes and Cody Latimer and Penn State's Allen Robinson, Kyle Carter and assorted others. Neither coach is afraid to air it out or to gamble in a big spot. The possibility for some exciting offense and two intriguing teams is enough to convince me to take the short drive to Hoosier country.
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
Week 4: Adam at Michigan State-Notre Dame, Brian at Purdue-Wisconsin
Week 5: Adam at Wisconsin-Ohio State, Brian at Wisconsin-Ohio State