We're winding our way through the 2013 Big Ten season, armed with an unlimited travel budget, no nagging editors (or wives) and the freedom to choose where we go to watch football each weekend. It barely resembles how things actually play out in our jobs, but it's fun to pretend.
As a reminder, we're each picking one Big Ten game to attend each week. Although we're looking for variety -- and to avoid one another -- we'll occasionally pick the same game.
Let's take a look at the options for Week 9 (Oct. 26):
Penn State at Ohio State
Northwestern at Iowa
Nebraska at Minnesota
Michigan State at Illinois
Open dates: Indiana, Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin
Adam Rittenberg's pick: Nebraska at Minnesota
The October slog continues. The Big Ten's double-bye is really limiting the number of attractive games in what is typically a huge month for the conference. Oh, well. The easy pick here would be Penn State-Ohio State, a game I've covered several times since the blog launched in 2008. But more than two months have passed and I've yet to see Nebraska, a team once again pegged to contend for the league title. Also, I haven't covered a game at beautiful TCF Bank Stadium since way back in 2009. Twin Cities, here I come.
Nebraska likely will come in as a sizable favorite, as the Huskers should have the most dangerous offense in the Legends Division and perhaps the entire Big Ten. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is in his fourth year as the starter and has plenty of weapons at his disposal. But league road games haven't been easy for Bo Pelini's squad, which was pounded last year at Ohio State and needed second-half comebacks to beat Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa. The Huskers' 2012 schedule is extremely favorable, but with some tough road games down the stretch at both Michigan and Penn State, Big Red needs to take care of business against the Gophers.
Speaking of the Gophers, they doubled their wins total in coach Jerry Kill's second season and nearly upset Texas Tech in a bowl game. Kill's history shows his teams typically make big strides in Year 3, and it will be interesting to see how Minnesota fares. The Gophers have some big holes to fill on defense, particularly in the back seven, and will be tested by Martinez, Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell and the rest of Nebraska's attack. Minnesota also faces some questions on offense, and it will be interesting to see if Philip Nelson or another Gophers signal-caller can capitalize on a young Nebraska defense that recently has struggled away from Lincoln.
Minneapolis, it's been too long, and you provide so many options for eating and drinking. But to keep in the theme of the blog, I'll probably end up here before the game. Good times.
Brian Bennett's pick: Penn State at Ohio State
There may not be a ton of great options, but I'll happily go back to Columbus for a second straight week to see the Nittany Lions take on the Buckeyes. Sure, Penn State is ineligible for a Big Ten championship, but that shouldn't make this game any less meaningful or intense.
I remember the electric atmosphere last year in State College, when Ohio State pulled off the road win and Braxton Miller scored a crazy touchdown. Two years ago, Penn State used some surprise Wildcat formations to knock off the Buckeyes on their home field. Two of the most creative minds in the Big Ten square off in Penn State's Bill O'Brien and Ohio State's Urban Meyer. The Horseshoe should be rocking for this one.
The Nittany Lions will almost assuredly be an underdog here, but they will have had an extra week to prepare with a bye in Week 8. That will give O'Brien plenty of time to develop some new wrinkles to throw at Ohio State. Still, this will easily be the biggest road test of the season for the Lions and whichever first-year starting quarterback they decide to go with.
I'm greatly looking forward to the matchup between the best receiver in the league (Penn State's Allen Robinson) versus the Big Ten's top cornerback (Ohio State's Bradley Roby). O'Brien's plethora of tight ends could also cause some trouble for Ohio State's young linebackers, though Ryan Shazier had a big game in Beaver Stadium last season. If the Buckeyes win this one, they figure to be heavily favored in their next three games (at Purdue, at Illinois, vs. Indiana) and could head into the finale at Michigan with a division title -- or perhaps even national championship implications -- on the line.
But that's getting ahead of ourselves. This looks like a classic late October Big Ten showdown. All we need is a little snow to make it perfect.
Week 1: Adam at Northwestern-Cal, Brian at Purdue-Cincinnati
Week 2: Brian and Adam at Notre Dame-Michigan
Week 3: Brian at UCLA-Nebraska, Adam at Wisconsin-Arizona State
Week 4: Adam at Michigan State-Notre Dame, Brian at Purdue-Wisconsin
Week 5: Adam at Wisconsin-Ohio State, Brian at Wisconsin-Ohio State
Week 6: Adam at Ohio State-Northwestern, Brian at Penn State-Indiana
Week 7: Adam at Penn State-Michigan, Brian at Northwestern-Wisconsin
Week 8: Brian at Iowa-Ohio State, Adam at Indiana-Michigan