1. Michigan State Spartans (12-1) vs. Oregon Ducks (10-2)
Saturday, September 13 at Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR
This kicks off a home-and-home series between one of the best defenses in the nation and one of the best offenses. Michigan State will likely be a small underdog, as Marcus Mariota returns for his redshirt junior season. De'Anthony Thomas may depart for the NFL, but after an ankle sprain kept him out for three games the Ducks found they could run effectively with or without him, and he finished with only 581 rushing yards coupled with 222 passing.
MSU, meanwhile, has a short schedule to coach up some new faces on the defense, and will lean on the steady hands of veterans Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford. If there's something to be said for MSU's chances against a formidable Pac-12 foe, it's that they have the perfect blueprint for beating the Oregon offense. They're well coached, will control the clock, limit Oregon's possessions, be physical at the point of attack and have both speed and toughness on defense.
Saturday, September 6 at Notre Dame Stadium, IN
This is the last time Michigan and Notre Dame will face each other for a long time, which brings a bag of mixed feelings (Notre Dame is also saying good-bye to Purdue). Like the Wolverines, the Irish recently had the first night game in their stadium's history, in 2011 against USC, and the Fighting Irish have since had one night game a year, alternating between the Trojans and the Wolverines. This game will pit two teams that have failed to meet their aspirations, but still have a lot of talent and a chance at a quick turnaround. For the Fighting Irish, Everett Golson returns, while Brian Kelly breaks in new offensive and defensive coordinators. For Michigan, Amara Darboh, Drake Johnson, Will Hagerup, and a healthy Devin Gardner hit the field to shake off a nightmare 2013.
Saturday, August 30 at Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX
This game will be one of the premier games of the 2014 college football season, with both looking to set the tone in the home of the Houston Texans. For Wisconsin, Melvin Gordon has decided to forgo the NFL to stay another year in Madison; he's coming off a 1466-yard season on 8.1 yards per rush (James White had 1337 yards). Meanwhile, Joel Stave, Wisconsin's QB, started 12 games and earned All-Big Ten Honorable Mention after throwing 2414 yards with better than 61% accuracy and 20/12 TD/INT. LSU will be breaking in a new quarterback and will probably lose both top wide receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, each of whom had 1100 yards on the year. Regardless, LSU always comes ready to play and has yearly championship aspirations, and a B1G win would mean a lot.
4. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-5) vs. UCF Knights (11-1)
Saturday, August 30 at Croke Park, Dublin IR
Yes, you read that right - this game will be ready for viewing at 8:30 am on ESPN2 from Dublin, Ireland. True sophomore Christian Hackenberg (2955 yards, 20/10 td/int) will turn into Tom Brady before he leaves college at this rate; he will play on a big stage in a strange environment against a formidable UCF defense that ranked 19th in the country and loses only 3 seniors. This game will be preparation for other sturdy defenses in Michigan, OSU, and Sparty.
5. Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-4) vs. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (9-3)
Saturday, September 20 at Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE
The first of a home-and-home brings Miami to Lincoln, where they will take on a team without Taylor Martinez and possibly Ameer Abdullah. Apparently Bo Pelini will return for a seventh season at Nebraska, where he's lost four games in each of his six seasons (he has 56 wins in that span), but has always had strong support in the locker room. Miami is on the rise under Al Golden, who has a breakthrough 2014 recruiting class in his pocket, led by the nation's top weak side defensive end, Chad Thomas.
6. Ohio State University Buckeyes (12-1) vs. Navy Midshipmen (8-4)
Saturday, August 30 at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD
OSU gets to take on a service academy with a rushing offense ranked second in the nation in this battle of strengths. Navy averaged almost 4 rushing touchdowns a game, but goes up against a defense that didn't allow a 100-yard rusher until Jeremy Langford in the B1G Championship game. Navy would have gotten torn up by Carlos Hyde, but luckily for all of us he is off to the league. Regardless, they will have first crack at OSU's new running attack and offensive line, and may play victim to Dontre Wilson or Ezekiel Elliott.
7. Michigan Wolverines (7-5) vs. Appalachian State Mountaineers (2-8)
Saturday, August 30 at Michigan Stadium, MI
Michigan kicks off its Forget-About-2013 by playing a heavy underdog in Appalachian State at the Big House and thereby… reminding us… of 2007. Hopefully this game slays some demons and gets us on the right track. I mean, come on, they're 2-8! Lightning can't strike twice anyway, it's proven. Well, we'll just see when we get there. But it's on this list because, even if the score ends up 62-3, everyone will be curious about this game - and Michigan fans will be curious which Michigan team shows up.
Saturday, September 20 at Faurot Field, Columbia, MO
Honestly, this could get a little ugly, but Indiana may be able to exploit some weaknesses in Missouri's defense if its offense continues to improve and can control the clock. The Hoosiers lost this one 45-28 in 2013 and will now head to enemy turf against a team trying to replace its senior quarterback James Franklin. Even if Indiana loses this one, its players will want to make a statement to themselves that they've gotten better over the off-season.
The Hoosiers are one the conference's up and coming teams because of the offense; its defense, on the other hand, has barely looked B1G-worthy. Their secondary would need some charitable interceptions from Maty Mauk to contend, and that may just happen. If it does, and Indiana's offense is clicking, the Hoosiers could surprise some people.
Saturday, September 13 at Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth TX
You know, I can kind of see why the Gophers probably hate us at this point. We bumped them in bowl selection because of our alumni base despite their better overall and league record, and honestly our game against a 2-8 foe will probably get more airtime than their marquee non-conference match-up with TCU. Granted, the Horned Frogs aren't the glamour opponent they appeared to be when Minnesota inked them to their schedule, fresh off a 7-loss Big 12 record this past season. TCU's defense was among the better ones in the country, especially against the run, but an extremely languid offense held them back from any consistent success.
Of course, jumping to a big-name conference can also do that to you, as TCU dominated the Mountain West in their final 10 years calling it home, going 103-23, to then stumble in the Big 12 going 11-14. Minnesota would also qualify as big-time competition, but they need to get their pass offense going and find a replacement for star defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman.
Saturday, September 13 at Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA
This will be Chris Petersen's third game after leaving Boise State, and the effect he'll have on the program is the biggest unknown on this list. Washington may rebound to join the ranks of the Pac-12's best; however, even if it doesn't, it has a weak early schedule and will probably look the part of a dominating Pac-12 foe against Illinois. The Illini kept it to within 10 this year; at the very least look for a wiser Washington team this next time around.