Maybe Next Week Will Be the Week for Michigan Football
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

The Best Non-Nebraska Big Ten Game to Watch Each Week

June 20, 2019

Picture a world where you are going to watch each Nebraska football game each week. So far, this should just be the actual world in which you already exist. But in this writerly device of a world––a pretty weak device at that––you are also going to watch only one other game involving a Big Ten team each week.

This world would be fraught with tough choices. That is unless someone had gifted you a week-by-week guide on the Big Ten game that will probably be worth watching. Then you could go confidently about your quest.

All of which is to say, here's the Big Ten game not involving Nebraska that has me most intrigued each week. Apologies in advance to Illinois, Maryland and Rutgers. Also, Derek Peterson already listed his best Big Ten games of the year, and minus the ones involving Nebraska, all are represented here. Synergy.

WEEK 1 8/29 South Dakota State at Minnesota: The Big Ten's nonconference slate is not great, but I'm legitimately excited for this Thursday-night matchup where a Minnesota team generating division-contender buzz meets up against an FCS program that's been very good of late. The Jacks have some key pieces to replace and S&P+ puts the Gophers' win probability at 94% (projected margin: 26.6 points), but I'd be more shocked if Minnesota came out and dominated than I would be if South Dakota State kept things interesting. Honorable Mention: Wisconsin at USF, I guess.

WEEK 2 9/7 Army at Michigan: In a meeting of the teams that did not fumble often last year, maybe the team that fumbles the most in this one loses? Michigan might be the best team in the league, but Army, winners of 21 games over the past two seasons, should be a top-25 team in the preseason and if the Knights can manage first downs their brand of keep away is annoyingly effective. Again, S&P+ doesn't see this as much of a game (93% Michigan) but Oklahoma went into last year's Army game at 94% and won 28-21. HM: Minnesota at Fresno State.

WEEK 3 9/14 Iowa at Iowa State: This one looks like a total tossup with the Hawkeyes projected as about a 3-point favorite. Iowa has won the last two in this series by a combined 13 points. HM: Arizona State at Michigan State.

WEEK 4 9/21 Michigan at Wisconsin: Depending upon how strongly you feel about how strong these two teams will be in 2019 might dictate your initial excitement over this matchup. Some places (Phil Steele) have the Wolverines favored in every game this season. Others (S&P+) have the Badgers as a slight favorite (-1) here. Either way, this looks like an early pace-setter game in the division races. One of these teams is coming out of here with a conference loss and will have a bit of ground to make up. HM: See if an improving Miami (Ohio) team can hang around with Buckeyes? It's a rough week outside of Madison. 

WEEK 5 9/28 Minnesota at Purdue: Only here because Ohio State-Nebraska is exempt, but this division tilt could be telling. The Gophers have usurped the Boilermakers' getting-better buzz for 2019, but here's a chance for Jeff Brohm and Co. to take it back. HM: Penn State at Maryland under Friday night lights.

WEEK 6 10/5 Michigan State at Ohio State: The Buckeyes face Indiana in Week 3, but this game will be the first big test for an Ohio State offense that, to this point, will likely look pretty good. I don't know what to make of Michigan State yet for this season, but this is the week we learn a lot. HM: There's already too much Michigan on this list, and more to come, but it's probably Iowa at Michigan.

WEEK 7 10/12 Penn State at Iowa: With the West looking like a jumble, these cross-division games against the East’s best could weigh heavily in the division race. Iowa gets its two biggest crossover games back-to-back: at Michigan followed by a visit from Penn State. Who knows how the West shakes out, but I wouldn't want to lose both of those. HM: It won't be the most aesthetically pleasing, but the stakes should be somewhat high–Michigan State at Wisconsin.

WEEK 8 10/19 Michigan at Penn State: The Nittany Lions are a team that could go either way in 2019. They might just keep on trucking behind a strong defense, they might slip back a bit due to inexperience in the backfield. Either way, Beaver Stadium, likely at night, is no joke. This is Michigan's toughest road game of the year. HM: Maybe some strangeness will ensue on a Friday night in Evanston–Ohio State at Northwestern.

WEEK 9 11/2 Northwestern at Indiana: Not a ton of curb appeal, but this could be big for bowl eligibility both ways. There are a few teams likely in that middle-of-the-pack, who's-going-bowling group, including both of these and probably Purdue. HM: If Northwestern-Indiana doesn't interest you, how about Rutgers at Illinois out of sheer Big Ten due diligence?

WEEK 10 11/9 Iowa at Wisconsin: The first of two key games in the West Division with Wisconsin at Nebraska coming the following week (though exempt from this guide). HM: Penn State at Minnesota, which will either be huge for the Gophers or have faded to second-tier status by November.

WEEK 11 11/16 Michigan State at Michigan: Give us more logo-stomping, punt-blocking, hold-me-back-like-a-chained-animal goodness, please. The coaches don't seem to like each other, either, which is always good for some fun. HM: Really regretting building a world where Nebraska games weren't up for inclusion. 

WEEK 12 11/23 Penn State at Ohio State: Interested to see if Penn State is still in this East race this late in the game. If it is, this one is obviously huge. HM: Purdue at Wisconsin.

WEEK 13 11/30 Ohio State at Michigan: It would be a weird world where this wasn’t the pick (assuming that world can't include Iowa-Nebraska, right?). HM: There are two contenders based solely on the coolness of the rivalry trophy at stake: the Old Oaken Bucket (Indiana-Purdue) and Paul Bunyan's Axe (Wisconsin-Minnesota). Given the choice between buckets and axes, always go with axes.

A shorter version of this story also appears in the Hail Varsity 2019 Husker Football Yearbook, which you should definitely get.

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