Recently, FTB thought it would be fun to preview the season by connecting with our fellow Big Ten bloggers to get their thoughts on various topics, both Big Ten-related and not.  This is the second in a series of five preview discussions that include input from 10 of the 11 Big Ten teams.  Northwestern was unavailable for comment – presumably because they were too busy planning for a postseason basketball appearance.

Question: Which games this season are you already circling on your calendar?

Since Wisconsin plays every contender twice, there are a lot of circles. In order of appearance:

1. Dec. 28, Minnesota – Hosting the Gophers in the opener is a chance for payback in the teams’ only meeting this season. As you know, Wisconsin has mysteriously lost three in a row to Minny.

2. Jan. 2, @ Illinois – I think Illinois is simply loaded this year and already had UW’s number a couple times last year, so this will be a great measuring stick for both teams.

3. Feb. 1/Feb.6, Purdue/Michigan State – Back-to-back home games against the cream of the crop. If the Badgers have any championship aspirations, this is where they make their move.

4. Mar. 6, @ Ohio State – Final game of the year, no doubt with some sort of tournament seeding at stake. The Buckeye freshmen will have a whole year under their belt at this point, which could be scary.

— Phil Mitten, Bucky’s 5th Quarter (Wisconsin)

Playing in the Big Ten gives you a “big name” each week but I’d have to go with Maryland and both Michigan State games. Maryland is the biggest OOC team to play Penn State at home, and while they’re short all of their big name players from last year, the defending ACC Champs don’t visit Happy Valley that often. Michigan State is probably my favorite opponent to watch Penn State play because, unlike football, this rivalry is pretty exciting to watch. Penn State has beaten MSU twice in the past 4 years and has come within 13 total points of beating them two times outside of that. This year will be the last time Talor and Kalin Lucas play head to head in what has been four years of them going at each other.

— Ben Jones, Victory Bell Rings (Penn State)

December 27th…Penn State at Indiana. It might not have a major impact on the final standings or decide who makes the NCAA tourney, but it kicks off the conference schedule and it is always nice to see teams start facing stiff competition each night versus pounding away on cupcakes. December 29th…Illinois at Iowa. The Fran McCaffery Era begins in earnest, and for us Hawkeye fans it is a chance to hope for better fortunes down the road. After those two I look forward to every other Big Ten game equally. The Big Ten is getting to the point talent-wise where there are no games teams can take off and still get a victory. Seeing teams battle each night for a valuable rung in the standings keeps my attention through every minute

— Chad Nims, Planned Sick Days (Iowa)

Both Purdue-Michigan State games should be good. Illinois against Michigan State should also be quality. Also, when anyone goes to Madison there is always a danger of a loss.

— T-Mill, Hammer & Rails (Purdue)

In the nonconference schedule, the Duke game looms large for reasons I don’t need to explain.  In the Big Ten schedule, the Ohio State and Purdue road games I think will be critical for MSU.  If the Spartans can get at least a split of those two, they should be well on their way to a Big Ten title.

— Pete Rossman, The Only Colors (Michigan State)

Conference wise, the Illini have two separate two game swings of Michigan State and Ohio State in consecutive games, once at home in late January, and on the road in late February. Playing OSU right after MSU is going to really test Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale, I just hope they make it out without having any broken bones.

— Joe Kutsunis, Hail to the Orange (Illinois)

The Buckeyes’ pre-Big Ten schedule this year is a bit weak relative to recent years, but we still have Florida early in the season and Florida State a bit later.  The Big Ten games will be the real excitement though, with Michigan State, Purdue, and Wisconsin being the most highly anticipated.

— Jay, The Buckeye Battle Cry (Ohio State)

IU’s non-conference schedule is not difficult, so the Big Ten/ACC Challenge game at Boston College is one of the few non-conference games that is against a major opponent and which IU might have a decent chance to win (I don’t think we’re there with Kentucky yet).  In the Big Ten, the answer is every single home game.  Winning in the Big Ten begins with defending home court.  While I don’t have any illusions about IU contending for the conference crown, becoming a difficult team to beat in Bloomington would be a good step.

— John M., Crimson Quarry (Indiana)

From the Barn’s take:

The Gophers have a chance to go up against North Carolina early on in the season in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament, which could provide a nice RPI boost for later in the season.  Other than that, though, the non-conference schedule doesn’t present any “must-see” games.  The Big Ten schedule, though, is littered with games that I’m already anticipating.  In a season where Minnesota should be able to compete with any team regardless of home/road location, several contests jump off the page.

For starters, the Gophers open up conference play on the road in Madison.  This will be a tough test, but should show us what the team is made of early on.  Will they come out and challenge at the Kohl Center like they have in years past?  Two weeks later, Minnesota hosts Purdue, another chance to show that they can stick with a national powerhouse.  After having faced Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State, this will truly be the barometer of where Minnesota sits in terms of Big Ten talent.

Another game that jumps out is the lone matchup with Illinois.  Depending on how the Illini’s season is going at that point, the game should prove important in terms of postseason seeding.  Winning that game puts to rest any argument about who is better.  Finally, I’m circling the home contest against Michigan in late February. Minnesota ends the season facing Northwestern and Penn State and tripping up against the Wolverines could lead to a lethal late-season free fall.  As much as I’d like to see the Gophers kill Michigan at home in a frenzied Barn for the sake of revenge, it’s equally important that they set a late-season tone by taking care of a perennially pesky opponent.

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