With just a couple days until the Big Ten Conference kicks off the 2017 football season, we here at Off Tackle Empire are excited as can be. We’re excited for our teams to go out and show what they’ve put together, we’re excited to relive our favorite college football routines, we’re excited to get drunk and yell at each other in gamethreads and we’re excited to see some big time football games.
Which ones in particular?
Well, the staff voted on this question and we’ve come up with our ten most anticipated games of the year involving the Big Ten.
10. Nebraska Cornhuskers at Penn State Nittany Lions, November 18th
A matchup of programs with simple, primary-color-and-white uniforms and national titles from the 1990’s clocks in at #10, and while Penn State returns much of a Big Ten championship team, Nebraska is 3-0 against the Nittany Lions since joining the conference. A rejuvenated Penn State team is probably looking to change that. This interdivisional match could change the course of the divisional races.
9. Iowa Hawkeyes at Wisconsin Badgers, November 11th
The battle for the Heartland Trophy has been a close, if not particularly good, game over the last 3 years. Wisconsin won the meeting last year on the road to avenge 2015’s 10-6 dicktripfest home loss. This game will probably involve a lot of punting and produce a combined 30 or fewer points. Still, it’s hard to get more B1G than the ugliest Quadrangle game in mid-November. Iowa will have just played Ohio State. Honestly, if they beat the Buckeyes, they’ll get blown out by the Badgers, but if they lose the first game they probably win the second. Seems appropriate, no?
8. Michigan Wolverines at Penn State, October 21st
Last year, these two reinvigorated traditional powers met in Ann Arbor, and Michigan absolutely annihilated the Nittany Lions 49-10, literally laughing them out of Michigan Stadium. Much of the starting lineup on last year’s Michigan squad has graduated, especially on defense. Penn State’s roster, on the other hand, remembers this humiliating defeat well and I’m sure they’ve been using it as hatred fuel. It was their only loss of more than three points all season, and it was by 39. Returning home to avenge an embarrassing loss seems like a recipe for an epic rematch.
7. Wisconsin at Minnesota Golden Gophers, November 25th
It seems like a long time since Minnesota last held Paul Bunyan’s Axe, but actually Mitch Leidner held it at the start of the third quarter of last year’s game...before hacking the Gophers to death with it. Prior to that, 2003 was the last time Minnesota claimed the axe, one of only two wins over the Badgers since 1994. Those close to the Minnesota program, however, assure me that P.J. Fleck is basically what you’d get if you took Jim Harbaugh and swapped out his heart for a GM LS3 small-block V8 crate engine. Thus, Minnesota’s win is such a foregone conclusion that I’m not even sure how this one made it to #7.
6. Wisconsin at Nebraska, October 7th
Unlike Penn State, Nebraska hasn’t had much success with Wisconsin since joining the league, going 0-5 so far including three horrific blowouts to start the series. However, since Melvin Gordon (briefly) set the FBS single-game rushing yards record against the Huskers back in 2014, they’ve been getting closer, losing 23-21 in 2015 and taking the Badgers to overtime last year before falling 23-17. There was a common thread in those three blowouts...former head coach Bo Pelini. Could Mike Riley have some idea of how to beat the Badgers? Could he do it on his third try? This Week 6 matchup will be an early benchmark for the Big Ten West division race.
5. Michigan at Florida Gators, September 2nd, 3:30 PM
Now we’re talking about something we can easily visualize, as this top-20 matchup will take place this Saturday. Jim vs Jim Part 2 is the biggest non-conference game of Week 1 and a rematch of the Citrus Bowl at the end of the 2015 season. Harbaugh won that one over McElwain 41-7, and the rematch is already getting heated with an extremely petty pissing match taking place over depth charts. This could be an early statement that the Big Ten means business this year.
4. Oklahoma Sooners at Ohio State Buckeyes, September 9th, 7:30 PM
Just like last year, this is a possible playoff elimination game. Barring an unlikely Week 1 loss, both teams will be ranked in the top 10 when this contest kicks off. Oklahoma returns quarterback Baker Mayfield, but with legendary head coach Bob Stoops retired, can they stand up to the mighty Buckeyes in Columbus? Oklahoma is one of the few teams for whom the answer is “it’s not unthinkable.” Both of these teams have been beaten by the Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff, with Ohio State’s beatdown much more decisive. But the significance of this game for the conference is that it presents the opportunity to once again virtually eliminate the Big 12 from playoff contention by knocking out the two-time defending conference champions.
3. Penn State at Ohio State, October 28th, 3:30 PM
While Penn State looks for revenge against Michigan, Ohio State has been plotting vengeance of their own. The pivotal game in the Big Ten East championship race last year was the stunning upset of the Buckeyes by the Nittany Lions, who must now travel on the road against some of the best recruiting classes ever assembled. In case it’s not obvious, Ohio State’s and Penn State’s schedules are of tremendous interest to us.
2. Purdue Boilermakers at Rutgers Scarlet Knights, October 21st, 12:00 PM
This is the one we’ve all been waiting for. It all comes down to this. Who wants it less? These two teams combined to win one Big Ten game last year, with Rutgers being the only B1G team since 2013 Purdue to go winless in conference play. I, for one, fully anticipate that College GameDay will be on hand in Piscataway to see first-year head coach Jeff Brohm lead his intrepid Boilermakers into America’s heartland to battle the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers. Games like this are why I watch college football.
1. Ohio State at Michigan, November 25th, 12:00 PM
The Game this year has some big shoes to fill, as last year’s double overtime classic sent its winner to the College Football Playoff. In a truly epic struggle, despite all the Jabrill Peppers they could handle, Ohio State emerged as the conquering heroes, the victors valiant to whom Michigan was compelled to hail.
Jim Harbaugh has done a pretty decent job at living out his Bo Schembechler fantasy, especially when it comes to losing games he should win in spectacular fashion and not winning any national titles. But he’ll need to defeat the Buckeyes at least once to complete his destiny. What’s more puzzling is figuring out how he’ll manage a 10-10 tie.
What did we miss? Where were we wrong? Where were we right? Let us know in the comments!