Nonconference games will make a triumphant return to our television screens in just a few months.

Last season, the B1G (and several other conferences) eliminated nonconference competition because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While a conference-only schedule was still a lot of fun, we did miss some interesting marquee matchups.

That won’t be the case in 2021. There are plenty of interesting and exciting matchups scheduled for the upcoming year and with plenty of implications. But not all nonconference games carry the same level of interest.

Here’s what we think of all 42 nonconference games in terms of watchability this fall:

42. Villanova vs. Penn State

Games featuring traditional powers and FCS programs typically aren’t that interesting. Even though Penn State is coming off a 4-5 season in 2020, this contest shouldn’t be particularly close. It also doesn’t help that this matchup is scheduled immediately after the Nittany Lions host Auburn, in what should be an entertaining nonconference contest.

41. Akron vs. Ohio State

40. Delaware vs. Rutgers

39. Howard vs. Maryland

38. Fordham vs. Nebraska

37 Indiana State vs. Northwestern

36. Tulsa vs. Ohio State

Oddly enough, Ohio State’s first “guaranteed game” doesn’t come until Week 3, after playing Minnesota and Oregon in the first two weeks. This isn’t a traditional easy victory, though. Tulsa was scrappy a season ago, finishing with a 6-3 record and playing Oklahoma State, Mississippi State and Cincinnati incredibly close. The Buckeyes will still cruise to victory, but this has the potential to be interesting for a few quarters.

35. Kent State vs. Maryland

34. Idaho vs. Indiana

33. Ball State vs. Penn State

32. Kent State vs. Iowa

31. Miami (OH) vs. Minnesota

30. Youngstown State vs. Michigan State

Usually an FCS opponent wouldn’t be this high on the list, but because this is a rebuilding season for Mel Tucker at Michigan State, there’s an added level of intrigue. The Spartans will be coming off a big season-opening road game against Northwestern for their first home contest of the year. Youngstown State wasn’t good a season ago, but Michigan State had plenty of its own troubles. If the Spartans play sloppy football, this game could be more interesting than anyone in East Lansing hopes.

29. UTSA vs. Illinois

28. Purdue vs. UConn

27. Bowling Green vs. Minnesota

26. Ohio vs. Northwestern

25. Northern Illinois vs. Michigan

24. Temple vs. Rutgers

23. Eastern Michigan vs. Wisconsin

On paper, this shouldn’t be much of a game. Wisconsin has superior talent, is better at the skill positions and has a lot more size along the offensive and defensive lines. But Chris Creighton’s Eagles have defeated a B1G team in each of the past three seasons (not including 2020 because of the conference-only slate. EMU defeated Rutgers (2017), Purdue (2018) and Illinois (2019), so there’s a chance for an upset. It just may not be a great  one.

22. Western Michigan vs. Michigan

21. Indiana vs. Western Kentucky

20. Charlotte vs. Illinois

19. Western Kentucky vs. Michigan State

18. Rutgers vs. Syracuse

This is hardly the biggest test on Rutgers’ schedule this season, but it should provide us with a pretty good gauge on where the Scarlet Knights stand in Year 2 under Greg Schiano. Syracuse isn’t the toughest of opponents, but it’s a Power 5 matchup on the road. We might have a better indication of whether or not Rutgers is a bowl contender early in the season.

17. Oregon State vs. Purdue

16. Illinois vs. Virginia

15. West Virginia vs. Maryland

14. Buffalo vs. Nebraska

Had Lance Leipold stuck around for the 2021 season, this game might’ve been even higher on the list. The Bulls were a tough out a season ago and could’ve presented a real challenge to the Huskers, even inside the hallowed walls of Memorial Stadium. Because of the changes, Buffalo is still unpredictable, which is why it cracks the Top 15.

13. Colorado State vs. Iowa

12. Army vs. Wisconsin

11. Northwestern vs. Duke

10. Michigan State vs. Miami (FL)

The Spartans are going to have their work cut out for them with a trip to Miami, a team thought to be a contender to dethrone Clemson in the ACC. Even though Michigan State opens the year with a tough road game against Northwestern, a date with the Hurricanes might be the most challenging game in the first half of the season. It’s an important test for the Spartans before diving into the thick of the B1G season.

9. Minnesota vs. Colorado

The last time Minnesota played a Power 5 opponent as part of the nonconference schedule was in 2017, making a trip to Oregon State for the “Rodent Bowl.” In the third week of the season, the Golden Gophers will take their first road trip of the season to play a Colorado team that finished with a 4-2 record in 2020. This game is sandwiched between contests against MAC schools Miami (OH) and Bowling Green and will be the toughest test of the nonconference schedule for P.J. Fleck’s team. It should also be a really fun B1G-Pac-12 showdown early in the season.

