Way Too Early Ranking of the Most Intriguing Big Ten Non-Conference Games of 2017
Sure, this may seem early, but some college football teams are already starting spring practice. Before you know it, we'll have our football Saturdays back and another journey to the College Football Playoff will have begun. For that reason, you need a primer for those early, non-conference games.
Here are the 10 most intriguing non-conference games the Big Ten will be involved in during the 2017 college football season.
10. Maryland at Texas, Sept. 2
DJ Durkin is trying to lay the foundation of a winning program in College Park. Tom Herman is tasked with raising a blue blood from the ashes and back to national relevance. The outcome of this contest has the potential to be both beneficial and detrimental to the future of the two programs.
9. Pitt at Penn State, Sept. 9
James Franklin's squad is already starting to look like the preseason darling heading into 2017. Nothing would halt that Penn State hype-train faster than a home loss to a gritty, in-state rival led by a head coach that hasn't been on the losing end of too many matchups with the Nittany Lions.
8. Air Force at Michigan, Sept. 16
After opening against Florida, the Wolverines have what appears to be a schedule that would be easy to sleepwalk through during the first half of the season. Sitting in the middle of that stretch, like a snake in the grass, is a matchup with an experienced and disciplined Air Force team full of players that won 10 games a season ago. With some of the star-power and leadership Michigan lost from 2016, the timing of this game could make things interesting.
7. Wyoming at Iowa, Sept. 2
The Hawkeyes lost at home to North Dakota State early last season. In 2017, they'll play host to the architect of that program — Craig Bohl — and his upward-trending Wyoming Cowboys. Bohl's team is led by quarterback Josh Allen — likely a first-round NFL Draft pick in 2018. With Iowa replacing such pillars as quarterback C.J. Beathard and cornerback Desmond King, the anxiety level will be pretty high in Iowa City up until this season-opener kicks off.
6. Western Michigan at Michigan State, Sept. 9
How strong is the culture that P.J. Fleck built in Kalamazoo? What will the new Broncos look like? How much has Michigan's resurgence impacted Michigan State's recruiting and subsequent depth? We'll learn a lot about the state of these two programs — each of which has played in a New Year's Six game during the last two seasons — well before October arrives.
5. Wisconsin at BYU, Sept. 16
The Wisconsin Badgers just win. Every year, we doubt them. And every year they show up and prove us all wrong. They lost a considerable amount of star-power to graduation and the draft. Will they be good enough to pull out a rare road victory out in Provo, Utah? The winner of this game will put the nation on notice.
4. Nebraska at Oregon, Sept. 9
When these two teams met in Lincoln early in the 2016 season, the end result was one of the more competitive, exciting and underrated contests of the year. Mike Riley leads the Huskers into Eugene with a new quarterback and a more complete version of the offense he's been trying to install since taking the Nebraska job. Willie Taggart's presence on Oregon's sideline means the Ducks will have some new wrinkles of their own. Like last year, this game sets the tone for both teams.
3. Notre Dame at Michigan State, Sept. 23
Brian Kelly's back is up against the wall in South Bend. You can't have back-to-back losing seasons at Notre Dame and expect to keep your job. He'll be staring across the field at a head coach who similarly cannot afford a second straight losing season. The Spartans won three games in 2016. One against Furman, one against Rutgers and one against Notre Dame in South Bend. This feels like a must-win — not only for both teams, but also for both head coaches.
2. Florida vs. Michigan (at AT&T Stadium), Sept. 2
The SEC-B1G interconference rivalry is alive and well. Having a high-profile team from each conference square off to open the season only fuels the fire. A win by Michigan keeps them at the College Football Playoff contender table. A win by Florida excuses the Wolverines and allows the Gators to take a seat early on.
1. Oklahoma at Ohio State, Sept. 9
These two teams return arguably the two most electrifying quarterbacks in the nation. Both have championship talent led by championship head coaches. Both have high expectations for 2017. It's not unrealistic to assume that this will be the first of two potential matchups between the two programs during the upcoming season.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.