The Big Ten is moving into a new era this fall, officially expanding to 18 teams just in time for an expanded College Football Playoff. The league also features some new head coaches in the ranks for the fall.

For this piece, we’ll dive a little bit deeper into the specific games certain head coaches will have an increased focus on this fall. And, while the term “new head coach” can be confusing given the state of the league, let’s clarify what we mean.

For this piece, every coach preparing for his first B1G season is included. That means Dan Lanning and Lincoln Riley, though already entrenched at Oregon and USC, are included ahead of their first season of B1G play.

The list also includes conference newcomers such as Curt Cignetti and Jonathan Smith, established head coaches bringing their talents to the B1G via a job at a new program. Sherrone Moore, ahead of his first full year as the permanent head coach at Michigan, also makes an appearance.

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So, without further ado, let’s get to the 1 game these head coaches will most want to win this fall to get off on the right foot with their fanbases:

Curt Cignetti: Purdue

Curt Cignetti has not been bashful, arriving in Bloomington with a touch of swagger in spite of Indiana’s lack of historical football success. It is true that his career record speaks to a coach capable of winning — and winning big — but that only adds to the pressure to perform with the Hoosiers.

Even if Cignetti believes his team should win, expectations for IU will not be huge this fall for many reasons. But, if Cignetti believes his team should win, the Hoosiers must avoid a letdown in the rivalry series against Indiana.

Indiana has just 1 win against Purdue since 2017, including a 3-game losing streak after falling to first-year head coach Ryan Walters and the Boilermakers last season. This time, Indiana gets the rivalry game at home, and ending the year on a high note would be a big win for Cignetti’s first year.

Sherrone Moore: Michigan State

I know, I know. Defending national champions, pressure to repeat, The Game and all of that. However, I think the Wolverine fanbase will give a touch of leniency to Sherrone Moore, provided the program does not fall off a cliff and remains competitive this fall.

That’s why I have Michigan State as the 1 key game Moore absolutely needs to win in 2024.

No one should think twice if Moore and Michigan lost a close game to Texas early in the season. Even a loss to Ohio State, considering the circumstances, would be understandable. Michigan would still be able to flaunt its national championship ring until the Buckeyes take a title of their own.

However, losing to the Spartans — at home — with a new head coach? That’s unthinkable.

Michigan State has had its moments in the series in recent history, including back-to-back wins under Mel Tucker from 2020-21, but the Wolverines have outscored their in-state rival 78-7 the last 2 years. Moore cannot afford to let the grip on the rivalry slip in his first season.

RELATED: Want to track the latest odds for Michigan’s 2024 season? Use Tradition’s Michigan sports betting apps to sign up and get in on the action.

Jonathan Smith: Indiana

I know what you’re thinking, so let’s address the elephant in the room.

The game Jonathan Smith and Michigan State fans everywhere want to win is Michigan. That will never change, but it’s not the game he needs to win in Year 1.

Even with a revamped roster, it’s unclear how the Spartans will stack up against established B1G programs, even mid-tier programs such as Maryland, Rutgers and Illinois. So, the one game Smith needs to take care of is Indiana, previously a B1G afterthought but one that has given MSU trouble in recent seasons.

This game will also feature new head coaches in Smith vs. Curt Cignetti, so it’s an early measuring stick between the two coaches. It also comes in East Lansing, so there’s no way Smith should drop this one.

Dan Lanning: Ohio State

If you haven’t been able to tell, expectations play a key role in this list. And I could dodge the situation a bit and say Washington, especially with Dan Lanning going 0-3 against the Huskies the past 2 seasons.

But Oregon needs to beat Ohio State, and it’s because the Ducks are expected to compete at the highest level this fall. That matters.

Lanning has built his program the right way into one that should be a national contender for the long haul. But, in the transition to the B1G, the Ducks would like to enter the league with a bang, and beating the Buckeyes in Eugene would deliver the message.

RELATED: The Oregon vs. Ohio State showdown is bound to shape the conference title race, and fans can get the best and latest odds with Tradition’s Ohio online sports betting links and codes.

DeShaun Foster: Indiana

Projecting UCLA’s first season under DeShaun Foster is a bit tricky, though FanDuel has set the win total for the Bruins at 5.5 this fall. Even for the frustrations toward the end of Chip Kelly’s tenure, it would not be a surprise for UCLA to take a step back out of the gate.

I’m not sure it’s an absolute necessity that UCLA wins any of the marquee games on the schedule, though losing all of them would undoubtedly sting during the first season in the B1G. But for this list, I’ll go with the Bruins’ first-ever B1G game, an early-season matchup against a beatable Indiana team at home.

Lincoln Riley: UCLA

There’s a fair amount of pressure facing Lincoln Riley ahead of his first B1G season after Caleb Williams’ departure and a revamped defense from top to bottom. Then, there’s the drama surrounding the season-opening matchup against LSU and reports of Riley trying to get out of the game.

While that game is increasingly important to get off on the right foot, the most important games I have circled in 2024 come at the end of the season with back-to-back rivalry showdowns against UCLA and Notre Dame. The Trojans dropped both in 2023, but I’m going with the UCLA game for this list.

Instead of beating the Bruins, the Trojans were held to 20 points (tied for their lowest output of 2023) in a lopsided 38-20 defeat. Even if USC rebounds to double-digit wins this fall, Riley needs to show that was just a one-off letdown against the crosstown rival.

Jedd Fisch: Washington State

This one is pretty self-explanatory. The two in-state rivals found themselves on either side of an ugly Pac-12 divorce, and Kalen DeBoer leaves behind a 2-0 record to add extra pressure for Jedd Fisch in his first season in Seattle.

It will be hard for fans to have a legitimate beef if the Huskies take a step back in the first year of Fisch’s tenure. And that goes double with the move to the B1G considered, but losing to the Cougars is something that still should not happen.

If Fisch can cap off the nonconference schedule with a rivalry win, it will be a big boost to Fisch’s first year at Washington.

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