Big Ten Non-Conference Football Games to Watch in 2012

COLUMBUS OH - NOVEMBER 27: Quarterback Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines runs against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on November 27 2010 in Columbus Ohio. Robinson rushed for 105 yards in a 37-7 loss to Ohio State. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Between now and the beginning of the college football season, we have 136 days. Michigan’s Spring Game took place on Saturday, but other Big Ten teams were not as fortunate, as some had their spring preview washed away by inclement weather. With over four months to go, I’ll take a look at some of the more compelling Big Ten non-conference games that will be played in the 2012 season.

To see each team's 2012 football schedule, click here.

10. Penn State vs. Temple (Beaver Stadium – State College, PA) – September 22

Series: Penn State leads 37-3-1

Last game: Penn State 14-10 (September 17, 2011 – Philadelphia, PA)

Penn State’s last loss to Temple was on October 18, 1941, a 14-0 decision. In fact, Penn State has won 29 straight against Temple, dating back to a 7-7 tie on October 28, 1950. So why is this game here? Simply put, the past two years have been close. Penn State has long been the top program in the state, but the gap is narrowing, with the Owls’ improvement and Penn State’s decline in recent seasons. With Temple back in the Big East, they should be able to attract BCS level talent. Don’t be surprised if Temple ends Penn State’s win streak against them – this is a dangerous game, at State College or not. Temple has 9 starters projected to return, fewest in the Big East (120th in the country); Penn State has 12, tied for second fewest in the Big Ten (96th in the country).

9. Ohio State vs. California (Ohio Stadium – Columbus, OH) – September 15

Series: Ohio State leads 5-1

Last game: Ohio State 35-18 (October 7, 1972 – Berkeley, CA)

Ohio State hasn’t lost to California since 1921, in the Rose Bowl. This will be the third game under head coach Urban Meyer, but represents the first test for the Buckeyes. Experience should be the difference, especially this early in the season. Unless Meyer’s team experiences growing pains, expect the Buckeyes to win. California has 11 starters projected to return, eleventh most in the PAC-12 (111th in the country); Ohio State has 19, second most in the Big Ten (8th in the country).

8. Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt (Ryan Field – Evanston, IL) – September 8

Series: Tied 1-1-1

Last game: Northwestern 23-21 (September 4, 2010 – Nashville, TN)

There were 59 years between the 2010 meeting and the previous meeting, between the Wildcats and Commodores. Northwestern is looking for a replacement for quarterback Dan Persa, likely Kain Colter, while Vanderbilt will likely be starting Jordan Rodgers, who was 3-6 as a starter last season, taking over for Larry Smith, following the South Carolina game. Vanderbilt has 18 starters projected to return, second most in the SEC (8th in the country); Northwestern has 12, tied for second fewest in the Big Ten (96th in the country).

7. Penn State @ Virginia (Scott Stadium – Charlottesville, VA) – September 8

Series: Penn State leads 5-2

Last game: Penn State 35-14 (November 9, 2002 – State College, PA)

This will be the first road game for Bill O’Brien, the fifteenth head coach at Penn State. With the change in coaching staff and loss of recruits, the nonconference schedule is not an easy one for Coach O’Brien. The Nittany Lions should get by Ohio University, a notorious slow starting team. But Virginia can present problems. Virginia has 11 starters projected to return, fewest in the ACC (111th in the country).

6. Michigan State vs. Boise State (Spartan Stadium – East Lansing, MI) – August 31

Series: First meeting

Both teams are replacing record setting quarterbacks, as Boise State’s Kellen Moore and Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins are both likely NFL-bound. Arguably, the bigger loss is for a team like Boise State, who the offense revolved around for the past few seasons. September 20, 2008 was the last time Boise State played a BCS conference team on the road, winning at Autzen Stadium against Oregon by a score of 37-32. Since 2000, the Broncos are 1-8 against BCS teams in true road games. Boise State has 6 starters projected to return, fewest in the Mountain West (123rd in the country); Michigan State has 13, sixth most in the Big Ten (64th in the country).

5. Nebraska @ UCLA (Rose Bowl – Los Angeles, CA) – September 8

Series: Nebraska leads 6-4

Last game: Nebraska 49-21 (September 17, 1994 – Lincoln, NE)

If Rick Neuheisel was still head coach, this game would likely be an afterthought. Admittedly, I thought Jim L. Mora was a questionable hire, given his lack of college coaching experience. But Mora has surrounded himself with quality coaches, bringing in one of the best coaches in the country. Its no doubt Mora was a good coach at the NFL level, at least as an assistant. The game against Nebraska is Mora’s home debut, will the Bruins open 2-0 or 1-1? UCLA has 16 starters projected to return, third most in the PAC-12 (29th in the country); Nebraska has 13, third most in the Big Ten (29th in the country).

4. Michigan State vs. Notre Dame (Spartan Stadium – East Lansing, MI) – September 15

Series: Notre Dame leads 46-28-1

Last game: Notre Dame 31-13 (September 17. 2011 – South Bend, IN)

The Spartans and Irish meet for the 60th time in the Battle for the Megaphone, which the Irish lead 32-26-1. Like the Michigan/Notre Dame series, this one has been close in recent years, with Michigan State leading the series since 2000, 7-5. Of the 12 games, 3 have been decided by more than a touchdown. Michigan State will have to replace quarterback Kirk Cousins, while Notre Dame will have a decision to make as to who will be under center. Regardless, Notre Dame has 15 starters projected to return (44th in the country).

3. Iowa vs. Iowa State (Kinnick Stadium – Iowa City, IA) – September 8

Series: Iowa leads 39-20

Last game: Iowa State 44-41 OT (September 10, 2011 – Ames, IA)

It’s a series that Iowa has dominated since the mid 2000s, as Iowa is 6-3 since 2003 against their in-state rival. Steele Jantz started at quarterback for the Cyclones last season, but Iowa State became QB Jared Barnett’s team. The two are considered neck and neck for the starting quarterback position. Iowa will, again, be led by James Vandenberg – he’s 8-8 as a starter for the Hawkeyes. Iowa State has 13 starters projected to return, ninth most in the Big 12 (81st in the country); while Iowa has 12 starters projected to return, ninth most in the Big Ten (96th in the country).

2. Michigan @ Notre Dame (Notre Dame Stadium – South Bend, IN) – September 22

Series: Michigan leads 23-15-1

Last game: Michigan 35-31 (September 10, 2011 – Ann Arbor, MI)

Given the way the past three games in this series have ended, its no surprise this game is among the best Big Ten non-conference games – the last three games have been decided by a combined 12 points. The Wolverines have won five of the last six meetings. In each of the last three meetings, Michigan has trailed late, only to comeback and stun the Irish; each time, Denard Robinson was under center for Michigan. Can the Wolverines make it four straight over the rival Irish? Michigan has 16 starters projected to return, third most in the Big Ten (29th in the country).

1. Michigan vs. Alabama (Cowboy Stadium – Arlington, TX) – September 1

Series: Michigan leads 2-1

Last game: Michigan 35-34 OT (January 1, 2000 – Orange Bowl)

This will be the first regular season meeting between the Wolverines and Crimson Tide. Michigan is first in all time wins in college football, while Alabama is eighth (for FBS schools). Things are even closer between Michigan and Alabama when you look at all time winning percentage, where Michigan has the best in all of college football – Alabama is sixth. Alabama hasn’t lost a regular season non-conference game since November 17, 2007, when the Crimson Tide lost to Louisiana-Monroe 21-14 at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama has 13 starters projected to return, eleventh most in the SEC (81st in the country).

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