Friday, March 7, 2014
Ultimate B1G 2014 road trip: Week 4
By Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg
Just three weeks into our ultimate Big Ten road trip, I've logged visits to Ireland, Oregon and Texas, while Adam has seen three potentially historic games. What does Week 4 hold?
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 our options for Week 4:
Texas State at Illinois
Indiana at Missouri
Iowa at Pitt
Maryland at Syracuse
Utah at Michigan
Eastern Michigan at Michigan State
San Jose State at Minnesota
Miami at Nebraska
Western Illinois at Northwestern
UMass at Penn State
Southern Illinois at Purdue
Rutgers at Navy
Bowling Green at Wisconsin
Open week: Ohio State
Brian Bennett's pick: Miami at Nebraska
Week 4 doesn't the most appetizing slate of games, so the choice here becomes a pretty easy one. While the stakes in this showdown between the Hurricanes and Cornhuskers aren't quite what they were in 1983 or 2001 (or '88, '91 or '94, for that matter), this could still be an important nonconference game for both teams.
Assuming Nebraska survives its trip to Fresno State, this looms as the biggest test before league play for Bo Pelini's team. That kind of challenge didn't end so well the last two years, as the Huskers lost to UCLA both on the road and at home. But while the Bruins were on the upswing, Miami still seems locked in a kind of purgatory, unable to escape mediocrity. Both programs are looking to recapture past glory, and win here wouldn't be a bad place to start on that climb.
The Canes, as always, will bring high-level athletes, so this should provide a nice early gauge of where Nebraska is. Pelini's defense has a chance to be really good, with a lot of players returning in the front seven, led by defensive end Randy Gregory. Will Tommy Armstrong Jr. have grasped control of the offense by this point, or will Johnny Stanton or someone else be at the controls? And in a big spot like this, you'd expect an all-out performance from Ameer Abdullah.
This matchup easily ranks as the most intriguing of Week 4, thanks to the brand names, the talent involved and, of course, the history. I'm sure Tom Osborne will be watching closely.
Adam Rittenberg's pick: Miami at Nebraska
OK, Mr. World Traveler, looks like I'll be seeing you in Husker Country. The Big Ten slate is really bland in Week 4, and while I considered Iowa-Pitt, this is a fairly easy call. I haven't been to Lincoln since 2012, Nebraska is a fascinating team that should contend in the West Division, and looking at the Huskers' remaining home schedule -- Illinois, Rutgers, Purdue and Minnesota -- this is my best bet to visit one of the great settings in college football.
The game itself should be a lot of fun. Neither team carries the prestige it did in the 1990s, but both have talented players and high hopes for 2014. Pelini enters a pivotal season, and this is the type of game that could springboard his team before Big Ten play. Miami also is looking to take an important step under Al Golden and boasts some weapons, such as explosive running back Duke Johnson. The matchup between Johnson and Abdullah is a nice subplot.
Miami's offense could provide a good challenge for the Blackshirts, who will turn the corner if the linebackers hold up and several key parts are replaced in the secondary. The transition from Stephen Morris to a new quarterback, most likely Ryan Williams, could be good for the Canes. Nebraska should win this game, especially at home, but the Huskers have to play for four quarters, not a half, as they did against UCLA.
History has been my unofficial theme, and these two teams certainly have some, splitting 10 meetings. This marks their first regular-season contest since 1975 after matching up in four Orange Bowls and a Rose Bowl (national championship) between 1983 and 2001.
Bottom line: It's been far too long since I've been to Lincoln. My arteries miss Misty's. Maybe I'll even get a Runza this time around. Meet you in the heartland, Bennett.
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
Week 3: Brian at Minnesota-TCU; Adam at Penn State-Rutgers