With full crowds (hopefully) back at B1G stadiums, 1 game at each that I’d love to see in person
Getting to watch (and write about) Big Ten football was a luxury I didn’t think I would get to enjoy in 2020. I enjoyed every second of it, and I’m grateful there was a season.
But there was still something missing. A lot of what makes college football so special is the fan engagement. Even though there’s a lot of money in this sport, it doesn’t have a corporate feel. It’s a bunch of people coming together every Saturday to tailgate and cheer on their teams, win or lose.
With fans returning in 2021, here is a home game for every Big Ten team that I’d love to be at:
Aug. 28 vs. Nebraska
This is the first college football game of the 2021 season, and I’m counting on the great people of Champaign to properly set the tone for the rest of the country. Yeah, this game was supposed to be in Dublin, but we’ll get to see that in 2022. Besides, this game will be very intriguing. It’s Bret Bielema’s first game back in the B1G since leaving for Arkansas in 2013, and this will help set the tone for Scott Frost’s crucial fourth season at Nebraska. Plus, Illinois stunned Nebraska last year as a 16-point underdog with an easy win in Lincoln.
Oct. 23 vs. Ohio State
Expectations are extremely high for Tom Allen’s crew in 2021 coming off a 6-2 season in which it reached the top 10. Indiana will always be a basketball school (and a basketball state), but enthusiasm is building for this program, and rightfully so. If the Hoosiers can make it through a tough early-season schedule (at Iowa, vs. Cincinnati and at Penn State), this Ohio State matchup will be a whole lot of fun—hopefully just like last year’s game in Columbus in which the Buckeyes held on, 42-35.
Sept. 4 vs. Indiana
This isn’t a matchup we get very often (just once in the last 5 years), but with this being the season opener for both teams and both teams likely being ranked in the Top 25, sign me up. Phil Parker’s defense seems to reload every year, and this will be a great early test against one of the country’s top QBs, Michael Penix Jr. The Hawkeyes stumbled out of the gate last year with 2 losses, so they should be playing with a sense of urgency from the start.
Nov. 6 vs. Penn State
Nothing like an East-coast B1G showdown, right? Penn State seems to just embarrass Maryland year after year—until 2020, when the Terrapins turned the tables and routed the Nittany Lions (as a 27-point underdog!). It was a coming-out party for Rakim Jarrett and Taulia Tagovailoa. Penn State should be better this year, and so should Maryland. These teams first met in 1917, and Maryland has won only 3 out of 44 matchups.
Nov. 27 vs. Ohio State
One of college football’s top rivalries was the obvious choice, especially considering this game was canceled due to COVID last season. Even if Michigan’s season isn’t going well by this point, it will likely have the chance to play spoiler to an Ohio State squad that should be contending for the B1G title and a College Football Playoff berth. It’s hard to believe that Michigan has lost 7 of its last 8 at the Big House to Ohio State. Ouch.
Oct. 30 vs. Michigan
This is always a great rivalry, no matter the sport. It should have a little added juice, too, thanks to last year when the Spartans were 22-point underdogs and pulled off a shocking upset, derailing the Michigan hype train that had barely built up any steam. The Spartans are still building heading into Mel Tucker’s second season, but they seem to have these random days where it all clicks (sorry, Northwestern). Here’s betting that this game will be one of them.
Nov. 27 vs. Wisconsin
This will be the 131st meeting between these programs, the most-played rivalry in FBS. The Golden Gophers trail the all-time series by just 4, but they have lost 16 of 17, including a heartbreaker in OT at Camp Randall last season. Anything less than a six inches of snow on the ground would be disappointing!
Nov. 26 vs. Iowa
This has become a fun Black Friday tradition, but it’s one the Huskers would like to tweak a bit with 6 straight losses in this series. Last year showed it doesn’t much matter what the records are, as an underachieving Nebraska squad nearly pulled the upset at Iowa. Keith Duncan won’t be around this year to torment Nebraska fans.
Nov. 6 vs. Iowa
Who would’ve thought that last year’s Week 2 game in Iowa City would’ve served as the de facto West championship? The Wildcats rallied from 17-0 down, the first of 4 straight wins by 10 points or less that vaulted them into CFP discussion. Northwestern has beaten Iowa 4 of the last 5 meetings, but all have been by one score.
Sept. 11 vs. Oregon
With all due respect to Penn State (which visits Ohio State on Oct. 30), this is one of the juiciest non-conference matchups in the country: The favorite in the Big Ten vs. the favorite in the Pac 12. These teams were supposed to meet in Eugene last season, but it was canceled due to COVID. This is a rematch of the 2014 CFP title game in which the Buckeyes won, and both teams have aspirations of returning to the CFP in 2021. This will be a must-watch for college football fans across the country.
Sept. 18 vs. Auburn
Speaking of juicy non-conference matchups, it isn’t often that an SEC school makes its way up to B1G country. Since Kentucky and Indiana paused their annual matchup after 2005, an SEC team has played in a B1G stadium just 5 times, and 3 of those times it was Vanderbilt. That’s to say, the heavy hitters in the SEC don’t often make their way up north. Auburn hasn’t played a B1G team in the regular season since 1931, so you can see why this will be an exciting matchup at Beaver Stadium. Auburn isn’t expected to contend in the SEC under first-year coach Bryan Harsin, but that won’t matter in terms of the hype of this game.
Nov. 27 vs. Indiana
There was no Old Oaken Bucket game for the first time since 1919, so you think these teams will be fired up to see each other? Regardless of records, both fan bases always get up for this game, even with basketball season just beginning.
Sept. 2 vs. Temple
These teams met every year from 1977 through 2004, but have only played twice since. Considering this is the season opener for both, there will be a curiosity for non-Rutgers fans to see exactly what this team will look like in Year 2 of Greg Schiano. Can the Scarlet Knights build off a promising 2020?
Sept. 4 vs. Penn State
If you’re putting together tiers of B1G football teams, these programs are probably both in that second tier behind only Ohio State. This will be one of the best matchups of the opening weekend, with both teams probably in the top 15. What can Graham Mertz and company do with a full roster? Is Penn State in for another crazy season opener?