The Big Ten's 10 Best Non-Conference Games of 2014

By Nicholas Jervey on May 17, 2014 at 6:30a
Connor Cook versus Marcus Mariota: the battle of alliterative quarterbacks.
29 Comments

The Big Ten scheduled quite a bit better in 2014 than they did last year, to the conference's benefit. Even though the Big Ten dominated a cupcake schedule, it did nothing to burnish the Big Ten's reputation. Conferences gain position to other conferences with big wins; more importantly, fans want to see big games in the Big Ten. To that end, I'll be your friendly tour guide to the 10 best out-of-conference games the Big Ten has to offer in 2014.

In the interest of fairness, Ohio State's games have been omitted. The Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, and Navy games all would have cracked the top 10, but there's not much more light to shed on them. There aren't any rivalry games on the list either; sorry, Michigan, Purdue, and Iowa, you don't get credit for scheduling teams you would have played anyway.

There were several difficult omissions to this list. Honorable mentions: Michigan-Utah, Northwestern-Cal, Rutgers-Washington State, and Maryland-West Virginia.

1. MICHIGAN STATE @ OREGON

Michigan State is the defending Big Ten champion, known for fearsome defense. Oregon is a perennial Pac-12 contender known for quick strike offense. This is oil meeting water, a guaranteed top-10 matchup, and one of the most anticipated games in college football this season.

Though Michigan State will likely take a step back after losing so much defensive talent, its offense looks – dare I say it? – competent, even good. Connor Cook matured rapidly as a sophomore, and with similar growth as a junior he could become the best Spartan quarterback in a long time. 

Oregon always has some offensive dynamo in the backfield, and this year it's Marcus Mariota. Michigan State's defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is an evil genius, but can he contain Mariota after losing seven defensive starters? He might, if DE Shilique Calhoun plays like an All-American.

2. WISCONSIN VS. LSU

Unlike most of their SEC brethren, LSU cares about strong non-conference scheduling. Over the last decade, the Tigers have an impressive set of non-conference victories: Washington, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, West Virginia, Oregon, Arizona State, and TCU. Even so, LSU hadn't played a Big Ten team in the regular season since losing a 36-33 thriller to Ohio State in 1988. In contrast, Wisconsin has been on an unrepentant cupcake binge for years. Seeing them undertake a serious out-of-conference challenge is refreshing.

Wisconsin's rushing game ought to excel behind Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement, but LSU has gobs of talent NFL prospects, like CB Jalen Mills or DE Jermauria Rasco. The problem for Wisconsin is on defense, where they've lost nine contributors including All-American Chris Borland.

This game is taking place in JerryWorld (AT&T Stadium in Dallas) Reliant Stadium in Houston, giving LSU a slight home advantage. This figures to be a methodical game with staccatos of scoring.

3. NEBRASKA VS. MIAMI (FLA.)

Nebraska and Miami produced one of the greatest bowl games of all time, the 1984 Orange Bowl. They also produced the 2002 Rose Bowl, a blowout which Nebraska would like to forget forever. Neither team is up to the standard they set in the 80s or 90s, but both are on the cusp of greatness within their conference.

The Cornhuskers no longer have the ever-efficient Taylor Martinez to guide them. Instead, they'll rely on Tommy Armstrong Jr., wide receiver Kenny Bell, and the scintillating Ameer Abdullah to guide them. For Miami's part, head coach Al Golden has brought in some great talent, but he has to break in a new starting quarterback and defensive line.

I want to see how Bo Pelini responds if his team loses this game. Losing last year's marquee game against UCLA started all the ruckus, and a similar loss might make his head explode.

4. NORTHWESTERN @ NOTRE DAME

Notre Dame's series against Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue may be in question, but their habit of playing the Big Ten is not. Northwestern proudly remembers the last time the two schools played; 1995, when the Wildcats upset the Fighting Irish and went on to win the Big Ten.

Notre Dame has been inconsistent in three years under Brian Kelly, going from a turnover-prone 8-5 mess to a 12-1 national title contender back to an struggling 9-4 team. Without Tommy Rees to kick around anymore, it's an open quarterback competition between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire. The winner will have to lean on halfback Cam McDaniel and wide receiver Davaris Daniels, the top returning rusher and receiver. They'll miss nose tackle Louis Nix III, who single-handedly propped up the defensive line.

Northwestern was the most depressing team in the Big Ten last year, losing seven straight games to miss a bowl game for the first time since 2007. Aside from the brouhaha over the team's unionization attempt, there has been little drama on the team. Trevier Siemian is the presumed starter, and Collin Ellis and Chi Chi Ariguzo leads the linebacker corps. Notre Dame is the odds on favorite because of the home advantage.

