Dienhart's best of the 2014 BTN bus tour

The BTN bus traveled almost 4,000 miles, beginning in Bloomington, Ind., on Aug. 4 and ending in Champaign, Ill., on Aug. 20. We have kicked the tires on all 14 teams one last time—watching practice, talking to players, talking to coaches–before the season kicks off next week. Deep breath!

Here is my best of the 2014 BTN bus tour.

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BEST CAMPUSES

1. Penn State. You just can’t beat the backdrop of Mount Nittany on this hilly, bucolic campus. If Hollywood were to cast a college campus, it should be this one.

2. Wisconsin. The Capitol building is a majestic anchor to this sprawling “urbany” campus. If that isn’t enough, there’s Lake Monona and Lake Mendota to amp-up the “cool” factor. Still not impressed? Take a stroll down State Street toward the Union. See what I mean? Sure you do, Bucky.

3. Maryland. Plenty of rolling hills across this majestic campus to go along with a vibrant “strip” on Baltimore Avenue. It’s a slice of college life tucked amid a bustling urban area. It’s called “the best of both worlds.”

4. Michigan. The place just screams “college.” From the stately architecture to an eclectic downtown area that is unmatched on any Big Ten campus. (State Street and Main Street are off-the-charts.) If you can’t learn and have fun at this place—then I feel sorry for you.

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BEST MEALS

1. LeadBellys in Lincoln. If you wanna burger, head to this Haymarket hot spot. Get the Huevos Ranchero burger, which is topped with a fried egg.

2. J.D. Hoyt’s in Minneapolis. This is Jerry Kill’s recommendation. Get the Cajun pork chop. Inhale … exhale … relax.

3. The Triple XXX in West Lafayette. It’s Indiana’s oldest drive-in. The place sits on a hill and is painted orange and black. You can’t miss it. It’s on State Street as you head to campus. If you order breakfast, get the Drew Brees’ Special. If you order lunch, get the Duane Purvis All-American. Get the root beer, too.

4. Red Hawk in Ann Arbor. An oaken eatery in the heart of downtown, the lamb burger is worth the visit. And that’s just the beginning.

5. Ledo Restaurant in College Park. Don’t need a menu. Just order the pizza. Trust me. You’re welcome.

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BEST INTERVIEWS

1. Purdue RB Akeem Hunt. He doesn’t lack for confidence, saying his football speed is on par with Big Ten sprint champ and fellow Boiler RB Raheem Mostert.

2. Illinois RB Josh Ferguson. Thoughtful, introspective, smart. This is the type of young man others should aspire to be like.

3. Minnesota RB David Cobb. Funny, witty, introspective, Cobb is an outstanding young man who has matured into one of the finest runners in the Big Ten.

4. Ohio State DT Michael Bennett. He’s the anti-football star, just a regular guy who just so happens to be one of the best players in the Big Ten. Get the feeling football doesn’t define who he is.

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MOST PHYSICALLY IMPOSING

1. Purdue OL Corey Clements. The JC transfer has the honor of being the Big Ten’s heaviest player. He checks in at 6-8, 400 pounds. I believe it. I just don’t wanna feed him—or buy him pants.

2. Wisconsin OL Rob Havenstein. At 6-8, 333, Havenstein is a sun-blocker. Not sure how many calories a day it takes to sustain his girth. He’s on my team at the next “man vs. food” challenge.

3. Rutgers OT Keith Lumpkin. At 6-8, 320, Lumpkin is a hulking giant. And what is scary is the fact the guy can move pretty well. It’s just not fair.

4. Nebraska DE Randy Gregory. He is listed at 6-6, but it seems like he is 7-feet tall. And he is a walking, talking human wedge. And did I mention he’s really fast, too?

5. Iowa OT Brandon Scherff. Yes, at 6-5, 315, he’s physically imposing. But he carries his tough guy persona off the field, too. All business, all the time. Who has time to smile and joke when you are the nation’s best offensive tackle? Exactly. No one in the world can be tougher. No one.

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BEST-LOOKING TEAMS

1. Ohio State. No shock: The Buckeyes have the most talent in the Big Ten. This is the closest thing to what an NFL team looks like.

2. Michigan State. No team looks better coming out of the locker room than the Spartans. This team is full of imposing looking specimens, especially across the defensive line. You should see true frosh DT Malik McDowell … mercy.

3. Nebraska. Bo Pelini has a nice collection of talent, especially across the defensive front. It sounds like all four projected starters will be NFL players. And I’m glad I don’t have to try to tackle RB Imani Cross.

4. Michigan. Look, from now until the end of time, Michigan always will have stud football players who fit the classic blueprint. The issue from year to year: Will they reach their potential? Regardless, these guys pass the proverbial eyeball test.

