As the college football season draws near, Athlon Sports is making sure fans know exactly when and where to tune in this fall. Here are the Big 12's top 30 must-see football games for the 2012 season:
1. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Michigan at Ohio State
Easily the biggest rivalry in the Midwest is, in most years, the biggest rivalry game in the nation. With the Urban renewal taking place in Columbus and Brady Hoke reenergizing the Michigan faithful in lightning rod fashion last fall, this game should return to the 10 Year War level of intensity. So can the Wolverines walk into the Horseshoe and beat the Buckeyes this fall? It will be tougher than most Maize and Blue fans want to admit. Ohio State has nothing else to play for but ruining its rival’s season. Ohio State has a better overall roster of talent. And Ohio State is at home. Remember, the worst Ohio State team in a decade nearly defeated the best Michigan team in half a decade last fall on the road in Ann Arbor. The smart money is on Ohio State.
2. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Michigan State at Michigan
This game has been one of streaks of late. Michigan won six straight from 2002 to 2007 before Michigan State took over the state in 2008. If the Spartans want to win a fifth straight in the series, quarterback play will have to stabilize for Michigan State over the first half of the season. This game could easily decide not only the Legends Division title but also the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl participant. For a team like Michigan State, who hasn’t played in Pasadena since 1988, this game carries more than just in-state bragging rights. Shockingly, Michigan is searching for its first Big Ten title since 2004 and a win over Sparty likely gives it to them.
3. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Michigan State at Wisconsin
This season could be an inverted version of last season for Michigan State and Wisconsin. It is hard to see State going into Madison and getting the win — a place Sparty hasn’t won in since 2001. Yet, these could very easily meet again in the second annual B1G championship game. These two played two of the most memorable Big Ten football games in the history of the league last year and this fall could feature two more heart-stopping editions of what is developing into an elite rivalry game.
4. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Ohio State at Michigan State
The preseason buzz around C-Bus will either be proven wrong — or completely justified when both Michigan State and Ohio State open Big Ten play in Week 5. The Buckeyes don’t play a tough non-conference game, so fans will find out exactly how far Braxton Miller has developed and just how salty the OSU defense will be in this game. Should Ohio State win on the road against Sparty, an 11-1 type of season is extremely possible. Should Brutus return home with the loss, expectations for Ohio State will be tempered very quickly.
5. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Ohio State at Wisconsin
Bucky Badger was literally inches from being undefeated last fall. The MSU hail mary and Braxton Miller’s near-the-line-of-scrimmage touchdown heave were both inches from going Wisconsin’s way. The Big Red defeated OSU 31-18 with relative ease the last time Ohio State visited Camp Randall, but this game will be decidedly tougher. While Ohio State can’t technically play for the Big Ten title, winning this game and claiming the best record in the division still means a lot to Urban Meyer. Fans know who actually won the Pac-12 South last year.
6. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Michigan at Nebraska
The round robin in the Legends Division should be extremely entertaining this fall and Michigan has to face the Huskers on the road. However, if Nebraska wants to contend this fall, playing better defense against the Wolverines' rushing attack will be imperative. Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint combined for 221 yards and four touchdowns in the 45-17 blowout last fall. This game could be the pivotal road trip for Michigan — at least, until November 24.
7. Week 4 (Sept. 22) Michigan at Notre Dame
Michigan has won three straight in this historic rivalry and none more painful than the most recent edition. Last year's final drive with under 30 seconds to play capped one of the largest fourth-quarter comebacks in the series history. Denard Robinson was brilliant, at times, but really the Notre Dame secondary played poorly. Brian Kelly is looking for his first win in the series and has a nasty defensive front seven to play with this time around. Robinson will need more than one ice bath when this one is over.
8. Week 1 (Sept. 1) Alabama vs. Michigan (Arlington, Texas)
This might be the marquee non-conference match-up of the season. It is the first regular season match-up between the two historic programs and the Wolverines own a two (1988, 200) to one (1997) lead in the series. The thought that it may be one-sided, however, keeps it from sitting much higher on the list. The defending national champions have one of the deepest college teams ever assembled and Brady Hoke will be hard-pressed to stop the Bama rushing attack in the second half. Michigan can keep it close for three quarters, but in Jerry's Palace with that offensive line, Nick Saban should come away victorious.
9. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Nebraska at Michigan State
If Michigan is the preseason favorite to win the Legend's Division, then these two are the chief contenders. The Cornhuskers controlled the ball and dominated the 24-3 contest in Lincoln, Neb. Kirk Cousins had arguably his worst game as a senior as the Spartans allowed four sacks. At home, Sparty will be looking for revenge — and a possible return trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title showdown. However, if the Big Red defense can repeat last's year performance on a much less experienced quarterback, the upset is certainly possible.
10. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Wisconsin at Nebraska
The 48-17 destruction of Nebraska marked the first time the corn-fed Big Red and dairy-fed Big Red did battle since 1974. This year Russell Wilson is gone and this game shifts to Lincoln for the Big Ten opener. Nebraska gets the revenge factor, the home-field advantage and will have played a couple of challenging non-conference tests. The only edge Wisconsin gets is that of style as their new Adidas uniform look only slight better than the "N" threads.
