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Big Ten nonconference wish list

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The regional rivalry between Penn State and Pitt is safe for the foreseeable future.

New Pittsburgh athletic director Scott Barnes told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette his first call after taking the job in mid-June was to Sandy Barbour, his colleague at Penn State, to make sure the football series between the Nittany Lions and the Panthers was safe. The two teams had already agreed to a four-game series starting in 2016 (ending a 15-year hiatus), but Barnes wanted to make sure the Keystone State rivals would continue to play each other further into the future.

That got us thinking about other nonconference showdowns we’d like to see in the Big Ten for a variety of reasons (regional rivalries snuffed over scheduling conflicts, fun coaching matchups, etc.). Here, in no particular order, are a half-dozen games that made our wish list and some explanation as to why we think they should make your list, too.

Nebraska vs. Oklahoma

Last meeting: Dec. 4, 2010 (No. 9 Oklahoma def. No. 13 Nebraska 23-20)

The old Big 12 rivals met 86 times during a nearly 100-year span that ended when Nebraska joined the Big Ten five years ago. Oklahoma ruined the Cornhuskers' goodbye party that year with a comeback win in the conference championship game that sent Big Red away with a sour taste in its mouth. This series is scheduled to resume at least temporarily in 2021 and 2022. It should be a regular fixture of the fall schedule.

Ohio State vs. Youngstown State

Last meeting: Aug. 30, 2008 (Ohio State def. Youngstown State 43-0)

Speaking of Nebraska, now that former Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini has landed at Youngstown State, it’s time to revisit this short-lived matchup (they’ve only played twice before) between two of Ohio’s traditional football schools. We’d suggest that Pelini take his new team to Nebraska, but that could get ugly. If the Buckeyes are going to beat up on an FCS team early in the year, the game might as well have some Ohio pride on the line. Pelini is a former Buckeye, and his boss’ boss might have some vested interest in Columbus, too.

Indiana vs. Kentucky

Last meeting: Sept. 17, 2005 (Indiana def. Kentucky 38-14)

Sure, these might be two of the worst teams in their respective conferences, but the border rivalry should get a little bit of blood boiling in a fairly even matchup. These two teams first played in 1893. They tied 24-24. Since then, Indiana has won 18 times and Kentucky 17. We see no reason why these two schools shouldn’t pick things up again, but until heir basketball programs can learn to get along we’re not holding our breath.

Michigan vs. Western Michigan

Last meeting: Sept. 3, 2011 (Michigan def. Western Michigan 34-10)

The Broncos are fast becoming one of the MAC’s best threats under new coach P.J. Fleck, who might be the only man in America who can rival Jim Harbaugh’s enthusiasm and quirkiness. Those two shaking hands before the game could create enough energy to power most of the state of Michigan for a night. Michigan (6-0 all-time in the series) would be the heavy favorite, but most folks in the Mitten State would still sign up to watch, if only for the fireworks on both sidelines.

Northwestern vs. Northern Illinois

Last meeting: Sept. 6, 2014 (Northern Illinois def. Northwestern 23-15)

Sticking with the MAC teams, Northern Illinois has been a Big Ten slayer in recent history. The Huskies have won five of their last eight games against Big Ten teams – most recently knocking off Northwestern last September. That win was followed up by a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune declaring Northern Illinois as Chicago’s “big time college football team.” That barb hasn’t led to a scheduled rematch yet, which is a problem that needs to be fixed.

Michigan State vs. Alabama

Last meeting: Jan. 1, 2011 (Alabama def. Michigan State 49-7)

This isn’t a regional rivalry, but it checks the boxes for revenge game and intriguing coaching matchup so it makes the list. Alabama crushed Michigan State in their only previous meeting at the Capital One Bowl in 2011. The Spartans haven’t lost a bowl game since. Throw in Nick Saban’s history in East Lansing and the fact that these are two of the best and most steady programs in the country and it’s hard to find a reason why these two teams shouldn’t figure out a way to square off again.