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.
We recently wrapped up a video series looking at the most important game in the 2013 season for each Big Ten team. Now it's time to go macro. So Today's Take Two topic is this: Which game is the most important one in the Big Ten this season?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
It's far too obvious to say Ohio State-Michigan, and I tend to think that as Big Ten division games are the most important ones in the regular season, anyway. I'm having a difficult time choosing which team should be the favorite in the crowded Legends Division, which is why I think the Nov. 9 game between Nebraska and Michigan is the most important game of the season. Think about how crucial that game has been the past couple of years. The Wolverines' loss in Lincoln last year paved the way for the Huskers to make the Big Ten championship game. In 2011, Michigan's win in Ann Arbor was a big key to their Sugar Bowl bid. The latest meeting should prove similarly pivotal this fall, and the Wolverines own a big advantage by having it at the Big House, where they've yet to lose a game under Brady Hoke. We could have two big-time offenses led by dynamic quarterbacks in Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Michigan's Devin Gardner, although the Huskers defense will need to make strides for Bo Pelini's team to achieve true contender status.
No offense to Northwestern and Michigan State, who should also compete for the Legends title. But Michigan and Nebraska appear to me to have the best blend of talent and schedule in the division. The winner of that Nov. 9 game could well find itself in the driver's seat for a trip to Indianapolis and possibly a BCS bid.
Take 2: Adam Rittenberg
Good call on Nebraska-Michigan, and I agree that division games take on added importance. I looked at the Leaders division and selected a game that has had tremendous importance in recent years and could once again shape the Rose Bowl race this season: Wisconsin-Ohio State. The Leaders division certainly lacks the depth found in the Legends, especially with Penn State ineligible for postseason play. Although Wisconsin and Ohio State meet in late September, the winner will have the inside track to represent the division in Indianapolis.
Wisconsin's win against Ohio State in 2010 propelled the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. The teams have played close contests in each of the past two years, both won by Ohio State. Both teams will still be figuring a few things out early in the season, whether it's Ohio State's defensive front seven or Wisconsin's quarterback and secondary. Sure, Ohio State should enter the game as a sizable favorite, but don't sleep on Wisconsin. The Badgers return 25 seniors on a team that only knows winning, Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl appearances. There could be some growing pains under Gary Andersen and a new staff, but the Badgers have enough experience and talent to once again challenge Ohio State. Arguably no defense performed better against Buckeyes star quarterback Braxton Miller in 2012 than the Badgers.
The division race won't be settled Sept. 28 in Columbus, but the winner of Buckeyes-Badgers labels itself as the team to beat. Big, big game.