11. Week 3 (Sept. 15) Notre Dame at Michigan State
Mark Dantonio teams rarely get pushed around at the point of attack. They rarely play fundamentally ineffective football. And they rarely get beat 31-13. But that is what an 0-2 Notre Dame team did to the eventual division champs. Michigan State rushed for a season-low 29 yards in the defeat and the Irish defensive line has only gotten better. Winning on the road won't be as easy for Brian Kelly and there is no way Dantonio has let his team forget about the embarrassment of last fall.
12. Week 1 (Aug. 31) Boise State at Michigan State
These two programs have won a lot of football games over the last few years. And while this isn't a vintage Broncos squad, Boise State is much closer to reload status than it is rebuild. That said, the physicality of the Spartans in the trenches will be a huge hurdle to overcome for the less-talented, smaller program from Idaho. Should the BSU front lines hold up against MSU, the national opinion from BCS conference snobs that Chris Peterson's teams are consistently overrated will be silenced.
13. Week 1 (Sept. 1) Ohio at Penn State
This might be the most watched football game of the year this fall. And it has nothing to do with MAC front-runner Ohio and its dynamic big-play quarterback Tyler Tettleton. Joe Paterno won't on the sidelines. Beaver Stadium will be 108,000 deep with We Are pride. Bill O'Brien leads a Penn State team that feels like a complete unknown. It will be an extremely surreal experience and most of the nation will be tuned in.
14. Week 6 (Oct. 6) Nebraska at Ohio State
Ohio State was playing well against Nebraska deep into the second half last fall when Braxton Miller was injured and lost for the afternoon. The Cornhuskers took advantage and pulled-off the 34-27 win. The ground game was excellent against the stingy OSU front, rushing for 232 yards and 51 carries. Against what should be the best defense in the league in the Horseshoe, Rex Burkhead will find much less open space this time around.
15. Week 13 (Nov. 24) Wisconsin at Penn State
The season finale will be an emotional experience for Penn State fans. And a win over Penn State would likely clinch a trip to the Big Ten title game for Wisconsin, much like last fall. The Badgers have not won in Happy Valley since 2003.
16. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Nebraska at Northwestern
The Huskers had beaten Ohio State and thumped Michigan State and had eyes on a Big Ten title when thes Wildcats walked in Lincoln and pulled-off one of the biggest — and most entertaining — upsets of the year. Nebraska couldn’t stop Kain Colter — who will be starting this fall under center for Northwestern.
17. Week 13 (Nov. 23) Nebraska at Iowa
The whole ear of corn is on the line in this season-ending developing rivalry. The Huskers rolled-up 222 yards rushing in the win over Iowa while James Vandenberg’s had one of his toughest game of the year (182-0-1). Bowl eligibility and future employment could be on the line at season’s end for Kirk Ferentz.
18. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Iowa at Michigan
Brady Hoke’s bunch won’t take this one lightly as the Hawkeyes pulled the upset 24-16 in Kinnick Stadium last year. It was one of two losses for Michigan and revenge will be on the mind of Denard Robinson.
19. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Ohio State at Penn State
Going on the road into Beaver Stadium is never easy, even with the heavy-handed NCAA penalties floating over PSU. A match-up between these two powers is normally a top ten B1G match-up. The OSU revenge tour continues with this one.
20. Week 11 (Nov. 10) Penn State at Nebraska
The yearly cross-over rivalry game will certainly take a hit due to sanctions, but there is something really special about the Big Red Husker uniforms knocking heads with the classic Nittany Blue. It was a tightly played affair last fall (17-14, Neb.).
21. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Iowa at Michigan State
The Spartans pushed the Hawkeyes around last fall to the tune of 288 yards passing and 155 yards rushing. Iowa mustered 87 yards on the ground. Expect tough sledding once again for Iowa, this time, on the road.
22. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Wisconsin at Purdue
If you are looking for an upset alert in the bizarre Leaders Division this fall, it could easily be Purdue over Wisconsin. The Boilers have a solid defensive line and weird things happen in West Lafayette this time of the year.
23. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Minnesota at Wisconsin
The NCAA’s oldest rivalry has been played more times than any other game in history. This game has taken place since 1890 and Minnesota owns the all-time series 59-54-8. Yet, the Badgers have won eight straight.
24. Week 5 (Sept. 29) Penn State at Illinois
The storylines between the two new head coaches in the Big Ten may fade away eventually, but right now, fans can bet Bill O’Brien has lost no love for poacher Tim Beckman and Illinois.
25. Week 9 (Oct. 27) Iowa at Northwestern
These two were hotly debated in our meetings this season and both should be eyeing bowl eligibility this fall. Iowa has won only two of the last seven meetings and a win could be a postseason trip for both teams.
Best of the Rest:
26. Week 6 (Oct. 6) Illinois at Wisconsin
27. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Iowa State at Iowa
28.Week 2 (Sept. 8) Nebraska at UCLA
29. Week 2 (Sept. 8) Purdue at Notre Dame
30. Week 7 (Oct. 13) Illinois at Michigan
31. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Penn State at Iowa
32. Week 3 (Sept. 15) Cal at Ohio State
33. Week 10 (Nov. 3) Penn State at Purdue
34. Week 8 (Oct. 20) Purdue at Ohio State
35. Week 12 (Nov. 17) Purdue at Illinois
Athlon Sports Big Ten Predictions and Team Previews: