It’s official—Wisconsin student season tickets are sold out, and the start of the college football season is less than 90 days away. The 2016 Big Ten season provided us with a slew of surprises, from the emergence of Penn State to the downfall of Michigan State to a battle for the ages in the Horseshoe. But it’s a new year. Let’s take a look at the biggest games of the 2017 Big Ten season.
Michigan at Wisconsin
Arguably the best defensive battle of the 2016 season, Michigan took down Wisconsin 14-7 in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines dominated both sides of the ball, going for 349 yards of total offense and holding the Badgers to a mere 159 yards—three missed field goals off the foot of Kenny Allen were the only thing that kept the Badgers in the game. Offensive prowess should improve this season as Wilton Speight and Alex Hornibrook are now a year older and a year wiser, but the biggest difference in 2017 is the change in venue—Camp Randall will be absolutely rocking in Wisconsin’s biggest home game of the season, a must-watch for college football fans across the country.
Oklahoma at Ohio State
A rematch from last season, this was the game that launched Ohio State into the playoff picture. The Buckeyes ventured into Norman and gave the Sooners nothing short of an old-fashioned beatdown. If Ohio State wants to bounce back from an embarrassing playoff appearance, this is their first step—taking down a perennial powerhouse at home. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Buckeyes are heavy favorites—as they should be. The absence of Bob Stoops is a huge hit to the Sooners and somewhat downgrades the hype surrounding this game, but the level of importance remains the same—win and you put yourself on the playoff map.
Wisconsin at Nebraska
To the people that make the college football schedule—please oh please put this matchup in prime time again. Last year’s bout was one of the best games of the season, in which the Badgers redeemed themselves two weeks after falling to the Buckeyes in overtime in crushing fashion. Former starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. is now at the safety position for the Minnesota Vikings, so it will be interesting to see how pro-style quarterback Tanner Lee fits into the offensive scheme for the Cornhuskers.
Florida at Michigan
Another matchup between two historic programs, all eyes will be on Florida’s newly acquired Malik Zaire, a transfer from Notre Dame. Will he be Del Rio’s opening day starter, and if so, how will he impact the Gator offense? In a league filled with top defenses in the SEC, this early-season test against the Wolverines will be a good indication of the direction that the Florida offense is heading. For Michigan, they will be tasked with replacing the likes of Amara Darboh, Jake Butt and Jehu Chesson, all integral parts of the Wolverine offense, against an elite, physical Gator defense. Somebody make some homemade queso and guacamole for this one.
Penn State at Ohio State
Bold prediction: This will be the best game of the Big Ten season. Ok, maybe not that bold. These were the two best teams in the Big Ten last season, and could continue this tradition in 2017. The Nittany Lions shocked the world last season and handed the Buckeyes their only regular season loss, raising the intrigue of the playoff race—this year should be no different. Both teams are led by Heisman candidates in J.T. Barrett for Ohio State and Trace McSorley for Penn State, and if you need one more reason to watch this heavyweight bout, know that this will be the game that decides the fate of the Big Ten East.
Northwestern at Wisconsin
Preseason headlines point towards Northwestern giving the Badgers a run for their money in the race for the Big Ten West title, and rightfully so. The Wildcats have been known to trouble the Badgers, with a fairly even record between these two teams over the last 20 years. Wisconsin took last season’s matchup in Evanston 21-7, but the Wildcats will be hungry for revenge this year. The dynamic duo of Clayton Thorson and Justin Jackson are a year older and will guide a formidable Northwestern offense into Madison ready to compete.
Minnesota at Iowa
Minnesota and Iowa? Not exactly the powerhouse matchup the fans are looking for. So why do they find themselves on our list? Quite simply, this is will be the game that decides their season—the winner will keep themselves in the Big Ten West race. Many expect Wisconsin and Northwestern to compete for the crown, with Nebraska close behind, but if the cards fall into play, Minnesota or Iowa will fall right in the thick of things, given their number one goal this season is replacing the likes of Mitch Leidner and C.J. Beathard.
Michigan State at Michigan
“Michigan State was terrible last season; how could they possibly keep up with the Wolverines?!?” An appropriate response after the Spartans went 3-9, their worst record since they went 0-11 in 1994. On May 1, Mark Dantonio stated “Our outlook for 2017 is promising. Very promising.” Somewhat hard to believe given last year’s season, but when a successful coach states something twice, it’s time to pay attention. The primary reason for intrigue lies in the in-state rivalry. Will we be treated to another miracle blocked punt? Only one way to find out!
Ohio State at Michigan
Without question one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports. How can you not find a spot on the couch to tune into the Game? The first meeting between these two teams came in 1897, when William McKinley was the president of the United States and the NFL ceased to exist. The latest meeting saw the Buckeyes grab an overtime win in Columbus in controversial style—J.T. Barrett appeared to come up short on a fourth and one, but was given the yardage that allowed the Buckeyes to eventually win the game in double overtime. Wolverine fans will certainly have those painful memories fresh on their minds when Ohio State visits the Big House, but Michigan will have to accommodate for the loss of ten starters on defense—a task that may be too big to overcome against the likes of senior J.T. Barrett.