Thursday, March 20, 2014
Ultimate B1G 2014 road trip: Week 13
By Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg
We're very nearly to the end of our ultimate Big Ten road trip, and hopefully by this point we've seen many great games. We also hope to see some championship-deciding contests in the final couple of weeks.
For those just joining us, we're each selecting one Big Ten game to attend each week during the 2014 season. This almost assuredly isn't our actual schedule because of travel budgets or editors' decisions. But we can pretend with this fantasy itinerary.
Let's check out the Week 13 slate:
Indiana at Ohio State
Maryland at Michigan
Minnesota at Nebraska
Northwestern at Purdue
Penn State at Illinois
Rutgers at Michigan State
Wisconsin at Iowa
Brian Bennett's pick: Wisconsin at Iowa
Finally, a week with a full slate of league games, as it should be at this point in the season. I haven't seen Iowa on this trip all season, which says everything about the Hawkeyes' extremely advantageous, back-loaded schedule. Kirk Ferentz's team could, in theory, be favored in its first 10 games. That means Iowa should be a major factor in the West Division race with two weeks to left to go.
And the good news gets better, as both Wisconsin and Nebraska come to Kinnick Stadium in the final two weeks. It's great to see the Heartland Trophy series resume as an annual event, though the Hawkeyes have to protect their turf after losing the last two meetings in Iowa City (2010 and 2013). These are two teams that value the running game, strong offensive line play and defense as core values, so you can expect a physical battle in the trenches. Iowa might have the best offensive lineman in the Big Ten this season in Brandon Scherff, while Wisconsin's running back tandem of Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement should be special.
The West title could well be on the line in this game. Sadly, I've yet to visit Kinnick Stadium in this job despite my best lobbying efforts. It's way past time to rectify that, and it might be time for Iowa to prove itself in Week 13.
Adam Rittenberg's pick: Wisconsin at Iowa
At this point in the season, it comes down more to matchup quality than destination, how much I've seen a certain team or culinary/beverage options. OK, well maybe the last item is still a priority. It's between Wisconsin-Iowa and Minnesota-Nebraska for me, as both games could impact the West Division title race. My concern with the Golden Gophers is whether their tough schedule will remove them from the race. Minnesota already has visited Michigan and played both Ohio State and Iowa at home. Wisconsin and Iowa, meanwhile, avoid all the big boys from the East Division and could be bringing in sparkling records to this contest.
Iowa finishes the season with home games against both Wisconsin and Nebraska, so the Hawkeyes must defend Kinnick Stadium, which has been a problem against the Badgers in recent seasons. Gordon, a one-time Iowa commit, goes against a Hawkeyes defense replacing its standout linebacking corps but bringing back some strong pieces up front. Iowa paid the price for failing to reach the end zone in last year's game against Wisconsin. It will be interesting to see if Mark Weisman and Co. can break through against a new-look Badgers front seven.
This is the most balanced long-term rivalry in college football, and it helps to have both teams back in the same division. Another trip to Kinnick? Yes, please.
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
Week 4: Adam at Miami-Nebraska; Brian at Miami-Nebraska
Week 5: Brian at Cincinnati-Ohio State; Adam at Minnesota-Michigan
Week 6: Adam at Nebraska-Michigan State; Brian at Nebraska-Michigan State
Week 7: Brian at Penn State-Michigan; Adam at Northwestern-Minnesota
Week 8: Adam at Iowa-Maryland; Brian at Nebraska-Northwestern
Week 9: Brian at Michigan-Michigan State; Adam at Ohio State-Penn State
Week 10: Adam at Northwestern-Iowa; Brian at Wisconsin-Rutgers
Week 11: Brian and Adam at Ohio State-Michigan State
Week 12: Adam and Brian at Nebraska-Wisconsin