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Monday, July 12, 2010
More grudge matches in the Big Ten

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

If you can't tell, our theme today is hot matchups for the 2010 season, the games that are already stoking the fires on college campuses around the country.

The Michigan-Michigan State game in Ann Arbor fits the description, and I'd rather be nowhere but the Big House on Oct 9. But there are other grudge matches in the league this fall, and colleague Mark Schlabach mentions three of them in his top 10 national rundown.

The Michigan-Purdue game on Nov. 13 at Ross-Ade Stadium comes in at No. 5.
The Big Ten matchup might seem like the most unlikely of rivalries, but there's plenty of bad blood boiling between the Boilermakers and Wolverines. Former Purdue coach Joe Tiller referred to Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez as a "guy in a wizard hat selling snake oil," and then new Boilermakers coach Danny Hope handed Rich Rod a 38-36 loss in the Big House in '09. The head coaches exchanged words at midfield after Purdue's first victory in Ann Arbor since 1966.

My take: The Tiller-Rodriguez and Hope-Rodriguez spats are totally unrelated, but it's interesting how this particular matchup has created some controversy between the coaches. After Purdue's historic win last year at Michigan, Hope met Rodriguez at midfield and motioned for offensive lineman Zach Reckman to join them. According to Rodriguez, Hope said, "Thanks, coach. Really appreciate what you did," referring to Rodriguez calling for the Big Ten to assess all potential unsportsmanlike incidents equally. Michigan had seen its starting linebacker Jonas Mouton suspended for throwing a punch against Notre Dame, and Rodriguez identified Reckman's late hit against Northern Illinois as another potential violation for the Big Ten to review. The league concurred and suspended Reckman for a game, a decision that didn't sit well with Hope. No one is going to place Purdue among Michigan's top rivals, but last year's incident might add some fuel to a mid-November matchup that could have huge implications for both teams and especially Rodriguez, whose job might be on the line.

Schlabach ranks the Miami-Ohio State game at No. 8.
The teams haven't played since the unforgettable 2003 Fiesta Bowl, which ended with the Buckeyes' winning their first national championship since 1968. Since Ohio State's 31-24 victory in double overtime, fans of both schools have tried to forget about former Buckeyes running back Maurice Clarett, who produced a game-changing strip of the ball and an embarrassing string of off-field incidents.

My take: I tend to think enough time has passed to turn down the heat on any potential Canes-Bucks rivalry, but maybe not. I still get plenty of e-mails about the pass interference call that helped Ohio State win the title. Ohio State seems to have more bad blood with the SEC in general, but it should get a little rowdy in The Shoe on Sept. 11. I look at this as a great matchup, but not really a heated one.

Schlabach lists the Iowa-Northwestern game at No. 9.
The Wildcats handed the Hawkeyes their first loss of the '09 season with a 17-10 upset in Iowa City. Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi missed most of the game with an ankle injury, and the Hawkeyes' 13-game winning streak -- and BCS national championship hopes -- came to a screeching halt.

My take: The more I think about it, Iowa-Northwestern easily could have been my pick for the Big Ten's hottest game in 2010. Iowa fans will never publicly list Northwestern among their top rivals, but they can't stand losing to the Wildcats. Injuries and turnovers certainly have played major roles in the recent matchups, but that's football. Both teams have developed strong reputations for player development in the last decade, taking average or overlooked recruits and transforming them into All-Big Ten players. There's a lot of bad blood between the fan bases, and I know from covering Northwestern that the players always felt Iowa was a rival. Iowa gets a chance to exact revenge this fall in Evanston, while Northwestern can continue to torture the Hawkeyes with a win.