5. Penn State at Indiana (Oct. 5)
Kevin Wilson injected new energy into the long-dormant Hoosier football program last season. While IU went just 4-8, the uptempo offense generated excitement and the Hoosiers were far more competitive on a weekly basis. A bowl is a realistic possibility, though IU’s conference opener against Penn State is a potential cornerstone.
IU gets the Nittany Lions in Bloomington after a bye week, but also following a challenging four-game, non-conference stretch that includes 2012 bowl participants Navy and Bowling Green and the SEC’s Missouri.
4. Ohio State at Purdue (Nov. 2)
West Lafayette has not been kind to the Buckeyes in recent years. In fact, Ohio State has lost its last two trips there and three of the last four dating back to 2004.
Purdue also came within minutes of ending Ohio State’s unbeaten season last year in the Horseshoe — albeit with Braxton Miller injured in the second half. Nothing could open the Darrell Hazell in more grand style than upsetting the preseason Big Ten favorite at home.
3. Penn State at Wisconsin (Nov. 30)
Year One of the Bill O’Brien era ended on the high note of defeating de facto Big Ten champion Wisconsin in a 24-21, overtime classic. The emotions that ending such a tumultuous season on such a positive inspired were evident in O’Brien’s post-game interview.
This time, the Badgers get the Lions in Camp Randall. The last two times these programs have played there, the combined margin of victory was 79 points. But hey, those two games were split: UW won 45-7 in 2011, PSU won 48-7 in 2008. Each time, the winner played in that season’s Rose Bowl.
2. Penn State at Ohio State (Oct. 26)
Pennsylvania and Ohio have a regional football rivalry, stemming from the outstanding high school ball each state plays and showcases in the Big 33. Penn State and Ohio State’s rivalry is seeded in hostilities far outweighing on-field competition.
Officially, Ohio State is on a nine-game win streak in the series dating back to 1998. Unofficially, the two sides have played each other very equally: Ohio State holds a slim, 3-2 advantage since 2008.
1. Wisconsin at Ohio State (Sept. 28)
This is a potential changing-of-the-guard match-up. Wisconsin has represented the Big Ten in each of the last three Rose Bowls. The two most recent came amid Ohio State’s scandal-marred 2011 and, last year’s was by default due to the Buckeyes’ one-year NCAA probation.
Ohio State’s return to the pinnacle of the Big Ten goes through Wisconsin, but the Badgers will not surrender the crown without a fight.