Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Ultimate Big Ten road trip: Week 13
By Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg
By this point in our ultimate Big Ten road trip, we're probably looking a little haggard. Too many fast-food binges, too little exercise and too much time in airports and hotels likely has made us delirious.
Good thing it's just imaginary, then. We're picking one game each week that we'd cover if there was no such thing as a travel budget or an assignment editor. We're trying to mix in some variety with our choice of teams and destinations. Remember: this is not our actual 2013 itinerary.
Let's check out the slate for Week 13 (Nov. 23):
Illinois at Purdue
Indiana at Ohio State
Michigan at Iowa
Michigan State at Northwestern
Nebraska at Penn State
Wisconsin at Minnesota
Bye week: None
Brian Bennett's pick: Wisconsin at Minnesota
I just visited the Twin Cities two weeks ago on this trip, and you might be wondering if I have some merchandise to return at Mall of America. No, it's just that I've seen a good mix of Nebraska, Penn State and Michigan State in recent weeks, too, and I'd like to be on hand for the most-played rivalry in the FBS.
Minnesota hasn't beaten Wisconsin since 2003, and the last three games in this series have been lopsided Badgers wins. But sooner or later the Gophers have to bring Paul Bunyan's Axe back home. This might be their best chance in a while.
Not only is the game at TCF Bank Stadium, but Minnesota seems to be steadily improving as we enter the third year of the Jerry Kill era. Kill is starting to build the kind of roster and depth he needs, and the Gophers showed in the bowl game loss to Texas Tech that they could field a physical, run-oriented team. That's the kind of attitude it's going to take to win in the Big Ten and to beat Wisconsin. Whether Minnesota can stand up to the Badgers' offensive line and run game is a major question mark, and its inability to do so in recent yeas is why the losing streak has grown. But with Ra'Shede Hageman back to anchor the defensive line, at least the Gophers have a good start.
Meanwhile, Gary Andersen's team has a chance to come into this game on a serious roll. The Badgers will have played Illinois, Iowa and Indiana in their previous three Big Ten games, with a home date against BYU mixed in there. Wisconsin's Leaders Division hopes likely depend heavily on that Sept. 28 game at Ohio State. But even if the Badgers lose in Columbus, they can keep the heat on the Buckeyes by ripping off a bunch of wins in a row. Losing focus and losing the Axe will not be allowed.
Whether this turns into a good game or a dog, at least I'll have attended an edition of this rivalry. And I'll get to see players running around with a big ol' axe afterward.
Adam Rittenberg's pick: Nebraska at Penn State
No Big Ten season is complete without a trip to State College, and this is my final chance during the 2013 season. Although I'm not a huge fan of late-season crossover games and look forward to the day when most crossovers are eliminated, I certainly see the value in Nebraska-Penn State.
While the Nittany Lions remain ineligible for postseason play, Nebraska likely will be in the mix for the Legends Division title. Penn State could play spoiler, a role it should embrace after last year's loss in Lincoln, a game where several controversial calls went against Bill O'Brien's crew.
Both teams enter the season with one seemingly solid unit and another filled with question marks. Nebraska should have one of the nation's most explosive offenses, led by senior quarterback Taylor Martinez and boasting multiple weapons at wide receiver and running back. Penn State loses several defensive standouts but always finds replacements and should once again be very stout under new coordinator John Butler. The Nebraska defense and the Penn State offense, meanwhile, are looking for leadership. The Huskers must replenish their front seven, and Penn State needs a quarterback to emerge and has virtually no experience at the position. Both teams should have some answers by this point in the season, and it will be interesting to see who has the edge.
The game features two of the Big Ten's top wide receivers in Penn State's Allen Robinson and Nebraska's Kenny Bell. Both teams like their depth in the secondary, and both have multiple rushing threats and solid offensive lines. If Nebraska struggles the week before at Michigan, it almost certainly will need to rebound in State College. Every Senior Day at Penn State will have added significance during the sanctions, and the Lions will be anxious to send out players like guard John Urschel, linebacker Glenn Carson and safety Malcolm Willis with a win.
It's unlikely these teams will meet annually after the divisions are realigned, so I don't want to miss this game. The Big Ten also is warming up to November night games. Could Huskers-Lions take place under the lights? Both programs are very open to night games. Pretty please.
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
Week 12: Brian at Michigan State-Nebraska, Adam at Michigan-Northwestern