- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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The schedules around the Big Ten have now been covered from every angle.
Last week the Group of 5 foes took a turn under the spotlight, then every team within the conference was picked apart and finally the marquee opponents from the other powerhouse leagues wrapped up the breakdowns to help set the table for summer conditioning and preseason conversations in the Big Ten blog.
After picking the top upset threats to the conference a week ago, this week it’s time to rank the most massive opportunities for the Big Ten to score significant victories, boost the league resume and continue restoring the reputation of a group that has taken some shots over the last couple seasons. These aren’t predictions of an upset by any stretch of the imagination, just a reflection of how much the league might gain by claiming any of these victories where the Big Ten isn’t likely to be favored -- so, Ohio State and Michigan State need not apply.
Don’t forget to chime in with picks on Twitter as well by using #B1GFridayFive.
No. 5: Miami (vs. Nebraska on Sept. 19)
The Hurricanes certainly underwhelmed last year, probably won’t be ranked for this matchup and are coming off a loss in the storied series a year ago on the road. But the Huskers will be in the early stages of their coaching transition under Mike Riley and no doubt will be facing a motivated team and potentially some difficult weather conditions, which will add to the degree of difficulty. A win over Miami, though, still carries cache.
No. 4: Stanford (vs. Northwestern on Sept. 5)
Even though its effectively been reeling since the middle of the 2013 season, Northwestern still did its part late last year to boost the Big Ten resume. By stunning Notre Dame in overtime on the road, the Wildcats provided one of the more impressive -- and perhaps, unlikely -- victories the league scored until Ohio State’s rampage through the postseason. Knocking off the Cardinal might not be quite as meaningful historically as beating the Irish, but in the short term it would have a much larger impact on Northwestern.
No. 3: Utah (vs. Michigan on Sept. 5)
The perennial comparisons between the two leagues traditionally haven’t included the Utes, but the relative newcomer to the Pac-12 could prove plenty useful as an early measuring stick for the Big Ten. It will definitely provide a tough test for the Wolverines on the road and a barometer of how much of an instant impact Jim Harbaugh might bring to his alma mater, and a victory on opening weekend would be valuable for both the program and the conference.
No. 2: Alabama (vs. Wisconsin in Dallas on Sept. 5)
Another new era is underway for the Badgers, and it couldn't face a much stiffer test to kick it off than against Nick Saban and his assembly line of five-star recruits. Alabama proved mortal in the College Football Playoff against the Big Ten, and it might have some notable questions to answer in the preseason before it can be considered a true threat to win the national title. But Saban has earned the benefit of the doubt, and the Badgers and Paul Chryst would be sending a message with an upset.
No. 1: TCU (at Minnesota on Sept. 3)
Bumping the Crimson Tide out of the top spot is no small feat, but the program Gary Patterson has built and the talent he has assembled deserve it heading into the 2015 season. The largest upside of an upset undoubtedly belongs to the Gophers heading into a primetime affair on the first Thursday of the season, both because it would give Jerry Kill a signature victory for his rebuilding effort and for the blow it could deliver to the Big 12 when the playoff bids are handed out in December.
Minnesota can impact the Big Ten and Big 12 on the opener vs. TCU; Wisconsin will take a crack at SEC power Alabama in Week 1.