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Monday, July 13, 2009
Five nonconference games to fear in the Big Ten

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

For the most part, BCS teams structure their nonconference schedules to satisfy two objectives: revenue and a better overall record. There are several marquee nonleague matchups in the Big Ten this season, but teams generally want to get through the slate unscathed. Still, they should be wary of danger games.

These are the types of matchups that Big Ten teams should win, but aren't guaranteed to do so. Big Ten teams have struggled against supposedly inferior foes in recent years, dropping games, among others, to Duke, Western Michigan, Iowa State and, yes, Appalachian State.

Let's take a look at five games wrapped in caution tape for Big Ten teams this fall.

Western Michigan at Michigan, Sept. 5

Michigan's recent struggles in season openers have been well documented, and the young Wolverines face another test against Western Michigan. The New York Times sees the matchup as a dead heat, ranking the Broncos at No. 56 nationally, one spot ahead of Michigan. Still, this will always be viewed as a game Michigan should win. Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller will test a Wolverines defense adjusting to a new system.

Air Force at Minnesota, Sept. 12

The adrenaline will be flowing for Minnesota players as they open their new on-campus facility, TCF Bank Stadium, under the lights. But Tim Brewster's team should be very concerned about Air Force, which tests a team's discipline much more than most non-BCS foes. If Minnesota lacks the necessary focus, Air Force will take advantage and potentially ruin a big night in Minneapolis.

Central Michigan at Michigan State, Sept. 12

Despite its recent rise under Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, Central Michigan still lacks a marquee win over a Big Ten team. The Chippewas try to get it against Michigan State, which shouldn't overlook this matchup. Dan LeFevour will be one of the best quarterbacks the Spartans face all season, and a strong secondary will be tested by the four-year starter. If LeFevour and the Chippewas offense start strong, they'll put pressure on Michigan State quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol, one of whom will be facing his first major test as a starter.

Arizona at Iowa, Sept. 19

Both teams are coming off bowl victories, but Iowa returns more key contributors and has the home-field edge. Mike Stoops will have his Wildcats team ready as he returns to Iowa City, but the Hawkeyes should be the favorite. Iowa's struggles in recent years have come early in the season, and this could be a trap game before a huge trip to Penn State. With the running game a bit of a mystery, Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi will need to be sharp.

Wisconsin at Hawaii, Dec. 5

It would be a big mistake to view this as a trip to paradise. Just ask Northwestern. In 2004, the Wildcats were bowl eligible at 6-5 went they went out to "The Rock," as Hawaii calls its home, and lost to fall out of the postseason picture. Wisconsin should be playing for bowl position when it makes the long trip over the Pacific, and the Badgers can't afford to slip up. Hawaii always plays extremely well at home and strange things tend to happen at Aloha Stadium, so the Badgers should definitely beware.