Things in the Big Ten are about to have an entirely different look this fall.

With the introduction of Oregon, USC, UCLA and Washington, the conference will officially feature 18 teams for the first time ever. Those teams also change the concept of in-conference games with coast-to-coast travel throughout the season.

The introduction of those teams also brings some new matchups to the conference that are bound to shape the race to Indianapolis. With that in mind, now is a great time to look at some of the first-time B1G games I am most excited about. But first, the criteria.

In case it’s not clear, this list is talking about games that will feature matchups between old Pac-12 teams and pre-existing B1G teams. Michigan vs. Ohio State is always intriguing, and USC vs. UCLA is a longstanding rivalry worth mentioning. But those games do not qualify.

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It also does not matter if these teams have previous history in nonconference play. Michigan and Washington recently faced off in nonconference play, and the same goes for Ohio State and Oregon. Those games in 2024 were still considered for this list with the new magnitude brought on as first-time conference showdowns.

Also, nonconference games involving the incoming Pac-12 teams were excluded. Sure, I absolutely want to watch USC vs. Notre Dame, but those matchups are excluded for these purposes.

Now, let’s get to it.

5. UCLA at Nebraska (Nov. 2)

This game is unlikely to play a role in the conference race, but it could impact bowl eligibility for either (or both) teams. UCLA has a brutal schedule to this point and must make 3 trips to the East Coast (at LSU, at Penn State and at Rutgers) before ever heading to Memorial Stadium. Meanwhile, this will be Nebraska’s first game against incoming Pac-12 teams and on the heels of a road trip to Ohio State and sandwiched between a future road trip to USC. This will be a great test of life in the new Big Ten for both teams, particularly for two programs truly looking to find out how they measure up this fall.

Historical context: Nebraska holds a 7-6 head-to-head record vs. UCLA. The last game was a 37-29 win by the Huskers in the 2015 Foster Farms Bowl.

4. Washington at Iowa (Oct. 12)

Washington gets the distinction of being the first of the incoming Pac-12 teams to play a road game at Kinnick Stadium. The Huskies have been there before, albeit during the 1960s. Without divisions, this game is unlikely to play a major role in the conference race but count me intrigued to see how the newcomers fare in Iowa City. Granted, it would be a bit more fun in November, but getting this game in mid-October doesn’t bother me.

Historical: The two teams are 3-3 head-to-head all-time. The last matchup came in the 1995 Sun Bowl, a 38-18 win for the Hawkeyes.

3. Washington at Penn State (Nov. 9)

Penn State may have the best schedule of any of the top competitors in the Big Ten Championship odds for this season. (The Nittany Lions are 4th in the preseason odds, trailing only Ohio State, Oregon and Michigan.) Penn State will face UCLA and Washington this season, but both of those games come in Beaver Stadium. Being in November, the matchup against Washington carries a bit more juice after a 3-game stretch that includes games at USC, at Wisconsin, and vs. Ohio State. The Nittany Lions will have a clear picture if they’re a contender by this game, and the Huskies will get their first taste of Happy Valley.

Historical: Penn State is 3-0 all-time against Washington. The most recent game was a 35-28 win in the 2017 Fiesta Bowl and they have not faced off in the regular season since 1921.

2. USC at Michigan (Sept. 21)

The 3-year running champs of the B1G, Michigan received no favors in this year’s schedule. The Wolverines will face USC and Oregon at home along with taking a trip to Seattle to face Washington. This game against USC will be the first B1G game of the year for Sherrone Moore, and it will also be the B1G debut for the Trojans. This has a chance to be the biggest conference game in September, not to mention the historical aspect that makes this game a must-see early-season matchup. Michigan opened as an 11-point favorite for this game via DraftKings.

Historical: USC leads the all-time series 6-4 with 8 of those games coming in the Rose Bowl. The last matchup was a 32-18 win by the Trojans in the Rose Bowl following the 2006 season.

1. Ohio State at Oregon (Oct. 12)

Not only is Ohio State vs. Oregon the best first-time B1G matchup, but it could be the biggest game on the entire conference schedule this fall. The Buckeyes and Ducks are the favorites to win the conference, and they will be in heavy contention to reach the College Football Playoff. As for Ryan Day’s squad, Ohio State gets a manageable schedule but must make the trek to Eugene for this matchup. While Dan Lanning was not involved in the 2021 matchup, it presents a nice revenge game opportunity for Day after a loss in Columbus. Fans can track the latest odds for the Buckeyes and get in on the action with Tradition’s sportsbook apps in Ohio.

Historical: Ohio State leads the all-time series with a 9-1 record, including a win in the inaugural CFP national championship. However, the Ducks won the most recent matchup in 2021, a 35-28 victory in Columbus.

Other games considered

Wisconsin at USC (Sept. 28): Wisconsin gets its first taste of travel life in the new B1G with a trip to LA one week after hosting Alabama. The Trojans will be coming off a trip to Ann Arbor, and this game at the end of September will help shape the early outlook for the B1G race.

Michigan at Washington (Oct. 5): Michigan’s early-season schedule is no slouch, but the Wolverines start with 5 home games. Their first road trip of the season is to Seattle in a rematch of a game played during the 2021 season, but that game was in the Big House. It will be Michigan’s first true road game out west since the 2015 season opener at Utah.

Penn State at USC (Oct. 12): Penn State has the talent to be in the B1G race all season long, and the schedule shapes up favorably for James Franklin’s program. The Nittany Lions avoid Oregon altogether and have just one trip out west to face USC on Oct. 12. Penn State has a shot to be 5-0 entering this game while USC could have 2 losses, setting up some extra pressure for this early October game.

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