The 2009 Big Ten season looks to be at least as competitive as last season's down to the wire finish.
Ohio State and Penn State appear to be the top dogs in the conference again this season. Iowa, Michigan State, Illinois, and Minnesota could challenge and Northwestern, Michigan, and Wisconsin could be major obstacles.
Most Big Ten teams have scheduled a major test in non-conference play. Notable matchups include: Illinois vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Notre Dame at Michigan, USC at Ohio State, Purdue at Oregon, Cal at Minnesota, Arizona at Iowa, Michigan State at Notre Dame, Indiana at Virginia, and Cincinnati at Illinois.
But the real excitement begins with conference play and the chase for the championship. There will be many interesting, important, and pivotal games this season, but here are five you just can't miss.
IOWA at PENN STATE—September 26
Last season's meeting between these two teams had it all. It was a highly competitive, close game with a down-to-the-wire, last second field goal finish that was played in less than preferable weather conditions.
This season, the game could be just as good.
Iowa's black-out of a year ago will be replaced with Penn State's white-out. There is no better environment in college football than Happy Valley at night and Penn State fans will be sure to welcome the Hawkeyes into Beaver Stadium by making their presence known.
Both teams will be gunning for the Big Ten title, but the motivation for each team will be drastically different. Penn State will be revenge-minded for sure, but the desire to prove they were and still are the better team will be high on the motivation list.
For Iowa, the season will be spent working to prove they can win without Shonn Greene. If the Hawkeyes can beat Penn State again, this time at Happy Valley in the harshest of environments, they will make their point.
MICHIGAN at MICHIGAN STATE—October 3
Big-time college football doesn't get any bigger than this in the state of Michigan.
This bitter in-state rivalry has reached new heights since Mark Dantonio took over as head coach of the Spartans. His emphasis of the history and importance of the rivalry has made his players excited about the game again and their performance on the field has given the fans hope again.
This rivalry is alive and well and this season should provide another memorable match-up. Both teams are young, but talented, making the battle for bragging rights evenly matched.
Dantonio or Rodriguez. Who wins the chess match?
OHIO STATE at PENN STATE—November 7
In what many consider to be the game of the year in the Big Ten, last season's defending champions Penn State will "welcome" last season's defending champions Ohio State to hostile Happy Valley.
The state universities of Ohio and Pennsylvania have met every year since Penn State joined the Big Ten, but it hasn't been until recently that a legitimate rivalry has emerged.
The games have been notoriously even throughout the years. Last season the game came down to a couple of turnovers by Ohio State's then freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
This season, Pryor will make his Pennsylvania homecoming and debut as the leader of the enemy and the Buckeyes will be more motivated for redemption than revenge.
For Penn State, the motivation will come from the ad infinitum chants of "We are...Penn State" around Beaver Stadium through the whole game.
IOWA at OHIO STATE—November 14
The Buckeyes and Hawkeyes haven't met since 2005 when Troy Smith, Ted Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez, and Antonio Pittman dismantled the Iowa defense in a nationally televised night game at Kinnick Stadium.
If Iowa is a legitimate contender for the Big Ten championship, we will know it by the time the Hawkeyes travel to Columbus for what could be a classic Big Ten battle.
The teams are strikingly similar. Both have second year quarterbacks who took over mid-season in 2008, both are replacing big bruising tailbacks, both must find production from young, but talented wide receivers, and both last longtime starters at key positions on the defensive side of the ball.
This game has the potential to be one of the better Big Ten games of the season.
PENN STATE at MICHIGAN STATE—November 21
The battle for the Land-Grant Trophy was a lopsided affair last season. Michigan State, with a chance for a share of the Big Ten championship was outmatched and outperformed by a superior Penn State team with Rose Bowl aspirations.
This season, Penn State should once again be the superior team, but Sparty has a bitter taste in his mouth. Many Spartan fans believe that the Nittany Lions were poor sports last season, as they continued to put points on the board well after the game was out of hand.
Penn State fans will only remember the consecutive timeouts Dantonio called with seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. The Lions say Dantonio is the poor sport and the only reason he called those time outs was to keep the Big Ten champs from celebrating.
Who knows what the motives were for sure? One thing is for certain, the once stagnant rivalry has been rekindled and is as heated as ever.