Clarke’s Big Five: Offseason Edition


This photo is from 2011, and boy does it have some names. James Vanderberg (16) at QB, and Marcus Coker (34) at RB highlight the crew. One of Coker’s backups was Mark Weisman (freshman at the time), who gave Hawkeye fans the slimmest hope of a Heisman candidate, simply because his last name rhymed with the award.

Welcome to the Big Five! This will be my (Charlie’s) weekly column discussing and take-ing on the top five headlines, news items, storylines, etc. of the week. Feel free to comment on my thoughts either below, on Twitter, on Facebook, or…shoot us an email – – We’ll make sure to bring your comments up on the next podcast! 

We’re deep into college football’s offseason and the headlines are few and far between. So, this week, I’ll rank the top five games for the upcoming 2017 Big Ten season. Here’s the trick (and this is why it’ll be hard), I’m giving myself restrictions.

  • I can choose teams no more than twice. I don’t want every single game to be Team X vs. Michigan/Ohio State. At first, I tried limiting myself to using teams just once, but after Ohio State vs. Michigan and taking Penn State and Wisconsin off the board, it was getting ugly (I didn’t venture to Purdue vs. Rutgers, Illinois vs. Purdue territory, but it was getting way too close).
  • The game has to be between two Big Ten teams. That should go without saying, but I want to clear up on the specifics here. No non-conference games.

The first one should be pretty obvious…

Ohio State vs. Michigan – Nov. 25 

There isn’t much to say here. ‘The Game’ was the best game last season, and it’s clearly the best one this upcoming season. It’s in the final week of the season, per usual, and it’s Harbaugh vs. Meyer, both with ridiculous talent on the field. I’ll wrap it up at that.

Michigan vs. Wisconsin – Nov. 18

Wisconsin has the fortune of playing in the Big Ten West and avoiding both Ohio State and Penn State in cross-conference games. Essentially, there’s a paved road to Indy for the Badgers. So, while this game probably won’t have divisional implications, it may have major College Football Playoff implications…for both teams! Wisconsin’s toughest game before this one is a home contest against Northwestern, so it’s not too bold to bring up the CFP in Madison.

Anyway, this is by far UW’s biggest game of the year. This’ll probably (hopefully) be a night game at Camp Randall. Last year’s version of this was 14-7 in Michigan’s favor, marking Wisconsin’s first loss of the season. I wouldn’t be surprised if that exact result is replicated this upcoming year.

Chalk Michigan off the board.

Penn State vs. Ohio State – Oct. 28 

The Nittany Lions have Michigan and Ohio State in back-to-back weeks, and Michigan is off the board, so I’m taking their game against the Buckeyes. I’d gladly take an encore of last year’s Penn State vs. Ohio State matchup, when the Buckeyes completely outplayed the Nittany Lions, but special teams miscues cost OSU big time. That game probably ranks as the second best Big Ten game last year.

Essentially, it’s Penn State’s high-flying offense against Ohio State’s swarming defense. Penn State’s offensive numbers got significantly better following last year’s OSU game. In the seven contests down the stretch, they averaged over 45 points per game and never scored less than 38.

McSorely, Barkley and co. against an Ohio State defense that seemingly gets faster every year under Urban Meyer should be pretty fun.

Northwestern vs. Wisconsin – Sep. 30 

With Michigan and Ohio State off the board, this was the top option for me. Guess who’s returning at wide receiver for the Badgers? Jazz Peavy! (If you watched NU vs. Wisconsin in 2015, you’ll get the joke. If not, here ya go)

Here’s why I think this game is interesting: Northwestern has a multi-faceted offense and Wisconsin has a stingy defense. The counterpart of that? The Badgers aren’t shiny on offense and Northwestern has question marks on defense. But, I’m far more interested in that first matchup, NU’s offense vs. Wisco’s D.

Linebackers T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel both moved on to the NFL. Perhaps that opens up some opportunities in the middle of the field for NU weapons Clayton Thorson and Justin Jackson? Maybe, or Wisconsin’s experienced returning secondary could shut down NU’s passing attack and the Badgers could load the box. It will be Wisco’s first Big Ten game of the season, so the defense could still be fitting its mold, but Wisconsin can definitely handle an early-season challenge.

Penn State vs. Michigan State – Nov. 4 

Okay, I’m looking for a prayer here. I don’t know how many times this has been asked, but … will Michigan State rebound? It’s probably the biggest question among Big Ten fans heading into the 2017 season. And, that answer will go a long way in telling us if this game will matter at all.

Michigan State has an incredibly tough schedule, facing Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, so it’ll be tough to drastically improve record-wise, but I can see the players on the field looking better. Also, with MSU’s talent, Mark Dantonio is too good of a coach for MSU to go 3-9 again.

Choosing this contest is taking a gamble for a top five game (within my rules/restrictions), but if it pays off, a talented defense will face a juggernaut offense. Michigan State is returning just about 40 percent of its defensive starters, but after five Big Ten contests, the defense could be fitting into its mold. This pick is more of a wildcard/spoiler pick for me. If Sparty can force some turnovers and flip Penn State QB Trace McSorely back into First Half of 2016 Trace McSorely, MSU will have a fighting chance. But again, this is a prayer.

I want to hear about games you’re anticipating! Or if you want to come up with a list, I’d love to see that too. Make sure to email us ( some of your favorite Big Ten matchups of 2017!

If you liked this piece, tell us about it! Or if you didn’t, we’ll take suggestions as well. We can be reached via email, Facebook, Twitter and more!


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