The Big Ten might not be the best conference in the nation, but you can make a strong argument that no league is better at the top. Each of the top four teams in the East Division (Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State) and Wisconsin, the ruler of the West, enter the 2018 season with a realistic goal of reaching the College Football Playoff.
So many quality teams equals so many compelling games. Here’s a list of the top 15 must-see games in the Big Ten.
1. Michigan at Ohio State (Nov. 24)
Whether “The Spot” was good or not in 2016, Jim Harbaugh hopes to avoid becoming the first Michigan coach to begin his tenure 0–4 vs. Ohio State.
Fun fact: Ohio State has scored at least 30 points in each of the last five meetings in the series. It’s the first time either team has accomplished the feat in the rivalry.
2. Ohio State at Penn State (Sept. 29)
Played earlier than usual, this game has decided the East Division — and, ultimately, the Big Ten champion — in each of the past two seasons.
Fun fact: Penn State’s 38 points last season were the most that Ohio State has given up in a win since a 42–41 victory over Michigan in 2013.
3. Michigan State at Penn State (Oct. 13)
Penn State gets a week off between its home showdowns with Ohio State and Michigan State. The Spartans have won four of the last five meetings in the series.
Fun fact: Penn State threw for 401 yards in last season’s 27–24 loss at Michigan State. It was the first time the Nittany Lions had topped the 400-yard passing mark in a league game since throwing for 419 in a 49–18 win over MSU in 2008.
4. Wisconsin at Iowa (Sept. 22)
If revenge doesn’t motivate the Hawkeyes, who produced 66 total yards in last year’s 38–14 loss in Madison, the chance to gain a leg up in the Big Ten West race surely will.
Fun fact: In a scheduling quirk, five of the last seven games in this series — including this year’s matchup — have been played in Iowa City. Wisconsin has won the previous four at Kinnick Stadium.
5. Wisconsin at Penn State (Nov. 10)
This is the fourth of five difficult road games in league play for the Badgers. It’s the final true test for Penn State, which closes with Rutgers on the road and at home vs. Maryland.
Fun fact: The last three games in the series (each won by Penn State) have been decided by a total of 21 points. The previous three games (2–1 Penn State advantage) were decided by a total of 110 points.
6. Michigan at Michigan State (Oct. 20)
Jim Harbaugh is 1–5 against Michigan’s primary league rivals, but the lone triumph came in East Lansing two years ago.
Fun fact: Michigan has scored more than 23 points just once in the last 10 meetings in the series. Prior to this recent stretch, the Wolverines scored 23-plus points 13 times in 14 games against the Spartans.
7. Ohio State at Michigan State (Nov. 10)
The Spartans have lost their last six home games against Ohio State, but they’ll be motivated after being whipped 48–3 last year in Columbus.
Fun fact: Michigan State was held to 2.79 yards per play in last season’s loss to Ohio State. It’s the lowest single-game average of the Mark Dantonio era.
8. Michigan at Notre Dame (Sept. 1)
Michigan’s new-look offense — which should have Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson running the show — makes its 2018 debut against a Notre Dame defense that will be under the direction of first-time defensive coordinator Clark Lea.
Fun fact: Michigan has not scored a touchdown in its last eight quarters at Notre Dame Stadium. The Wolverines’ last TD in South Bend? Denard Robinson’s 2-yard run with 0:27 remaining that gave Michigan the lead for good in a 28–24 win in 2010.
9. Wisconsin at Northwestern (Oct. 27)
This is another tricky road trip for the Badgers, but Paul Chryst will have his team ready for this game that is sandwiched between home dates against Illinois and Rutgers.
Fun fact: Wisconsin’s last seven wins in the series have come by an average margin of 22.7 points per game. Northwestern’s last seven wins have come by an average of 4.7 points.
10. Ohio State vs. TCU (Sept. 15 at Arlington)
TCU’s typically stout defense will provide a good first test for new starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins in this “neutral” game in Arlington, Texas.
Fun fact: These two schools have not met since 1973. The Buckeyes hold a 4–1-1 advantage in the series and have outscored TCU by a combined score of 148–42 in the six games.
11. Iowa vs. Iowa State (Sept. 8)
This home game with the rival Cyclones is the highlight of Iowa’s challenging non-conference slate that also includes visits from Northern Illinois and Northern Iowa.
Fun fact: Iowa beat Iowa State 44–41 in overtime last season. The 41 points were the most Iowa has allowed in a win since beating Minnesota 49–42 in the 1994 season finale.
12. Nebraska at Michigan (Sept. 22)
It’s Scott Frost’s first conference game as the head coach at his alma mater. Could the next Frost vs. Jim Harbaugh showdown take place in a future Big Ten Championship Game?
Fun fact: Harbaugh was the starting quarterback for Michigan in the Wolverines’ 27–23 win over Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 1986. Harbaugh completed 6-of-15 passes for 63 yards.
13. Nebraska at Northwestern (Oct. 13)
Scott Frost was handed a brutal schedule in Year 1. This game in Evanston comes one week after a trip to Wisconsin and three weeks before a visit to Ohio State.
Fun fact: The road team has won four straight and six of the last seven games in this series.
14. Penn State at Pittsburgh (Sept. 8)
Penn State has its sights set on a Big Ten East title but first must deal with in-state rival Pittsburgh in Week 2. We know what happened the last time the Nittany Lions played in Heinz Field.
Fun fact: James Franklin is 6–1 in his career against schools from the ACC, 2–1 at Penn State and 4–0 at Vanderbilt.
15. Purdue at Indiana (Nov. 24)
Purdue beat Indiana 31–24 last year and has a ton of momentum heading into Year 2 of the Jeff Brohm era. IU coach Tom Allen would love to reclaim the Old Oaken Bucket with a win over the Boilers in Bloomington.
Fun fact: Indiana and Purdue have not both been over .500 in the Big Ten in the same season since 1979. Purdue finished second in the league with a 7–1 record; Indiana was fourth at 5–3.