Dienhart: Best of the 2013 BTN Football Tour

After 15 nights in 12 hotels and 12 cities, stretching from Lincoln, Neb., to State College, Pa., the BTN bus has come to a stop. It was a fun ride, visiting all the Big Ten schools to watch practices. It was the BTN crew’s last chance to kick the tires on each team before the start of the 2013 season.

I ate a lot of fast food and drank a lot of Red Bull while traveling the interstates of this great nation. I chowed on Arby’s on I-80; enjoyed Wendy’s on I-94; grubbed on Subway on I-70.

Along the way, I got a chance to watch a lot of sweaty football players run drills, hit, tackle, block, catch and get yelled at. It was a blast. Here’s some of the best of what I saw during my wondrous journey, along with various All-Tour Teams.

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BEST CAMPUSES

Penn State. Rolling hills, Mt. Nittany, green as far as the eye can see, classic College and Beaver Avenues … the place is the epitome of a college campus.

Wisconsin. Nothing better than walking from campus down bustling State Street toward the Capitol building.

Indiana. The place jumped right off a postcard, complete with wooded trails dropped among the beautiful limestone edifices.

Nebraska. Understated grandeur tucked adjacent to downtown Lincoln. It’s a great—and fun—combination. An overhaul of the historic Haymarket District near new Pinnacle Arena is impressive. But what’s up with the streets named for letters?

Michigan. It doesn’t get much better than walking off the classic campus and strolling along State Street, which has a great vibe. Cut across on E. Liberty Street and check out Main Street, another bustling area.

BEST MEALS

Nick’s English Hut, Bloomington, Ind. The Indiana institution is a cozy haunt near the edge of campus on Kirkwood Avenue. I asked a waitress what to get. She said the Stromboli. I nodded, ordered and thanked her on the way out.

Triple X, West Lafayette, Ind. No trip to Purdue is complete without dropping by this black-and-orange “dive” along State Street which is self-billed as “Indiana’s Oldest Drive-in.” Get the Duane Purvis All-American, a hamburger with peanut butter on it. Yes, peanut butter. Don’t judge, just enjoy.

Beggar’s Banquet, East Lansing, Mich. The place has some grit—and history–to it located on Abbot Road just off Grand River Road. Gravy on the southern omelet? Yes, please.

Misty’s, Lincoln, Neb. Come hungry, then order the king cut prime rib dinner. Quickie advice: Don’t fill up on that mini loaf of bread they bring to the table early. Oh, and wear loose-fitting pants.

State Street Brats, Madison, Wis. Red brat? White brat? It doesn’t matter. Let’s all get along. Just eat, enjoy and be happy.

Annie’s Parlour, Minneapolis. This is an iconic burger-and-fries joint located in kitchy Dinkytown. I ordered a monster called the Riverside, an open-faced burger smothered in onions and green peppers with a shot of gravy and mountain of fries. I didn’t stop there, pouring a chocolate malt down my gullet. I dialed 9-1- on my phone, stopped, then rolled over.

Stella, Iowa City. This place is just a short Chuck Long pass from Kinnick Stadium on Melrose Avenue. Get the pork tenderloin sandwich fried, which you’ll need to eat with a knife and fork. You’ll understand.

[ RELATED: Relive all of our BTN football tour coverage ]

BEST INTERVIEWS

Ryan Russell, DE, Purdue. Smart and engaging. He’s a winner even before making one sack.

Marcus Rush, DE, Michigan State. Some thought-provoking answers.

Beau Allen, NT, Wisconsin. Spend five minutes with him, and you’ll laugh at least three times—minimum.

Greg Heban, S, Indiana. He’s quick on his feet—and quick with a quip.

Derrick Wells, CB, Minnesota. He never got rattled when I asked him some fun questions; he just played along. Thanks!

BEST IMITATIONS OF MOMOLITHS (If I needed shade, I stood behind these guys)

  • Northwestern OT Sean Mertz (6-8, 295)
  • Ohio State DT Chris Carter (6-4, 341)
  • Carl Davis DT Iowa (6-5, 315)
  • Rob Havenstein OT Wisconsin (6-8, 327)
  • Zach Sterup OL Nebraska (6-8, 315)

BEST-LOOKING TEAM OUT OF LOCKER ROOM

Ohio State. Size, speed, bulk, length … it’s all there.

Michigan. Let’s begin and end with QB Devin Gardner. The guy is chiseled from granite (see for yourself) and belongs in a men’s clothing catalog. Call J. Crew and Calvin Klein.

Michigan State. The players on defense jump out, especially the linebackers. Taiwan Jones … mercy.

Nebraska. The guys who work in the trenches caught my eye, especially on defense. There is a wealth of studly looking players, which should make for a good rotation. Lots of big guys who can move.

Northwestern. Many of the players on defense look like the guys you’d typically find in Ann Arbor or Columbus. I’m talking about Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson, Chi Chi Ariguzo, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Traveon Henry, among others.

BEST MOMENTS

The traditional watermelon eating contest at Northwestern’s Camp Kenosha. This brings out the 8-year-old in all of us.

Watching unshaven and raspy voiced Brady Hoke coach the Michigan d-line. I’d follow Hoke into a burning building.

The Indiana defensive linemen going one-on-one. This was the lone practice where we really saw some great mano-a-mano hitting. Thanks, Kevin Wilson!

Listening to Urban Meyer address his team after practice. The guy is riveting. Pay attention … or else.

Watching Tim Beckman run a tackling drill. He is Mr. Five Hour Energy Drink.

BEST MOMENTS TO FORGET

The eight-hour drive between Minneapolis and Lincoln, Neb. You appreciate the power of glaciers.

The seven-hour drive between State College, Pa., and Ann Arbor, Mich. Thank goodness for satellite TV on the BTN cruiser! But I didn’t control the clicker. Sad.

The traffic jam near Youngstown, Ohio. Honk. Wait. Move. Repeat.

MOST SPIRITED PRACTICES

Northwestern. The players talked and yammered like no others during seven-on-seven drills.

Ohio State. This staff is full of leather-throated coaches.

Minnesota. No standing around; pure organization with no wasted motion.

Purdue. No lollying allowed by a staff that was in the collective ear of players. Move it or hear about it.

Michigan. Brady Hoke set the tone for an intense two-hour session that left me sweating just watching. Whew.

ALL-INTENSE ASSISTANT COACH TEAM

Jim Bridge, offensive line, Purdue. You always know where he is on the practice field. Just listen. And plug your ears.

Kerry Coombs, cornerbacks/special teams, Ohio State. Some people were born to scream. Coombs is one of them. But he’s a nice guy off the field. Really.

John Butler, defensive coordinator/cornerbacks, Penn State. A whirl of motion. First, he’s here … then, he’s there … and he’s always at level 10 on the voice meter.

Jon Fabris, defensive line, Indiana. He’s a tall, thin man who looks like he belongs on campus giving a lecture on differential equations, but don’t let that fool you.

Mike Tressel, linebackers/special teams, Michigan State. Gets. After. It.

Brian Ferentz, offensive line, Iowa. Yelling is his business … and business is good.

Rick Kaczenski, defensive line, Nebraska. He emotes passion, and teaches at a volume level that a roadie for AC/DC would appreciate.

ALL-HAIR TEAM

Beau Allen, DT, Wisconsin. Hippie hair on a massive nose tackle seems incongruous. But he gets it cut and donates it to Locks of Love.

Fou Fonoti, OT, Michigan State. The shock of black hair sticking out the back of his helmet is impossible not to notice. You can spot Fou from Row ZZZZZ.

Carlos Carvajal, TE, Purdue. Stick a finger into an outlet. That’s the “Carvajal” hairdo.

Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State. It’s long, it’s stringy, it’s kinda gross … but that’s OK. He’s an offensive lineman.

Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska. Oscar Gamble. That’s all I’m gonna say. Ask your dad.

C.J. Beathard, QB, Iowa. Those blonde locks belong in line at an In-N-Out Burger in Huntington Beach, Cally.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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3 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (3 Comments)
Brian Louwers on 8/23/2013 @ 12:51pm EDT Said:

You know why the seven-hour drive between State College and Ann Arbor was a moment to forget, don’t you? Because you were in Ohio for most of it. Nothing to see there. I’d rather chew broken glass than drive through that septic tank. And did the bus get pulled over by the staties? Consider yourselves lucky if you didn’t. They’ll ticket anything without an Ohio plate — especially if it’s coming from or going to Michigan — whether you broke the law or not.

Kyle on 8/23/2013 @ 6:06pm EDT Said:

Brian you just showed how full of blind hatred you are and have no idea what Ohio is really like. Ohio has some the most beautiful scenery and nature made things in the country. Hocking Hills is one of the most beautiful and scenic parks with nature made tunnels and rock formation. You have beautiful lakes that are a lot of fun to kayak.

You have the greatest amusement park in the world in Cedar Point and another good one in Kings Island. You have one of the top zoo’s in the world in Columbus and one of the most diverse cities in the nation.

You are just full of blind hatred and show nothing but a lack of brains. Michigan is a beautiful state as well, although I’ve never been there, my friends and pictures have shown me that it too has beautiful scenery especially around the lakes and some beautiful forests on the northern peninsula.

Kevin Benedict on 8/23/2013 @ 7:00pm EDT Said:

^^yup^^

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