Big Ten: 2012 most important game

Most important game: Wisconsin

June, 13, 2012
6/13/12
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We've reached the end of our series taking a look at the most important game for every Big Ten team. As a reminder one last time, these are games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved.

Check out the previous 11 installments here. Now bring us on home, Wisconsin Badgers.

Most important game: Nov. 17 vs Ohio State

Why it's important: I had a very difficult time deciding between this one, the Oct. 27 home game against Michigan State and the season-ending trip to Penn State. As great as the games against the Spartans have been, it's not a division matchup. The Badgers lost in East Lansing last year and still made the Rose Bowl. So it comes down to two Leaders clashes, both of which could have a huge say in which team ends up in Indianapolis. I chose the game against the Buckeyes for a couple of reasons. One, it's a home game, and Wisconsin -- which has been almost unbeatable at Camp Randall Stadium recently -- can't afford to lose any games at home in what figures to be a very tight race for the division crown. Even though Ohio State is ineligible for the Leaders title, the Buckeyes can still play spoiler. And though they've made nice since, you know there will be some lingering bad blood between Bret Bielema and Urban Meyer after their recruiting tiff in February. Both teams will want to stick it to the other one. With Ohio State likely on the rise under Meyer and a major contender in 2013 and beyond, this is something of a message game for Bielema and his program. Sure, the game at Penn State may end up being for all the division marbles, as the matchup was last year in Madison. But if Wisconsin loses at home to the Buckeyes, that next game might not matter nearly as much.

Most important game: Purdue

June, 12, 2012
6/12/12
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Our series looking at the most important game for each Big Ten team this season is beginning to wind down. As a reminder, these are games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved.

If you've missed the previous capsules, check 'em out here.

Let's look at the Purdue Boilermakers, who return 18 starters and appear to be a popular sleeper pick in the Big Ten entering the season.

Most important game: Oct. 13 vs. Wisconsin

Why it's important: We'll know very early during the Big Ten schedule whether Purdue will make noise in the Leaders division or be scrambling for a bowl spot. The Boilers open with a cross-division home showdown against Michigan before hosting defending Big Ten champ Wisconsin on homecoming. The Wisconsin game gets the nod because it takes place within the division and precedes a Purdue trip to Ohio State, which will be looking to avenge last year's overtime loss in West Lafayette. Purdue could have a tough time winning in Columbus, and it must avoid a 0-2 start in division play to make any type of push for Indy. Wisconsin has annihilated Purdue in Madison as of late, but the Badgers aren't nearly as dominant away from home, as we saw last season. Purdue will need a big performance from defensive tackle Kawann Short and must keep pace with Wisconsin on the ground. But if the Boilers are as good as fourth-year coach Danny Hope thinks they'll be, they should have an opportunity for an upset against the Badgers. A win could springboard Purdue, which has a very manageable closing stretch after the trip to Ohio State.
It's time to resume our series looking at the most important game on the 2012 schedule for each Big Ten squad. As a reminder, these are games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved.

If you've missed the previous capsules, check 'em out here.

We're in the home stretch, and let's take a look at the Penn State Nittany Lions under first-year coach Bill O'Brien.

Most important game: Oct. 27 vs. Ohio State

Why it's important: It's a tough call between Penn State's marquee home games against Ohio State and Wisconsin (Nov. 24), but I'm going with the Buckeyes showdown for several reasons. Ohio State likely will be the first ranked team Penn State faces in 2012. The Lions could have a strong start to the season, but they conclude with five of six Leaders division games, including the home clashes with Ohio State and Wisconsin. A win against the Buckeyes under the lights at Beaver Stadium could put Penn State right in the mix for the division title. It would provide a major boost for O'Brien and his players to record a marquee win in front of the home faithful in what should be an electric atmosphere. Although Wisconsin is the defending division champ, Penn State looks at Ohio State as a bigger rival. Urban Meyer's recruit-flipping this past winter has only added flavor, and Penn State likely will see several of its one-time commits on the field that night. Both Penn State and Ohio State will be more adjusted under their new coaches by Oct. 27. The matchup features what should be two of the Big Ten's best defenses and two offenses going through radical transformations. A Penn State win could set up an exciting month of November, while a loss might knock the Lions out of the division race.
Is there ever really such a thing as an unimportant game for Ohio State? Not really for a program whose fans live and breathe Buckeyes football.

