A few years ago, many jumped all over the Big Ten when the conference took losses in a handful of signature games in the second week of the college football season. Could that be the case once again this season with the Big Ten taking on opponents from the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC in the first few weeks of the year? Or might B1G score some much-needed upset victories to prove the conference is still a viable threat to put at least one team in the College Football Playoff?
The Big Ten also is at risk of eating itself alive this season when it comes to any potential Playoff conversations, and we know there will be some upsets along the way. With all of that in mind, here is a brief rundown of some of the games involving Big Ten teams you should expect to be seeing fall under the “upset alert” category throughout the 2016 college football season, whether the Big Ten team is pulling the upset or being the one upset. Needless to say, there will be some good drama to follow in the Midwest.
Here are a few potential upset alerts to pay attention to on the Big Ten schedule. Western Michigan could be a tough out for Northwestern, and Penn State plays a rare revenge game against Temple. Could the Badgers be caught napping at home? And the Spartans have held the upper hand on Notre Dame, but will Mark Dantonio’s team be in midseason form and up to its recent standard when the two rivals clash in South Bend?
Western Michigan over Northwestern, Sept. 3
Temple over Penn State, Sept. 17
Georgia State over Wisconsin, Sept. 17
Illinois over North Carolina, Sept. 10
Michigan State over Notre Dame, Sept. 17
10. Penn State over Iowa, Nov. 5
Hang on Iowa fans, because this list is not going to be too kind to you. It begins with this primetime game in Happy Valley. Iowa will get a week off to prepare for this road game, which should help the defense prepare for the new-look Penn State offense. The Nittany Lions play on the road the previous week, but it will be at Purdue. It is likely Penn State will have an improved offense this season, and getting Iowa at home for a night game could be a nice advantage. Iowa is a beatable team, and the Hawkeyes’ chances at winning the Big Ten West could falter in this one, if they have not already before this game.
9. Rutgers over Iowa, Sept. 24
Iowa’s defense is good. Rutgers’ defense is not. On paper, Iowa should be a decided favorite when the Hawkeyes travel to New Jersey for what could be an early kickoff, but do not sleep on the Scarlet Knights just yet. Since joining the Big Ten we have seen Rutgers play tougher at home than on the road, for the majority of the time. New head coach Chris Ash has lots of work to do with the program, but expect Rutgers to give Iowa a good scare just as the Knights did in Piscataway with Michigan State last fall.
8. Penn State over Michigan State, Nov. 26
Michigan State has flexed some Sparty muscles against Penn State in recent years, but could things be different this year? It remains to be seen if Michigan State will continue to look the part of a Big Ten champion as in recent years, especially for its visit to State College to finish up the season. The game will likely have a huge impact for Penn State, as a win against the Spartans would provide a bit of insurance for head coach James Franklin’s job security. If Penn State’s offense improves, the Nittany Lions should at least give the Spartans the best fight they have in a few years.
7. Northwestern over Wisconsin, Nov. 5
Oh, those feisty Northwestern Wildcats. Wisconsin’s offense was dismantled by the Wildcats’ defense last season, picking up just 203 yards and turning the ball over five times in a bitter 13-7 loss in Madison. This year Northwestern plays host and should feel somewhat confident about its chances. If any team has the potential to wreak havoc on the Big Ten West, it could be Pat Fitzgerald’s Northwestern squad. Just ask Wisconsin.
6. Penn State over Michigan, Sept. 24
The first week of Big Ten play includes this meet up in Ann Arbor between Penn State and Michigan. The Wolverines could be on a roll following a fairly lightweight non-conference schedule, while Penn State could be a bit more battle-tested. If Penn State’s offense has shown improvement with the offensive line and play calling, then the Nittany Lions could give Michigan its first real test of the year. This one should be more entertaining than the last time the two teams faced off in Michigan Stadium (18-13 Michigan win in 2014), but can Penn State leave Ann Arbor with a victory for just the second time since 1998?
5. Iowa over Michigan, Nov. 12
This is a minor technicality, because it is entirely feasible Iowa could end up being the favorite in this game at home. Iowa’s defense will still be among the strongest in the Big Ten this fall, but Michigan enters the year with plenty of hype and momentum. Could Michigan see a possible dream season come crashing down on them in Iowa City?
4. Penn State over Ohio State, Oct. 22
Penn State gave Ohio State its toughest game two years ago, after the Buckeyes rebounded from thei early home loss to Virginia Tech. Penn State could once again bring its best game of the season against the Buckeyes when Ohio State heads to Beaver Stadium for what should be an electric atmosphere. Ohio State may still be a deeper team than Penn State, but the Nittany Lions tend to play tough at home against the Buckeyes more often than not. Don’t be shocked if Ohio State heads home with a loss.
3. North Dakota State over Iowa, Sept. 17
We all know the story by now. North Dakota State, five-time reigning FCS champions, have knocked off eight FBS teams in 11 games since 2006. That list includes two victories against Minnesota and five consecutive victories against FBS foes. Among those teams beaten was a defending Big 12 champion (Kansas State). This fall the Bison get their first crack at the Hawkeyes, which ran through the 2015 regular season without a loss and have a stingy defense returning. North Dakota State does not have a Christian McCaffrey type of player this year, fortunately for Iowa, but the Bison are never to be overlooked given their reputation.
2. Wisconsin over LSU, Sept. 3
The college football season could not have a better slate of opening games lined up, including the meeting between Wisconsin and LSU in Lambeau Field. The Badgers appear to be a decided underdog against the Tigers, fueled by Leonard Fournette running the football. LSU managed to come from behind the last time these two teams played two years ago, and LSU hired away defensive coordinator Dave Aranda from the Badgers. If Wisconsin can win this one, it would be a huge win for the Big Ten against the SEC, where LSU is expected to give Alabama a run in the SEC West.
1. Ohio State over Oklahoma, Sept. 17
This may be the game of the year for the Big Ten and the Big 12, with College Football Playoff implications likely on the line as the season progresses. The Buckeyes could still be trying to figure out a few things on both sides of the football after losing a bunch of talent to the NFL, but Urban Meyer has recruited well. Will the new batch of Buckeyes be ready for a primetime atmosphere on the road against another Playoff hopeful? Home-field advantage could be huge for Oklahoma in this mid-September clash of titans, making Ohio State an underdog even with J.T. Barrett running the offense. The magnitude of the matchup makes this the most important early outcome of the season to pay close attention to.
— 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.