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BEST MOMENTS

1. The Ohio State circle drill. Nothing gets the blood flowing or adrenaline pumping more than watching a horde of players gather around two lonely combatants in an old-fashioned man vs. man battle. Two men enter—one leaves as winner. It’s like an old playground fight.

2. The watermelon eating contest at Camp Kenosha. Always fun. Always frivolity. Who won? Who cares? Bury face in melons, eat, spit seeds, enjoy. No moms are around to nag about the mess, too!

3. Watching Brady Hoke coach the d-line. The Michigan boss man has a passion for teaching. Just watch him work. This is how Hoke gets that raspy voice.

4. At Michigan State’s practice, construction workers broke a pipe that caused a gas leak. The practice moved across the street to a band practice field. Then, storm clouds moved in, forcing the team back across the street to its now-gas-free indoor facility. You gotta be flexible, people.

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MOST SPIRITED PRACTICES

1. Ohio State. Led by strength and conditioning guru Mickey Marotti, the Buckeyes go at frenetic pace from period to period. It’s all about tempo and pace. You sweat just watching these guys.

2. Penn State. Spirits were high in State College the day we were there. James Franklin is the chief cheerleader, pushing and exhorting his troops. Everyone has a little extra pep in their step.

3. Purdue. No lollygagging between stations and periods in their practice. Coaches were constantly harping on hustling, finishing, moving. It’s all about ingraining a sense of urgency in a program that needs it.

4. Northwestern. A purple-and-white blur at Camp Kenosha. And it ends with a carnival-like watermelon eating contest. Hey, you have to break up the monotony. Lots of energy throughout. Credit Pat Fitzgerald, who looks like he still could play.

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MOST INTENSE COACHES

1. Brian Ferentz, Iowa. The son of Kirk Ferentz, Brian is an ultra-intense offensive line coach who is very blunt and to the point. He’s also loud—and intimidating.

2. Kerry Combs, Ohio State. A cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator, Coombs isn’t a big man. But he makes up for it with big volume and very high energy. Where does it come from? Amazing.

3. Rick Kaczenski, Nebraska. The former Notre Dame d-lineman coaches the Huskers d-front. And he gets after it with the ferocity of a drill sergeant.

4. Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State. He’s all over the field, coaching like his job is on the line. And you want intense? He was screaming at the practice refs the day we visited as if was the Rose Bowl. Narduzzi is always “on.”

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ALL-HAIR TEAM

1. Kenny Bell WR Nebraska. “Afro Thunder” strikes again. Oscar Gamble and Lamont Sanford would be proud. Thanks for reminding me of the 1970s, Kenny!

2. C.J. Beathard QB Iowa. His long, blonde, flowing locks surely make the coeds weak-kneed when they walk across campus.

3. James Franklin Penn State. Bald is beautiful! Right, James? Oh, and he gave me a birthday cake, so I have to include him, right?

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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12 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (12 Comments)
Josh on 8/21/2014 @ 12:30pm EDT Said:

Why do you hate IU so much? Geez.

Alex on 8/21/2014 @ 12:31pm EDT Said:

No Indiana love?

smokybandit on 8/21/2014 @ 12:50pm EDT Said:

You got a birthday cake from James Franklin and that didn’t make your best moment list?

corey white on 8/21/2014 @ 1:57pm EDT Said:

When can I see a re showing of the pennstate bus tour

Jeff on 8/21/2014 @ 2:01pm EDT Said:

I guess you’ll have to let your season speak for you.

G Hale on 8/21/2014 @ 2:47pm EDT Said:

Under no criteria is Indiana or Northwestern not considered the best looking campuses in the BigTen. If you are only looking at Football Stadiums, Ohio Stadium is in the top 3.. Dienhart shows a bias that is constant with either a great meal or an intern for the evening. Pay attn to the campuses the next time you travel around the BigTen, you might learn something. Wisc on over Northwestern or Indiana? Wow that’s just dumb!!

Greg on 8/21/2014 @ 5:07pm EDT Said:

I agree with others above. I realize the top teams have more talent, but this site just like ESPN only talks about the top teams in the B1G in most cases.

Bob on 8/21/2014 @ 5:18pm EDT Said:

It does seem like ALL the love centers around your 4 favorites

motownwalt on 8/21/2014 @ 5:44pm EDT Said:

Too much predictable, repetitive Dienhart love for the U. of Michigan — “a top campus”? He must be joking! If you like to go to class next to a tattoo parlor, maybe … Michigan State is far more beautiful. IU is also a much more beautiful campus. Maybe Dienhart should have just said “best meals”, rather than “best campus”.

Moonunit on 8/21/2014 @ 6:41pm EDT Said:

Husker fan here, but have to agree with G HALE that Northwestern has the best looking campus in the BIG and Indiana should certainly be considered over some of those listed.With that said, there are some great campuses scattered thru BIG country.

Sean on 8/22/2014 @ 10:35pm EDT Said:

I’d take Madison over Evanston or Bloomington any day of the week.