- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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On Thursday, we began ranking all 48 Big Ten nonconference games in 2012, beginning with the 13 least-compelling contests on the slate.
This next batch of 14 contains a few more interesting games but is mostly a middling bunch. Here is where you'll find much of the exciting MACtion on the Big Ten schedule. We'll count these down until we get to the must-see games.
34. Central Michigan at Iowa, Sept. 22: The Chippewas were a robust 3-9 last season, though they did somehow upset eventual MAC champion Northern Illinois. At least a team that surrendered 33.3 points per game last season should allow Iowa fans to see their team light up the scoreboard.
33. Eastern Michigan at Purdue, Sept. 15 : Prepare to see a lot of directional Michigans on this list. Ron English did great work last year in getting a formerly moribund program to 6-6 (with the help of two FCS wins). He could punch his ticket out of Ypsilanti and into a major head-coaching gig if he can pull off an upset over a Big Ten team on the way to a bowl.
32. Eastern Michigan at Michigan State, Sept. 22: At least this is an in-state, uh, "rivalry." The Spartans are 8-0 all-time against EMU and have never won by fewer than 32 points.
31. Michigan State at Central Michigan, Sept. 8: Only slightly more interesting because it's on the road, for some reason. Michigan State beat Central Michigan 45-7 last year in a game I dare anyone to remember.
30. Marshall at Purdue, Sept. 29: Purdue plays Eastern Michigan and then gets a bye week before hosting Marshall. Safe to say the Boilers won't be getting a lot of national attention during those three weeks. Marshall did win a bowl game last season, though it was only the Beef O'Brady's Bowl.
29. Northern Iowa at Iowa, Sept. 15: How does an FCS game get ranked this high? Because Northern Iowa is a really good FCS team that nearly upset the Hawkeyes last time they played, three years ago. And coming as it does a week after the Iowa State clash, well, this could possibly be interesting.
28. Louisiana Tech at Illinois, Sept. 22: Louisiana Tech is not a bad team. It won eight games a year ago and challenged TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl before losing by a touchdown. Still, with no history (this is the first meeting) and very little in common, this matchup won't generate too much pre-game hype.
27. Miami (Ohio) at Ohio State, Sept. 1: This doesn't figure to be a great game (the Redhawks won just four games a year ago). But it is the Buckeyes' opener, which makes it Urban Meyer's debut. That and the geography bump this one up a few notches.
26. Indiana at Navy, Oct. 20: Now we're starting to get into some games that could go either way. Navy has been a much better program of late than the Hoosiers and could cause fits with its offense. IU may regret scheduling this one between the Ohio State and Illinois games, with little time to prepare for that option attack.
25. Western Michigan at Minnesota, Sept. 15: The Gophers had better play well if they want to win this one. Western Michigan gave Illinois and Purdue everything they wanted last year and could be the MAC favorites with prolific quarterback Alex Carder returning.
24. Western Michigan at Illinois, Sept. 1: The Broncos lost just 23-20 in Champaign last year. There would have been easier ways for Tim Beckman to open his Illini tenure, though he is very familiar with WMU, having coached at Toledo.
23. Ohio at Penn State, Sept. 1: Bill O'Brien's Penn State debut comes against a Bobcats crew that won 10 games a year ago (and is coached by former Nebraska coach Frank Solich). Upset alert. Given all that's gone on in State College, the most interesting things about this game might be happening away from the field.
22. Arkansas State at Nebraska, Sept. 15: The Red Wolves won 10 games a year ago and now are coached by offensive guru Gus Malzahn, who'll match wits against Bo Pelini's defensive mind. I am officially intrigued.
21. Navy at Penn State, Sept. 15: The Midshipmen had a losing record last year for the first time since 2002. But you can never take them lightly because of their style of play and constant effort. Navy will have to overcome quite a talent gap, however.