Dienhart: See your team's toughest 2016 conference game

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: See your team's toughest 2016 conference game

There are games on every team’s schedule that fans circle as “tough” ones, games that will be very challenging to win. Well, that’s what I did with each Big Ten schedule, identifying each school’s “toughest” Big Ten game in 2016.

[ MORE: Best chance to pull upset | Toughest non-conference games ]

Check it out below.

Illinois. Lots to choose from. I’ll go with the trip to Michigan on Oct. 22. Jim Harbaugh has this program rolling as he enters Year Two in Ann Arbor. The defense could be the best in the Big Ten, while the offense will be breaking in a new quarterback. The Wolverines have won the last three meetings and nine of 11. The teams haven’t met since 2012, a 45-0 Michigan win in the Big House in a battle between Brady Hoke and Tim Beckman. Boy, a lot has happened since then.

Indiana. The Oct. 8 game at Ohio State will be a major challenge. Indiana went 2-1-1 vs. the Buckeyes from 1987-90, including a victory in Columbus in 1987. Since then, the Hoosiers have lost 21 in a row to the Buckeyes. Last year, IU threw a major scare into Ohio State, which had to battle for its life to escape Bloomington with a 34-27 win as the No. 1 team in the nation.

Iowa. How about the visit from Michigan on Nov. 12? The game comes on the heels of a trip to Penn State the week before. Not ideal. Conversely, Michigan plays at home vs. rebuilding Maryland the week before coming to Kinnick. Iowa hasn’t played the Wolverines since 2013, winning four of the last five including three in a row in Kinnick. Still, Jim Harbaugh has Michigan rolling. This will be a good measuring stick for the Hawkeyes, the Big Ten West favorite by most pundits.

Maryland. Take your pick, what with Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan on the slate. I’ll pick the latter, Nov. 5 at The Big House. Maryland won in Ann Arbor in 2014. But that’s when Brady Hoke was coach of the Wolverines. Michigan socked the Terps, 28-0, last year in College Park. This will be a good measuring stick for DJ Durkin’s maiden voyage as he takes on Jim Harbaugh, the man he worked for last season.

Michigan. With games at Michigan State and at Ohio State, Michigan has its work cut out for it. Let’s go with the season-ending junket to Columbus on Nov. 26. The Buckeyes have dominated this series of late, going 12-2 since 2001 and winning the last four meetings with a 42-13 triumph last season. The last time Michigan won in Columbus? In 2000, when the Wolverines took a 38-26 decision and Bill Clinton was in his final days as president.

Michigan State. Michigan State gets Michigan AND Ohio State in East Lansing this season. Let’s go with the visit from the Buckeyes on Nov. 19 as the toughest. Last season, the Spartans invaded Ohio State and knocked off the No. 3 Buckeyes, 17-14, with backup Tyler O’Connor at the controls. The loss effectively killed Ohio State’s Big Ten and national title hopes while helping propel the Spartans to the Big Ten championship and playoff bid. No doubt, the Buckeyes haven’t forgotten. Check this out: Ohio State has won its last five trips to East Lansing, last losing in 1999.

Minnesota. The Golden Gophers hate playing Wisconsin. Just hate it. The battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe has been a lopsided affair of late, as the Gophers have gone 2-17 vs. the Badgers since 1995. In fact, Minnesota has lost 12 in a row to Wisconsin. And the Gophers haven’t won in Madison since 1994. Will the drought end when Minnesota travels south down I-94 for the Nov. 26 game?

Nebraska. Going to Ohio State on Nov. 5 will be tough. Making it more difficult: The week before, Nebraska plays at Wisconsin. The Cornhuskers haven’t played the Buckeyes since 2012, with OSU taking a 63-38 win in Columbus. NU won the other meeting vs. Ohio State as a Big Ten school, taking a 34-27 decision in 2011 in Lincoln.

Northwestern. No doubt, circle Oct. 29. That is when Northwestern travels to Ohio State. The Buckeyes lead the all-time series, 60-14-1. The Wildcats’ only win since 1971 came in 2004 in Evanston under the late Randy Walker. This will be NU’s first trip the Horseshoe since 2007, a 58-7 beat down administered by Ohio State.

Ohio State. No doubt, it is the Nov. 19 game at Michigan State, the defending Big Ten champ that earned a playoff spot last season. The Spartans play with a perpetual chip on their shoulder, playing the disrespect card better than anyone else in the nation. And Michigan State has no fear of Ohio State, toppling the Buckeyes last year in Columbus en route to winning the rugged Big Ten East. It is the only Big Ten regular-season loss for Urban Meyer.

Penn State. There are plenty to choose from … at Michigan on Sept. 24; vs. Ohio State on Oct. 22; vs. Iowa on Nov. 5; vs. Michigan State on Nov. 26. But let’s go with the visit from the Spartans in the finale. There perhaps could be a lot on the line for the Nittany Lions. If they wanna be the best in the Big Ten, they have to beat the best … and that’s what the Spartans were in 2015. Michigan State has won the last three meetings and hasn’t lost in State College since 2008.

Purdue. The visit from Wisconsin on Nov. 19 will be daunting. The Badgers-Boilermaker series has been a real-life Roadrunner vs. the Coyote episode. Wisconsin has won 10 in a row and 12 of 14 … often in crushing fashion: 62-17 … 41-10 … 37-0 … 34-13 … 38-14. Purdue hasn’t beaten the Badgers in West Lafayette since Drew Brees was a freshman in 1997, losing six in a row in Ross-Ade Stadium to UW.

Rutgers. There are many to choose from … Iowa on Sept. 24; at Ohio State on Oct. 1; Michigan on Oct. 8; at Michigan State on Nov. 12; Penn State on Nov. 19. But let’s go with the game in Columbus, as Chris Ash will take on his former boss in Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes have won the only two meetings in the series, taking a 56-17 decision at Ohio State in 2014 and a 49-7 win last year at Rutgers.

Wisconsin. This is one of the most loaded schedules in the nation. Let’s go with the game at Michigan State on Sept. 24, the Big Ten opener. Yes, MSU has some big holes to fill. Still, the Spartans are the defending league champs coming off a playoff appearance. These schools haven’t met since 2012, as Michigan State has won three of the last four. The Badgers’ lone win in that span: In the 2011 Big Ten title game. Earlier in that 2011 season, the teams met in East Lansing with the Spartans winning 37-31 on an epic Hail Mary from Kirk Cousins to Keith Nichol.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

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, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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