The Big Ten has plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about the upcoming 2017 college football season, but it is once again faced with having to look for some redemption following a poor showing in its bowl games. And the Big Ten will see plenty of challenges in the month of September with a handful of good non-conference matchups.
This year the Big Ten will take on the defending Big 12 champion, the defending Pac-12 champion, and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. There’s also a matchup against the only team to beat both the Big Ten champion and ACC (and national) champion in 2016. On top of that, the Big Ten’s non-conference slate includes some key programs looking for a rebound season, some notable new head coaches, and some tricky Group of 5 opponents.
Here’s how the top non-conference games on the Big Ten’s schedule stack up.
1. Ohio State vs. Oklahoma (Sept. 9)
The Buckeyes took care of business against the Big 12 favorites in Norman last season, and now they get to welcome the Sooners to Columbus in one of the top non-conference games of the year. The game should once again be an early College Football Playoff litmus test for each, and could have the potential to make or break a team’s chances just as it did a year ago. This will be a huge test for new Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley against one of the more accomplished coaches in the game, Urban Meyer.
2. Michigan vs. Florida (Sept. 2 – Arlington, TX)
The Wolverines and Gators take to the big stage in Arlington to start the new season. Two years removed from Michigan blowing out the Gators in a bowl game, this year’s Michigan team looks to replace some key players and get off on the right foot after faltering down the stretch last season.
3. Penn State vs. Pittsburgh (Sept. 9)
Revenge will be on the line for the defending Big Ten champions. Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley took some time to get going against the Panthers last year and saw a furious comeback attempt thwarted by a late, ill-advised deep ball being intercepted by the Panthers in the revival of the in-state rivalry. Penn State’s offense may be in a better position this time with more experience, confidence and playing at home. Remember that Pitt beat both Penn State and Clemson last season.
4. Nebraska at Oregon (Sept. 9)
One of the more entertaining games from a season ago saw Nebraska edge the Ducks in dramatic fashion. Now, Cornhuskers head coach Mike Riley returns to the state of Oregon to take on the Ducks and new head coach Willie Taggart. This will be one of the many important games for the Big Ten on Sept. 9.
5. Michigan State vs. Notre Dame (Sept. 23)
Both teams are in need of a bounce-back season. The Spartans took last year’s meeting in South Bend, 36-28, to improve to 2-0 on the season. But as we all know, the Spartans’ season took a downward spiral from there and the Irish continued to limp through their schedule. A win here would be pivotal to turning things around in 2017.
6. Purdue vs. Louisville (Sept. 2 – Indianapolis)
Purdue has a new head coach in Jeff Brohm, and his first game will not be an easy one. The Boilermakers head to Indianapolis to take on the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson, and Louisville. The Cardinals are expected to be a contender in the ACC while Purdue is embarking on a total rebuilding project. This one could turn ugly for Purdue, but if the Boilermakers can show some fight, that may be an encouraging sign and a bit of a moral victory at best.
7. Wisconsin at BYU (Sept. 16)
The Badgers are widely considered to be the favorite in the Big Ten West, but a potential hurdle in Provo, Utah, could make or break Wisconsin’s playoff hopes as the season plays out. A loss to BYU would be detrimental to a power conference team’s playoff argument, but a win could be a nice bullet point in your favor.
8. Iowa vs. Wyoming (Sept. 2)
The Hawkeyes take on one of the top quarterback prospects, according to NFL draft analysts. While a matchup with a Group of 5 school rarely is worthy of the hype of being a top-10 game, this one is an important one for the conference. A loss by Iowa at home to Wyoming from the Mountain West would be a tough pill to swallow for the Big Ten early in September.
9. Northwestern at Duke (Sept. 9)
The academic bowl between the Big Ten and ACC schools is always a good one. Northwestern will travel to ACC country for a game with the Blue Devils, and a win would be nice for the Big Ten considering all the bragging rights the ACC currently has (and pairing it with a PSU win against Pitt would be a good look for the Big Ten).
10. Rutgers at Washington (Sept. 1)
Rutgers showed last year against the top competition it faced that it has a long way to go to being competitive, but the Scarlet Knights will get a chance to measure themselves against the Pac-12 champions from a year ago. It didn’t go well for Rutgers last year at home, and playing on the west coast against the Huskies could be a tall order, but we’ll see right away how Rutgers looks in Year 2 with Chris Ash as head coach.
Best of the Rest
Purdue at Missouri (Sept. 16)
Minnesota at Oregon State (Sept. 9)
Michigan State vs. Western Michigan (Sept. 9)
Michigan vs. Air Force (Sept. 16)
Michigan vs. Cincinnati (Sept. 9)
Illinois at USF (Sept. 17)
Maryland vs. UCF (Sept. 23)
Illinois vs. WKU (Sept. 9)
— 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.