Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Ultimate Big Ten road trip: Week 14
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
Our fictitious Big Ten road trip has been put on hold as we take actual trips around the league to check out spring practice. We're both back home now, which means we can hit the road again, figuratively at least.
For those just joining us, we're each picking a Big Ten game to attend each week of the 2013 season. We aren't bound by a travel budget, pesky editors or anything steering us to a particular destination. If the game appeals to us, we can be there. What a world. We're trying to mix up our itinerary, and while we can stand to be in the same press box together, there are some weeks where we'll grin and bear it. Remember, this isn't our actual itinerary for the season.
There's one week left in the Big Ten season, and here's the slate for Week 14 (Nov. 29-30):
Iowa at Nebraska
Minnesota at Michigan State
Northwestern at Illinois
Ohio State at Michigan
Penn State at Wisconsin
Purdue at Indiana
Adam Rittenberg's pick: Ohio State at Michigan
The Game is the default pick for Rivalry Saturday in the Big Ten, but I also think it could be the most exciting and competitive contest on the slate. Perhaps it's wishful thinking on my part, as the Ohio State-Michigan game hasn't been a huge hit since we launched the blog in 2008. Michigan was down from 2008-10, and Ohio State backslid considerably in 2011. While last year's meeting pitted a good team (Michigan) against a great one (Ohio State), the Buckeyes' postseason ban took something away from the contest. I'm still waiting to cover an Ohio State-Michigan clash featuring two great teams in the running for a Big Ten championship. This year's game very well could meet those demands.
Michigan gets the game at home, where it has yet to lose under coach Brady Hoke. The Buckeyes had some close calls away from Columbus in 2012 -- Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin -- and will need an efficient performance on both sides of the ball to win. Junior quarterback Braxton Miller enters the season among the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy. His performance in Ann Arbor could make or break his campaign. The quarterback matchup between Miller and Michigan's Devin Gardner pits two exceptional athletes with varying styles who both can generate a lot of production.
I'm particularly interested to see what happens at the line of scrimmage. Ohio State boasts in my view the Big Ten's top offensive line, while Michigan is looking for difference-makers on its defensive front and hopes to spark a better pass rush. The Wolverines have arguably the nation's best offensive lineman in left tackle Taylor Lewan, who likely will go against dynamic young defensive end Noah Spence. Brace yourselves. Gardner and his receiving corps take aim at a Buckeyes secondary led by cornerback Bradley Roby, who talks big and usually backs it up. Michigan star linebacker Jake Ryan is rehabbing from ACL surgery, but hopes to return for the stretch run. Ryan could help Michigan neutralize Miller, Carlos Hyde and the Buckeye attack. The linebacker matchup between Ryan and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier would be tremendous.
Ohio State might be eying a spot in the national title game, and both teams should be in the mix for division titles and a spot in Indianapolis. The Game always has added meaning for both programs and both fan bases, but it has been too long since both teams had other goals on the table. This year's clash should be a great one, and I don't want to miss it. Who knows, maybe there will be a rematch the following week in Indy.
Brian Bennett's pick: Ohio State at Michigan
I seriously considered taking Northwestern at Illinois, since the Illini are the only team I haven't seen on this 14-week fantasy excursion. And the Land of Lincoln rivalry could be fun. But the odds are that Tim Beckman's team will be eliminated from bowl contention long before the final weekend.
Who knows? Maybe some of the other finales will have major implications, such as Wisconsin trying to win the Leaders Division, Nebraska attempting to clinch the Legends or Indiana possibly securing bowl eligibility.
Still, c'mon. This is The Game we're talking about. It's an easy choice -- even if I have to sit next to Rittenberg.
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
Week 13: Brian at Minnesota-Wisconsin, Adam at Nebraska-Penn State