Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, July 13, 2012
My ranking of all 96 2012 Big Ten football games has reached the finish line. It was a fun journey (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV), but now it's time to take a look at the season's top 20 games. Here's an interesting fact: nine of the top 10 games involve a team from the state of Michigan. But which one is No. 1? Find out in this post.
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1. Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 24: The Buckeyes' saw their seven-game winning streak in the series end last year, as the Wolverines took a 40-34 triumph. This also will act as Ohio State's de facto bowl game, as it's ineligible for the postseason because of NCAA probation. The last time Michigan won in the Horseshoe? The 2000 season. The last time Michigan won two in a row in this series? The 1999-2000 seasons.
2. Michigan State at Wisconsin, Oct. 27: The squads played two great games in 2011. The Spartans completed a last-second Hail Mary to clip the Badgers, 37-31, in the regular season. But Wisconsin returned the favor by knocking off Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, 42-39.
3. Ohio State at Michigan State, Sept. 29: This could have been a preview of the Big Ten title game. But, alas, Ohio State is on probation and not eligible to win the conference crown. The Buckeyes lost an ugly 10-7 game last year in Columbus with just 178 yards of offense.
4. Michigan vs. Alabama (Arlington, Texas), Sept. 1: This, ladies and gentlemen, is the premier non-league game in the Big Ten. The last time Michigan opened vs. the defending national champ was 1989, when it played Notre Dame. Are the resurgent Wolverines ready for this?
5. Nebraska at Ohio State, Oct. 6: Enjoy this, fans, as after the Cornhuskers' first visit to the Horseshoe as a member of the Big Ten, these storied programs won't meet again until 2017. Last year's game was a classic, as the Cornhuskers roared back for a 21-point second-half deficit to notch a 34-27 victory. This also will be an emotional game for Youngstown, Ohio, native and Husker coach Bo Pelini, who was a Buckeye free safety from 1987-90.
6. Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 22: Michigan has won three in a row — each by four points and with the winning score coming in the final seconds — and five of six vs. Notre Dame. But Brian Kelly may have his best team yet. Last year, Michigan claimed a 35-31 thriller over the Fighting Irish and won 28-24 at Notre Dame in 2010.
7. Michigan State at Michigan, Oct. 20: The Spartans have won four in a row over the Wolverines in a series that is defined by pure, unadulterated hatred. The last time the Spartans held a similar spell over Michigan was from 1959-62.
8. Notre Dame at Michigan State, Sept. 15: Notre Dame whipped Michigan State, 31-13, last year and has won two of the last three meetings, so the Spartans are thinking revenge. The Irish haven't won in East Lansing since 2006.
9. Nebraska at Michigan State, Nov. 3: The Cornhuskers sat on the Spartans like no other team did in 2011, limiting Michigan State to 187 yards (86 passing) in a 24-3 pasting. The Spartans will be revenge-minded-but they will be coming off what figures to be tough back-to-back games on the road at Michigan and at Wisconsin.
10. Boise State at Michigan State, Aug. 31: The opener vs. Boise State-now in the Mountain West–will be on a Friday night and have the nation's attention. Chris Petersen's teams always are prepared and have underrated talent, but the Broncos will be breaking in a new quarterback-just like MSU. The teams never have met.
11. Michigan at Nebraska, Oct. 27: A key Legends Division clash. The Wolverines crushed Nebraska last season, 45-17. Michigan out gained Nebraska, 418-260, as the Huskers were outscored, 28-7, in the second half.
12. Ohio State at Wisconsin, Nov. 17: The two best teams in the Leaders Division meet. Ohio State registered a shocking 33-29 win over the Badgers last season, when Braxton Miller hit Devin Smith with a 40-yard scoring strike with 20 seconds left in the game. This figures to be a de facto Leaders Division title game, but the Buckeyes aren't eligible to win the league title. Ohio State has won four of the last five meetings, and is 4-2-1 in its last seven trips to Madison.
13. Wisconsin at Nebraska, Sept. 29: If there is a game that the Badgers are underdogs, it may be in their Big Ten opener at Nebraska. You know Cornhusker coach Bo Pelini is aching to whip Wisconsin after being embarrassed 48-17 last season in Madison. It'll be fun to watch this battle of running backs: Nebraska's Rex Burkhead vs. Wisconsin's Montee Ball.
14. Nebraska at Iowa, Nov. 23: These squads could be jostling for the Legends Division title when they meet on the Friday after Thanksgiving in the battle for the Heroes Game Trophy. The Huskers won last year, 20-7.
15. Iowa at Michigan, Nov. 17. The Wolverines were throwing into the end zone in the waning moments of last year's game with a chance to tie the score. The Hawkeyes have won three in a row over Michigan for the first time ever.
16. Nebraska at UCLA, Sept. 8: When Nebraska visits UCLA, it also will encounter a new coaching staff led by Jim Mora, Jr. The Bruins-6-8 in 2011 after playing in the Pac-12 title game and a bowl–and Huskers haven't met since 1994, with Nebraska holding a 6-4 edge in the series.
17. Air Force at Michigan, Sept. 8: Michigan will be coming off that Titanic season opener vs. Alabama. What will be the mind-set of the Wolverines vs. the Falcons and their triple-option attack?
18. Illinois at Arizona State, Sept. 8: Illinois (Tim Beckman) and Arizona State (Todd Graham) are in their first seasons for programs looking to ascend.
19. Penn State at Nebraska, Nov. 10: This could be a defensive battle between the two newest members of the Big Ten-Penn State joined in 1993; Nebraska in 2011. The last time the Nittany Lions visited Lincoln was in 2003, when the Cornhuskers took an 18-10 victory. In that game, now Nebraska coach Bo Pelini was the Cornhuskers' defensive coordinator.
20. Iowa at Michigan State, Oct. 13: No doubt, Iowa will be helped by the fact it has a bye week before making this trip, and it could be 5-0. But this also will be the Hawkeyes' first true road game. The winner will have a leg up in what figures to be a tight Legends Division race.
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