5. PENN STATE VS. CENTRAL FLORIDA

This is a rematch of a game from last year, when Central Florida handled Penn State in front of a tough Beaver Stadium crowd. Most of last year's Fiesta Bowl-winning offense is gone, but the defense returns ten starters, including LB Terrance Plummer, CB Jacoby Glenn, and SS Clayton Geathers. If UCF wins this one, it's going to be ugly.

Christian Hackenberg
Hackenberg will only be better.

James Franklin has charmed State College and recruits alike; now is the chance to shine on the gridiron. Penn State has the luxury of starting a blue-chip quarterback, Christian Hackenberg, along with a stout defense. They're going to have superb talent in a few years, but the realities of competing with 75 scholarships leaves them shallower than UCF or any of their Big Ten opponents.

Oh, and this game takes place in Dublin, Ireland. Faith and begorra, they're going to kiss the Blarney Stone! (note: this is the extent of my knowledge of Ireland.)

6. ILLINOIS @ WASHINGTON

Illinois has been a tire fire in head coach Tim Beckman's first two seasons. The good news: they improved quite a bit from 2012 to 2013, so bowl eligibility may be within reach if they make another jump in year three. They'll need strong performances from senior QB Reilly O'Toole and RB Josh Ferguson to pull off the upset.

Washington may be out of Illinois' league, as they are riding the momentum of 2013's strong year and new coach Chris Petersen. They did lose top skill position players Bishop Sankey and Keith Price and top tackler Princeton Fuimaono, so an upset is conceivable. I doubt stars like All-America candidate Shaq Thompson will let that happen, though.

7. IOWA @ PITTSBURGH

Iowa had a surprising upturn in 2013, regaining its spot in the upper-middle class of the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes return starting QB Jake Rudock, who was solid in his first year. Mark Weisman avoided the curse of Iowa running backs last year, and he should be solid in his senior year. Pitt will counter with their strong defense, which ranked 34th in the country last year in total yards. Ray Vinopal and Todd Thomas ought to lead the Panthers defense.

Iowa has developed a reputation for being vanilla over the years, but Kirk Ferentz would like you to know that's not true. When he's at the supermarket, he sometimes buys French vanilla ice cream at the supermarket. (Vanilla bean ice cream? Too wacky.)

8. MINNESOTA @ TCU

Minnesota was the biggest surprise in the Big Ten last year, defying preseason expectations to go 8-5. Their offense is all about a methodical run game, and QB Mitch Leidner and RB David Cook are the most important cogs in the machine. The loss of Ra'Shede Hegeman to the NFL hurts their defense, which improved from abysmal to respectable over the course of the season. DB Cedric Thompson and LB Damien Wilson have to pick up the slack.

TCU has had a rough time since moving to the Big 12; last year's 4-8 season was their first losing record of Gary Patterson's tenure. They need QB Trevone Boykin, mediocre in 2013, to make up for unaccomplished running back and receiver corps. TCU returns lots of defensive talent, including leading tacklers Paul Dawson, Chris Hackett, and Marcus Mallet. Minnesota might be a road favorite in this game, but TCU has the name recognition for the Golden Gophers to earn cachet with a win.

9. RUTGERS @ NAVY

The Scarlet Knights have a black cloud hanging over them. Since joining the Big Ten, the athletic department has had unending scandal, recruits have defected in droves, and most recently Minnesota transfer QB Philip Nelson was dismissed from the university for felonious assault. The silver lining for Rutgers haters is that they have a game at Navy, an opponent that scares the jeepers out of Big Ten teams.

The Midshipmen nearly upset Ohio State in 2009 and spoiled Indiana's bowl hopes last year. As always, you can expect Navy to compensate for a size disadvantage with tricky flexbone offense; our own Kyle Jones has documented Navy's tactics. Rutgers counters with a new scheme from first-year defensive coordinator Joe Rossi, the rushing duo of Paul James and Justin Goodwin, and shaky QB Gary Nova.

10. INDIANA @ MISSOURI

When these two schools faced off last year, Missouri tore Indiana's defense to pieces. The Tigers don't blow non-conference games against lousy teams, and there's no sign that the Hoosiers have fixed their defense. QB Nate Sudfeld and converted WR Tre Roberson give Indiana high-octane offense, but this doesn't look too good for the guys wearing crimson. 

To be honest, this game is here on the strength of Missouri's 2013 season and the chance that it could get Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson fired.

0. MICHIGAN VS. APPALACHIAN STATE

This isn't one of the ten best games. It deserves the seat of honor anyway.

Just... thank you so much for this.

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon scheduled a rematch of the lowest point in Michigan football history, because he is the dumbest person in college athletics.

Thank you, Mr. Brandon. Thank you for this.

