Thursday, March 28, 2013
Ultimate Big Ten road trip: Week 11
By Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg
The reality is that we don't get to pick where we want to be each weekend during the Big Ten football season. Travel budgets and editors get in the way sometimes.
Well, reality bites. Which is why we're having some fun and picking which 2013 Big Ten games we'd love to cover in a fantasy world. We're each picking one game each week and accounting whenever possible for a mixture of teams and assignments.
Let's take a look at the schedule for Week 11 (Nov. 9):
Illinois at Indiana
Iowa at Purdue
Nebraska at Michigan
Penn State at Minnesota
BYU at Wisconsin
Bye week: Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State
Adam Rittenberg's pick: Nebraska at Michigan
Some selections are easier than others, and this one's a no-brainer for me. The game might decide the Legends Division race and surely will have an impact on how the division shakes out. It pits two tradition-rich programs in one of college football's greatest settings. Michigan and Nebraska have split their first two meetings since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, and it'll be interesting to see which squad prevails this time.
Although coaches Brady Hoke (Michigan) and Bo Pelini (Nebraska) are both known for defense, the quarterback matchup really intrigues me. It's the matchup we should have seen last year in Lincoln after Michigan's Denard Robinson left the game with an elbow injury, but the Wolverines inexplicably didn't have Devin Gardner ready to go, which resulted in a very ugly second half and a fairly easy Nebraska win. Gardner showed in the final five games last season how dangerous he can be at quarterback, and it'll be interesting to see how he performs in a big game against Nebraska's defense, which will feature a lot of new faces. Huskers senior Taylor Martinez has had some struggles in big games, especially away from home. A win at the Big House -- where the Wolverines have yet to lose under Hoke -- could be a signature achievement from Martinez as he tries to get Nebraska back to Indianapolis.
Both defenses will be tested in this one. Nebraska's new-look front seven should be settled in by Week 11 and needs to contain Gardner and a Michigan rushing attack likely led by Fitzgerald Toussaint and Derrick Green. Michigan is looking for defensive difference-makers after losing star linebacker Jake Ryan to an ACL tear. The Wolverines face a Nebraska offense loaded with weapons at wide receiver and boasting at least two viable rushing threats with Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross.
Will Nebraska finally notch a signature road win in the Big Ten, or will Michigan's home dominance under Hoke continue? See you at Stadium and Main.
Brian Bennett's pick: Penn State at Minnesota
Nebraska-Michigan should be a whale of a contest, but I was just in Michigan in Week 10. So I'll let Adam enjoy Ann Arbor, while I'll be feeling Minnesota. I haven't covered a game yet at TCF Bank Stadium and am anxious to check it out. This would also be my first time seeing the Gophers on this road trip, leaving me with just one Big Ten team (Illinois) I've yet to cover in person through 11 weeks.
In talking with Minnesota coach Jerry Kill earlier this week, I could sense his optimism for this team. He thinks the Gophers can be more competitive in the Big Ten this year because of better depth on both lines, more experienced players at the skill positions and an older Philip Nelson at quarterback, assuming Nelson can hold off charges from talented competitors Mitch Leidner and Chris Streveler. Kill has guided his team to two conference wins in each of his first two seasons but is still looking for that signature conference victory. This is one of a few chances at home to do so, along with Nebraska's trip to the Twin Cities on Oct. 26 and Wisconsin's visit on Nov. 23.
Penn State still has a talent edge over Minnesota, but by this point in the season depth could be a concern for Bill O'Brien's team. The Nittany Lions avoided many devastating injuries last year and will have to hope for the same kind of health in 2013. Regardless, Penn State will be a fascinating team to track all season long, and this will be my third time seeing them on this trip.
This should be a lot of fun, especially if we can somehow convince Prince to play at halftime.
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
Week 7: Adam at Penn State-Michigan, Brian at Northwestern-Wisconsin
Week 8: Brian at Iowa-Ohio State, Adam at Indiana-Michigan
Week 9: Adam at Nebraska-Minnesota, Brian at Penn State-Ohio State
Week 10: Brian at Michigan-Michigan State, Adam at Wisconsin-Iowa