Still, not every game is created equally. We're examining the most important game on the 2012 schedule for each Big Ten squad, choosing those that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved. So let's check in on those Buckeyes and the most important game in Urban Meyer's first season.

Most important game: Nov. 24 vs. Michigan

Why it's important: Wait a minute, some of you are probably saying. We didn't choose the Ohio State clash as Michigan's most important game earlier in this series. Have we forgotten that, or are we saying that The Game is somehow more important for the Buckeyes than the Wolverines? No. Well, OK, sort of, for this year at least. The difference between the two is that Ohio State can't play for the Big Ten championship or go to the postseason because of its NCAA probation. So while there will be many big games on their schedule, the Buckeyes will have to view their season-ender against the Maize and Blue as their bowl game. A loss there would send them into the offseason on a sour note with no chance to change that until the following September. And there's no way any Ohio State fan wants to see Brady Hoke go to 2-0 in the rivalry, especially not in the Horseshoe. Meyer is wildly popular now, but all he has to do is ask his predecessors how quickly that can wear off if he doesn't beat Michigan. That's why this is the most important game on the schedule for Ohio State this year, but not necessarily the Wolverines.

Most important game: Nebraska

June, 7, 2012
6/07/12
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Let's jump back into our series looking at the most important game on the 2012 schedule for each Big Ten squad. As a reminder, these are games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved.

Today's contestant is the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Come on down.

Most important game: Oct. 27 vs. Michigan

Why it's important: 45-17. That was the score when the Huskers went to Ann Arbor last Nov. 19 and were swept out of the Legends Division race when the Wolverines swamped them in the second half. That game has to stick in the minds of Nebraska players and coaches, especially coming as it did against a division opponent. Had they won that game, maybe they would have been the ones going to the Sugar Bowl. This year, Michigan comes to Lincoln, bringing back memories of their split national title in 1997. The Cornhuskers have talked boldly this offseason about wanting to get in position for a national title; well, first they'll have to win their division, and that will be very difficult if they can't protect their home turf against one of the league's top championship contenders. The Wolverines are a team the Huskers should match up with well. Both place a heavy emphasis on line play and have mobile, play-making quarterbacks. The Michigan game begins a brutal three-week stretch in which Nebraska also goes to Michigan State and hosts Penn State. It is also the team's only home game between Oct. 6 and Nov. 10. All of which makes this game look like a key one to Big Red's entire season, not to mention a chance to atone for one of its poorest performances from a year ago.
It's time to dive back into our series looking at the most important game on the 2012 schedule for each Big Ten squad. As a reminder, these are games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved.

Let's take a look today at the Northwestern Wildcats:

Most important game: Nov. 24 vs. Illinois

Why it's important: The Northwestern-Illinois series is starting to become more of a rivalry, with the Wildcats billing themselves as "Chicago's Big Ten team" and new Illini coach Tim Beckman refusing to wear purple. That's a good thing, since Northwestern doesn't have many natural rivals. The bad news is, Pat Fitzgerald's team has lost this game the past two years, robbing itself of any potential bragging rights in the Windy City and beyond. He certainly doesn't want to see that losing streak stretch to three, especially with this year's game in Evanston and with Beckman getting his first taste of the budding rivalry. Northwestern doesn't always have the most intimidating home field environment, but there should be plenty of fans on hand for this one. And coming at the end of the season as it does, following a brutal stretch in which the Wildcats play Nebraska and Iowa followed by road games to both Michigan schools, this game could make a big difference in their postseason possibilities. Northwestern wouldn't be a very attractive bowl team if it ended the year on a three-game losing streak, and its claim in the rivalry wouldn't be very strong with three straight losses to that team from Champaign.
Every game matters in college football. But some matter more than others.

