Monday, April 1, 2013
Ultimate Big Ten road trip: Week 12
By Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg
If this were an April Fool's post, we'd tell you about how we have an unlimited travel budget and the ability to pick whatever game we want to cover during the season. But it isn't, and we don't.
Instead, we're imagining which 2013 Big Ten games we'd attend each week during the fall in a perfect world. We're each picking one game per week and accounting whenever possible for a mixture of teams and assignments.
Let's take a look at the options for Week 12 (Nov. 16):
Indiana at Wisconsin
Michigan at Northwestern
Michigan State at Nebraska
Ohio State at Illinois
Purdue at Penn State
Bye weeks: Iowa, Minnesota
Brian Bennett's pick: Michigan State at Nebraska
Some interesting options this week, but I'd like to see what should be one of the top defenses in the country taking on potentially one of the best offenses in the land.
Michigan State and Nebraska played a thriller last year in East Lansing, with Taylor Martinez leading a miraculous fourth-quarter comeback in a game full of controversial calls. There's reason to believe this year's game could be just as entertaining, and it should have a major impact on the Legends Division race.
I fully expect the Huskers, who averaged nearly 35 points per game last year and return just about everybody on offense, to score points in bunches. Martinez is a senior now, Ameer Abdullah is a proven 1,00-yard back and the receiving corps is one of the best in the Big Ten. Add all that up, and Tim Beck's crew should hang 40 points or more on several teams this year, especially when they're playing in the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium.
That Nebraska offense will be tough for anyone to handle, but Pat Narduzzi's Michigan State defense might be up to the task. The Spartans have fielded a Top 10 defense in each of the past two seasons, and even with Johnny Adams and William Gholston departing, Narduzzi has plenty of stars to build around, including linebacker Max Bullough and cornerback Darqueze Dennard. Throw in some promising young players like defensive end Shilique Calhoun, and Michigan State should again have a formidable defense.
This game likely will come down to the "other" side of the ball for both teams. Nebraska is breaking in as many as nine new starters on defense, and those young players should be settled in by this point in the season. The Spartans will have a hard time being much worse on offense in 2013 than they were in 2012, but whoever plays quarterback must get something going in the passing game. Bo Pelini's defense thoroughly confused and confounded Kirk Cousins and a veteran Michigan State attack two years ago in Nebraska's win in Lincoln.
At least one of these two teams should be in the thick of the Legends race by the time this game rolls around. That, plus the offense-defense showdown, makes my Week 12 pick an easy one.
Adam Rittenberg's pick: Michigan at Northwestern
By this point in the season, I've seen the teams I need to see at least once. The division races will be heating up in mid-November, and two games certainly jump out on the slate: MSU-Nebraska and Michigan-Northwestern. While I'm tempted to make a trip to Lincoln, one of my favorite spots to see a game, I'll instead make the short drive North to Ryan Field for Wolverines-Wildcats.
Michigan and Northwestern gave us one of the most exciting games of the 2012 season last November in Ann Arbor. The teams combined for 79 points, 48 first downs and 850 yards. There were five lead changes as the momentum swung back and forth. Michigan appeared finished at the end of regulation before delivering arguably the most exciting play of the Big Ten season, a 53-yard pass to Roy Roundtree after a deflection that set up the tying field goal. The Wolverines went on to win 38-31 in overtime. If this year's game is anything like its predecessor, I won't regret my choice.
Both teams should be improved this season, and it will be interesting to see how both offenses look entering the game. Devin Gardner will have a full season under his belt as Michigan's top quarterback, and the Wolverines will use a more traditional offense after several years of the spread. Northwestern struggled with Michigan's vertical passing game last year but didn't have top cornerback Nick VanHoose on the field. VanHoose is back and the Wildcats have upgraded their speed and athleticism on defense, a unit that could take another step in 2013.
Northwestern returns all of its key offensive weapons -- Kain Colter, Trevor Siemian, Venric Mark -- but needs to bolster its line after losing three starters. Michigan's defensive line also is a bit of a mystery, so it will be interesting to see which squad has the edge in the trenches. Michigan struggled to stop Northwestern's option attack of Colter and Mark, and Siemian was very effective throwing the ball against the Wolverines. Will Michigan star linebacker Jake Ryan be back from an ACL tear? He could make a big difference in this one.
Michigan's overall schedule is favorable, but the Wolverines will be tested away from home in league play, traveling to State College, East Lansing, Evanston and Iowa City. Brady Hoke's team hasn't been nearly as dangerous away from Ann Arbor, while Northwestern has a tougher overall slate but gets several critical games at home. Both teams certainly will be watching what happens in Lincoln, but the winner in Evanston should be in the division title mix.
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
Week 11: Adam at Nebraska-Michigan, Brian at Penn State-Minnesota