You smell that? Yes that fragrance pouring in from the Midwestern skies is the smell of football. Grill smoke, beverages, leaves and the breeze are all just a bit more crisp.
On the practice fields Big Ten football teams have welcomed their incoming true freshman, transfers, and walk-ons. Returning upperclassmen join fall camp action looking to improve on any success from 2012. Although, this “action” during practice is not remotely as enjoyable as the games themselves.
Visualize your typical Saturday at home during the fall, do it. It’s all about the schedule for the day. It might start off with having College Gameday on in the background as you start chili in the crock pot or eat some breakfast. This year will be unique. Fox debuts its new 24/7 sports network and will have its own College Football morning preview show (Erin Andrews! Eddie George!).
The noon games start and your best friends and family talk about the games they are the most excited to watch. Sitting, standing, pacing, grilling, eating, drinking, tweeting and cheering. All of a sudden the prime time games end at midnight in dramatic fashion and that makes you believe there is absolutely nothing better than college football. It’s a nice feeling to think about.
There are specific elements to looking at the schedule during the preseason that sends chills up your spine when you visualize the helmets, the stadiums, the marching bands and the weather. We’re anticipating the 2013 season and are ready to pick the must-watch Big 10 games of the season. To make the list below we look at prime time kickoff time for atmosphere, conference title implications, non-conference statement games, upset potential or a game that could go either way making it must see television.
Penn State is ineligible for championships and the postseason for the next three years. We’ll extend that ban to include this list. That’s on the NCAA not us. If only the NCAA would rule Johnny Manziel ineligible from being on ESPN every day.
Lets take a look at the 12 most anticipated games you will be tuning in to watch involving B1G teams:
12. Missouri at Indiana – September 21st, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network
This is the only B1G vs. SEC match-up this fall. The atmosphere in Bloomington for a night game against Ohio State last year was electric. It was a shootout with Indiana only losing by a field goal 52-49. We expect a similar game this year but earlier in the season against Mizzou. Today, Indiana is the sexy pick to do some damage considering how efficient their offense was in 2012, ranking third in the Big Ten in total offense. If the Hoosiers add a little more defense, they could easily pull off a victory over Missouri. Indiana could go on to continue to impress enough en route to its first bowl bid since 2007. No matter who you root for in the conference, it is gratifying for any Big Ten team to score a victory over an SEC opponent. I guess unless you’re a Purdue fan in this case.
11. BYU at Wisconsin – November 9th, TBA
This non-conference game has my interest because it is in Madison but also BYU had a great defense that only gave up 14 points per game last season (third in the nation). There is some upset potential here and it is fun to see a November non-conference game that isn’t in Hawaii. I don’t know what to expect from Wisconsin’s offense under new head coach Gary Andersen but I think athletic director Barry Alvarez made a fine hire.
One interesting thing is that Utah State was 1-3 against BYU with Anderson as the head coach. But the first-year Wisconsin head coach will have a talent advantage this time around.
10. Ohio State at Northwestern – October 5th, 8 p.m., ABC
A lot of college football previews I read believe this is a potential stumbling point for the Buckeyes, who have their eyes on back-to-back undefeated seasons. Fine, I’ll jump on the bandwagon because Northwestern is a solid football team that beat two SEC teams last year and ended up 10-3.
This year, the Buckeyes and Wildcats go on the road to play Cal in early non-conference play. Two games which could easily be on your list of must-watch games. Comparing how they handle the same situation in California might give an indication of whether or not this ends up being at game worth watching. Ohio State has beaten Northwestern in 28 of the last 29 games, with the last loss coming in 2004. Northwestern beat Ohio State in an overtime game in Evanston 33-27 that night. The field was rushed.
9. UCLA at Nebraska – September 14th, noon, ABC
This is the second game in a home-and-home between UCLA and Nebraska. Last year the Cornhuskers were upset by then first-year head coach Jim Mora’s squad in Pasadena. Nebraska’s defense was horrible all of last season and that was obvious when Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley, who torched them for 300 yards passing and four touchdowns. The Black Shirts in Lincoln must dramatically improve on their tackling, pass coverage and points against if they have a shot at being anything more than a nine-win team. In Nebraska’s four losses last year they gave up an average of 53.5 points. That’s awful, yet it can’t get any worse than that, can it?
