Get Tom Dienhart's best of the 2015 BTN summer football tour


Get Tom Dienhart's best of the 2015 BTN summer football tour

The Big Ten Network bus has screeched to a halt. The football tour is complete. Over, finished, gone, done, out. But, the memories from the 14-stop trip burn on forever.

[ MORE: See Tom Dienhart’s one takeaway from every Big Ten camp ]

Here is the Best of the 2015 Tour.


Penn State. I dare anyone to stroll across this bucolic campus and not fall in love with majesty of what is the quintessential college hamlet. There’s classic architecture, grassy knolls and way-cool Beaver and College Avenues all ringed in Happy Valley.

Wisconsin. Situated on an isthmus between Lakes Monona and Lake Mendota, this is pure nirvana. Kick back at the Terrace to watch the boats and life pass by. And stroll down State Street to the Capitol building, the best walk in the Big Ten.

Indiana. The gentle hills that crisscross the campus serve as a nice backdrop for the limestone-themed buildings. Bloomington just screams “college town.” Don’t believe me? Meander down Kirkwood Avenue, which will spill you right onto campus. You won’t want to leave.

Maryland. There is a stateliness and southern charm that permeates the College Park campus, which is dominated by red brick buildings with columns and expansive green spaces. Baltimore Ave. isn’t too bad, either.



The Old Fashioned, Madison. If you wanna chow down on a menu dedicated to all of the heart-clogging food that makes Wisconsin great, prepare to wait … a long time … at his noisy joint on the Capitol Square. I ordered the No. 32, a Sheboygan grand champion Miesfeld Market double brat with onions, pickles and brown mustard. Call 9-1-1.

Tony’s Diner, Minneapolis. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but don’t be fooled. The place is understated diner gold located in the heart of Dinkytown on SE 4th Street. You can get breakfast anytime. And, please do. I suggest the Greek omelet.



Jolly Pumpkin, Ann Arbor. If you aren’t paying attention, you’ll walk right by this gem on Main Street. Big mistake. Stop in, sit down and order the lamb burger. It comes with a fried egg on top with a to-die-for bun.

Crunchy’s, East Lansing. The quintessential “elbows on the table” joint—yes, “joint,” not restaurant—order the Famous Crunchy Burger. Then, eat, smile and enjoy … and talk Michigan State sports with the guy at the next table.

Lazlo’s Brewery and Grill, Lincoln. When in Nebraska, do as Nebraskans: Eat a steak. So, that’s what I did at Lazlo’s in the bustling Haymarket area. The 12-oz Ribeye will make the offensive linemen that lives inside all of us happy.



Dan Vitale, Northwestern. The Wildcat Superback is my new favorite player in the Big Ten. He just looks like a football player, a true run-through-the-wall tough guy from a black-and-white era who has scars on his nose and forehead to prove it. But he’s poised and composed in front of a camera—and quick with a quip.

Jack Conklin, Michigan State. I’m gonna get this right out of the way—the world needs more Jack Conklins. The stud offensive tackle has a special story, going from walk-on to All-American to likely first-round NFL pick. Conklin is thoughtful, introspective and best of all … humble.

Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State. He not only is a fast, physical runner, but Elliott also can turn a phrase.

Josh Ferguson, Illinois. Charming, engaging, personable … I wish he was my son.



Steven Richardson, DT, Minnesota. If a fire hydrant came to life, this is what it would look like. The sophomore could not possibly find anywhere else to pack muscle on his 6-0, 300-pound frame.

Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin. He’s 5-11, 217 pounds of sinewy muscle which his shirt can’t contain. All the better to batter opponents with en route to a 1,500-yard rushing season, right? Right.

Keith Lumpkin, OT, Rutgers. Standing 6-8 and weighing 320 pounds, Lumpkin is a man mountain who envelopes opponents—and anyone standing near the Scarlet Knight monolith. And his background as a one-time basketball recruit is apparent in how Lumpkin moves his feet. Humans this big shouldn’t be this athletic.

Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State. Sculpted. There really is no other way to describe the Adonis-like physique of this god-like half-man/half-monster in Columbus. In a word, Bosa is a “manster.”



