After a couple of early-season appetizers, conference play begins in earnest for the Big Ten this weekend. And as someone tasked with keeping track of up to 14 non-conference games in a single day, believe me when I say it couldn’t come quickly enough.

With plenty of crossover games filling the slate, there’s also a pretty amusing potential outcome looming. It’s quite possible that Northwestern — fresh off a loss to previously winless Southern Illinois — will stand alone leading the Big Ten West.

The hay is already in the barn for the Wildcats, who are 1-0 in the B1G thanks to their season-opening win over Nebraska. Northwestern plays Miami (Ohio) as it closes out its non-conference schedule.

Meanwhile, Northwestern’s B1G West brethren have some tough draws to open league play. Minnesota, which thus far looks like the division favorite, goes to Michigan State. Wisconsin has to play at Ohio State. Iowa visits Rutgers in a game where the first team to 10 may win. Meanwhile, Illinois and Purdue are both 0-1 in the B1G thanks to respective losses to Indiana and Penn State.

If Northwestern somehow loses to Miami to lead the Big Ten West at 1-3 overall … well, not even NU alum Seth Meyers can come up with comedy of that caliber.

Maryland (3-0) at No. 4 Michigan (3-0)

When: Noon ET, FOX

B1G thought: Hopefully Gus Johnson is feeling well after watching Nebraska made him leave the broadcast booth feeling “under the weather” last week. There’s a chance he’ll be yelling a lot in this one.

Maryland is 3rd in the country with an average of 8.1 yards per play, while Michigan is 7th at 7.8 yards per play.

How all of that equates to this game bears watching. The Wolverines have fattened up on incredibly weak competition, while the Terps have served as Jim Harbaugh’s punching bag in their 6 meetings.

Central Michigan (1-2) at No. 14 Penn State (3-0)

When: Noon ET, BTN

B1G thought: Don’t sleep on the Chippewas, who scored 44 points at Oklahoma State and have rolled up more than 500 yards twice. Coming off a dominant win at Auburn, the Nittany Lions need to have their antennae out so the Chips don’t fly under the radar.

But in theory, Sean Clifford should be enough to overcome any surprises presented by Central Michigan. The Chips have the nation’s 124th-ranked pass defense.

Minnesota (3-0) at Michigan State (2-1)

When: 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN

B1G thought: This is the game I’m most interested in watching Saturday.

The Golden Gophers look formidable, though most teams would after playing New Mexico State, Western Illinois and Colorado. And it will be interesting to see how the Spartans rebound after springing leaks at Washington last week.

The outcome may hinge on the status of Michigan State defensive tackle Jacob Slade. He’s, at worst, a second team all-B1G player at his position. And it’s no secret PJ Fleck’s Gophers want to pound the Spartans with a steady diet of Mohamed Ibrahim.

Slade could force Minnesota to rely more on its passing attack. But if he’s out or banged up, Sparty’s in trouble.

Indiana (3-0) at Cincinnati (2-1)

When: 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

B1G thought: The Hoosiers gave the Bearcats all they could handle last season until all-America linebacker Micah McFadden was ejected on a questionable targeting call. Cincinnati took over in the fourth quarter for a 38-24 win.

McFadden is in the NFL now, but so are 9 members of that Cincinnati team.

The Hoosiers are 17-point underdogs, so clearly Vegas isn’t buying that performance or IU’s 3-0 start. But there’s not a player in that locker room who doesn’t believe Indiana can win this game.

Iowa (2-1) at Rutgers (3-0)

When: 7 p.m. ET, FS1

B1G thought: Prepare yourselves for the greatest exhibition of punting we may ever witness.

It’s not just that these are inept offenses. Which they are. Iowa averages 3.8 yards per play, and Rutgers 5.5. But Rutgers punter Adam Korsak and Iowa punter Tory Taylor may be the top 2 players at their position in the country.

This is like if Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf went head-to-head the year they were in a heated debate to go No. 1 overall. Except with punters. So adjust your excitement levels accordingly.

Wisconsin (2-1) at No. 3 Ohio State (3-0)

When: 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC

B1G thought: On paper, it feels like a potential Big Ten title game preview. But I’m not sure that it is. Or if that’s even something the general public should want. Ohio State is riding an 8-game winning streak over the Badgers, and 3 of the past 5 have been decided by 2 touchdowns or more.

However, the duel between new Wisconsin offensive coordinator Bobby Engram and new Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles will be fascinating to watch. Both guys are working with units that have something to prove this season, and this is a chance to do just that.

Miami, Ohio (1-2) at Northwestern (1-2)

When: 7:30 p.m. ET, BTN

B1G thought: Surely there is at least 1 Northwestern fan out there thinking “Miami’s in town? No wonder this game is in prime time!”

That fan will show up to Ryan Field amped up — then possibly confused when the RedHawks run out onto the field.

But in all seriousness, this is a dangerous game for the Wildcats, and not just because they lost to Southern Illinois last week. Miami actually holds a 6-3 lead in the all-time series between these programs.

Florida Atlantic (2-2) at Purdue (1-2)

When: 7:30 p.m. ET, BTN

B1G thought: The Owls allowed 345 passing yards to Ohio and 339 to Central Florida, so anticipate another field day for Aidan O’Connell and Charlie Jones.

Coming off an incredibly disappointing late loss at Syracuse, the Boilermakers should be pretty angry — mostly at themselves. It’ll be stunning if this is not a blowout — and a sign that all is not well in West Lafayette.