As we prepare to embark on a handful of spring football trips, we're looking ahead to where we might go -- or would love to go -- when the season rolls around. This is a look at which Big Ten game we'd attend each week if it were up to us (which it isn't) and we had an unlimited travel budget (we most certainly don't).
We'll both pick a game for each week of the season and tell you why we'd go there. It's important to note that this is not our actual travel itinerary, although it would be great if it were. We're limiting ourselves to one game per week even when it's possible to attend more.
Let's get started with Week 1. Here's the schedule:
UNLV at Minnesota
Indiana State at Indiana
Western Michigan at Michigan State
Northern Illinois at Iowa
Purdue at Cincinnati
Central Michigan at Michigan
Wyoming at Nebraska
Northwestern at California
Buffalo at Ohio State
Massachusetts at Wisconsin
Syracuse vs. Penn State (at East Rutherford, N.J.)
Southern Illinois at Illinois
Adam Rittenberg's pick: Northwestern at California
Since I can't stay home -- what an uninspiring group of opening games, blech -- I'll go home, to my hometown of Berkeley, Calif., where Northwestern opens its season at Cal's new jewel of a stadium in Strawberry Canyon. After a 10-win season and a breakthrough bowl victory in Florida, Northwestern returns most of its core pieces and likely will enter the season ranked in the Top 25. It'll be interesting to see how Northwestern handles the increased attention and expectations as it makes the long trip to Pac-12 country, which hasn't been friendly territory at all for Big Ten teams in recent years. Big Ten teams are 5-20 in their last 20 true road games against the Pac-12.
This game should feature plenty of offensive firepower. Northwestern's Venric Mark returns to the field after rushing for 1,366 yards and earning All-America honors as an all-purpose player in 2012. He'll be joined by quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, who functioned well in a rotation last fall. New Cal coach Sonny Dykes has some rebuilding to do, but he brings an extremely fast-paced, dynamic offense to the Bears. Dykes' Louisiana Tech team ran all over Illinois last season, and I'm interested to see how quickly his new team picks up his system, and whether Northwestern's defense, which improved in 2012 but still looks shaky at times, can slow down Cal. I might have picked Columbus if Vanderbilt hadn't backed out of its game against Ohio State, but a trip home for Labor Day weekend ain't bad. I'll be making stops at Top Dog, Fat Slice and Kip's. Yum.
Brian Bennett's pick: Purdue at Cincinnati
Not exactly Michigan-Alabama or Michigan State-Boise State in Week 1 this year, eh? Northwestern-Cal is undoubtedly the best of a sorry lot. But since you picked that one, I'll make the short drive up I-71 to check out a battle of teams with new head coaches in Purdue-Cincinnati. It will be our first chance to see Darrell Hazell leading the Boilermakers, and I'm betting the team will look a lot more disciplined and prepared even in an opening game than we saw at times under Danny Hope. Meanwhile, the Bearcats have had a really strong program the past five or six years and won 10 games and a share of the Big East title last year. They will be adjusting to life under Tommy Tuberville, who shockingly left Texas Tech for a team that faces an uncertain conference future. Both teams will likely throw the ball around a lot, though we don't know right know whom Purdue will be starting under center; it could be a newbie like Austin Appleby or Danny Etling. Hazell knows Ohio well as a former Kent State head coach and Ohio State assistant, but his Boilers likely will be the underdog in this opener.
I always enjoy watching games at Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium, where you're right on top of the action and squeezed into the heart of campus. Covering a Bearcats game means I'll get the chance to say and type the name "Munchie Legaux" as many times as I want, so that's a nice bonus. This isn't a high-profile matchup, but it should be entertaining -- and informative.