College Football 2011: Ranking the Top 10 Big Ten Conference Matchups for 2011

Derek CooleyCorrespondent IMay 3, 2011

College Football 2011: Ranking the Top 10 Big Ten Conference Matchups for 2011

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    LINCOLN, NEÐ JUNE 11: University of Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osbourne informs members of the media that the University of Nebraska has been accepted into the Big Ten conference in Lincoln, Neb. June 11th, 2010.  The university will begin integration
    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    In 2011, the Big Ten Conference will embark on its first year of expansion with Nebraska added to the mix.  The addition of Nebraska brings the number of teams competing in the conference to 12, garnering a championship game.

    The new 12-team conference will also be split into two divisions, the Leaders and Legends, where division-winners compete in the Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.  

    The Leaders Division consists of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin.  The Legends Division consists of Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.

    In 2010, the race for the Big Ten title finished in a three-way tie with Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin.  In 2011, a championship game will be played to justify the sole winner of the Big Ten Championship, something missing from years prior.  

    Thank you, Nebraska, and welcome to the Big Ten.

10. Wisconsin at Michigan State (10/22/11)

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    ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 09: Edwin Baker #4 of the Michigan State Spartans scores on a 61 yard touchdown in the second quarter during the game against the Michigan Wolverines during the game on October 9, 2010 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Th
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Wisconsin treks eastward towards East Lansing for the second consecutive season to face the Spartans of Michigan State at Spartan Stadium.  The Spartans won last year's tilt by the score of 34-24, which stood as Wisconsin's only loss in Big Ten play.

    With a victory in East Lansing, the Badgers would have won the Big Ten title outright in 2010, but instead settled for a three-way tie with Ohio State and Michigan State.

    In this matchup, Wisconsin's vaunted rushing attack will go head to head with Michigan State's monstrous, new defensive line.  However, the loss of tackle Gabe Carimi and guard John Moffitt to the NFL will prove costly in this one.

    Wisconsin was hit much harder on both sides of the ball than the Spartans were by the NFL draft.  That and the return of an experienced offensive core will be the difference in the game, resulting in an East Lansing celebration.

    Prediction: Michigan State 34, Wisconsin 20 

9. Nebraska at Penn State (11/12/11)

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    COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 13:  Head Coach Joe Paterno watches his team play the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Yet another road test awaits the Nebraska Cornhuskers during their inaugural campaign in the Big Ten.  This November contest will feature the Cornhuskers and the Penn State Nittany Lions in Happy Valley.  This game will be a true test for Taylor Martinez and Co., as the November elements will test them and the biggest crowd in the nation will taunt them at Beaver Stadium.

    This season will be a measuring-stick year for Penn State, coming off a lackluster 2010 season with young skill players and an even younger quarterback.  Their coach, Joe Paterno, is anything but young like his team, but the old coach has been coaching up kids for years and years; who is to say he won't do it again.

    Nebraska will prove too deep and too skilled for the Nittany Lions in the end, who may be out of the title race by this point in the season.


    Prediction: Nebraska 20, Penn State 13

8. Nebraska at Wisconsin (10/1/11)

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    MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 16: James White #20 of the Wisconsin Badgers runs against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Camp Randall Stadium on October 16, 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin defeated Ohio State 31-18. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Let's see—where should we send the Cornhuskers to play in the very first Big Ten game in Nebraska history?

    Definitely somewhere tough and intimidating.  We need Nebraska to endure a proper Big Ten welcoming, which is more than enough for the fans in Madison to handle.

    Nebraska, we see your "Big Red" and we raise you our red-clad nation.  

    Nebraska will be opening its first-ever Big Ten campaign on the road in Madison, WI, to face the defending co-Big Ten Champion Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium.

    An early-season Top 25 matchup is tough to ignore, but when coaches Bo Pelini and Bret Bielema go head to head with their respective historic programs, it grabs headlines.  The game will capture the attention of most Big Ten fans and many non-Big Ten fans, as history will be made for this prestigious conference.  

    Nebraska's inauguration, Wisconsin's title defense and a crazy sea of red in Camp Randall will usher us into another Big Ten season.  