29 Comments

Comments

Crumb's picture

Go App. State! I'd like to see the Hoosiers bounce the defending SEC East Champs. The Gophers against TCU could be an interesting match up. The top three look to be good, Husker/Hurricanes could be a snoozer though. Wisky/LSU looks to be a big one but since it's in Dallas I don't think Wisky will win. Sparty and the Ducks looks really interesting, since the only true road game they played last year was @Notre Dame it'll be a good test for MSU. Plus if Mariota manages to win against them, Braxton should, maybe that game will force them to run a few plays they might normally save for us further down the road too.

"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

+3 HS
Buckeye5000's picture

Thanks for the rundown Jervy. Looks like a few really good games with national implications (1-3) but the B1G as a whole really needs to win at least half of these games and unfortunately I don't see it happening.

Go Bucks!

+1 HS
Nicholas Jervey's picture

There are definitely an unusual amount of road games in the top 10. The only true home game in the bunch is Nebraska hosting Miami (Fla.) and the two neutral site games are either a semi-road game (LSU-Wisconsin in Dallas) or on another continent (PSU-UCF).

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Buckeye5000's picture

I noticed that. That is one of the reasons I figure the B1G will go under .500. I really wish that the MSU and WIs. games were in their respective stadiums. It could have made all the difference in some national respect vs. the expected Espin ridicule.

 

But hope springs eternal and I hope the league can get some wins and respect in the big games. A little of that respect could be gained by the games you left out (OSU games and rivalry games).

 

Go Bucks!

45has2's picture

A rematch....really? scUM put themselves in a no win situation. This game just reminds everyone that Appy State skinned the weasels in the shit house, if go blow wins, so what, they were supposed to, the game drags down their strength of schedule and hurts any possibility of participating in this years playoff and it shows how petty ttun truly is. What's on the schedule next year, Jabba the Hoke? Norfolk State?

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people." -W.W. Hayes

+8 HS
cplunk's picture

Sparty beating Oregon and Wisky beating LSU would go a long way toward making sure the B1G champ is in the playoff. 

My worst nightmare is a one loss B1G champ OSU at the end of the year looking at an undefeated SEC champ, an SEC team whose one loss came in the SEC championship, a one loss Oregon that beat Sparty like a drum, a one loss B12 champ, and an undefeated or one loss FSU. 

Would a playoff committee put us in the four? Who knows. If the B1G can win those big out of conference games it sure would help.

+2 HS
Chief B1G Dump's picture

It would be absolutely glorious if App St beats scUM, again!

Otherwise, hope our B1G bros win em all. 

+3 HS
DenBuck's picture

Sparty Oregon should be epic. 

Buckeye For Life

+1 HS
FitzBuck's picture

I hate neutral site games...that is all.

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

+4 HS
wojodta's picture

yeah, it should always be home and home

WildMan Leather and Lace's picture

And yet the Bucks are no where to be found.  Wisconsin is playing LSU, Sparty-Oregon.  Where we at?  Michigan played Alabama two seasons ago.  We on the other hand play peanuts.  We need to sac up. I want the SEC and nothing less.  Let's go down to Knoxvile, let's invite the Bulldogs up here.  I want Alabama!  

-7 HS
HailChiefWahoo's picture

In fairness, the article is supposed to highlight the major ooc games for B1G teams other than the Buckeyes. 

We play UC, VA Tech, and at Navy. All of which are intriguing in their own way. 

+5 HS
Nicholas Jervey's picture

In the interest of fairness, Ohio State's games have been omitted. The Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, and Navy games all would have cracked the top 10, but there's not much more light to shed on them. 

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KBonay's picture

That's, like, the second paragraph man....you expect us to read that far down?!

+1 HS
Ahh Saturday's picture

Oregon game doesn't set up well for Sparty.  Oregon's strength is their offense and they bring back nine starters including their best player, Mariotta.  Sparty's strength is their defense, but they've lost six starters including their best player, Dennard.  Throw in the fact that it'll be the first road game for all these new starters, and it's hard to see MSU winning this game, but if they do, I'll be very impressed.

+4 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

You're right, Sparty will have a tough time with that offense, especially with breaking in some new starters. On the flip side, tho, MSU runs the perfect, run heavy, ball control with play action-style offense that gives Oregon fits (see: Stanford). So if MSU can run the ball well, and can get occasional stops when Oregon has the ball, they'll very much have a chance for the win. 

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

+1 HS
TheTeam16's picture

This is what everyone said about MSU in the B1G championship game last year, and I would argue that was a better rushing OSU team they beat then the oregon team they will face this fall.

Narduzzi keeps on getting disrespected, as well as Dantonio. I HATE sparty, but they win this game big and shut everyone up...again. 

BHT's picture

I think that the Mich. St. vs Oregon game will give us a look at what our game against Sparty will look like. Both Oregon and the Buckeyes run the spread, and both of us have explosive backfields. We may even have a better defense.

