14 in '14: The biggest of the B1G games

2014-07-12T23:15:00Z 2014-07-26T18:16:06Z 14 in '14: The biggest of the B1G gamesBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Let's not waste words. Better to show a quick first step like Randy Gregory and get right to it.

Here are the 14 Big Ten games in 2014 we think will play the biggest roles in deciding who is Indy-bound for the conference championship game.

Nebraska is in four of them. All four are on the road.

Starting at 14 ...

14. Iowa at Minnesota, Nov. 8: Forget looking ahead to the last three weeks of the season, when Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin all play each other in round-robin fashion. Minnesota will want to join the West Division fight, too. And the Gophers get Iowa a week after the Hawkeyes play Northwestern, which is almost always an alley fight. Besides a bronzed pig being at stake, Iowa vs. Minnesota is one of those under-the-radar games that will be critical in determining the West Division's pecking order.

13. Penn State at Michigan, Oct. 11: The Wolverines have a favorable setup to start league play 3-0, opening with Minnesota (which they beat 42-13 last year) at home and Rutgers on the road. Such a jump from the blocks would be no small deal, since Michigan already had lost three Big Ten games by the time it won three in 2013. But to do it, the Wolverines will have to get revenge against Penn State for last year’s 43-40 loss in four overtimes.

12. Minnesota at Wisconsin, Nov. 29: Don’t sleep through this game, even if it's a classic Big Ten 11 a.m. start. Like the Vikings and Packers, these two don't like each other much. While most attention will be on Ohio State-Michigan the same day, this game gets real interesting if, for example, Wisconsin needs a victory to claim the West Division. If it comes down to clinching a division against a border rival, nothing is a given.

11. Wisconsin at Northwestern, Oct. 4: Could Northwestern be a sleeper after a 5-7 campaign in which it lost five conference games by 10 points or fewer? The Wildcats lose Kain Colter but return 16 starters and get running back Venrick Mark back from injury. If Northwestern is going to contend in the West Division, beating the Badgers could send a strong message.

10. Ohio State at Penn State, Oct. 25: Penn State is still ineligible for the conference championship because of NCAA sanctions, but the James Franklin-Urban Meyer dynamic adds a layer of intrigue. Franklin is already keeping Meyer on his toes on the recruiting trail. You can only imagine the great pleasure, and recruiting mileage, Franklin would get from wrecking the Buckeyes’ title hopes. He has his work cut out for him. Thin at various position groups, Penn State last year was humiliated 63-14 by Ohio State.

9. Nebraska at Northwestern, Oct. 18: Three years ago, Northwestern beat the Huskers by three points. Two years ago, Nebraska beat the Wildcats by one. Last year, a Hail Mary decided it. So, yeah, this is unlikely to be a waltz in Grant Park for anyone, even if there is more red in the stadium than purple.

8. Michigan State at Penn State, Nov. 29: You know how hard it is to get to Happy Valley? Seriously. It’s easier to get to Narnia. So how about going to Happy Valley the last weekend of November to play a team on Senior Day trying to ruin your hopes of playing for the Big Ten championship? That’s what Michigan State could potentially face here. The Spartans can hope for better weather than the snow-globe setting that Nebraska found on its Penn State trip last year.

7. Wisconsin at Iowa, Nov. 22: The Badgers have about as favorable a Big Ten schedule as you could hope. But in this case, they have to win in Iowa City, Iowa, a week after a big game against Nebraska. Advantage Hawkeyes? Maybe. Then again, Wisconsin won at Iowa 28-9 last year in workmanlike fashion.

6. Nebraska at Iowa, Nov. 28: If this rivalry is going to pick up steam, having a division title on the line the last week of the season would do the trick. There’s hardly any guarantee of such a thing. But for the first time since NU joined the Big Ten, it feels like both programs have a legitimate shot at winning the crown. The bad news for Nebraska is it has to go on the road to win this one. The good news for Nebraska is two of the last three meetings between the programs have been won by the road team.

5. Michigan at Michigan State, Oct. 25: Because of the scheduling shift with Maryland and Rutgers joining the league, Michigan State gets the Wolverines in East Lansing, Mich., for the second straight year. Last year’s game seemed to be the start of Brady Hoke’s seat warming up, as Michigan had minus-48 rushing yards in a 29-6 loss. And while the program in maize and blue often generates more attention nationally, Sparty owns the block right now, having won five of the last six meetings between the two schools. Hoke really needs this one.

4. Nebraska at Michigan State, Oct. 4: This game does not make or break Nebraska's conference hopes. Not at all. Since Michigan State is in the other division now, NU's games against Wisconsin and Iowa will carry more weight in the divisional chase. Still, this one should be viewed as a major opportunity for the Huskers. Nebraska has always matched up well with MSU, even last year, when the Spartans won the conference title. Now, in prime time, here's the type of game that could be a tone-setter for both programs. Want to bust down the door and get everyone's attention? Go on the road and win a game like this one.

3. Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 29: "Ohio," as Michigan fans call the Buckeyes, has won 10 of the past 11 games against "That School Up North," as Ohio State fans call the Wolverines. But still, this game is almost always good theater. Last year's game gave us 83 points, a fight, a Buckeye flipping off the crowd, and Ohio State having to hold on a two-point conversion to avoid defeat. So, yeah, we'll watch this one no matter what.

2. Nebraska at Wisconsin, Nov. 15: Now that the Huskers and Badgers are in the same division, guaranteed to play every year, you get the feeling a rivalry is just waiting to sprout wings and fly. But you can't force those sorts of things. You need great games. Games that matter. Hopefully this game succeeds on both those fronts. And if Ameer Abdullah and Melvin Gordon are in the Heisman Trophy conversation heading into it, even better.

1. Ohio State at Michigan State, Nov. 8: There are no assurances that this game will look as good then as it does now. Michigan State, for instance, has games against Oregon, Nebraska and Michigan before this one. There could be a blemish or two or three. Football is weird that way. No one was talking about the Spartans last year at this time, then they went and won 13 games. Everyone is talking about them now and ... well, let's just see how they perform wearing a bull's-eye. But right now, seven weeks until the season begins, this game looks like a real beauty. Both teams are thinking about a championship drive, but after this night, only one of them will be holding the keys.

​Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

Copyright 2015 JournalStar.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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