That's the basis of our series looking at the most important game on the 2012 schedule for each Big Ten squad. These are games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved.

We've run through five schools so far, and now it's time to take a look at the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Most important game: Sept. 29 at Iowa

Why it's important: We're not exactly in the midst of a golden age of Minnesota football, but the Gophers have done pretty well lately when it comes to the bronzed pig. They've won two straight Floyd of Rosedale trophies, including last year's 22-21 upset in Minneapolis. The Iowa rivalry is always going to be one of the most important games on the schedule, and this year I think it could have a big impact on how Jerry Kill's second season winds up. Here's why: Minnesota has four winnable games in the nonconference schedule, starting at UNLV and including home games against New Hampshire, Western Michigan and Syracuse. While those aren't guaranteed victories in any sense, if the Gophers improve on the progress they made late last season, they certainly could begin the season 4-0 or 3-1 at worst. Then comes the Big Ten opener at Iowa. Going to Kinnick Stadium will be no cakewalk, but the Gophers surely have confidence against the Hawkeyes after the past two years. If MarQueis Gray and Minnesota can manage to keep Floyd for a third straight year, then all of a sudden a bowl game looks like a real possibility in 2012. That would represent a huge step forward for Kill and this program. Throw in the fact that a Gophers win would send Iowa fans into an early-season panic, and it becomes that much sweeter -- and important.
It's time to continue our series looking at the most important game on the 2012 schedule for each Big Ten squad. As a reminder, these are games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved.

To see the entire series so far, click here.

Up next, the defending Legends Division champion Michigan State Spartans.

Most important game: Oct. 20 at Michigan

Why it's important: This selection shouldn't surprise those who saw our pick for Michigan's toughest game. The Oct. 20 matchup at the Big House looks like the Big Ten's premier game entering 2012, as it will pair what should be the league's two highest-ranked teams entering the fall. The rivalry component certainly adds to the magnitude of the game, as does the division component. Michigan State plays four marquee teams -- Boise State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska -- at Spartan Stadium, where it hasn't lost a game since Nov. 21, 2009. While a home sweep would be impressive, Michigan State can take a big step toward a return to Indianapolis and the Big Ten championship game by winning in Ann Arbor. It would be a division road win and it would hand Michigan a division home loss. Even if the Spartans lost to Ohio State, they would be in the driver's seat in the division if they win their next three, culminating with the Michigan game. A loss to the Wolverines would put a lot of pressure on Michigan State to sweep its Big Ten home schedule, as the Spartans have another tough road game at Wisconsin. Michigan State has won four straight against its in-state rival, and a victory would mark the Spartans' third straight at Michigan Stadium, something they haven't done since a six-game win streak between 1956-67.

Most important game: Michigan

June, 1, 2012
6/01/12
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It's time to jump back into our series looking at the most important game on each Big Ten team's schedule in 2012. As a reminder, these are games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved.

You're up, Michigan Wolverines.

Most important game: Oct. 20 vs. Michigan State.

Why it's important: I know there are going to be a lot of Wolverines fans who disagree with this and insist that the Ohio State game is the most important one on the schedule, this year and every year. And they certainly have a strong argument, as that rivalry will always supersede just about everything else for those on both sides of it. But it's also true that the Maize and Blue haven't won a Big Ten title since 2004, which is an eternity in Ann Arbor. Hanging another one of those league title banners is clearly and unquestionably Brady Hoke's No. 1 goal, so much so that he called last year's 11-2, Sugar Bowl championship season a failure because his team didn't get that done. Well, to claim the league title, the Wolverines first have to outlast the competition in the Legends Division. Michigan State, the defending division champ, is one of the main obstacles in that path and just so happens to have beaten Michigan in each of the past four years. Hoke's team is already facing a brutal schedule, with games away from home against Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska and those Buckeyes. If it can't break the streak against the Spartans in the Big House, Michigan is going to have a very difficult time getting to Indianapolis for the conference championship game. And the Wolverines players definitely don't want to hear about a five-game losing streak to their in-state rivals. Which is why, for this year at least, I see the Michigan State game as even more important than The Game.