8. Michigan State at Notre Dame – September 21st, 3:30 p.m., NBC
This could be higher considering there have been some great fourth quarter dramatics recently in this yearly rivalry. The Spartans have won six of the last eight meetings in South Bend so the defending BCS losers will not take them lightly. If Michigan State overachieves this year it will be because they win this game and the momentum propels them into their second division title since Nebraska was added in 2011.
7. Wisconsin at Ohio State – September 28th, 8 p.m., ABC
Two night games in a row against each other and two great games which Ohio State came out victorious in 2011 and 2012. Fun fact: Ohio State and Wisconsin have never played in September before. That said, this is the best B1G conference game in September and the outcome could eventually determine the winner of the Leaders Division. At least that will be the storyline going into the weekend. Iowa at Minnesota will be getting some ABC love at 3:30 p.m. but know now that there is nothing else to really get excited about when conference play goes into a full weekend of games.
6. Michigan State at Nebraska – November 16th, TBA
If Michigan State beats Michigan before their game in Lincoln this outcome could determine the winner of the Legends Division. Nebraska is 5-0 all-time versus the Spartans but that could mean Michigan State is “due” for a win.
This game might be a coin flip and it starts with the respective team’s head coaches. Are there two bigger butt clinching, over-serious, intense coaches in the Big Ten than Bo Pelini and Mark Dantonio? Doubtful. These two guys are so intent on not cracking a smile it will look like a bet between the two or a bad drinking game where you will never be able to get a sip. Side note: for hilarious entertainment during any Nebraska football game follow @FauxPelini on twitter.
5. Michigan at Michigan State – November 2nd, TBA
One of the best rivalry games in the Big Ten. Michigan snapped a four-game losing streak against Michigan State last year. This will undoubtedly be Michigan’s toughest road game of the season. If they can make it two in a row this year it could set up a clinching game for the Legends Division at home against Nebraska on November 9th. The kickoff time has not been determined yet but I could see this as a prime time game of the week on one of the networks. Senior Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell has to be better this year and this is a statement game where Spartan fans will forget 2012 if he is the difference.
4. Notre Dame at Michigan – September 7th, 8 p.m., ABC
Unfortunately, this could be the second-to-last “helmet game” as the Irish have opted out of the game from 2015 through 2017. After that it is up to the respective athletic directors to strike up a deal for the annual game to come back again in the future. Unfortunate because Brian Kelly vs. Brady Hoke is turning into a pretty fabulous football war. A rare night game in Ann Arbor brings back awesome memories of the 2011 game with Michigan going 80 yards in 28 seconds (right after a ND score) to win. We would be lucky to get another game where the winner takes it from the other team on the last play. But…same Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees, same atmosphere, same teams, same prime time kickoff.
3. Nebraska at Michigan – November 9th, TBA
Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, the first two meetings between these teams have been pretty lopsided with both squads getting big wins at home. The Taylor Martinez versus Devin Gardner quarterback match-up will be the most exciting in the B1G that does not involve Braxton Miller. Last time Nebraska went to Ann Arbor in 2011 they turned the ball over three times resulting in a 45-17 blowout loss. Martinez will have a chance to redeem himself this year, but he has to keep big game mistakes to a minimum, which we’ve been saying for years. The Huskers can only hope that finally in his senior season he has an efficient big-play to turnover ratio.
2. Ohio State at Michigan – November 30th, TBA, ABC
“The Game” can never get over-hyped. The second of what should be many great meetings between Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke has it’s first appearance in Ann Arbor. It has a really exciting feeling that brings up the back and forth memories in the peak of the Woody vs. Bo “10-year war.” Devin Gardner and Braxton Miller will give fans a great look at their talents.
This also could be a game that will make or break Miller’s Heisman hopes. This is the last year Michigan and Ohio State will be in separate divisions with a chance for a following weekend rematch in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.
Speaking of which…
1. Big Ten Conference Championship Game – Indianapolis, December 7th, 8 p.m., FOX
Yes, I am looking way ahead of myself, but I’m making a prediction and am biased. Living in Indianapolis, I expect to attend an Ohio State vs. Nebraska boxing match that lives up to the championship game from 2011. Plus, lets be honest this is only the third year for a title game in B1G conference history. There is still a huge amount of buzz as the game adds to its short history and this could be the first appearance for the Buckeyes.
The anticipation is increasing because starting next year the winner could end up in a four-team playoff for a national title. That and this game has the “Gus Johnson Factor” which almost guarantees drama and excitement.
What Big Ten game are you looking forward to the most in 2013? Leave your opinion in the comment section below.