Ohio State. This is the closest thing to an NFL team in the Big Ten. Even the long-snapper looks like he could kick sand into the face of a defensive tackle from a MAC school.

Michigan State. These guys look like they jumped off the pages of Joe Weider’s Muscle & Fitness magazine. Check out the pythons on some of these guys. DE Shilique Calhoun has muscles in places where other people don’t have places.

Nebraska. No matter who is coaching this program, there always is a lot of “meat on the hoof.” Big, large and nasty … and I’m just talking about running back Imani Cross.

Michigan. Don’t let anyone ever tell you talent has been the issue in Ann Arbor in recent years. This team has players, studs and BMOCs galore.



No union. Just as BTN was wrapping up interviews at Northwestern’s Camp Kenosha, news broke that the NLRB said NU players cannot form a union. Historic stuff when juxtaposed to the frivolity of the watermelon eating contest the players had just finished moments earlier.

Where’s Jim? When it came time to talk to BTN on the set at Michigan, new head coach Jim Harbaugh was a no-show, the first time a coach didn’t join our set in the history of the BTN summer tour. Yes, Harbaugh can get away with that.

Breaking bread. The good folks at the Welcome Wagon have nothing on Penn State, which always rolls out a mile-long red carpet for BTN. This year, we had a nice meal/confab with Nittany Lions A.D. Sandy Barbour and affable head coach James Franklin stopped by with some assistants. But that wasn’t even the best part: The rumaki was fab.

Equal rights. Rutgers had a woman official working the scrimmage we watched. Progressive.

New deal. While at Minnesota, Jerry Kill got a contract extension. Was it something BTN said?

Summer fun. Indiana set up a big slip and slide in Memorial Stadium. And, the players acted like 8-year-olds and did a lot of slipping and sliding after a long, hot practice. Too bad I forgot my trunks.

Club Ice. That’s what Rutgers calls its post-practice ice tube area, where flashing lights and pulsating music bring a Studio 54 vibe to a mundane process. Who knew cooling down could be so cool? Bring your own gold chain and platform shoes.

Iowa digs. I got a tour of Iowa’s new football facilities. Three words:
1. Beaut
2. I
3. ful



Northwestern. Lots of whooping, hollering and hitting. What else would you expect from the Big Ten’s most rah-rah coach Pat Fitzgerald?

Michigan. The vibe in Ann Arbor was all-business, all the time. The NFL influence of Jim Harbaugh and his staff was apparent, as everyone went about their duties with a quiet professionalism. No yelling, no music … just teaching.

Penn State. James Franklin sets the tone here. And, as you would guess, it is high-intensity. Franklin parades around, often shouting instructions … or down-and-distance situations the team must react to. Is there a day that goes by when Franklin doesn’t wake up ready to seize the day? Doubt it.

Indiana. Lots of clapping and unified cheering among the troops in Bloomington. Even the coaches were into it … really into it. This was fun. Sorta made me almost want to run a few 40-yard dashes … almost.



Brian Ferentz, Iowa. He’s big. He’s loud. He’s intimidating. And, I think the offensive line coach/run game coordinator knows it. God help your soul if he catches you loafing.

Kerry Coombs, Ohio State. The cornerbacks coach is proof explosive things come in small packages. Coombs has a thick shock of white hair that never moves as he screams like the “Full Metal Jacket” drill sergeant. It is impressive.

Jerry Kill, Minnesota. If anyone doubts the health and general vitality of Kill, go watch him coach. He is a dervish of intensity who is quick to chirp at a player if he spies a teaching moment. No detail is too small or inconsequential. That’s why Kill is so good.

Greg Frey, Indiana. You know that phrase, “coaches like his hair is on fire?” That’s the Hoosiers’ offensive line/co-Offensive coordinator.

Greg Hudson, Purdue. The defensive coordinator is built like a grizzly bear and growls like one. Oh, and he can spice his teaching lessons with some humor, too. I wanna play for this guy—and then go hang out and ride Harleys with him.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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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