Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Ultimate Big Ten 2014 road trip: Week 2
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
The magical mystery tour known as the ultimate Big Ten road trip (2014 version) is underway. Brian has traded his Kentucky drawl for an Irish brogue after visiting Dublin for Penn State-UCF, while Adam no longer talks like a Yankee after trekking to Houston for Wisconsin-LSU.
It's now time for our Week 2 destinations. Remember, we're picking one game a week to attend based on matchup quality, location and other factors. Money is no issue, and neither are editors.
Week 2 offers a fairly appetizing slate of games, at least for East division teams.
Here's the schedule:
Maryland at South Florida
Michigan at Notre Dame
Michigan State at Oregon
Virginia Tech at Ohio State
Akron at Penn State
Howard at Rutgers
Western Kentucky at Illinois
Ball State at Iowa
Middle Tennessee at Minnesota
McNeese State at Nebraska
Northern Illinois at Northwestern
Central Michigan at Purdue
Western Illinois at Wisconsin
Open week: Indiana
Brian Bennett's pick: Michigan State at Oregon
After visiting the Emerald Isle in Week 1, I'm going to be seeing a lot of green again in Week 2 with a trip out to Eugene. And I'll be racking up plenty of frequent flyer miles.
Truth is, I'd fly to the end of the earth to see this game in person. What an early-season treat this is, with the Spartans' ferocious defense going up against the Ducks' space-age offense (and uniforms). Both teams should be in the top 10 if not the top 5 coming into the game (they are Nos. 3 and 4 in Mark Schlabach's way-too-early Top 25). It's like staging the Rose Bowl in September.
The Spartans will have to rebuild on defense after losing stars Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough, Denicos Allen, Isaiah Lewis and others. They'll need to be ready right away, because quarterback Marcus Mariota might well enter the season as one of the Heisman Trophy favorites, and Oregon's speed will be unlike most of what Michigan State sees in the Big Ten. But Spartans defensive boss Pat Narduzzi has shown he can reload on that side of the ball, and the offense should be prepared to hit the ground running with quarterback Connor Cook, running back Jeremy Langford and several other key members of last season's Rose Bowl champions returning.
Big Ten teams haven't traditionally fared well when traveling into Pac-12 territory, and Autzen Stadium figures to offer about as intimidating an environment as possible. But Mark Dantonio's program made a leap last season and wants to prove it can stay among the elite. There's no better chance to do so than on Sept. 6, and there's no place on earth I'd rather be that day.
Adam Rittenberg's pick: Michigan at Notre Dame
I double-majored in history (insert your nerd joke here), so while Michigan State-Oregon might be the sexier matchup and more appealing trip, I want to be there when Michigan and Notre Dame meet for the final time in the foreseeable future. The past three matchups have taken place at night in electric stadium environments, which just shows once again how unfortunate it is that this series going on hiatus. The 2014 matchup also kicks off in prime time, and after attending the last two Michigan-Notre Dame games, I'm making the drive to South Bend, probably with my guy Matt Fortuna riding shotgun.
Both teams really need a win after disappointing 2013 seasons, and both have more tests ahead as Michigan visits both Michigan State and Ohio State in Big Ten play, while Notre Dame enters its standard gauntlet with Stanford, Florida State, Arizona State, Louisville and USC. Quarterback play always is a storyline, as Michigan's Devin Gardner tries to repeat his brilliance against the Irish last season, while Notre Dame's Everett Golson returns to the rivalry after a year away from school. We saw a defensive struggle two years ago at Notre Dame Stadium, and an offensive shootout last year at the Big House.
You'll get zero complaints from me if I end up at raucous Autzen Stadium for green-on-green combat, but I'm among those who will really miss Michigan-Notre Dame every September, and this season's matchup will be the last for a while. I've always been a fan of Notre Dame Stadium for its old-school feel, and this is an old-school matchup. I guess I'm getting old.
Road trip itinerary
Week 1: Brian at Penn State-UCF (in Dublin, Ireland); Adam at Wisconsin-LSU (in Houston)