Each Big Ten team's best non-conference game

Each Big Ten team's best non-conference game
August 22, 2014, 11:00 am
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Vinnie Duber

Many think the start of college football season to be a ramp up to the months of October and November.

That would be a mistake.

If you're not paying close enough attention in September, you could miss some of the most important games of the season. Sure, the schedules are dotted with games against FCS opponents and teams you didn't even know were colleges. But at the same time, there are monumental, national championship-deciding matchups on the docket, too.

So to get you amped for some September football — as if you weren't amped enough already — here's a look at the most anticipated non-conference games of every Big Ten team's schedule.

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1. Michigan State at Oregon, Week 2. There's no better non-conference game being played by a Big Ten team this season than this one. The Spartans have their sights on a national title, and they've set themselves up with an incredible test in this Sep. 6 trip to Eugene. The Ducks are perennially one of the country's best teams, and this season should be no different with quarterback Marcus Mariota running that high-powered offense yet again. Michigan State will try to slow things down with what was one of the country's top defenses a season ago and counter with some offensive fireworks of its own. After the season-ending injury to Braxton Miller, the Spartans are the conference favorites, making this a potential College Football Playoff preview and definitely a game that will impact who makes that four-team bracket.

2. Wisconsin vs. LSU (in Houston), Week 1. Right out of the gates, we'll get a colossal clash between one of the Big Ten's best and one of the SEC's finest. Both teams are ranked in the preseason top 15, making this a must-see on the season's opening Saturday. Like the Oregon Ducks described before them, the Bayou Bengals are often one of America's better teams, a perennial national title contender. And while this year's Wisconsin team is facing a heck of a lot of turnover, the Badgers boast one of the country's most dangerous offensive weapons in running back Melvin Gordon. One of the top-10 rushers in college football last season, he's back and has been labeled a preseason Heisman candidate. If the Badgers could score a huge neutral-site win, they'd immediately be in the discussion for the CFP.

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3. Michigan at Notre Dame, Week 2. If last year's contest was any indication, this could be one heck of a football game. Of course, there'll be a big-picture storyline on everyone's mind as it's the last playing of this rivalry for the foreseeable future. But on the field, the quarterback matchup between Devin Gardner and Everett Golson could provide as electric a game as last year's instant classic at the Big House.

4. Indiana at Missouri, Week 4. You might be wondering how a game between the SEC runner-up and a bowl-less group of Hoosiers could be this high on the list. But there could be some real opportunity for an exciting contest down in Columbia. Indiana always made things exciting last season, and that high-powered offense figures to be high-powered once more. Missouri, meanwhile, will be looking to replace an awful lot of talent from the team that was a win away from playing for a national title. We haven't reached "upset alert" quite yet, as this game's still a month away, but it might be one you want to circle on the calendar.

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5. Northwestern at Notre Dame, Week 12. Non-conference games in November are generally annoying. After weeks of in-conference competition, who wants to escape that fever pitch for a game that should've been played when it was still relatively warm outside? Such is life when Notre Dame is on the schedule, though. But there will be plenty of reason to get up for this one, especially in Chicago, where these two private-school fan bases will have bragging rights on the line.

6. Penn State vs. UCF (in Dublin), Week 1. If this game is played, it should be a good one. There's a volcano in Iceland that could disrupt the travel to and from this game. But if it goes off without a hitch, it will be fun to see James Franklin make his head-coaching debut with the Nittany Lions against the defending Fiesta Bowl champs.

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7. Illinois at Washington, Week 3. Last year's game — played at Soldier Field — was a pretty entertaining one despite the Illini ending up on the losing end. This time around, the offensive fireworks might not be as plentiful with both teams still breaking in new quarterbacks. But it's always good to see a Big Ten/Pac-12 showdown.

8. Purdue vs. Notre Dame (in Indianapolis), Week 3. The only reason this game is as high as it is on the list is because of what nearly happened last season. Purdue, a team that won one game all season and was frequently blown out, came extremely close to knocking off the Irish. There's something about this in-state rivalry that gets the Boilermakers going. It'd be fun to see another close one this year.

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9. Nebraska vs. Miami, Week 4. Think how great this game would be if it took place in the 1980s. Instead, it's taking place in 2014, as both teams look to recover from disappointing campaigns a year ago. Miami was ranked in the top 10 at one point before a pretty severe midseason collapse. The Huskers still won nine games, but that left fans in Lincoln wanting more. If you're a fan of two historic programs getting together, don't miss this.

10. Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech, Week 2. This game probably had a lot more excitement surrounding it when it was originally scheduled. Now, it figures to favor the Buckeyes, even without Braxton Miller. The Hokies disappointed last year, losing five games and ending up outside the ACC title game. Still, Virginia Tech is probably the most intriguing opponent on Ohio State's comparably light non-conference schedule

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11. Minnesota at TCU, Week 3. The Horned Frogs are plenty removed from their days as BCS crashers extraordinaire, but that doesn't mean that the Gophers walking into a Bg 12 environment is something to snooze through. It's a big-time road test for a Minnesota team looking to keep taking steps up the Big Ten ladder. After eight wins a year ago, a win at TCU would be another impressive accomplishment.

12. Maryland at Syracuse, Week 4. We're getting down to the bottom of the list here, but remember that Syracuse took down an eight-win Big Ten team in its bowl game last season, knocking off Minnesota in the Texas Bowl. Maryland should have an awesome offense this season, and winning a road game early in the year would be a nice victory against a postseason team from last season.

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13. Iowa vs. Iowa State, Week 3. This rivalry game is always the most important game of the year for the people of Iowa. This season, it could be a disaster for the Cyclones fans, though. Iowa State finished in the Big 12 basement a year ago, and with the Hawkeyes looking to chase down a Big Ten championship, they might run right over their in-state foes.

14. Rutgers at Navy, Week 4. There aren't many opportunities for one of the Big Ten's newest members to score an upset win, but this game on the road might be one of them. Navy is generally pretty good with its unique offensive system. If Rutgers can get a victory against the Midshipmen, it would certainly prove a highlight in what could be a long first year in its new conference.