Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.
The season openers are rapidly approaching, and several Big Ten teams have a lot on the line in Week 1. We both agree that Michigan State, dubbed the preseason league favorite by both of us and others, has the most to lose as it takes on a new-look Boise State team in East Lansing. So today's Take Two topic is this: Besides Michigan State, which Big Ten team has the most to lose in Week 1?
Take 1: Adam Rittenberg
It's Penn State. No college football team is more excited to get back on the field than the Nittany Lions. No fan base in America wants to see a football game more than Penn State's. People want to feel good about football at Penn State, and it starts Saturday against Ohio. The spotlight has been on this program for months, and everyone is going to tune in to see how the team performs after so much turmoil and transition. "Everything's riding on this season," fullback Michael Zordich said last week. "It's very important for us to go out and win." And what if they don't? What if Penn State loses to Ohio, a good MAC program with a good coach (Frank Solich) and a good quarterback (Tyler Tettleton), but a team Penn State is still supposed to beat? A loss would change the positive sentiment around new Lions coach Bill O'Brien. It would validate what many doom-and-gloomers think will happen to the Penn State program, and it will move up the start of the downturn. Rather than things getting bad for Penn State in 2013 or 2014, the backslide would begin immediately. I think a lot of folks are overstating the impact of all that has happened on this particular season. Penn State still has a chance to win seven or eight games, especially with this schedule and with what it returns on defense. But a loss to Ohio will be a major blow. It will leave a lot of folks in Happy Valley -- players, coaches, fans -- rattled and questioning the program's future.
Take 2: Brian Bennett
Penn State is a good call. I think Minnesota and Indiana both need Week 1 wins as well to build some momentum in their programs. But I'm going to go with Nebraska. The Cornhuskers have had good teams the past few seasons, but have lost four games in each of the past four seasons. Most programs would happily take a 10-4 or 9-4 year, but Nebraska isn't most programs. Players like Taylor Martinez talked boldly this offseason of competing for the national title, and Nebraska fans are hungry for at least the school's first conference title since 1999. While losing to Southern Miss in Week 1 wouldn't damage the quest for a league championship it would cause a lot of grumbling about Bo Pelini by the vocal Big Red fan base and get the 2012 season off to the exactly wrong kind of start. The Golden Eagles won 11 games last season, but replaced head coach Larry Fedora with Ellis Johnson and four-year starting quarterback Austin Davis. Unlike Penn State, Nebraska enters the year with grand expectations, confident about its defensive improvement and Martinez's hard offseason work on his passing mechanics. All those good feelings would immediately be erased with a Week 1 upset.