    What a tone to set for the start of Big Ten competition.  The new guy goes on the road to face the Big Ten's Rose Bowl representative, while the other two co-Big Ten champions (MSU, OSU) will square off in Columbus. 


    Prediction:  Wisconsin 17, Nebraska 14

    (Run game and defense will be key factors; clock management will be deciding factor) 

7. Michigan State at Nebraska (10/29/11)

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    LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 26: Coach Bo Pelini of the Nebraska Cornhuskers chats with a game official during their game against the Colorado Buffaloes at Memorial Stadium on November 26, 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Colorado 45-17 (Photo by Er
    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    Michigan State's first venture to Lincoln since 1996 could mark the beginning of Legends Division rivalries with the two men at the helm for their respective teams.  Mark Dantonio and Bo Pelini have both turned around programs with storied histories and forgettable recent years.  

    In 1996, the top-ranked Cornhuskers dominated the visiting Spartans 55-14 in the year's first game.

    The last time these two squads played was in the 2003 Alamo Bowl, where Nebraska beat MSU by the score of 17-3.  The man coaching Nebraska to the victory was then-interim and current head coach Bo Pelini.

    This year, Pelini will be introduced to a much different, improved Spartan program.  This game will be of utter importance for both teams' quest to Indianapolis this season and for seasons to come.


    Prediction: Nebraska 27,  Michigan State 16

6. Ohio State at Michigan (11/26/11)

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    COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 27:  Quarterback Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines runs with the ball against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on November 27, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    College football's greatest rivalry resides in the Big Ten between historic heavyweights Michigan and Ohio State.  

    Although the rivalry has been one-sided in recent memory, this season has already seen these two teams make drastic moves towards the future.  Michigan hired a new coach; Ohio State decided to finally discipline their coach.

    At this point in the season, we will know if suspensions marred the rest of the Buckeyes season, as well as Brady Hoke's ability to coach with the big boys.

    All you can do now is predict the outcome for a game in late November and let the cards fall as they do leading up.

    I feel as though Brady Hoke can rally a team to a bowl bid at home against its biggest rival.  Ohio State may not have that terrible of a record at this point in the season, but it most likely will not be up to standards in Columbus.


    Prediction: Michigan 34, Ohio State 31

5. Michigan at Michigan State (10/15/11)

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    ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 09: Jerel Worthy #99 of the Michigan State Spartans hits Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines during the game on October 9, 2010 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    A new coach at the helm for the Michigan Wolverines brings about a new feeling of optimism in Ann Arbor.

    Brady Hoke's arrival at Michigan marked the end of a forgettable era for former coach Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan football program.  During this three-year escapade, Michigan went 0-3 against in-state rival Michigan State and head coach Mark Dantonio.

    Michigan's superhuman quarterback Denard Robinson will try to continue his torrid play via the air and ground going into his first career start at Spartan Stadium in 2011.

    The Paul Bunyan Trophy, awarded annually to the victor of the Michigan-Michigan State game, has been making himself a new home in East Lansing.  Spartan players and fans alike are not ready to give up the trophy that has symbolized the turnaround in both programs.

    For Brady Hoke to earn an immediate place in the hearts of the Michigan faithful, he needs to beat the Spartans.


    Prediction:  Michigan State 38, Michigan 28

4. Ohio State at Nebraska (10/8/11)

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    COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 12:  Terrelle Pryor #2 and head coach Jim Tressel of the Ohio State Buckeyes look on from the sidelines during their game against the USC Trojans at Ohio Stadium on September 12, 2009 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Ge
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    This may have been a possible conversation going on while the Big Ten gods were creating the 2011 schedule:

    "So...Ohio thought you could just skate by with a minuscule five-game suspension that only affects one Big Ten game, and it happens to be in Columbus.  Little do you know that Tressel and Co. are in for a dandy when they return to the sidelines.  

    "Congrats, Ohio State.  While you are busy getting your five starters back into the lineup and your coach on the sidelines, try not to forget your little road trip to the middle of nowhere.  Well, it will look like the middle of nowhere until game day, when you will find yourself inside Nebraska's third-biggest 'city'...Memorial Stadium.  Consider this punishment from the Big Ten gods."

