The Big Ten is full of storylines to follow this season, and the schedule offers a good number of intriguing matchups in conference and non-conference play. The Jim Harbaugh Effect has Michigan playing in several matchups you should pay attention to this season, while Ohio State has a loaded slate on tap as well. And yes, Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin have some noteworthy dates of their own.
After working through every game in the Big Ten, here are the 15 you absolutely must watch this season, as well as a few games worth tuning in to as well.
1. Michigan at Ohio State (Nov. 26)
It has been a while since The Game carried as much importance for the entire conference as it could this season. Ohio State should remain one of the top threats in the Big Ten and Michigan is taking strides to give the Buckeyes a run for their money. Plus, Urban Meyer vs. Jim Harbaugh is as good as it gets in the Big Ten. A spot in the Big Ten Championship Game could potentially be on the line as well.
2. Ohio State at Oklahoma (Sept. 17)
As far as non-conference games go, this one may be the most important one played this season. The Big 12 and Big Ten could each be on the fringe of the College Football Playoff if the preseason expectations are to be believed. A head-to-head showdown between two possible conference champions could settle a score for a key Playoff spot. It’s also a nice little Heisman Trophy showdown game between hopefuls Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett.
3. Wisconsin vs. LSU (Sept. 3 – Lambeau Field)
Wisconsin opens the year against LSU, and former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. Wisconsin let one slip away against the Tigers two years ago in Houston and looks to find a way to slow down Leonard Fournette. A win for the Badgers would also be a huge win for the Big Ten.
4. Michigan at Michigan State (Oct. 29)
Sparty has held the upper hand on their so-called big brother. Despite winning another Big Ten title and escaping Ann Arbor with a miracle win last season, the Spartans are once again playing the disrespect card as Michigan hype rises. Can the Spartans keep their winning ways going against the Wolverines?
5. Ohio State at Wisconsin (Oct. 15)
This one could be a possible preview of the Big Ten Championship Game, and the Badgers have a knack for giving the Buckeyes some problems. A primetime game in Madison could be Ohio State’s biggest threat at a conference loss until the end of the season. A Wisconsin win also anoints the Badgers as Big Ten West favorites.
6. Ohio State at Michigan State (Nov. 19)
Ohio State lost just one game last season. It was to the Spartans, who went on to play for and win the Big Ten championship and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes, despite a new roster, will be seeking revenge for their only loss of the 2015 season.
7. Ohio State at Penn State (Oct. 22)
Two years ago saw Penn State give the eventual national champions the toughest game they played in Big Ten action. The win helped charge Ohio State to victory in the first-ever College Football Playoff. Penn State is looking to make a statement and could do so with the best team Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin has fielded when the Buckeyes come to Happy Valley for a primetime matchup.
8. Oregon at Nebraska (Sept. 17)
This game may not play a huge role in the championship hopes for either team, but just having Oregon and Nebraska on the same field is worth watching. The Ducks and Cornhuskers could open things up and play a fun shootout early in the season, but conference bragging rights are also on the line.
9. Penn State at Pittsburgh (Sept. 10)
The in-state rivalry between Penn State and Pittsburgh is finally renewed after 16 long years, and the buildup in previous years has added to the anticipation. A Big Ten vs. ACC matchup is always good to see, and this one should be heated.
10. Michigan State at Notre Dame (Sept. 17)
Michigan State hits the road to take on the Fighting Irish in mid-September, and that always leads to an entertaining game. The Spartans are once again flying under the radar while the Irish are being hyped by some as a Playoff contender. Michigan State may need to pull a few tricks to get the win, which is business as usual in this series.
11. Michigan at Iowa (Nov. 12)
Another potential Big Ten Championship Game preview? Perhaps. Michigan will face a good defensive test on the road when the Wolverines play Iowa in November. The division races should be pretty much mapped out at this point, and the significance of a win for either should be huge for both the Hawkeyes and Wolverines.
12. Wisconsin at Iowa (Oct. 22)
Iowa beat the Badgers 10-6 last season, and defense should once again be the story in this crucial Big Ten West matchup. The winner in mid-October will take the lead in the divisional race with both teams still to play Nebraska after this (both will have already played Northwestern).
13. Wisconsin at Michigan State (Sept. 24)
Any time Wisconsin and Michigan State get together in recent years it seems to be entertainment. The Big Ten opener for each serves as a good litmus test for where these teams could be heading in their respective division races. Michigan State gets the home-field advantage, which could be the difference.
14. Western Michigan at Northwestern (Sept. 3)
Northwestern should be a thorn for a number of teams this season, but the Wildcats will be put to the test by a rising MAC contender when Western Michigan rows its boat to Evanston for the season opener. Western Michigan will give Northwestern a good challenge, and you never know what Broncos head coach P.J. Fleck is going to do on the sideline.
15. Wisconsin at Michigan (Oct. 1)
October begins with the Badgers making a visit to Ann Arbor. It is a game many will expect Michigan to win, and Wisconsin could be getting desperate if a few big games (LSU and Michigan State) do not go the Badgers’ way prior to this meeting. If nothing else, Wisconsin will be more battle-tested against quality opponents. Will that matter?
Best of the Rest
Penn State at Michigan (Sept. 24)
Nebraska at Wisconsin (Oct. 29)
Nebraska at Iowa (Nov. 25)
Nebraska at Ohio State (Nov. 5)
Iowa at Penn State (Nov. 5)
Wisconsin at Northwestern (Nov. 5)
BYU at Michigan State (Oct. 8)
North Dakota State at Iowa (Sept. 17)
North Carolina at Illinois (Sept. 10)
Western Michigan at Illinois (Sept. 17)
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)