So you think you have the Big Ten pretty figured out this year, huh? What happens when a curveball is thrown your way with an upset that could potentially shake up the entire landscape of the Big Ten? It happens, and who is to say it won’t happen again?
Two years ago, it looked as though Michigan was on cruise control for a shot at the Big Ten championship, but an upset loss on the road against Iowa opened up the division for a three-team race into the final weeks of the season, and Penn State proved to be the team advancing to play for the Big Ten title, while Ohio State went on to be the conference’s representative in the College Football Playoff. Could one of the top favorites in the conference be tripped up this fall to open the door for a surprise Big Ten championship run?
After scanning the Big Ten schedule, including the non-conference portion of games, here are 10 games with some intriguing upset potential on the line this season that could make for an interesting Big Ten hunt.
10. Illinois over Nebraska, Sept. 21
Don’t look now, but there is a chance the Illini, winners of just four games a season ago, could start the year with a 4-0 record. Although the Illini are considered by some to be the only team in the Big Ten West without a chance to play for the conference championship, Lovie Smith and his team can turn some heads by scoring a surprising upset to open conference play against the trendy pick in the west, Nebraska. This is a classic trap game for the upstart Cornhuskers, with a home date against Ohio State the following week. Illinois has returning experience on their side.
9. Northwestern over Stanford, Aug. 31
The Wildcats start the year on the West Coast against the Pac-12's Stanford. While this may not be considered a major upset, picking up a win out west is difficult for Big Ten teams and the Cardinal are generally one of the more consistent teams in the conference in recent years. Northwestern is 0-3 all-time at Stanford, but the last trip to Palo Alto was in 1992.
8. Maryland over Syracuse, Sept. 7
Sticking to early non-conference opportunities, Mike Locksley and the Terrapins host one of the surprise teams from the ACC last year when Syracuse comes to College Park in Week 2. The Orange are expected to carry over some momentum Dino Babers had with the program last season, and Maryland is certainly in a rebuilding stage, but this is a game Maryland can win by slowing things down and keeping the Orange offense off the field. Syracuse could be ranked for the game too.
7. Purdue over Iowa, Oct. 19
The Boilermakers are one of the wild card factors in the Big Ten West this season after their roller-coaster season in 2018. Purdue's best moments tended to come at home, but a road trip to Iowa in mid-October is capable of being a big spot in the division race, and they have just the wide receiver to make things happen with Rondale Moore. Iowa will be coming off crossover games with Michigan and Penn State before getting Purdue at home.
6. Wisconsin over Michigan, Sept. 21
When Michigan heads to Camp Randal Stadium in Week 4, both teams will be coming off a bye week. The Badgers will also rely on running back Jonathan Taylor to have a big game and remind the nation why he may be worthy of considering for the Heisman Trophy. The Badgers have also handled Michigan at home in recent series history. Wisconsin has won the last four meetings in the series that have been played in Madison, with the last three won by double digits.
5. Maryland over Nebraska, Nov. 23
There are those sneaky Terrapins again! Maryland will get a late-season home game against Nebraska, which makes for a long trip for the Huskers across the landscape of the Big Ten. The Terrapins are also coming off a bye week while Nebraska will be coming off a big game at home against Wisconsin (and the Huskers host Iowa the following week, making this quite a trap game for Scott Frost's team). By the end of the season, Locksley may have some things figured out more with the team as they continue to grow over the season.
4. Minnesota over Penn State, Nov. 9
If P.J. Fleck is going to get the Gophers to row their way into the Big Ten West race, winning a game at home against Penn State is what will give them a leg up in the division race. This will be the biggest opportunity for the experienced Gophers to make some noise, and they'll be coming off a bye week (so will Penn State).
3. Northwestern over Ohio State, Oct. 18
Don't call it a Big Ten Championship Game rematch, but Northwestern will certainly be looking to even the score with the Buckeyes. And although Ryan Field’s stands will be full of scarlet and gray, the Wildcats are difficult to beat at home. This is one of those games Ohio State should be cautious of, similar to last season's loss to Purdue or at Iowa the year before.
2. Penn State over Michigan, Oct. 19
Michigan and Penn State have exchanged blowout victories at home the last few years in this series. While this probably won't be a blowout to keep that track record going, it is not impossible to think Penn State can score a major victory at home against the Wolverines. If Penn State's emerging offensive stars have their confidence by mid-October, then the Nittany Lions will be inspired in front of a raucous whiteout crowd in prime time as they take on a Michigan team that could be a top-five team (and with Notre Dame on deck the following week). And if Penn State wins this one, they could create a path to a possible Big Ten Championship Game berth if they take care of business elsewhere.
1. Nebraska over Ohio State, Sept. 28
Nothing could be a louder statement for a growing Nebraska program to make than by taking down the two-time defending Big Ten champions from Ohio State. Scott Frost and Adrian Martinez and the rest of the Huskers will get their shot to crack the Buckeyes at the end of September, and the game could very well set the tone for the remainder of the year for both teams. Nebraska has gone just 1-4 against Ohio State since joining the Big Ten, and the Buckeyes have won the last four meetings by a combined 131 points (although Ohio State won by just five last season in Columbus).
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.