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Thursday, March 21, 2013
Ultimate Big Ten 2013 road trip: Week 7

By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett

We're nearing the halfway point of our journey through the Big Ten. In a perfect world, there would be no budgetary restrictions or editors (whoops, did we just type that?), and we could simply pick the games we'll attend each week during the season. Alas, it's not to be, but we can pretend.

In this series, we're picking one Big Ten game per week to attend. Although we'd rather not share the same press box, some matchups are too good to pass up.

Let's check out our options for Week 7. Once again, it's a light week in the league.

Northwestern at Wisconsin
Michigan at Penn State
Nebraska at Purdue
Indiana at Michigan State

Bye weeks: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio State

Adam Rittenberg's pick: Michigan at Penn State

Penn State once again will be one of the more intriguing teams in the Big Ten, and I don't want to go much longer without dropping in on Bill O'Brien's Nittany Lions. These two traditional powers haven't played since the 2010 season, and there's a good chance this game takes place under the lights at Beaver Stadium. A Whiteout could be on tap, giving me even more reason to head to Happy Valley.

Penn State should have a decent handle on its quarterback situation by Week 7, whether the signal-caller is Steven Bench, Tyler Ferguson or heralded incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg. The Lions return multiple weapons at running back, wide receiver and particularly tight end, and their offensive line comes off of a good season. But Michigan should provide by far the toughest test for the new Lions quarterback, as the Wolverines figure to once again be among the Big Ten's best defenses.

We'll also learn a lot about Michigan as the Wolverines play their first league game away from Michigan Stadium. Although Michigan will have a Week 4 trip under its belt, Connecticut's Rentschler Field isn't exactly Beaver Stadium at night. Junior quarterback Devin Gardner will need a smart, effective performance against a Penn State defense that loses star power from 2012 but could be deeper at certain spots. Who will be carrying the ball for Michigan at this point? Fitz Toussaint? Incoming freshman Derrick Green? Although this is a crossover game, it could loom large for Michigan in its quest to reach Indianapolis.

Brian Bennett's pick: Northwestern at Wisconsin

I have yet to see Pat Fitzgerald's crew on this fantasy road trip, and that's a wrong that needs to be righted here. Northwestern has the talent and experience to seriously challenge for the Legends Division title in 2013, and we should have a pretty good idea whether the Wildcats live up to preseason hype by Week 7. They will have already played at Cal and versus Syracuse in the nonconference slate and squared off against Ohio State in Week 6 at Ryan Field. The trip to Madison is another tough test in a daunting schedule that includes later games at Nebraska and versus Michigan and Michigan State.

Wisconsin will have also shown us something by this game after opening conference action on the road at Ohio State in Week 5. The Badgers will own the benefit of a bye week before Northwestern comes into Camp Randall, so Gary Andersen's team should be well prepared to take on Kain Colter, Venric Mark & Co. On the flip side, the Wildcats' biggest problems defensively in recent years have been against the passing game, and Wisconsin's passing attack may still be developing at this point in the season. Outside of Jared Abbrederis, the Badgers don't have any downfield threats -- at least none that we've identified as of late March.

The same could be said of Northwestern's own passing game going into the season. We're more likely to see two of the leagues top rushing offenses go head to head, with Colter and Mark leading the Wildcats and Wisconsin countering with James White and Melvin Gordon. Watching Chris Borland try to blow up Northwestern's option attack would alone be worth the price of admission.

This figures to be a physical game, and though it is a crossover matchup, neither side can afford to lose this one given the competition in its own division. See you on State Street.

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
Week 4: Adam at Michigan State-Notre Dame, Brian at Purdue-Wisconsin
Week 5: Adam at Wisconsin-Ohio State, Brian at Wisconsin-Ohio State
Week 6: Adam at Ohio State-Northwestern, Brian at Penn State-Indiana