These 10 non-conference Big Ten football games will establish the conference’s identity in 2016. If the league wants to be the big conference on the block, it’ll get its chances this offseason in several high-profile showdowns.
10. Iowa State at Iowa, Sept. 10
It’s always an interesting rivalry battle, but now it takes on an even bigger significance with Matt Campbell taking over the Iowa State job and with Iowa looking to be back in the CFP hunt.
9. North Carolina at Illinois, Sept. 10
Lovie Smith gets a tune-up against Murray State before hosting the Tar Heels. Come up with one win over North Carolina, and the Illinois attention will kick in.
8. Duke at Northwestern, Sept. 17
The Wildcats’ 19-10 win over the Blue Devils on the road last year – combined with the opening win over Stanford – helped the season take of. This time around, it comes a week before facing Nebraska.
7. Penn State at Pitt, Sept. 10
It’s the 96th win meeting between the two, but the first since 2000 when the Panthers won 12-0. It’ll be a home statement for Pat Narduzzi’s Pitt team, but the Nittany Lions should be terrific. It should be a defensive battle just before …
6. Temple at Penn State, Sept. 17
There’s no looking past the Owls now after what happened last season. It’s a home sandwich game in between Pitt and Michigan, and Penn State will come in very, very angry.
5. BYU at Michigan State. Oct. 8
It’s the first ever meeting between the two programs, and it’s in the midst of MSU’s Big Ten season. The Spartans are coming home after going to Indiana and before Northwestern, while it’s just another nasty date in a brutal BYU schedule.
4. Oregon at Nebraska, Sept. 17
Nebraska whumped Oregon 48-14 in 1986, but this time around it’s a big, big moment for Mike Riley and his Husker team that desperately needs a statement win. It would’ve been more interesting if former Nebraska QB Scott Frost was still the Oregon offensive coordinator, but he’s now the head man at UCF – the Duck O should still roll.
3. Michigan State at Notre Dame, Sept. 17
Notre Dame will have already have played Texas on the road, while the Spartans will be rested after starting out against Furman and with 15 days off to prepare. With Wisconsin up next, MSU will have a make-or-break late September.
2. LSU at Wisconsin (in Green Bay), Sept. 3
Out of all the amazing games in the opening weekend, this might be the most interesting. The Badgers always play hard and well, but they don’t seem able to win games like this. If LSU really is a true national title contender, getting it done in Lambeau Field will help shape the season.
1. Ohio State at Oklahoma, Sept. 17
It’s about as close to a College Football Playoff matchup as it gets. The loser, though, might be out of the race, or at least won’t have any room for more errors. It’s only the second all-time meeting between the two superpowers, with the Buckeyes winning 24-14 in Norman in 1983, while the Sooners won a 29-28 classic in Columbus in 1977.