Thursday, March 6, 2014
Ultimate B1G 2014 road trip: Week 3
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
It took Brian Bennett just two weeks to rack up more frequent-flyer miles than most people accrue in a year. After trips to Dublin and Eugene, what's next on Bennett's itinerary? Any teams playing in Dubai?
For those just joining us, we're picking one game featuring a Big Ten team to attend throughout the 2014 season. There's no travel budget or nagging editors. We can go where we want to see who we want. Our choices are based on matchup quality, how often we've seen certain teams play, location and other factors.
Here are the options for Week 3:
Indiana at Bowling Green
West Virginia at Maryland
Miami (Ohio) at Michigan
Kent State at Ohio State
Penn State at Rutgers
Illinois at Washington
Iowa State at Iowa
Minnesota at TCU
Nebraska at Fresno State
Purdue at Notre Dame (at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis)
Open week: Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Adam Rittenberg's pick: Penn State at Rutgers
Sticking with my history theme, I'm parking myself in Piscataway, N.J., for Rutgers' debut as a Big Ten member. Much of the Big Ten remains lukewarm, if not ice cold, about Rutgers' arrival to the league, but the folks at HighPoint Solutions Stadium will be very excited for this one. I expect a very strong turnout from Penn State fans, who finally have a somewhat easily accessible Big Ten road game to attend. The teams haven't played since 1995, despite their proximity. Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg made his college debut in the Garden State last season at MetLife Stadium and hopes his winning ways continue. Rutgers' quarterback situation is more unsettled as Gary Nova tries to retain his job.
The game reunites Rutgers offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen and Penn State coach James Franklin, who were coach and coach-in-waiting, respectively, at Maryland in 2010. It's also a big moment for Rutgers coach Kyle Flood, whose team has a tough opener at Washington State and needs to start off Big Ten play with a strong performance. Rutgers struggled against the pass in 2013, ranking 120th nationally, so Hackenberg will test a defense led by new coordinator Joe Rossi.
There are some other options in Week 3, including an always appealing trip to Seattle and a Minnesota-TCU matchup that could be surprisingly interesting. But I'm interested to see how the Big Ten's first truly East Coast conference game takes place, and it's always good to have a league game this early. The interest and attendance are important to the league as it makes a push to become bi-regional. See you at the birthplace of college football.
Brian Bennett's pick: Minnesota at TCU
Rutgers' Big Ten debut should be fun, and I'm tempted to join you in Jersey. But there are some other interesting games on the slate as well. Illinois-Washington intrigues me, but I'm not sure my body clock could handle another flight across multiple time zones. There's the Cy-Hawk game, a Purdue-Notre Dame clash, a good old neighborly battle between West Virginia and Maryland and even a potentially competitive game between Nebraska and Fresno State.
But I'm headed to Fort Worth, Texas, to see the Gophers take on TCU. The Horned Frogs did not fare well in the Big 12 last season but aren't far removed from being a national power, a team that beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, no less. Minnesota is coming off an eight-win season and brings back the core of its 2013 team. Will Jerry Kill's crew continue its upward mobility? For sure, the passing game will have to improve behind quarterback Mitch Leidner, especially while taking on Gary Patterson's usually stingy defense. This game should tell us a lot about where Minnesota is heading in 2014 and gives the Big Ten another chance for an impressive early nonconference win if the Gophers can come through.
Road trip itinerary
Week 1: Brian at Penn State-UCF (in Dublin, Ireland); Adam at Wisconsin-LSU (in Houston)
Week 2: Adam at Michigan-Notre Dame; Brian at Michigan State-Oregon