Dienhart: The Ultimate 2017 Big Ten football road trip
Get out your calendar and find a red Sharpie. It’s time to make your Saturday plans for September to November. What’s the best game each week that you must watch? It’s all here in my Ultimate 2017 Big Ten Schedule.
Week 1: Michigan vs. Florida, Sept. 2 (at Arlington, Texas). A season-opening tilt vs. Florida in Jerry’s World will be a great litmus test for a Michigan team that is in transition at several positions. Making this game more dangerous for the Wolverines is the fact the Gators are getting better under Jim McElwain coming off back-to-back SEC East titles. Jim Harbaugh? He is still looking for his first title of any sort. These storied programs have met three times, all in bowl games. And the Wolverines have won all three, including a 41-7 victory in the last encounter in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl after the 2015 season—Harbaugh’s first at Michigan.
Week 2: Oklahoma at Ohio State, Sept. 9. The visit from Oklahoma for the second game of the season should be a doozy. The Buckeyes won last season in Norman, 45-24, so you know OU will be stoked for payback. Adding intrigue is the fact former Sooner offensive coordinator and Indiana coach Kevin Wilson is in his first season as Ohio State’s OC. So, a week after he faces the Hoosiers (on a Thursday) in the season opener, he takes on Oklahoma. The Sooners boast one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Baker Mayfield, a Heisman finalist each of the last two years.
Week 3: Wisconsin at BYU, Sept. 16. The Badgers trip to BYU will be interesting. Wisconsin should be tuned up by the time it rolls into bucolic Provo. The Cougars will be a difficult out, especially at home. BYU is coming off a 9-4 season and has a good QB in Tanner Mangum. UW probably wants to avoid getting into a shootout with BYU, as this Cougar offense will be a challenge for a Badger defense with a retooled secondary. The all-time series is 1-1, with both games taking place in Madison. Wisconsin won in 2013, while BYU prevailed in 1980.
Week 4: Penn State at Iowa, Sept. 23. Penn State heads to Iowa in a very interesting game that is the Big Ten opener for each school. The Nittany Lions have won three in a row vs. the Hawkeyes and won the last time in Iowa City in 2012. Still, Iowa is a difficult out in Kinnick Stadium. This will be a great test for the defending Big Ten champion Nittany Lions.
Week 5: Northwestern at Wisconsin, Sept. 30. Northwestern’s Big Ten opener at Wisconsin will be a challenge. These two teams may be the favorites to win the West. Wisconsin won last year vs. NU, but the Wildcats won two in a row before that. These teams are similar, as each can run the ball and has a nice defense. It may come down to which QB makes the most plays: Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson or UW’s Alex Hornibrook?
Week 6: Wisconsin at Nebraska, Oct. 7. Wisconsin has been a nemesis of sorts for Nebraska, the program the Huskers must catch if they want to rule the West and win a conference title for the first time since 1999. The Badgers may be favored when they come to Lincoln on this first Saturday in October. But UW could go down if its offense is too run-oriented. This game will feature two intriguing QBs in the Badgers’ Alex Hornibrook and the Cornhuskers’ Tanner Lee, a transfer from Tulane. Wisconsin has won four in a row vs. the Cornhuskers and five of six.
Week 7: Ohio State at Nebraska, Oct. 14. This will be the Buckeyes’ first to Lincoln since 2011 when NU won 34-27 and Luke Fickell was Ohio State’s interim coach. Think Memorial Stadium will be jacked up? The Buckeyes have won the last two vs. Nebraska in dominating fashion, taking a 62-3 decision last year in Columbus and a 63-38 outcome in 2012 in Columbus.
Week 8: Michigan at Penn State, Oct. 21. If Penn State is going to win the Big Ten East again, it probably will need to take care of Michigan when the Wolverines visit. The Nittany Lions got embarrassed by Michigan last year, losing 49-10 to fall to 2-2. Penn State looked nothing like a Big Ten champ that day, but it rallied from that humiliation to win nine games in a row all the way to the league title and Rose Bowl.
Week 9: Penn State at Ohio State, Oct. 28. All eyes will be on Penn State’s trip to Ohio State with J.T. Barrett taking on Trace McSorley in an epic QB clash. Making the tilt more challenging for the Nittany Lions: The trip to Columbus comes on the heels of a home game vs. Michigan. You know the Buckeyes have the visit from PSU circled in red, wanting to payback the Nittany Lions for last season. Penn State was the only team to beat Ohio State in the regular season, shocking the No. 2 Buckeyes, 24-21. Before that, OSU had won four in a row vs. PSU. Penn State last won in Columbus in 2011, taking a 20-14 decision. The Nittany Lions lost 63-14 and 38-10 in their last two visits to the Horseshoe.
Week 10: Ohio State at Iowa, Nov. 4. The Hawkeyes and OSU haven’t met since 2013. The Buckeyes are motivated in 2017 after failing to win the Big Ten East each of the last two years. Ohio State has won the last five meetings vs. Iowa. The Hawkeyes’ last win? A 33-7 romp in Iowa City in 2004 engineered by Drew Tate. Before that, Iowa hadn’t toppled the Buckeyes since 1991 when Matt Rodgers quarterbacked the Hawkeyes.
Week 11: Iowa at Wisconsin, Nov. 11. If Wisconsin wants to repeat as Big Ten West champs, the Badgers probably will need to take down Iowa when it visits. Wisconsin is 6-3 in the last nine meetings vs. the Hawkeyes. This will be only the second meeting in Madison between these foes since 2009 in a series Wisconsin leads 45-43-2.
Week 12: Michigan at Wisconsin, Nov. 18. The Wolverines and Badgers have met just one time since 2010, with Michigan taking a 14-7 decision last year in Ann Arbor. The schools haven’t met in Madison since 2009, as Wisconsin took a 45-24 win. In fact, UW has won the last three vs. Michigan in Camp Randall Stadium, where the Wolverines last prevailed in 2001.
Week 13: Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 25. All eyes will be on Ohio State’s season-ending visit to Michigan for “The Game.” The Buckeyes continue to dominate this series, winning five in a row and 12 of 13. Last year’s 30-27 double OT win by OSU in Columbus was an exciting tilt and left Jim Harbaugh fuming. The last Wolverine triumph vs. the Buckeyes? In 2011 in Ann Arbor. Can Michigan turn the worm in this iconic rivalry? So much could be on the line in this game.