Most important game: Iowa

May, 31, 2012
5/31/12
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Earlier this week, we kicked off a series looking at the most important game on each Big Ten team's schedule in 2012. As a reminder, these are games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved.

Next up, the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Most important game: Oct. 13 at Michigan State

Why it's important: Iowa's early season schedule sets up favorably for a strong start. The Hawkeyes open with a neutral-site game against Northern Illinois at Chicago's Soldier Field, which should be filled with gold and black Sept. 1. They then play four consecutive home games, culminating with the Big Ten opener against recent nemesis Minnesota. Although there are some potential stumbling blocks, few would be surprised if Iowa started the season at 5-0. But a reality check arrives after an open week with a trip to East Lansing to face defending Legends division champion Michigan State. The Spartans dominated Iowa for much of last year's contest at Kinnick Stadium, surging to a 31-7 lead behind quarterback Kirk Cousins and running back Le'Veon Bell. Michigan State's formidable defense provides a good test for Iowa's new-look offense under Greg Davis. The Hawkeyes' young defensive line will need a stout effort against the bruising Bell and a Michigan State offensive front that should be much improved from 2011. Few peg Iowa as a legitimate contender for the Legends division title, but a Hawkeyes victory in East Lansing -- especially one that improves them to 6-0 -- will change that perception in a hurry. Though a loss doesn't doom Iowa by any means, another poor performance against MSU will indicate the Hawkeyes are a few notches below the division's elite.

Most important game: Indiana

May, 30, 2012
5/30/12
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On Tuesday, we began a new series looking at the most important game for each Big Ten team in 2012. These are the games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved.

Let's take a look now at the Indiana Hoosiers.

Most important game: Nov. 24 at Purdue

Why it's important: The goal for head coach Kevin Wilson's second year is pretty obvious: beat some FBS competition, and win at least one Big Ten game. The Hoosiers did neither during a 1-11 season in 2011. Indiana played one of its best games of the season in its last outing a year ago, hanging with Purdue in Bloomington most of the way before falling 33-25. The Old Oaken Bucket is always going to be important between these two in-state rivals, and the Hoosiers won in their last trip to West Lafayette in 2010. Purdue figures to be improved this season and has much better depth than Wilson's team, but emotions can allow players to perform at a different level in a heated rivalry. Indiana has a chance to get off to a decent start this season, with its first three games coming against Indiana State, UMass and Ball State, and a win in the finale against the Boilermakers could help Wilson gather some goodwill and momentum for the program. Hoosiers fans will have to hope their team is not still seeking its first Big Ten win by the time this important game rolls around.

Most important game: Illinois

May, 29, 2012
5/29/12
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With a nod to our friend over at the ACC blog (we're reasonably sure they still play varsity tackle football in the ACC), we're starting a new series today looking at the most important game for each Big Ten team in 2012.

These are the games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved. Let's start this off alphabetically with Tim Beckman's Illinois Fighting Illini.

Most important game: Sept. 29 vs. Penn State

Why it's important: There's no time for Beckman to get his feet wet in Big Ten action. Right off the bat, conference play opens with a very important matchup against the Nittany Lions. This will be a battle of two teams with new head coaches making their Big Ten debut, as Bill O'Brien leads Penn State into Champaign. The Illini lost an ugly 10-7 game in the snow last season in State College (which so happened to be Joe Paterno's last game) and trail the all-time series 4-15. But they have beaten the Nittany Lions twice since 2007, and both teams should come into this year's game with similar strengths and weaknesses. Both likely will field excellent defensive teams that may need to find some offense.

Illinois' toughest games this season, at least on paper, are all on the road: Arizona State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern. So protecting home turf will be paramount for a successful season, and a win against Penn State in the league opener could help build some momentum, not to mention a leg up in the Leaders Division race.

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