We'd love to have an unlimited travel budget, free reign on our choice of assignments and the ability to go to the best Big Ten game on the schedule every week. But like MGMT once sang, we're fated to pretend.
And pretending we are with this ultimate road trip. We're each picking one Big Ten game we'd like to cover each week in the 2013 season, trying our best to add in some variety among the teams and between the bloggers.
Let's take a look at the options for Week 10, the first week of November in the Big Ten:
Illinois at Penn State
Minnesota at Indiana
Northwestern at Nebraska
Michigan at Michigan State
Ohio State at Purdue
Wisconsin at Iowa
Brian's pick: Michigan at Michigan State
Finally, a full slate of games as we say bye-bye to the double bye. There are some good choices here, but I'm jumping on a plane to the mitten state to see the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. I haven't yet covered a Spartans game on this road trip, and there's no better week to be in East Lansing than this one.
Michigan snapped a four-game losing streak to its in-state rivals last year, answering Mark Dantonio's "Where's the threat?" question. But even in a rough year for Sparty, the Wolverines had to make several plays late and get a clutch field goal from Brendan Gibbons at the end to win a 12-10 slugfest at home.
Michigan State's defense has given Michigan all kinds of problems the last few years, and that should be no different with standouts like Max Bullough, Darqueze Dennard and Isaiah Lewis leading Pat Narduzzi's side of the ball in '13. But the Wolverines will present a different look with Devin Gardner at quarterback after the Spartans found ways to slow Denard Robinson down the past few years.
The real question for Dantonio's team is his offense, including whether Andrew Maxwell or one of the other quarterbacks can trigger an adequate passing game and if somebody can fill Le'Veon Bell's large shoes. If Michigan State can be just a tick better than average on offense, then it has a chance to be a serious Big Ten contender with that defense. The schedule breaks well for the Spartans, who could be 4-0 in Big Ten play after beginning with Iowa, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois. But the Michigan game will go a long way toward defining their season and letting us know whether they are a legitimate Legends Division threat. This game is always intense and hard-hitting. Save me a stool at Crunchy's.
Adam Rittenberg's pick: Wisconsin at Iowa
It's nice to see all the Big Ten teams back in action on the same Saturday. While it's extremely tempting to join Brian in East Lansing, I'm going to make the drive West on I-80 to check out the resumption of the Wisconsin-Iowa series. These two rivals haven't played since the 2010 season, when Wisconsin twice rallied from second-half deficits to win 31-30, using a fake punt to set up the game-winning touchdown. Although the Michigan-Michigan State and Northwestern-Nebraska games both should shape the Legends division race, I've yet to check out Iowa and always enjoy an early November trip to Kinnick Stadium.
After spending some time in Madison, Wis., last week, I think Gary Andersen is inheriting a pretty good team at Wisconsin. But he's not inheriting an easy schedule, especially away from home. Wisconsin's first two road trips go to Arizona State and to Ohio State. Depending on the results, the Badgers could be a battle-tested road team, confident away from familiar surroundings, or they could be shaky on foreign soil. Although Wisconsin enters the season with a better forecast than Iowa, it will be interesting to see how the Badgers perform in a hostile environment against a rival.
Both teams enter the season with uncertainty at quarterback, and both should have resolutions under center by the time this game rolls around. Both teams also should be able to run the football, creating an interesting subplot. Despite losing Doak Walker Award winner Montee Ball, Wisconsin might have the Big Ten's top running back tandem in James White and Melvin Gordon. Although running back depth has been an issue for Iowa, the Hawkeyes return several good options, including Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock. Iowa's offensive line should be a strength as the team regains the services of several starters injured in 2012. The Hawkeye ground game faces a revamped Wisconsin defense under Andersen and coordinator Dave Aranda that will line up in the 3-4 and show many different looks.
I realize my pick hinges on Iowa outperforming preseason expectations a bit, but we've seen it happen before under coach Kirk Ferentz. Besides, this is an excellent rivalry that almost certainly will be preserved annually in the new division alignment. The overall series is deadlocked at 42-42-2. Sign me up. And save me a big turkey leg.
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
Week 9: Adam at Nebraska-Minnesota, Brian at Penn State-Ohio State