Big Ten Football: Power-Ranking the Top 2014 Out-of-Conference Games
There simply aren't enough days in the college football season for everyone to schedule FCS powerhouse University of the Incarnate Word.
However, that doesn't mean there aren't attractive non-conference games out there. The Big Ten will have a handful of intriguing matchups early in the 2014 season. From a neutral site game in Houston to the always-classic Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry, there's a lot to like in the Big Ten from a scheduling perspective.
Which non-conference games are the best?
5. Michigan at Notre Dame
Date: Sept. 6
It's always a special occasion when Michigan and Notre Dame get together, although results have been varied in recent years.
The 2011 version of the rivalry was a series classic, with three touchdowns being scored in the final minute in a half. The '12 edition was less memorable with eight total turnovers, six of which came from the Wolverines.
The Irish will look to avoid back-to-back losses against Michigan when it plays host on Sept. 6. Head coach Brian Kelly could have quarterback Everett Golson back on the field, too. Golson's only game against Michigan—the 13-6 win in 2012—was an ugly 3-for-8 passing performance with two interceptions.
How Golson atones for that performance, if he does at all, will be one of the individual storylines to watch.
Meanwhile, Michigan coach Brady Hoke enters a critical year with the program. A win over the Irish could help set the tone for the rest of the season. A loss could put a bad taste in everyone's mouth before September ends.
4. Miami at Nebraska
Date: Sept. 20
Nebraska's 2014 non-conference schedule starts slow, but picks up with a road game at Fresno State and then a home matchup against Miami.
(Be careful in Fresno, Cornhuskers. That could be a trap game.)
The Cornhuskers and Hurricanes are tied in their all-time series at five wins each and have put together a couple of classic games. The first that comes to mind, obviously, is the 1984 Orange Bowl when former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne opted to go for a two-point conversion—and failed—giving Miami the 31-30 win.
Ten years later in the 1995 Orange Bowl, Osborne got his revenge with a 24-17 win over the 'Canes.
Neither program has played at those heights lately, but the Sept. 20 game in Lincoln should be interesting nonetheless. Both teams will be replacing starting quarterbacks and need to get more out of their defenses.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini finally has momentum on his side after beating Georgia 24-19 in the Gator Bowl. Beating the 'Canes would only improve Pelini's popularity among the fans.
3. Virginia Tech at Ohio State
Date: Sept. 6
Virginia Tech has done a decent job in recent years of scheduling one or two big non-conference games a season; Alabama in 2013 and '09, and Boise State in 2010 come to mind. (Ohio State has done a nice job of scheduling, too, with future games against Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas.)
The problem is the Hokies haven't done a good job of winning those games. In fact, you probably have to go back to 2009 when Virginia Tech beat Nebraska 16-15 to find the last non-conference statement win for the program.
Still, the Sept. 6 game against the Buckeyes should be fascinating. Texas Tech transfer quarterback Michael Brewer could be starting and Hokies coach Frank Beamer needs a signature win.
Of course, Ohio State's expectations will focus on a college football playoff appearance. A win over Virginia Tech would likely help those chances.
2. LSU vs. Wisconsin (Houston, Texas)
Date: Aug. 30
There are season-opening games, and then there are season-opening games. Wisconsin and LSU have an awesome season-opening game.
The two had been working on a series for some time and ended up with a cool two-game slate. The Badgers and Tigers will meet in Houston this season and then in Green Bay, Wis., in 2016 at Lambeau Field.
The Badgers enter Year 2 under head coach Gary Andersen, who led the team to a nine-win season in 2013. Leading rusher Melvin Gordon is back, so Wisconsin should still have its bread-and-butter offense in place.
LSU, coming off a 10-win season, loses quarterback Zach Mettenberger, but gains 5-star running back Leonard Fournette. Playing against the Badgers will not only be an intriguing matchup for the program, but acts as a big moment for Fournette as well.
If you like good ol' ground-and-pound football, this game is for you.
1. Michigan State at Oregon
Date: Sept. 6
Talk about contrasting styles.
Michigan State's Sept. 6 visit to Autzen Stadium to take on Oregon is not only one of the most intriguing non-conference matchups in the Big Ten, it's one of the most intriguing non-conference matchups anywhere in college football next season.
Sparty is coming off an all-time season, winning 13 games, including the Rose Bowl. Head coach Mark Dantonio's team finished the season as one of the best teams in the country. Of course, the team was anchored by its stout defense and many players from that group, like cornerback Darqueze Dennard, are gone.
Can the Spartans rebuild on defense in time to face the Ducks' high-powered offense, led by quarterback Marcus Mariota?
If Oregon can get out to a quick lead, Michigan State would have trouble playing catch-up. If the game remains close heading into the final minutes, however, the Spartans have a great chance of pulling out a win.
It should be an exciting game.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All recruiting information reflects 247Sports composite rankings.
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