Andrew Logue's ultimate Big Ten football road trip
Originally published on 7/10/2014
A new divisional alignment based on geography. Old rivalries that date back decades. And the perennial quest for roses.
No offense to Maryland and Rutgers, but from an Iowa perspective, not much has really changed in the Big Ten.
In fact, anyone planning a road trip through the conference might skip College Park, Md., and Piscataway, N.J., altogether.
That's not a knock. Tradition simply plays a huge role when it comes to setting itineraries.
Outside of the Hawkeyes' Oct. 18 visit to Maryland's Byrd Stadium, most of the focus will be on more familiar stomping grounds.
Will Ohio State's Horseshoe be home to another Heisman Trophy winner? Will the East Division title be determined in East Lansing, Mich.?
Do the Hawkeyes have an inside track to the West Division crown, with Wisconsin and Nebraska coming to Kinnick Stadium?
Let's be honest, the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins are on the periphery.
Scan the schedules, and it's difficult to find a week when our attention won't be diverted away from the conference's newest members.
Their time will come, eventually. But for now, all paths lead to Indianapolis and the Big Ten championship game.
The following is a few suggested detours:
Aug. 30: Wisconsin vs. Louisiana State, in Houston, Texas
The skinny: The revamped Badgers, with 14 new starters under second-year coach Gary Andersen, kick off the season against a Tigers team that beat Iowa in the Outback Bowl. For tailback Melvin Gordon (2,328 career yards, 8.1 per carry), it's a chance to take a lead in the Heisman race.
Who wins: LSU's six returning lettermen on defense combined for just one takeaway last fall. Expect an increase this fall.
Sept. 6: Michigan State at Oregon
The skinny: An era of college football playoffs begins, and this is the sort of game that can pad resumes. The Spartans are coming off a Rose Bowl victory, while the Ducks have won at least 10 games in each of the past six seasons.
Who wins: Defense is Oregon's Achilles' heel (giving up a total of 77 points to Arizona and Oregon State last November), but Michigan State's offense is less than imposing. So go with the Ducks.
Sept. 13: Minnesota at Texas Christian
The skinny: Joining the Big 12 brought the Horned Frogs mixed blessings, with an 11-14 record the past two seasons. The Gophers have posted a 17-21 mark in three seasons under coach Jerry Kill. A victory in Fort Worth would provide a boost for either team.
Who wins: Kill's health issues last year tested Minnesota's resiliency, and they responded with 195.2 rushing yards per game. That's enough to run over TCU.
Sept. 20: Indiana at Missouri
The skinny: With 38.4 points per game, the Hoosiers' offense ranked 16th out of 125 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision programs. The problem is, their defense gave up 38.8 points (116th nationally). Indiana gained 377 yards a year ago against the Tigers, but never held a lead, losing 45-28.
Who wins: If this rematch was taking place in Bloomington, the Hoosiers might be poised for an upset. Missouri will defend its turf.
Sept. 27: Northwestern at Penn State
The skinny: Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg took over the Nittany Lions offense last season, completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns. He'll help accelerate a transition under new Penn State coach James Franklin, who posted a 24-15 record in three seasons at Vanderbilt.
Who wins: It's hard to imagine Northwestern repeating last year's 5-7 fiasco. The Wildcats will win their Big Ten opener.
Oct. 4: Nebraska at Michigan State
The skinny: A rebuilt offensive line may be the difference between Nebraska winning the Big Ten West and slipping to also-ran status. Senior guard Jake Cotton is the lone returner. Left tackle Alex Lewis transferred from Colorado. They'll be blocking for running back Ameer Abdullah, who rushed for 1,690 in 2013.
Who wins: The Spartans won last year's meeting 41-28, and the Cornhuskers have even more offensive concerns this time around.
Oct. 11: Penn State at Michigan
The skinny: If you do a Google search for "Brady Hoke, hot seat" you'll get 15,200 results, including articles from the Detroit Free Press, Fox Sports and even Maizenbrew.com. That seems sort of harsh, considering Hoke is 26-13 since taking over the program in 2011.
Who wins: People tend to overlook the fact Hoke is 19-2 in Ann Arbor. Let's give Michigan the edge.
Oct. 18: Nebraska at Northwestern
The skinny: Seven starters return to the Wildcats' defense, including senior linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo. He recorded 106 tackles last season, with seven takedowns and an interception in a 27-24 loss to the Cornhuskers. Northwestern recovered just 36.4 percent of its forced fumbles, and creating turnovers will again be key.
Who wins: Nebraska, but Wildcats running back Venric Mark is fun to watch. If he can stay healthy, he'll be a handful.
Oct. 25: Michigan at Michigan State
The skinny: The Spartans play Ohio State, Nebraska and the Wolverines at home. They host Wyoming a week before the Cornhuskers arrive and have a week off before taking on the Buckeyes. But Michigan State will have consecutive road games at Purdue and Indiana prior to Michigan's arrival.
Who wins: Hoke and the Wolverines need a signature triumph, and this is it.
Nov. 1: Northwestern at Iowa
The skinny: This is perhaps the best rivalry in the Big Ten that nobody talks about. Since 2000, the Hawkeyes and Wildcats have split their 12 meetings, and nearly each one felt like a nail-biter. Both bring experienced defenses into this season, so expect a low-scoring grudge match.
Who wins: Momentum matters. Northwestern plays a rugged nonconference slate, and will meet Penn State, Wisconsin and Nebraska before heading to Iowa City.
Nov. 8: Ohio State at Michigan State
The skinny: In last year's Big Ten championship game, the Spartans squashed notions of Ohio State's superiority by winning 34-24. It was quarterback Connor Cook who emerged as the star, throwing for 304 yards and three touchdowns. He also engineered two fourth-quarter scoring drives.
Who wins: This time, the East Division title could be on the line. As much as I respect Mark Dantonio, it's hard to imagine Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer falling short two years in a row.
Nov. 15: Northwestern at Notre Dame
The skinny: Why is this a big game? Because the Irish could be a top-10 team, and the Wildcats could strike a late-season blow for the Big Ten by knocking them off, in front of a national audience on NBC. These opportunities don't usually come around until bowl games are set.
Who wins: Brian Kelly will feel the frustrations that once haunted Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.
Nov. 22: Wisconsin at Iowa
The skinny: Something tells me the Hawkeyes are destined to finish second in the West. Not because they can't beat the Badgers. I just have an eerie feeling they'll stub their toe sometime before meeting Wisconsin. Iowa is the sort of program that never gets blown out. It also tends to let other teams hang around.
Who wins: These programs tend to mirror each other, but I like what I'm seeing in Iowa. Experience on offense is the difference maker.
Nov. 29: Michigan at Ohio State
The skinny: This series is full of signature moments, especially when it comes to Heisman Trophy candidates making their claim to the sport's ultimate individual honor. Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller (3,162 total yards and 36 touchdowns in 2013) is considered the front-runner. Is this the day he clinches the deal?
Who wins: No upset here. Ohio State thumps the Wolverines.
Dec. 6: Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis
The skinny: If either Rutgers of Maryland makes it to Lucas Oil Stadium, I'll write a formal apology. I'm guessing it will be Wisconsin (favorable schedule) and Ohio State.
Who wins: The Buckeyes roll, earning a spot in the Rose Bowl/national playoff semifinal.