Big Ten non-conference games to watch

Big Red Report's Kyle Phillippi breaks down the top non-conference games in the Big Ten.

No. 24 Boise State at No. 13 Michigan State

August 31, 8:00 PM ET

Every year, those pesky Broncos schedule a game against a major conference opponent knowing a win would sharpen their resume when it comes to bowl selection time. Last year, it was Georgia who fell victim to the underdogs and in 2010, both Virginia Tech and Oregon State came up short against Boise State. This year, the former WAC standouts have their eyes set on trumping one of the favorites in the Big Ten.

The headline of this game revolves around the new faces at quarterback. Both Boise State and Michigan State have new generals under center and both first-year starters have the tall order of replacing one of the best passers at their respective schools. For Boise State, Joe Southwick will be stepping in for the all-time winningest quarterback in NCAA history, Kellen Moore, while Andrew Maxwell takes over for Kirk Cousins, a former three-time captain for the Spartans.

Both quarterbacks would love nothing more than to knock off a top-25 team in their first start of the season, making this a must-watch game in week one.

Andrew Maxwell

No. 8 Michigan at No. 2 Alabama

September 1, 8:00 PM ET

The last time these two premier programs met was in the 2000 Orange Bowl, a game that featured a young Tom Brady. The future pro football first-ballot Hall of Famer led his Wolverines to an overtime-victory after tossing four touchdowns to subdue the Crimson Tide, 35-34.

While many things have changed since their last encounter, the one constant that remains is Michigan's desire to prove their worth on a national scene. Just as it was in 2000 when Michigan came in as the lower ranked team against a ‘Bama squad seeking a 11-1 season, the 2012 Wolverines view this year's match-up as a make-or-break game.

With expectations of a National Championship, Michigan will need senior quarterback Denard Robinson to overpower the highly-touted Crimson Tide defense, all while containing Alabama's power rushing attack led by first-year starter Eddie Lacy. A win for the Blue and Maize would put them on the fast track to a national championship run, something this program has been after since their last title win in 1997.

No. 12 Wisconsin at Oregon State

September 8, 4:30 PM ET

Despite not pitting two top-25 teams against each other, this game will boast some interesting headlines, most notably the first challenge for transfer quarterback, Danny O'Brien. His week one match-up against Northern Iowa shouldn't be very difficult; in fact, he more than likely won't even play the whole game if Wisconsin routs the Panthers like they should. With that in mind, O'Brien will be well-rested for his first true test of the season.

As for the Beavers, they have to win this game. After posting a dismal 3-9 record last year, head coach Mike Riley will be doing all he can to inspire his team against the Badgers. With back-to-back losing seasons, Oregon State needs to strike early in order to boast their bowl resume. It's also worth noting that they only have two non-conference games this year with the other being against Nichols State. Because of that, this game will be their only chance to prove that they can hang with major conference schools outside of the Pac-12.

No. 17 Nebraska at UCLA

September 8, 7:30 PM ET

The Bruins' new head coach, Jim Mora Jr., will have his first test of the season against the Huskers. Fortunately for him, UCLA will be hosting one of the top dogs in the Big Ten. Nonetheless, even with home-field advantage, the Bruins are in for a daunting test.

Despite earning a bid in the Pac-12 championship last season (due to USC's bowl ban), the Bruins will be the underdogs to a Nebraska team that is searching for a Big Ten championship in just their second season in the conference.

The Huskers return a dangerous offense anchored by quarterback Taylor Martinez and halfback Rex Burkhead. The two could cause headaches for a UCLA defense that ranked 11th in the conference in rushing defense after allowing 190 yards per game. Their new defensive coordinator has implemented a 3-4 scheme this year, hoping his talented linebackers can penetrate the gaps and limit yardage on the ground.

A win against Nebraska would go a long way for UCLA, who could potentially be 3-0 entering conference play. As for Nebraska, this game will be their biggest challenge on the non-conference slate, three weeks before their encounter with No. 12 Wisconsin.

- Josh Harvey -

Kyle Phillippi covers the Big Ten Conference for His work has also been featured in Big Red Report Magazine and
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