8. Purdue vs. Notre Dame

A rivalry gets renewed. It’s been six seasons since Purdue and Notre Dame have gone head-to-head on the gridiron and the showdown in South Bend should rekindle the flame of hatred between the in-state foes. The Fighting Irish have controlled the series in recent history, winning the last seven meetings. The Boilermakers probably don’t stack up from a talent perspective, but seeing these two schools playing again is worth the Top 10 ranking. Plus, Purdue legend Drew Brees will be on the call for NBC’s coverage as part of Notre Dame’s TV deal.

7. Nebraska vs. Oklahoma

The 50th anniversary of the “Game of the Century.” Old rivals back on the gridiron. The thought of Nebraska and Oklahoma on the same field again is exciting simply for the nostalgia factor. But that’s not the only reason this game is interesting. The Sooners are thought to be the best team in the country by many heading into the 2021 season. Nebraska is…not. Still, there’s a consensus that Scott Frost has the best team he’s had as the head coach in Lincoln, and it could result in an extremely competitive game with upset potential. It’s college football, anything could happen.

6. Washington vs. Michigan

There are a lot of fun Pac-12-B1G matchups this year. A few years ago, this one would’ve been viewed as one of the Top 3 games during the B1G nonconference season. After Michigan’s struggles a season ago and with Washington still transitioning under a new head coach, this doesn’t appear to be the heavyweight bout we thought we’d be getting. Still, both the Huskies and Wolverines are expected to maintain a certain level of success and be near the top of their respective conferences each year. It will be a nice momentum booster for the winner. Plus, receiver Giles Jackson transferred from Michigan to Washington, so that adds something to the matchup.

5. Cincinnati vs. Indiana

Possibly the most important and most anticipated nonconference game in recent memory for Indiana. Typically that wouldn’t be said against a Group of 5 opponent, but Cincinnati was a challenger to the College Football Playoff last season and was considered the top G5 program in the country. Luke Fickell will bring a talented, ranked Bearcats team to Bloomington for an important matchup. For Indiana to build off its back-to-back winning seasons, this will be considered a must-win game for Tom Allen, adding a level of intrigue we don’t see often from the Hoosiers.

4. Auburn vs. Penn State

An SEC team has agreed to make a trip to B1G country, which is pretty noteworthy in itself. While both Auburn (6-5) and Penn State (4-5) struggled a season ago, this is still an important nonconference game for both programs. Probably more for the Nittany Lions. The Tigers made a change at head coach, firing Gus Malzahn and bringing in Brian Harsin. Expectations are always high at Auburn, but there’s a level of anticipation that it might take at least a year or two to get the ball rolling. Penn State, on the other hand, is expected to re-emerge as one of the top teams in the B1G and challenge Ohio State in the division. The Lions probably won’t be able to do that without a win over Auburn.

3. Iowa vs. Iowa State

There’s a lot of hype surrounding Iowa State. A lot. Oddly enough, Iowa is flying under the radar heading into the 2021 season despite a 10-3 year in 2019 and a 6-2 campaign last fall. Oh, and Kirk Ferentz has never lost to Matt Campbell, winning all four Cy-Hawk games featuring the two head coaches. Both Iowa and Iowa State should be ranked heading into this Week 2 showdown and we’ll find out just how good both of these teams are early in the year. Yes, this rivalry game is always important in the state, but this year’s matchup might be a little more intriguing on a national level, as well.

2. Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin

Two power programs in the Midwest at an historic venue like Soldier Field is enough to have even the casual fan tune into the Notre Dame-Wisconsin matchup. There’s also a roster element to this game, though, with former Badgers QB Jack Coan transferring to ND and has a great shot to be the starter for the Fighting Irish this fall. That only adds to the storylines for this one. This should be a fun battle between two highly-ranked teams and there could be New Year’s Six implications hanging in the balance.

1. Oregon vs. Ohio State

Who doesn’t love a game with College Football Playoff implications in Week 2? That’s what we’re getting when Oregon takes flight to Columbus for a Pac-12-B1G showdown against Ohio State. This will serve as the biggest nonconference test Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day has faced and puts pressure on Ohio State to  prove itself capable of beating anyone in the country right out of the gate. The winner of this one gets a great resume booster for the Playoff, while the loser will likely fight an uphill battle for one of the four spots the rest of the year.