Appalachian State will win, while LSU vs. Wisconsin should be a good one. I like the fact the the B1G is scheduling good opponents, and maybe that will help us come playoff time.

JohnnyKozmo's picture

Two completely different spreads though.  Ours is based off of a power running game.  Oregon's is about getting to the edge, not as much straight ahead running.  I really think MSU has a good shot in this game and here's why:

-They should remain strong on the D-Line.  That is the key to beating Oregon.  The D-Line has to get consistent penetration and disrupt the plays in the backfield.  That's how tOSU beat them in the Rose Bowl, and how Stanford has had continued success against them over the last 3-4 years.

 

-The backend is important, but it's the front 7 that determine the level of success against Oregon.  The offense isn't designed to play behind the chains.  When you get them consistently into 2nd and 3rd and long, they become extremely predictable, just like any other offense.  When the threat of the jet sweeps on 2nd and 5 are there, you have no chance. 

-Couple that with the Offense as mentioned above should be improved, and you could see MSU hold the ball for 40 minutes or more, marching up and down the field on 15+ play drives.  I know Oregon says they don't look at Time of Possession, but the players on their defense will know how long they've been on the field. 

TheTeam16's picture

I agree with you other than the fact OSU's run game will be predicated off power. It was the past few years cause of your excellent OL and the fact you had probably the best power back in the country in Hyde. No more of either of those, and no back outside of Dunn really is a bruising type the way hyde was...and even he isnt really that close. I would imagine there will be many similarities this year between OSU and UO, just base don the personnel changes from last to this year.

JohnnyKozmo's picture

I see what you are saying, but Meyer has said from day 1 that he isn't abandoning the "3 yards and a cloud of dust" mentality of not only tOSU, but the B1g style of play in general.  Even with Florida, there was a power run game, but it was Tebow, not a RB.

allinosu's picture

What concerns me is sparty normally gets better as the season progresses and usually struggles early like against Purdue last year. If that's against Oregon then they get tuff again we could be compared to that game.

+2 HS
ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

I'm not liking the B1G teams in most of these games.  I don't think Sparty stands much of a chance at Oregon...they lose too much on D.  Wisconsin and LSU might be a good game, but I think LSU pulls it out (and it might not be close).  Nebraska vs Miami should be a heck of a ballgame - coin flip on that one.  I do like Iowa, Minnesota, and Northwestern in their respective games on this list.  Indiana will get pantsed by Missouri.  Illinois may hang tough, but I don't think they'll beat Washington.  Not sure what to make of PSU vs UCF...I'll lean on PSU evening the score.   

Oh, and I do think TTUN wins, too...lightning won't strike twice as App State isn't nearly what they were in 2007. 

Class of 2010.

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

I dislike ND, but I don't see them losing to Northwestern. I wouldn't be surprised if Notre Dame won by two scores.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

btalbert25's picture

The only game in that bunch that I really like the B1G's chances is MSU's game against Oregon.  They are, to a T, the kind of team that gives Oregon fits.  Now I don't know if MSU will be as good as last year or not, so that may play into it as well, but I think MSU comes away with that game.  PSU will probably beat Central Florida this time arounnd.  LSU is going to curb stomp Wisconsin.  I have zero faith that Wisconsin will pull that game off. Notre Dame will find a way to win by 1-4 against an inferior Northwestern much like Notre Dame always finds a way to do against inferior teams.  Indiana will get destroyed because they are Indiana. Rutgers is a joke.  Illinois is never to be trusted.  Minnesota had a surprising year last year but they still weren't very good at the end of the day, so who knows what they'll do.  Iowa may pull one out for the conference too I suppose. 

What's kind of sad to me is, this is a "good" year for non conference scheduling and our games with Navy and UC would have cracked the top 10. 

Nicholas Jervey's picture

I'm not surprised you came up with similar results. It's a popular (and fairly easy) topic, though it was admittedly difficult to pare down the top 30 or so games and write the previews from there.

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HENRYJONESJR's picture

Just giving you a hard time .  But is is a very worthy topic...  

Kurt's picture

I like a lot of these games, especially Wisconsin vs LSU.  I could see that one falling in Wisconsin's direction.  LSU lost Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill and a WR or two as I recall and of course they always have turnover on defense.  UW lost a lot of their defense but return their Stave, Gordon and 4 guys from the O-line.  

I also think Indiana has good chances against Missouri.  Missouri lost a lot of talent from last year's team - they were a surprise team last year because of a injuries from 2012 which saw their record drop.  They returned everyone and won a lot of games last year.  Now they lose everyone again (including Green-Beckham) so seeing them get to double digit wins is unlikely.  On the flip side Indiana under Wilson has been consistently improving and nearly got bowl eligible last year and they return almost everyone this season.  Also key is that they hired a new defensive coordinator to start cleaning up that mess.