Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, May 21, 2012

Each week of the college football season offers a variety of games for fans to watch. I?ll start taking an early look at each week of the Big Ten season as a way to preview the 2012 campaign. Find my Week 1 schedule analysis in this post.

Storyline: There are 12 games, with three coming vs. FCS foes and four vs. the MAC. Hey, it?s the opening weekend of the season. But there are two games that will go a long way in shaping the Big Ten?s image in 2012.

The first is Boise State?s visit to Michigan State on Friday, August 30. The other will be Michigan?s Titanic clash with Alabama at Cowboys Stadium in one of the most anticipated matchups of the opening weekend.

Can the Big Ten earn a split? If it wins them both, it will bode well for the conference-and make that Michigan-Michigan State game even more anticipated. A Wolverine win also may stamp it as the favorite in the Legends Division-and a legit national title contender.

[Dienhart offers his thoughts on the 2015-16 conference schedules]

Game of the Week: What else can it be? Michigan vs. Alabama, at Arlington, Texas. The Wolverines were one of the nation?s biggest surprises in Brady Hoke?s debut season, posting an 11-2 mark that included a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech. Now, Michigan gets to measure itself vs. the nation?s best when it plays the defending national champion Crimson Tide, who also won the 2009 BCS crown. Is there a hotter program in the nation?

Quarterback matchup to watch: Michigan?s Denard Robinson vs. Alabama?s A.J. McCarron will be interesting. Robinson is the ultimate dual-threat signal-caller, while McCarron is more of a game manager. Which quarterback can impose his will on the other defense?

Coordinator matchup to watch: Boise State offensive coordinator Robert Prince vs. Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. Prince is in his first year in the job, getting promoted after Brent Pease left to run Florida?s offense. But Prince was the Broncos? passing game coordinator last year-and he has coached for three NFL teams-Seahawks, Jaguars, Falcons. Narduzzi is one of the hottest coordinators in the nation. His unit paced the Big Ten and ranked sixth in the nation in 2011. And, get this: His 2012 defense may be even better.

Upset alert: Northern Illinois always is underrated. And it?s well coached by former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren. Will a rebuilt Hawkeye coaching staff and defense be ready on a neutral field? The Iowa offense may have to score a few points. The good news: It looks equipped to do so.

September 1: ranking the games

  1. Michigan vs. Alabama, Arlington, Texas
  2. Boise State at Michigan State (Aug. 31)
  3. Northwestern at Syracuse
  4. Iowa vs. Northern Illinois, Chicago
  5. Southern Miss at Nebraska
  6. Ohio at Penn State
  7. Minnesota at UNLV (Aug. 30)
  8. Western Michigan at Illinois
  9. Miami (Ohio) at Ohio State
  10. Northern Iowa at Wisconsin
  11. Indiana State at Indiana
  12. Eastern Kentucky at Purdue senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, all of his work is at, and you can subscribe to it all via his RSS feed. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below.

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