Big Ten Football: 10 Most Intriguing Non-Conference Games of 2020

Justin Fields and Ohio State will head to the Pacific Northwest to face Oregon early next season

When it comes to non-conference schedules in 2020, the Big Ten has a solid assortment of contests on its plate. Big Ten schools will face opponents from the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12 as well as some of the top Group of 5 contenders, Notre Dame and BYU. The month of September will have some big opportunities in non-conference play for the Big Ten to collectively do some chest-thumping, especially in Week 2.

 

You know the Big Ten has some intriguing games when a game like Michigan State hosting the Miami Hurricanes or Maryland's road trip to West Virginia just misses the cut for the top 10. Yes, the Big Ten has some big spotlight games coming up in 2020, including a pair of Big Ten stalwarts heading to the west coast to take on some of the best teams the Pac-12 has to offer in back-to-back weeks to start the new season.

 

But before we dig into those marquee games, how about a look at a few potential upset alerts against Group of 5 contenders looking for a signature win?

 

10. Appalachian State at Wisconsin, Sept. 19

Wisconsin should be on high alert when Appalachian State makes its way to Madison in Week 3. The Mountaineers remain one of the best Group of 5 programs and there is a history of the program giving some teams some trouble, including in the Big Ten (just ask Michigan and Penn State). Can Wisconsin avoid a big upset at home, or will Appalachian State add another chapter to its program history?

 

9. FAU at Minnesota, Sept. 3 (Thursday)

Unfortunately, we won't get a P.J. Fleck vs. Lane Kiffin coaching matchup because Kiffin left FAU to coach Ole Miss. But this is still a game to keep on the radar. FAU is now coached by Willie Taggart, and he will have a potential favorite in Conference USA to work with. The Gophers should be able to take care of business and row their way to a victory, but keep an eye on this one.

 

8. BYU at Minnesota, Sept. 26

While on the topic of Minnesota, the Gophers will host BYU in late September. BYU should be a good defensive test for Mohamed Ibrahim and Minnesota's running game. The Cougars are always physical, but Minnesota should have enough firepower on offense to hold off any upset bid by BYU. Speaking of BYU...

 

7. Michigan State at BYU, Sept. 12

Michigan State makes a trip to scenic Provo, Utah, in Week 2. BYU won the only other previous meeting between the two schools with a surprising 31-14 victory in East Lansing in 2016. Four years later, BYU goes for the home-and-home sweep. As Minnesota will find out, Michigan State should be in for a physical matchup with the Cougars. BYU scored victories over Tennessee and USC last season but did get run off their own field by Washington. New head coach Mel Tucker will need to make sure Michigan State's offense is patched up to get out of Provo with the win.

 

6. Cincinnati at Nebraska, Sept. 26

Is it too early to put Nebraska on upset alert? That will be the trendy pick going into the season given the recent success of Cincinnati and the continued struggles in Lincoln. Luke Fickell will bring one of the top Group of 5 programs to Nebraska at the end of September, and a win would be huge for the Group of 5 New Year's Six prospects. But if the Huskers take a step forward this season, they should be able to send the Bearcats back home with a loss.

 

5. Iowa State at Iowa, Sept. 12

Never underestimate the rivalry between Iowa State and Iowa. Iowa has won five consecutive meetings with the Big 12's Cyclones, with each of the past two seasons being true defensive battles. Expect another good defensive matchup between Kirk Ferentz and Matt Campbell in the fight for in-state bragging rights.

 

4. Penn State at Virginia Tech, Sept. 12

Penn State and Virginia Tech will meet for the first time when the Nittany Lions travel down to Lane Stadium. Penn State will be heading into a raucous environment, but the Nittany Lions appear to be a favorite going into the game. Getting out of Blacksburg with a win against the Hokies will be tough. Virginia Tech's home-field advantage may not be as strong as it once was, but Justin Fuente will have his team prepared for Penn State's talented running attack.

 

3. Michigan at Washington, Sept. 5

Jim Harbaugh and Michigan open the 2020 season on the road against the Washington Huskies. Both teams are coming off relatively disappointing seasons with regard to their conference standing, so getting off on the right foot to start the new season is essential. And who doesn't love a good early Big Ten vs. Pac-12 matchup between two of the top programs in the conferences?

 

2. Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame, Oct. 3 (Green Bay, Wis.)

October starts with a bang when Wisconsin takes on Notre Dame in storied Lambeau Field. While playing in Green Bay is a cool experience for both the Badgers and Fighting Irish, it is a shame we won't get this two-game series played on campus (Notre Dame and Wisconsin will play in Chicago next season). But College Football Playoff implications could be running high for this one. Notre Dame can't really suffer a loss, although it would be far from a nail in the coffin in early October. And Wisconsin could get a huge boost with a win over a good Notre Dame team. Wisconsin will face the Irish one week after a road game at Michigan and one week before hosting rival Minnesota. That is a massive three-game stretch for the Badgers.

 

1. Ohio State at Oregon, Sept. 12

Rose Bowl preview? It very well could be. And this year, the Rose Bowl is a College Football Playoff semifinal game, so we could get a playoff preview as well. The defending champions of the Big Ten and Pac-12 square off in Autzen Stadium in Eugene in Week 2. It will be the first regular-season meeting between the two schools since 1987 and the first time the teams have played on Oregon's campus since '67. This one will be worth the wait because both will be playoff contenders going into the season. Both teams could still reach the playoff regardless of the outcome, but a head-to-head victory could come in handy if the selection committee has to come down to one final spot and the Buckeyes and Ducks are both in the running.

 

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. 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.

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