Top 10 Big Ten games to watch

August, 25, 2008
8/25/08
11:16
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As I've stated before, the first month of the season provides the Big Ten several prime opportunities to change its national image, but the league schedule also shouldn't be overlooked. Here are 10 games, mostly conference contests, which you don't want to miss this fall.

1. Ohio State at USC, Sept. 13 -- It's the nation's premier game of the preseason and quite possibly the regular season as well. From loads of All-Americans and future first-round draft picks to two high-profile coaches to a series history that includes two Rose Bowl meetings, the game has everything a fan could want. Ohio State can hush the haters with a win, while USC can reconfirm its place as the nation's most dominant program.

2. Ohio State at Wisconsin, Oct. 4 -- The Buckeyes haven't visited Madison since 2003, a virtual eternity that only adds flavor to a game that could decide the Big Ten. Wisconsin hasn't lost at Camp Randall Stadium under coach Bret Bielema and will test a star-studded Buckeyes defense with arguably the Big Ten's top rushing attack. Ohio State counters with Beanie Wells, setting up a showdown that goes back to the Big Ten's roots of running football and strong line play.

3. Ohio State at Illinois, Nov. 15 -- Ron Zook's recruiting surge has given Illinois the athletes to match up with Ohio State better than any other Big Ten team. A two-win Illini squad put a scare into the Buckeyes in 2006 and then stunned top-ranked Ohio State at The Shoe last fall. This year's meeting in Champaign should add another great chapter to a growing rivalry in the league.

4. Illinois vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Aug. 30 -- This annual rivalry is quickly becoming a can't-miss date on the college football calendar. Illinois comes off a Rose Bowl appearance after completing the nation's biggest turnaround, and Missouri is thinking national title following a BCS snub. Illini junior quarterback Juice Williams can make an immediate statement that he'll be fine without Rashard Mendenhall, and his Tigers counterpart Chase Daniel will fuel his Heisman hopes with a strong showing.

5. Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 22 -- A new chapter in the sport's top rivalry begins as Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez makes his debut against the Buckeyes. Michigan's transition year might take something away from the game, but first-year coaches historically fare well in the series, particularly on the Michigan side, and Rodriguez will test the Buckeyes' defense.

6. Michigan State at Michigan, Oct. 25 -- Mark Dantonio's arrival at Michigan State has added spice to a rivalry that will always be more important to the Spartans unless they give Michigan a reason to think otherwise. After six straight losses in the series, Michigan State has a great chance to snap the slide, but Michigan should be on track by this point in the season.

7. Wisconsin at Fresno State, Sept. 13 -- A BCS bowl berth is the next step for the Badgers, who get the benefit of hosting the Big Ten's premier teams (Ohio State, Illinois and Penn State) this fall. But first they'll hit the road and face an experienced Fresno State team that rarely gets BCS teams to come to its backyard. If new quarterback Allan Evridge is the man to help Wisconsin make the jump, he'll need a steady performance here.

8. Ohio State at Michigan State, Oct. 18 -- If the Spartans survive their opener at Cal, they could come in undefeated and set up a matchup that would shape the league title race. The game features the league's two best running backs in Wells and Spartans senior Javon Ringer. If Michigan State's defense forces some early mistakes, this could could come down to the final minutes.

9. Indiana at Purdue, Nov. 22 -- Last year's game featured an unforgettable ending, as Indiana kicked a last-minute field goal to clinch a winning record and fulfill the pledge of late coach Terry Hoeppner to "Play 13." The emotions should just as prevalent this year at Purdue, where Joe Tiller coaches his final home game after transforming the Boilermakers program in the last 11 seasons.

10. Michigan at Penn State, Oct. 18 -- Several Big Ten teams see 2008 as the year to get back at Michigan, and Penn State is certainly one of them. The Lions have dropped nine straight games to the Wolverines, none more heartbreaking than the last-second loss in 2005 at Michigan Stadium. Both teams enter the season with questions at quarterback, but Penn State looks more complete and needs to end the drought with a win at home.

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