There’s not much of a conceit for this outside “Wow, there are some interesting Big Ten matchups on the road in 2019!” And...does there need to be? Here are the best games—and there are only 7!—you might have to watch on weird networks this fall:
7. Illinois Fighting Illini at UConn Huskies (September 7)
The combined preseason S&P+ of this matchup is 220. You might be wondering—are there even 111 teams in college football to make this possible? Reader, there are.
The Huskies—still, incomprehensibly, coached by press conference-leaving Randy Edsall and opting for the low-hanging fruit hashtag of #RaiseTheBar (it can’t get much lower)—are awful. SBNation’s Matt Brown outright suggested they should drop to FCS.
Illinois is Illinois, and things seem just fine in Champaign.
This game will be an 11:00 CT kick on CBS Sports Network and you will tune in anyways because the other option is Eastern Illinois at Indiana or Central Michigan at Wisconsin.
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers at Fresno State Bulldogs (September 7)
Now, this may be a little unfair to the Gophers and/or Bulldogs, who played a mildly-intriguing game in 2018 that ended with Antoine Winfield Jr. pulling a goddamn-ridiculous rabbit of an INT out of his hat.
With a combined S&P+ of 84 (the Gophers are at 33), this isn’t shaping up to be the worst game in the world. But the Bulldogs’ offense will take a step back without Marcus McMaryion, and we’ll be left to see whether the Gophers have found a quarterback by then or are resigned to grinding out games on the ground.
5. wisconsin badgers at South Florida Bulls (August 30)
There are three FCS games in Week 1, but a few other teams are actually opening the season by really challenging themselves with something a little out of the ordinary or different.
I guess wisconsin is one of those, but the Bulls’ 2018 collapse—they lost their last six games, including a home bowl game to Marshall, of all teams—gives little hope that they’ll be much better. If Blake Barnett’s leg is better, the Bulls could give wisconsin some trouble, but I expect more of the same from the badgers in their non-conference play.
4. Iowa Hawkeyes at Iowa St. Cyclones (September 14)
I grant—¡El Assico! could be wildly improved in quality this fall, with Iowa clocking in as a Top 25 team in Bill Connelly’s system and the Cyclones seeking to build on a season that vaulted Matt Campbell into coaching search lists across the country and even into the NFL.
Until then, though, I will put very little stock in a game that should feature shadow-boxing offenses, defenses in each other’s image, and the general unpleasantness of Iowans pretending we give a shit what they’re doing to one another.
3. Purdue Boilermakers at Nevada Wolf Pack (August 31)
There’s intrigue here not because the Pack will be anywhere near decent (they’re 83rd in preseason S&P+ and lose QB Ty Gangi), but they’ve got a full backfield and...well, it’s a Purdue non-conference game. If you’re not expecting this to kick off at 8pm on CBS Sports Network and featuring 6-7 lead changes, at least three baffling trick plays, and a complete collapse by one defense, I frankly don’t know what Purdue you’ve been watching.
2. Nebraska Cornhuskers at Colorado Buffaloes (September 7)
Revenge for Scott Frost? It’s certainly possible. The Huskers should roll South Alabama in their opener, and that’ll set up an excellent rematch in which it certainly feels unlikely that the Huskers will turn it over approximately 41023 times in the first half.
Add in that this will be at Folsom Field and bring with it all the pent-up Buffaloes hostility, and I certainly think we’re looking at a FOX prime-timer.
1. Northwestern Wildcats at Stanford Cardinal (August 31)
You’re wrong if you say this isn’t the most intriguing of the Big Ten non-conference games in 2019. The defending Big Ten West Champions, widely reviled by the statisticians (tongue-in-cheek there), will bring new QB Hunter Johnson into Palo Alto for a showdown with a notoriously slow-starting Cardinal squad
In the wake of the 2015 “body clocks” brouhaha—also known as true freshman Clayton Thorson winning his debut despite putting up the kind of mediocre line that became all too common over his Northwestern career—we have to wonder: Will Stanford seek time-change revenge? The ‘Cats have already gone West for an unseemly late game (a 2013 game at Cal with a 9:30pm CT kick which featured two pick-sixes by Collin Ellis), but perhaps those tricky Cardinal have something else up their sleeves.
Add to this that Mrs. MNW and I will be in attendance (my first trip to the Bay since an ill-fated basketball trip in 2013), and you’ve got a stew cookin’. Northwestern’s Bay Area alumni base should travel well to The Farm, and while it’ll be Fitz and Shaw playing it cagey and not wanting to give up the secrets they’ll use to be a pain in the ass during conference play, it’ll be the best road test for a Big Ten team in 2019.
Best Big Ten road football game in 2019?
This poll is closed
Illinois at UConn
Minnesota at Fresno
wisconsin at USF
Purdue at Nevada
Nebraska at Colorado