Dienhart: Best chance for each Big Ten team to get upset

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: Best chance for each Big Ten team to get upset

B1G INTERVIEW - Ohio State stars sit down with Dave, Gerry, and Howard during 2016 Big Ten Football Media Days.

No coach wants to lose a game that experts think he’s supposed to win. Upsets can set a season on its ear and prove ruinous.

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

There are potholes on every schedule. And I have picked the one game on your school’s schedule in which it has its best chance to be—gulp–upset.

Illinois. The visit from Western Michigan on Sept. 17 is dangerous. P.J. Fleck is an up-and-coming coaching fireball who played at Northern Illinois and is a native of the state. You know the 35-year-old would love to topple the Illini. In fact, Western Michigan may have as much talent as Illinois, as Fleck has taken his team to consecutive bowls and 8-5 records and won the MAC West in 2015. More danger for Illinois: WMU’s visit comes on the heels of a home game vs. a good North Carolina squad.

Indiana. IU needs to be careful when Purdue rolls into Memorial Stadium on Nov. 26. These are halcyon days for the Hoosiers in the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket, winning three in a row for the first time since a four-game run from 1944-47. But anything can happen in a rivalry game. And the Boilermakers may be desperate by this time of the season.

Iowa. The Hawkeyes should be favored when they play at Minnesota on Oct. 8. But this is the battle for Floyd of Rosedale. Anything can happen in the battle for the prized pig. The Hawkeyes have won three of the last four but lost the last time they visited Minneapolis in 2014. In fact, Iowa is 1-3 in its last four trips to Dinkytown.

Maryland. The Terrapins may be beat up and demoralized by the time they play their finale, at home vs. Rutgers on Nov. 26. The Terps will be coming off a tough three-game run of games at Michigan, vs. Ohio State and at Nebraska. Maryland and Rutgers have had two wild games as Big Ten members, with each winning on the others field. The Scarlet Knights won, 41-38, in 2014 in College Park; the Terps prevailed, 46-41, last year at RU.

Michigan. Jim Harbaugh and Co., must be careful when Wisconsin comes to the Big House on Oct. 1. Yes, the Badgers are breaking in a new quarterback, but they will have a strong o-line and stud RB Corey Clement is back from injury. Plus, the defense will have a veteran front seven. These schools haven’t met since 2010, with Wisconsin taking the last two meetings.

Michigan State. If MSU’s lines aren’t up to par, the Spartans have a good chance to be dumped in East Lansing on Sept. 24 when Wisconsin visits. The Badgers have a new signal-caller, but they will be strong in the trenches and have a star running back in Corey Clement.

Minnesota. The Gophers need to be careful in the opener on Sept. 1 vs. Oregon State on a Thursday night. Yes, the Beavers went 2-10 last year and didn’t win a Pac-12 game in Gary Andersen’s first season in Corvallis taking over for Mike Riley. Still, Andersen—the former Wisconsin coach–knows the Gopher personnel. And he has had over a year to get his systems implemented. If Minnesota isn’t ready, it could get dumped.

Nebraska. Let’s go with the visit from Minnesota on Nov. 12. The Cornhuskers will be coming off back-to-back trips at Wisconsin and at Ohio State, so they may be beat up. Plus, the Gophers are 2-1 in their last three vs. Nebraska, winning in Lincoln when they last visited in 2014. And having a senior QB in Mitch Leidner will help Minnesota, too.

Northwestern. The Wildcats need to be careful in the season opener when Western Michigan comes to Evanston on Sept. 3. Broncos boss P.J. Fleck is a rising star in the coaching ranks and has taken his team to consecutive bowls and 8-5 records and won the MAC West in 2015.

Ohio State. The finale at home on Nov. 26 vs. Michigan is a doozy. Yes, recent history has favored Ohio State in this iconic rivalry dubbed simply “The Game.” But the Wolverines are on the rise under Jim Harbaugh. 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. OSU also needs to be wary during back-to-back road games at Wisconsin and at Penn State on Oct. 15 and Oct. 22, respectively. Ohio State has won four in a row vs. the Badgers and seven of eight, last losing in Madison in 2010. OSU hasn’t been to UW since 2012. The Buckeyes have won four in a row vs. the Nittany Lions and the last four in State College, last losing in Beaver Stadium in 2005.

Penn State. The Nittany Lions need to tread lightly when they play at Indiana on Nov. 12. By then, the Hoosier offense could be running smoothly under a new quarterback. And if Penn State tries to trade points with IU, it could be in trouble. The Nittany Lions have won the last two vs. Indiana but lost in 2013 in Bloomington, PSU’s lone loss in the series (18-1).

Purdue. Honestly, the Boilermakers could lose to anyone on their schedule … and it really wouldn’t be a shock. Even a loss to FCS Eastern Kentucky in the opener would not be a stunner for a program that is 6-30 in three years under Darrell Hazell.

Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights need to watch it when Illinois comes to visit on Oct. 15. The Fighting Illini are rebuilding under Lovie Smith. You know Illinois will be thinking it can topple Rutgers. And Illinois has some talent, especially on offense. Another reason why the Scarlet Knights should be worried: The visit from Illinois comes on the heels of a rugged three-game opening stint of Big Ten play for RU. This will be the first meeting between these schools since a two-game series 10 years ago, as Illinois won 33-30 in Champaign in 2005 and Rutgers prevailed 33-0 in New Brunswick in 2006.

Wisconsin. Beware, Badgers, when Minnesota visits in the season finale on Nov. 26. 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. Still, despite that history, Minnesota may be due.

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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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