Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Ranking B1G nonleague games: Nos. 20-11
By Adam Rittenberg
After a brief hiatus, the countdown of the Big Ten's most compelling nonconference games makes its (somewhat) triumphant return. We're not at the top 10 quite yet, but we're getting there.
In case you missed them, check out Nos. 48-35 and Nos. 34-21.
Let's get going ...
No. 20 -- Syracuse at Minnesota, Sept. 22: Syracuse is somewhat of a mystery team in the Big East, and Minnesota might fit the description as well in its second season under coach Jerry Kill. Both teams look for more balance on offense this season. Syracuse struggled in the run game (95th nationally), while Minnesota didn't generate much through the air (109th nationally).
No. 19 -- Temple at Penn State, Sept. 22: The Lions have won 29 consecutive games against Temple, although they needed a late touchdown last year in Philly to keep it going. Both teams have significant question marks as Penn State goes through a historic transition, while Temple was picked to finish last in the Big East, its new league.
No. 18 -- Boston College at Northwestern, Sept. 15: Both programs seem to be trending down a bit, although BC really seems to be on the decline after a 4-8 finish in 2011. Kain Colter led Northwestern to a win at Boston College last year in his first career start. The Eagles will face a more polished Colter this time around.
No. 17 -- Central Florida at Ohio State, Sept. 8: It has become the Banned Bowl as Central Florida on Tuesday joined Ohio State in postseason purgatory. Both teams should be much improved, though, and feature exciting young quarterbacks in Braxton Miller (Ohio State) and Blake Bortles (UCF).
No. 16 -- Iowa vs. Northern Illinois (at Chicago), Sept. 1: It's the season opener for both teams and takes place at an NFL venue (Soldier Field). Still, this matchup would have been more intriguing in 2010 or 2011 than this fall, as Northern Illinois is rebuilding a bit and Iowa faces some major questions as well at spots like running back and defensive line.
No. 15 -- Vanderbilt at Northwestern, Sept. 8: The inevitable Brain Bowl jokes will be made, but this should be a compelling Week 2 matchup under the lights at Ryan Field. Vanderbilt wants to follow Northwestern's model as an elite academic school that makes consistent bowl games. Second-year coach James Franklin has the 'Dores headed in the right direction. The game features a good quarterback matchup between Colter and Jordan Rodgers (Aaron's little brother).
No. 14 -- Air Force at Michigan, Sept. 8: This has trap game written all over it for the Wolverines. It falls after Michigan's blockbuster opener against Alabama at Jerry World and features an Air Force team with a tricky offense. Expect plenty of rushing yards with the Falcons and Denard Robinson on the same field.
No. 13 -- Southern Miss at Nebraska, Sept. 1: It likely won't make many lists of must-see openers, but Southern Miss-Nebraska could be a surprisingly good game. Southern Miss comes off of a Conference USA championship, while Nebraska begins its second go-round in the Big Ten. Both teams ranked in the top 20 nationally in rushing in 2011.
No. 12 -- Penn State at Virginia, Sept. 8: Penn State hits the road for the first time in the Bill O'Brien era and faces a Virginia team that could make some noise in the ACC's Coastal Division. A talented Lions defense must contend with Virginia's dual-threat weapon Perry Jones, who had 915 rush yards and 506 receiving yards in 2011.
No. 11 -- Wisconsin at Oregon State, Sept. 8: It'll be interesting to see how the Badgers and their new starting quarterback (most likely Danny O'Brien) fare in their first road game of the season. But Wisconsin won't need a heroic performance from its signal caller to beat a Beavers team picked to finish last in the Pac-12 North division. The Badgers crushed Oregon State 35-0 last year.