Ranking the games: Will anything top Iowa at Wisconsin?

There are 12 games this week to open the Big Ten season. And many of the matchups will go a long way toward shaping the race, with Iowa’s trip to Wisconsin being the headliner. In fact, it could be one of the better games of the season. Here’s a ranking of this week’s games.

[ MORE: Get Dienhart's preview to the opening week of Big Ten play ]

1. Iowa at Wisconsin, Sun., Jan. 5. A must-see early Big Ten game that won’t disappoint, right? The undefeated Badgers will pose a challenge for a deep and talented Hawkeyes’ club that is looking for a signature win. This would be it. But can Iowa mute what may be Bo Ryan’s most skilled offensive team? And how will Wisconsin fans react to the return of Jarrod Uthoff? Fascinating.

2. Michigan State at Indiana, Sat., Jan. 4. This is just the opportunity the Hoosiers need coming off a disappointing non-conference season that included no marquee victories. What better way to impress than by dumping the ballyhooed and hyped Spartans? Exactly.

3. Indiana at Illinois, Tues., Dec. 31. Two teams trying to find their way with rosters that have been overhauled. The last time the Hoosiers visited Champaign, they ranked No. 1 and lost on a last-second shot. The stakes won’t be that high for this meeting. The game could come down to which young team commits the fewest turnovers.

[ MORE: View BTN.com's all-nonconference honors, teams ]

4. Michigan at Minnesota, Thurs., Jan. 2. The Wolverines will begin 2014 with four losses and sans big man Mitch McGary. And, traveling to play a hot Golden Gophers team isn’t a good way to kick off 2014, which shapes up as potentially being dreary for Michigan.

5. Ohio State at Purdue, Tues., Dec. 31. This will be a monster test for a Boilermaker squad that’s still searching for a steady and reliable rotation. The suffocating Buckeye defense may be too much for Purdue’s often-sloppy guards. Are Boilermakers ready for this?

[ MORE: Big Ten Geeks hand out nonconference grades ]

6. Purdue at Minnesota, Sun., Jan. 5. These are two teams fighting to climb over each other in the Big Ten food chain. The Boilers often struggle to contain the dribble, which isn’t good facing Austin and Andre Hollins. But if big A.J. Hammons—the Big Ten’s ultimate box of chocolates–comes to play, Purdue could steal a big road victory.

7. Michigan State at Penn State, Tues., Dec. 31. This is a trapdoor game for the Spartans, who have been whammed by the injury bug this season. The Nittany Lions guard triumvirate of Tim Frazier, D.J. Newbill and John Johnson will be handful for a veteran MSU team that has the guile and toughness to win road games like this.

8. Penn State at Illinois, Sat. Jan. 4. If the Nittany Lions really are a legit NCAA tourney team, they will find a way to escape Champaign with a victory vs. what often times is a one-man (Rayvonte Rice) Fighting Illini club. Speaking of Rice, don’t you wonder how the Champaign, Ill., native ever got out of town in the first place? Never mind.

[ MORE: Big Ten nonconference team reports, in 140 characters or less ]

9. Nebraska at Iowa, Tues., Dec. 31. Tim Miles has an improved club. Have you checked out Texas Tech transfer Terran Petteway? But the Huskers may not be ready for a visit to Carver-Hawkeye to play this deep and talented Iowa team.

10. Nebraska at Ohio State, Sat., Jan. 4. The Buckeyes are one of just two unbeaten teams in the Big Ten. And, they’ll show the Cornhuskers why in this game. The offensively-challenged Buckeyes won’t need to score too much to win this one.

[ MORE: Watch BTN.com's top 10 nonconference dunks ]

11. Wisconsin at Northwestern, Thurs., Jan. 2. If the Wildcats wonder how good they are, this visit from the Badgers will be the ultimate litmus test. Warning: This could get ugly.

12. Northwestern at Michigan, Sun., Jan. 5. A visit from the struggling Wildcats could be just what the doctor ordered for a Wolverines squad that has been challenged to the hilt by a killer non-conference schedule that included games vs. Iowa State, Florida State, Duke, Arizona and Stanford.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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