- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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To help you gear up for the 2012 season, we're going to rank all 48 nonconference games featuring Big Ten teams. Not all of these games are created equal -- and quite a few are lousy -- but several boast quite a bit of intrigue. These rankings take into account the quality of opponent, history/connections between the teams and the timing of the game. Let's start out with the least compelling 13 and work our way toward the must-see contests.
And away we go ...
No. 48 -- Charleston Southern at Illinois, Sept. 15: Nothing to see here, folks, as an FCS team that went 0-11 and surrendered 140 points in its final three games visits Champaign. Expect a big day for Nathan Scheelhaase, Josh Ferguson & Co.
No. 47 -- Idaho State at Nebraska, Sept. 22: Don't confuse Idaho State with Boise State. Idaho State comes off of a 2-9 season in the FCS Big Sky Conference. Nebraska should have little trouble handling Merril Hoge's alma mater before kicking off Big Ten play the following week against Wisconsin.
No. 46 -- South Dakota at Northwestern, Sept. 22: Northwestern has trouble filling Ryan Field, and this game poses some major challenges for the school's athletic marketing staff. The FCS Coyotes weren't bad last year (6-5), but there's not much intrigue here.
No. 45 -- Indiana State at Indiana, Sept. 1: While it's a season opener and features teams from the same state, Indiana needs to show it can beat an FBS opponent under Kevin Wilson. Indiana State took a step forward last season in going 6-5.
No. 44 -- Eastern Kentucky at Purdue, Sept. 1: It's the season opener, and the game reunites Purdue coach Danny Hope with his alma mater and former employer, but Hope will be one of few with a vested interest in the Boilers-Colonels matchup.
No. 43 -- Indiana at Massachusetts, Sept. 8: The Minutemen are playing their first season in the FBS and as a member of the MAC. New coach Charley Molnar, the former Notre Dame offensive coordinator, makes his home debut.
No. 42 -- UTEP at Wisconsin, Sept. 22: Although Wisconsin is gradually beefing up its historically weak nonleague schedule, this game shouldn't provide much drama. UTEP went 5-7 last season and 104th nationally in total defense. Will the Badgers break the 70-point barrier again?
No. 41 -- New Hampshire at Minnesota, Sept. 8: Minnesota needs to be careful as New Hampshire is a strong FCS program that employed Chip Kelly as its offensive coordinator not long ago. Still, Minnesota's other nonleague home games (Western Michigan and Syracuse) should be more compelling.
No. 40 -- UAB at Ohio State, Sept. 22: Former Northwestern and Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee is in his first season as UAB's coach. He brings a team that went 3-9 a year ago into The Shoe. UAB had four losses by 39 points or more last season and could suffer another against the Buckeyes.
No. 39 -- Utah State at Wisconsin, Sept. 15: Utah State climbed out of the depths of the FBS in 2011, going 7-5 to record its first seven-win season since 1993. Although the Badgers are coming off of a potentially tricky trip to Oregon State, they should be able to handle the Aggies at home.
No. 38 -- Minnesota at UNLV, Aug. 30: Minnesota is the first Big Ten team in action this fall and opens with a Thursday night kickoff. Can't say this will be one of the prime attractions in Vegas, though, as the teams combined to go 5-19 in 2011.
No. 37 -- Massachusetts at Michigan, Sept. 15: This game should be a breather in Michigan's otherwise torturous nonconference slate (Alabama, Notre Dame and Air Force), although the Wolverines should be wary of what happened the last time the Minutemen visited Ann Arbor. Michigan held on for a 42-37 win in 2010 as Denard Robinson accounted for 345 yards and three touchdowns.
No. 36 -- Ball State at Indiana, Sept. 15: It's another in-state clash featuring an Indiana team looking to get over the hump against Ball State, which has won its past two games against the Hoosiers. Ball State went 6-6 last season after back-to-back losing campaigns. Brady Hoke coached the Cardinals to a win in the teams' last meeting at Memorial Stadium.
No. 35 -- Northern Iowa at Wisconsin, Sept. 1: Many Big Ten fans know about Northern Iowa's program and its success at the FBS level. But the Panthers haven't beaten a Big Ten opponent since 1898 (Iowa). The game likely marks quarterback Danny O'Brien's debut with the Badgers.