Okay, so technically I am taking requests. In the fallout from last-week's appetizer feature on the toughest Big Ten schedules, Graham asked me to prepare a main-course breakdown of the Top 5 out of conference matchups in 2009.
Naturally, I've obliged. But lest you think I'm totally p*ssy whipped, here's a few ground rules. First, I'm breaking this thing up into several categories. Rather than wasting time with useless (wishful?) prognostications, I've created several independent lists, each with a different theme. They are:
The Top 5 Best OOC Games (e.g. The games that are likely to be the most hotly contested, and are likely to result in the most interesting outcomes.)
- The Top 5 Biggest OOC Games (e.g. The games for which the national spotlight will burn the brightest.)
- The Top 5 Must Win OOC Games (e.g. The games that we simply cannot afford to lose.)
On with it:
The Top 5 Best OOC Games
5. Indiana @ Virginia (October 10th)
I think the first meeting ever for these bottom feeders just might be a good matchup. The Hoosiers lost their best player (Kellen Lewis) to dismissal. The Cavs lost their best player (Cedric Peerman) to graduation. IU rallies to pull back from a 14-point deficit at the half, but it's too little, too late.
4. Minnesota vs. Air Force (September 12th)
The Big Ten locks horns with the Mountain West in game that will pit an illustrious run game against a serious pass attack. The Falcons were 6-2 on the road last year. They won't be so lucky in new TCF Bank Stadium.
3. Wisconsin vs. Fresno State (September 12th)
Expect the rush heavy Bulldogs to give Wisky a taste of its own medicine. Wisconsin pulls out an unnecessarily close one at home.
2. Michigan vs. Notre Dame (September 12th)
The Irish are getting less green every year. Michigan continues to be an anomaly. This annual standoff between traditional superpowers results in a game for the ages -- with a close victory for the Gipper.
1. Illinois @ Cincinnati (November 28th)
This late-season matchup is easy to overlook. The new standout in the Big East meets a high-energy Illini team in Nippert Stadium with dramatic results. Juice Williams leads Illinois to a fourth-quarter win, preserving Big Ten bragging rights.
The Top 5 Biggest OOC Games
5. Michigan State @ Notre Dame (September 19th)
The Spartans are on the rise under Mark Dantonio. Irish coach Charlie Weis has one last season to prove his "genius." This game proves to be a powerful, physical matchup. Notre Dame's revived pass game is the difference.
4. Purdue @ Oregon (September 12th)
Last year's game in West Lafayette was an instant overtime classic. This year's re-match in Eugene will be underwhelming as the Boilermakers are outran.
3. Iowa vs. Arizona (September 19th)
In a continuance of the Big Ten/Pac 10 Challenge, the Wildcats come to Iowa City, where they'll meet the budding, physical Hawkeyes. Iowa takes care of business in a big way.
2. Minnesota vs. Cal (September 19th)
Last year, Michigan State suffered a close defeat to California at Strawberry Canyon. This year, the Golden Bears come east, to play at the newly chirstened TCF Bank Stadium. Cal's speed, from the likes of Jahvid Best is the difference -- although the Golden Gophers pick on a week linebacking corps. Cal goes on to challenge USC for the Pac 10. Sadly, they finish where they started: in second place.
1. Ohio State vs. USC (September 12th)
Round 2 of this epic collision needs no introduction. USC's offense struggles, but ultimately takes advantage of solid field position from turnovers to squeeze out a heartbreaking win in Columbus.
The Top 5 Must Win OOC Games
5. Illinois vs. Missouri (September 5th)
If they can't beat 'em this year, they can't beat 'em at all. Illini veteran quarterback Juice Williams needs to capitalize on a depleted Missouri team, to punctuate a Big Ten win against Big 12 competition.
4. Michigan vs. Western Michigan (September 5th)
Sure it's a MAC opponent in the opener, but the Wolverines have had a bit of trouble in both categories. Michigan needs a solid win here to start the season on the right note.
3. Minnesota @ Syracuse (September 5th)
Again, no unnecessary losses to BCS opponents. Minnesota will be the favorites. Here's to hoping they pull off a sound opener.
2. Northwestern @ Syracuse (September 19th)
See above. The Wildcats have to pick on a meager Orange pass defense, that ranked 84th in the nation in 2008.
1. Wisconsin @ Hawaii (November 28th)
It's late in the season. It's halfway around the world. The Big Ten needs to avoid trouble in paradise to maintain a respectable out of conference showing.
More self-effulgence when Last Call returns to the barstool...