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The Spartans have to navigate a host of big-time showdowns this fall.
Braxton Miller’s season-ending shoulder re-injury might be the biggest piece of offseason personnel news in all of college football this year.
It likely makes the Michigan State Spartans the team to beat in the Big Ten, and, when it comes to the B1G earning a College Football Playoff berth, all eyes now turn to Sparty’s trip to Oregon in Week 2. A win in Eugene might be a must if the Spartans want to get into the first-ever playoff.
Ohio State is still the most talented team in this league and still has a good shot to win the league title. But games at Michigan State, Penn State and Maryland are now magnified.
In the West Division, the three-team round robin at the top should be fun to track all season long until November rolls around when all three face each other in a three-week span.
1. Michigan State at Oregon (Sept. 6)
It cannot be overstated what a win for Michigan State in this game would mean for the Big Ten. So Oregon cannot overlook the rebuilt Sparty defense early in the year or the Ducks could be knocked out of playoff contention by Week 2. The schematic chess match between Marcus Mariota and Mark Dantonio's defense should be fascinating to watch.
2. Ohio State at Michigan State (Nov. 8)
Some of the luster has certainly worn off this monumental showdown but these are still the two best teams in the Big Ten. The winner of this game is still likely the East Division champ, is still likely to win the Big Ten title and is still in line to snag the final playoff spot. This should still be a physical clash of top-ranked teams.
3. Michigan at Ohio State (Nov. 29)
Yes, this game may not have as much meaning to either team at the end of the season in terms of the standings but that didn’t stop last season’s meeting from being an instant classic. Brady Hoke desperately needs wins against a rival and Ohio State could still need this game to win the division. The bottom line is a winless Wolverines-Buckeyes matchup is still must-see TV.
4. Wisconsin at Iowa (Nov. 22)
These are the top two teams in the West Division entering the season and both schedules set up for two sterling records to be on the line late in November. These two traditional rivals have produced classic battles dating back to the 1800s and this meeting marks the third straight trip for UW to Iowa City. The Badgers have won the last two in the series, which is nearly dead even at 43-42-2 (UW).
5. LSU vs. Wisconsin (Aug. 30, Houston)
From a pure entertainment standpoint, the Tigers-Badgers semi-neutral field battle in Houston might be the one to watch in '14. This game will feature what should be two equally matched opponents, both of whom are expecting to compete for division titles in their respective leagues. LSU and Wisconsin feature two of the best power running games in the land and this game will be a throwback showcase for both.
6. Michigan at Michigan State (Oct. 25)
Hoke has snapped both long losing streaks to rivals Ohio State and Michigan State, but lost to both last fall. And the 29-6 drubbing at home to Sparty wasn’t pretty. Late in October, Hoke and his new-look offense will go on the road for a season-defining bout with their in-state rival and everyone will be watching.
7. Michigan State at Penn State (Nov. 29)
With the Spartans moving into the driver’s seat in the preseason Big Ten predictions, the season finale road trip to Happy Valley for the “coveted” Land Grant Trophy takes on more meaning. The Nittany Lions could be bruised and battered by that time or perhaps James Franklin will have developed his roster into a solid contender. Pat Narduzzi against Christian Hackenberg? Yes, please.
8. Ohio State at Penn State (Oct. 25)
The Lions host two huge games at home against the top two teams in the league and an upset over either for the first-year head coach would be huge. A win over Ohio State, Miller or no Miller, would be a signature moment for Franklin's PSU tenure. That said, Herb Hand and the OL will have to stay healthy and develop quickly to stop OSU’s defensive front.
9. Nebraska at Iowa (Nov. 29)
A week after Iowa hosts Wisconsin and two weeks after Nebraska visits Madison, the Cornhuskers have to travel to Iowa City. Big Red fans and Bo Pelini (nor the officials) have forgotten what happened in the season finale last fall in Lincoln where the Hawkeyes smoked the Huskers 38-17. A West Division crown could hang in the balance.
10. Nebraska at Wisconsin (Nov. 15)
The lesser of the three big round robin contests out West features the dairy-fed Big Red hosting the corn-fed Big Red. The two best running backs in the conference and two of the best in the nation will be on display when NU heads north to face UW.
11. Nebraska at Michigan State (Oct. 4)
This is one of the newly formed rivalries that fans should be excited about now that Nebraska is a Big Ten mainstay. Ameer Abdullah against the Spartans' defense is must-see TV. Even though this one takes place early in October, it could still serve as a Big Ten title elimination game.
12. Penn State at Michigan (Oct. 11)
Anytime these two brands get together, the Big Ten pays attention. The Lions and Wolverines have posted some seriously memorable matchups, including last year’s 43-40 overtime thriller in Happy Valley. Look for more fireworks between these two in 2014.
13. Michigan at Notre Dame (Sept. 6)
There is rich history and tradition between these two programs, and with the game going the way of the dodo bird, this meeting has more meaning. These two teams are breaking in three new coordinators, most importantly, Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. A win for Brady Hoke entering Big Ten play can’t be overvalued.
14. Michigan State at Maryland (Nov. 15)
If fans are looking for a sleeper team in the Big Ten this fall, look no further than College Park. Maryland has an excellent coaching staff, playmakers all over the offense and a stable quarterback situation. Are they good enough to topple the Big Ten champs? Maybe not, but MSU should be on upset alert late in November.
15. Ohio State at Maryland (Oct. 4)
One look at the home schedule for the Terps and it’s easy to see why Maryland made the jump to the Big Ten. Along with Michigan State, Randy Edsall’s bunch will host Ohio State, Iowa, West Virginia and Rutgers. Those are marquee brands coming to town this fall… and Rutgers.
Best of the Rest:
16. Minnesota at Wisconsin (Nov. 29)
17. Wisconsin at Northwestern (Oct. 4)
18. Nebraska at Northwestern (Oct. 18)
19. Miami at Nebraska (Sept. 20)
20. Iowa at Pitt (Sept. 20)
21. Northwestern at Notre Dame (Nov. 15)
22. Iowa at Minnesota (Nov. 8)
23. Michigan State at Indiana (Nov. 18)
24. Iowa at Maryland (Oct. 18)
25. Maryland at Penn State (Nov. 1)