    Two of the nation's most storied programs can decide their fate within the Big Ten early on in the season with this hyped matchup.  Nebraska and Ohio State alike have two tough games the week prior to this contest, and those results can and will amplify the stakes at hand.

    What a great sight it will be to see the Ohio State Buckeyes go into Lincoln and play the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  Do I really get the privilege to endure these kind of matchups for years to come in the Big Ten?



    Prediction: Nebraska 31, Ohio State 17

3. Iowa at Nebraska (11/25/11)

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    LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 26: Dontrayevous Robinson #27 and Brandon Kinnie #84 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers celebrate a touchdown during their game against the Colorado Buffaloes at Memorial Stadium on November 26, 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated
    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    Well, this matchup couldn't have been scheduled for a better date.  

    That's right, Iowa and Nebraska will face each other on the Friday after Thanksgiving for this season and next.  That is the kind of scheduling that creates bitter rivals, and these two universities have the looks of a big-time rivalry.  

    Even though these two schools are facing each other for the first-time ever in conference play, they have played before and they have always shared a border.  Only the Missouri River separates the Big Red from the Black and Gold.

    This Friday-night scrum could go along way to deciding the Legends Division representative at the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.

    Next year's game (2012) will take place in Iowa City.


    Prediction: Nebraska 23, Iowa 14

2. Michigan State at Ohio State (10/1/11)

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    COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 20: Jim Tressel head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes shakes hands after 24-17 victory with Mark Dantonio head coach of the Michigan State Spartans at Ohio Stadium October 20, 2007 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo By Gregory Shamus/Getty I
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    When Mark Dantonio was hired by Michigan State following a tumultuous 2006 campaign, Dantonio's former boss spoke highly of him:

    "Mark will build a great program and will do a great job. We're looking forward to competing against him, but the neighborhood just got a little tougher."

    Unfortunately for Jim Tressel, he won't be coaching the Buckeyes when his former secondary coach brings his Michigan State Spartans into Columbus to kick off Big Ten play.  The Michigan State-Ohio State game marks the fifth game of Ohio State's self-imposed five-game suspension of Coach Tressel and five players involved in the scandal simply known as "Tatgate."

    The Buckeyes that will be sitting this one out are Terrelle Pryor, DaVier Posey, Mike Adams, Boom Herron and Solomon Thomas.  The NCAA has yet to determine whether the five-game ban imposed by Ohio State is a worthy punishment for the allegations at hand.

    For Michigan State, this game marks both a beginning and an end.  The Spartans begin their title defense in Big Ten play at Ohio State, and look to end all the talk surrounding their worthiness of a share of the 2010 Big Ten title.  

    This game can determine the direction of each of these programs.  Michigan State can seek revenge after being snubbed by the BCS in favor of the deceiving Buckeyes, while Ohio State can finish the suspension of its coach and star players strong with a home win to start conference play.

    Michigan State has an eye for the dramatic, as we saw last year.  This game will not sell itself short in that department.


    Prediction: Michigan State 27, Ohio State 20

1. Wisconsin at Ohio State (10/29/11)

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    MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 16: John Clay #32 of the Wisconsin Badgers runs between Orhian Johnson #19 and Nathan Williams #43 of the Ohio State Buckeyes at Camp Randall Stadium on October 16, 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin defeated Ohio State 31-18. (Ph
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    This one is about revenge.  This one is about restoring order at Ohio State.

    Wisconsin took out top-ranked Ohio State 31-18 last year at Camp Randall in Madison.  This game is the reason why Wisconsin was able to go to the Rose Bowl and force a three-way tie for the Big Ten title.

    Ohio State fans need this victory in Columbus to—for 60 minutes at least—get the attention focused on the field and not on the sidelines.

    The atmosphere for this tilt last year at Wisconsin was insane, and the Ohio State faithful will hope to mirror the intensity and effectiveness of the Wisconsin fans.

    The Buckeyes are eyeing revenge for their defeat last year in Madison, as well as vindication that the Ohio State Buckeyes are back at full strength.  This game can very well decide the Leaders Division in the Big Ten.


    Prediction: Ohio State 34, Wisconsin 20