Although the bowl season isn't even over yet, with their performance so far the Big Ten has proven it's definitely turning a corner when it comes to playing "faster and more talented" nonconference teams. Oregon, LSU, and Miami have all fallen to Big Ten "plodders" and Georgia Tech will have its hands full with Iowa. That said, 2010 presents some real challenges for Big Ten teams in nonconference play. Here's a look at some of the premier matchups next year.
Played in St. Louis, the Illinois-Missouri border battle has turned into one of the more entertaining nonconference matchups for the Big Ten. The rivalry started in 1896, but it only became a yearly one in 2007 and was first played in St. Louis in 2002. Known as the "Arch Rivalry," Mizzou has dominated in St. Louis, winning the last five matchups, including 37-9 in 2009. Illinois had a down year in 2009 and will look to rebuild in 2010, but will face a stiff test in the opener.
The Wolverines will christen newly renovated Michigan Stadium with a visit from the newly renovated Connecticut Huskies football program. The Huskies have risen quickly after becoming an FBS program in 2000. Michigan on the other hand has fallen far since Lloyd Carr's departure, going 3-9 and 5-7 in two seasons under Rich Rodriguez.
A battle of the two private universities in primarily public university conferences. After many long years of football failure, both programs are on the rise, especially Northwestern's. Although it probably won't go a long way in deciding either team's success in 2010, it should be an interesting game to watch.
Brian Kelly certainly doesn't get the chance to ease into his first year at Notre Dame, opening the year against his neighbors down I-65. A closely contested rivalry, Notre Dame-Purdue seems to go down to the wire every year. In 2009's game, Notre Dame barely squeaked by a Purdue team that finished seventh in the Big Ten, 24-21. Neither team will be outstanding in 2010, but this should be an entertaining game nonetheless.
Brian Kelly vs. Rich Rodriguez. Two coaches probably under the most pressure in the nation. The Wolverines came back to get the win against Notre Dame in 2009, but this one's in South Bend. Always a great game, but with the decline of both programs over the last few years, does it really matter anymore?
2010 will be the first time these two teams have met since Ohio State's 31-24 victory in the 2003 national championship. Jacory Harris and the Hurricanes will come into Columbus hoping to return to their 2002 form after almost a decade of mediocrity. Although Miami is definitely on the rise, the Buckeyes have never really fallen. Terrelle Pryor and Ohio State will again be hoping for a Big Ten title, but 2010 will hold an even larger goal for the Bucks: a national title.
One of the biggest nonconference matchups of 2010, this game pits two of the most storied college football programs in the nation. Both PSU and 'Bama are virtually at the top of their respective games, though the Lions won't have quarterback Daryll Clark for this one. This is the first of a home-and-home series as the Tide will head to Beaver Stadium in 2011.
After defeating Arizona 27-17 in Iowa City in 2009, the Hawkeyes head to Arizona in 2010 for the second game of the two schools' home-and-home series. Both teams are coming off of successful 2009 seasons and if those campaigns are any indication, this should be a defensive battle.
By this time, the Irish could already be 0-2, so who knows if this will even be an attractive matchup. It's Notre Dame though...
Both teams are coming off disappointing seasons although they have somewhat different standards for disappointment. Minnesota finished 2009 6-7 after a loss to Iowa State in the Insight Bowl. Reasonable cause for disappointment. USC finished 9-4 after a win against Boston College in the Emerald Bowl. After a decade of absolute domination, I guess finishing with anything less than a Rose Bowl is disapointment in the Trojans' eyes. This is really only a premier matchup simply because of the fact USC is coming to Minneapolis. The game itself really shouldn't be that fun to watch if you're a Big Ten fan.
2010 is a year in which Wisconsin should be expecting great success. Given their returning players and relatively easy schedule, Wisconsin should at least be aiming for a Rose Bowl invite. Easily the toughest matchup of their nonconference schedule, Arizona State is coming off a rough 2009 campaign, finishing the year 4-7 including only 2-7 in the Pac-10. However, it should be a good indicator of how strong Wisconsin really is as they go into Big Ten play.