Reputations of conferences tend to go in cycles and will typically be based on how each stacks up in non-conference play. This year, the Big Ten is looking to make some statements after being left out of the College Football Playoff for a second straight year. Compared to last year, however, there are not quite as many non-conference matchups to get overly excited for this fall. But that doesn't mean there will not be opportunities to pick up some steam outside of Big Ten play.
From revenge games to possible make-or-break matchups for bowl eligibility to a possible playoff race separation tilt in late October, the Big Ten non-conference schedule has some good storylines to follow. This is especially true for some programs looking to continue taking steps forward in their individual development. There are plenty of those types of games taking place in early September to keep you occupied.
There are a few notable games on the Big Ten non-conference schedule that deserve some recognition. Army makes a trip to Michigan and will hope to give the Wolverines a panic attack the way the Black Knights did at Oklahoma last season. Purdue will get a home game against TCU, a Big 12 program that looks for a rebound season this year. A victory over a Big 12 program would be good for the Boilermakers. Wisconsin opens the season down in Florida against the USF Bulls.
10. Minnesota at Fresno State, Sept. 7
Opening on the road against one of the best teams in the Mountain West Conference is a good way to start the season with a challenge for P.J. Fleck and the Gophers. Minnesota won last season's meeting at home, 21-14, and a trip out to California should be another good test for a growing Minnesota program. Fresno State is coming off a 12-2 campaign and is looking for its first win at home against a power conference opponent since beating Colorado in 2012.
9. Ohio State vs. Cincinnati, Sept. 7
Former Ohio State interim and assistant coach Luke Fickell brings Cincinnati to Columbus after a very successful 2018 season. As one of the top non-power conference programs, Cincinnati will look for a major upset for in-state bragging rights. Ohio State has a long history of success against in-state opponents though and expected starting quarterback Justin Fields and the Ohio State offense will look to overpower their challengers.
8. Purdue vs. Vanderbilt, Sept. 7
The Boilermakers host two power conference opponents in non-conference play for a second straight season. This is another chance for Purdue to score a victory against a team from the SEC, which is always a nice little piece of bragging material if you can get it for a Big Ten team. And who knows, it's always possible the winner of this game may eventually be bowl eligible while the loser will face an uphill climb to securing a postseason berth.
7. Nebraska at Colorado, Sept. 7
Last year's long-awaited renewal of the old Big 12 rivalry certainly delivered on the drama. Unfortunately for Nebraska, it resulted in a loss. But now Scott Frost takes the Huskers out to scenic Boulder looking for revenge, and his program may be trending up and ready for the task at hand. And there is nothing like a classic Big 12 rivalry playing out in a Big Ten vs. Pac-12 setting, right?
6. Maryland vs. Syracuse, Sept. 7
New head coach Mike Locksley will get a couple of pretty good tests in non-conference play this season. That includes a home game against Syracuse, one of the more surprising teams of 2018. The Orange are coming off of 10 wins and are looking to keep the momentum going. Meanwhile, Maryland could score a nice early statement victory for the Locksley era in College Park.
5. Michigan State vs. Arizona State, Sept. 14
Michigan State has revenge on its mind when Arizona State makes the trip to East Lansing this September. The Spartans fell short in a 16-13 decision last season against Herm Edwards and his Sun Devils, so Mark Dantonio will look to have the offense ready for a few more points playing at home. Like a few other games mentioned already, this is another chance for the Big Ten to get a leg up on another power conference.
4. Northwestern at Stanford, Aug. 31
The new season starts off on the road for the defending Big Ten West Division champion Northwestern Wildcats. And it's a good road test on the road against a Stanford team that always makes you play your best. Northwestern is 0-3 all-time on the road against the Cardinal, but this is their first trip to Palo Alto since 1992.
3. Penn State vs. Pittsburgh, Sept. 14
The final meeting in a four-year scheduling agreement between in-state opponents will lead to some bragging rights. Penn State has a good amount of turnover to sort through on offense and the Panthers are coming off an appearance in the ACC Championship Game. Penn State has won each of the last two meetings and can clinch the four-game series with a win. Or will Pitt tie things up before the rivalry goes on the shelf?
2. Iowa at Iowa State, Sept. 14
Another in-state rivalry takes place on the same day in Iowa. The Hawkeyes won a defensive battle last season to extend their winning streak over the Cyclones to four. Iowa also has won the last three games played at Iowa State. Matt Campbell is looking for his first win against Kirk Ferentz and it could be bound to happen any time now. Will this be the year Campbell celebrates a win over Iowa, or will the Big Ten add a victory over the Big 12 to their non-conference slate?
1. Michigan vs. Notre Dame, Oct. 26
A week after playing on the road at Penn State, the Michigan Wolverines return home to host Notre Dame. And if last season was any indication, this game should carry some heavy College Football Playoff implications right before November. The Irish took last year's season opener in South Bend and ran the table in the regular season to reach the playoff. Michigan was on the playoff radar for much of the year after their opening loss to the Irish, and a win against Notre Dame here could be a potential resume boost for the Wolverines.
— 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.