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Big Ten bloggers roundtable: Pre-season edition

Before we get to the return of the Big Ten bloggers’ roundtable I have to thank Boilderdowd over at Boiled Sports. He and his brother recently converted a number of Purdue games from VHS to DVD, and Boilerdowd was kind enough to save the VHS copies from the dumpster. This afternoon I ventured out from downtown Indy to the mean streets of Fishers to meet my counterpart and pick them up. I’ve already enjoyed the Purdue-Ohio State game from 2000, and have a number of other tapes to peruse. I am one happy Boilermaker today.

Tom over at Gopher Nation has been kind enough to restart the Big Ten bloggers’ roundtable with a preseason edition concerning rivalries. The impetus behind this decision was everyone’s favorite new Big Ten coach, Rich Rodriguez and ESPN’s designated blogger Adam Rittenberg. Rivalries have long been a part of Big Ten football, as everyone in the conference has two trophy games, while many have three. Some are better known than others, obviously. Here is what I had to say about Tom’s questions.

1. ESPN's Adam Rittenberg recently ranked the top 5 rivalries in the Big Ten and there were some controversial results (Illinois v Ohio State as #3?). Clearly Ohio State vs. Michigan is the #1 rivalry in the Big Ten, but give me your next three. Your school does not have to be included in this list, but regardless of who you choose defend your picks.

This is very interesting because I haven’t given much thought to the other rivalries. Does one take them in a larger historical context, or simply a series of wildly entertaining games of late. Other rivalries haven’t nearly had the effect that Michigan-Ohio State has had on the Big Ten in either case, but they have been entertaining. Here are my three:

Michigan-Michigan State – I think there is some deep-seat animosity here, and a number of close games in recent years that have come down to the final play. Michigan State is certainly tired of being called "little brother", but they are the only team in the conference that has to suffer this derogatory moniker. That’s pretty cold, in my opinion. If Michigan struggles this year, expect a "Ralphie attacks the bully in A Christmas Story" type of vengeance.

Minnesota-Wisconsin – This on hiatus until Minnesota gets better, but any rivalry that gets people to run around on crowded football field with sharp objects gets my vote. I loved the moment a couple of years ago when Minnesota won Paul Bunyan’s Axe back on a last second field goal. The kicker, before the ball was even through the uprights, ran to the Wisconsin bench and whipped out the axe.

Penn State-Ohio State – This game always seems to be one of the bigger midseason games, and you can guarantee 100,000+ butts in the seats for a likely prime time event. This year should be no different, as Penn State may have the best chance of anyone of dethroning the Buckeyes. Since it is in the Horseshoe, I doubt it, but who gave Illinois a chance there last season. I almost went with Penn state-Michigan here, but it has been pretty one sided. The Wolverines did cost the Nittany Lions a chance at the national title a few years ago by a single play. Obviously winning every game is important and beating really good teams sends a stronger message than beating Minnesota.

2. Assume every team is .500 this year and the outcome of your next two games means nothing outside of pride and a year's worth of bragging rights. Give me the two schools you would want to beat (in order) and why. What makes beating School's A and B significant?

This one is easy. The first one is Notre Dame. They aren’t a conference opponent, but I am tired of their air of self importance over Purdue. The Boilers have been a respectable 5-6 against them under coach Tiller, but if you talk to many Notre Dame fans all five wins were absolute flukes. Over the past 11 years Purdue has a better overall record, played in more bowls, and has played better in said bowls (even actually winning four of them) than the vaunted Irish. Despite that, we’re treated like Sister’s of the Poor and Blind and an "automatic win" on the schedule. I would love nothing more than to beat them in South Bend this season and send them to another appalling loss. The 2004 victory there was one of the best games I have ever watched on TV.

The second is Indiana. It’s not so much that we gain much if we beat them, but if we lose it puts a sour note on the entire offseason. Notre Dame has been up and down, but they have had some good teams beat us in recent years. The Hoosiers are still perceived as awful. When we lose the bucket to them I have this picture in my mind of Pete starting at the empty dust ring in the Mollenkopf trophy case with a date circled on a calendar nearby. It just doesn’t feel right now having the Bucket.

3. Take the two teams from above that you claim are your biggest rivals and give me a new mascot for them.

Indiana has never had an official mascot, but my dad has always described a Hoosier as, "a hillbilly with the sense kicked out of him." I’m sure that allows you paint your own lovely picture of Skynard T-shirts, cutoff jeans, mullets, and 1983 Trans Am’s blarring REO Speedwagon.

For the Irish they merely need a guy dressed up as a dusty, 20+ year old trophy. Since they haven’t won anything of note since the Reagan administration it is quite appropriate. Or, you could go with an oversized alarm clock costume so they can wake up the dormant echoes. There are some new rules in college football this year.

4. My favorite is the Big Ten experimental rule which states that after every win this year you get to pluck one player off their roster and bring them back to your campus. Looking at your schedule give me two players you would pluck (assuming a win), why you would take them and what would you do with them?

The first is James Laurinaitis from Ohio State. Purdue is in desperate need of linebacking help, so why not pilfer the best one in the league. I’m starting to think our defense might be much better than people are giving us credit for, but linebacker is still the weakest link. If everyone is healthy we’ll be alright, but we cannot afford any injuries, especially here.

The second is Oregon safety Patrick Chung He’s one of the best players in the country at the position, and as the only Big Ten team playing the Ducks this season I want to take advantage of something that no one else in the conference can do. He’s listed as a rover, so he can play a little bit of everywhere in the back seven.

5. Brian at MGO was kind enough to post a diary entry which gives us and new coach Rich Rodriguez a list of Michigan traditions that maybe we were not all aware of. This has inspired two final questions...

5A - are there any Michigan traditions that he missed? (here is your chance for some Michigan cheap shots)

Well, there is the bi-annual tradition of taking a good Purdue team behind the woodshed in Ann Arbor. In 1999, 2001, and 2003 Purdue headed north as a top 10 team and didn’t even come close to a victory. We’re still waiting on our first win there since Griese was quarterback, and I am not referring to Brian for them. This past season we weren’t in the top 10, but it was our worst effort there in a series of bad games. Ironically, I thought it was our best shot.

5B - Are there any traditions of your school's rival that we should all be aware of?

I actually respect that Indiana is trying to build tradition with The Rock and the stadium walk. It’s easy to rag on the Hoosiers, but I want them to get better and for the Bucket game to actually carry some meaning nationally. We have to do our own part first, but it means Indiana has to do that part as well. Traditions have to start some time, Indiana just happened to get to their late.

As far as Notre Dame goes, I think we’re all a little tired of hearing about their tradition. At least they have a new one of losing bowl games, getting destroyed when they play in BCS bowls, and a 1 game losing streak to Navy.