#MYRsports: Top games on the NCAA football schedule: North

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No, the person who photoshopped this does not have an OSU bias....

Every week for five weeks I will write a column on my top games on the NCAA Schedule. For four weeks we will go region by region (1. Southeast, 2. North, 3. Midwest, 4. West Coast, 5. Top 10 games in the nation). These are the games I am most looking forward to as a broadcaster and fan this fall.

Part II. One week late. Sorry about that. In week one we looked at the top games in the southeast for college football season. If you are a fan of Big Ten Football, Notre Dame, or some intriguing match-ups with ACC teams in the northeast then this column is for you.

I’ll do my best to find a game or two in the Big East… but not sure that’s going to happen. The intrigue lies mostly within the Big Ten, and everyone is always curious about what Notre Dame is doing. Especially fans in Myrtle Beach because it looks like former Seahawk standout Everett Golson may get his chance to lead the Irish.

So let’s take a look at the ten games I am most excited about in the northern part of the country (Once again these are in no particular order. Check out my top 10 games in the nation next month to see which of these games fall into serious national championship implications):

Maryland @ West Virginia, Sat September 22, Morgantown, WV:

West Virginia will make a couple appearances in this series of columns. This is the one we’ll put in the North since the states of West Virginia and Maryland are not Southeast or Midwest. But we’ll also look at some Mountaineer match-ups when we go through the Midwest, since, according to some college presidents, West Virginia miraculously is now part of Big 12 country. Who cares if WVU’s closest conference road trip to Ames, IA is 869 miles away. Oh wait, if you take I-30 it’s more direct and only 847 miles. Far more reasonable.

So back to this match-up. West Virginia is flat out loaded this year. Coach Dana Holgorson and his high flying offense that put 70 points on the board against Clemson, return SENIOR QB Geno Smith, SENIOR WR Tavon Austin, SENIOR Center  Joe Madsen. A total of nine offensive starters return along with six on the defensive side. So this match-up with Maryland is their first test, after warm-ups against in-state foe Marshall, and cross-state FCS opponent JMU. Who at JMU thought it’d be a good idea to play WVU at Fed Ex Field following an open date for the Mountaineers?! So the question becomes, will Maryland be a test? Randy Edsall certainly has a lot to prove after a disastrous first year with the program. A win over a top 10 ranked WVU squad would be huge for Maryland, and the ACC. But if we’re being honest, check in next week for the Midwest top games of the year when we talk about WVU’s first road trip of the season two weeks later…to Austin, TX.

Michigan @ Notre Dame, Saturday Sep 22, South Bend, IN (7:30 p.m. on NBC):

Did you watch this match-up last year? Under the lights at the Big House, three TD’s were scored in the final 1:12. The final was Denard Robinson’s 16-yard TD pass with :02 left. This year the match-up moves to under the lights in South Bend. Robinson returns for his senior season and this game could decide whether or not he is a Heisman candidate. Coach Brady Hoke also returns five additional starters on offense (including Senior Roy Roundtree who caught the game winning TD over the Irish last year), plus nine starters return on defense. Michigan will face Alabama and Notre Dame 21 days apart in the month of September before their first open date. We’ll know very quickly if Hoke can go from Sugar Bowl Champ to national title contender. The bad news… the Wolverines have to navigate the rest of the Big 10 including…

Michigan @ Ohio State, Saturday November 24, Columbus, OH:

Let me count the storylines that will lead up to this game, even if there are not Big Ten Championship or National Championship implications for the Wolverines. The game is Ohio State’s Big Ten Championship, Bowl Game, National Championship, and rivalry all wrapped into one. Ohio State is banned from the post-season thanks to the antics of former players and coaches, but Head Coach Urban Meyer could be playing for a perfect season (don’t tell THE Ohio State they aren’t the best team in America if they go 12-0) and this will be the last time the Buckeyes take the field for the season, and it’s at home.

PLUS we had Schembechler vs. Hayes in the ‘70s, Cooper vs. Carr in the late 90’s, Tressel vs. Rodriquez in the late 2000’s… ok, bad example. Is there anyone who thinks Hoke vs. Meyer will not be the greatest match-up of Michigan vs. Ohio State Coaches, ever? How long could it last? Meyer did retire once, but he’s still got a lot of years ahead of him if he wants to and he’s landed his dream job. Hoke is one of the youngest coaches in NCAA Football. This may last a while. So mark the date, first meeting: November 24, 2012.

Penn State @ Virginia, Saturday September 8, Charlottesville, VA:

Games like this are why I love to read these articles in the pre-season, and this year I am writing them. I love the non-conference power match-ups the BCS has created that we don’t get year in and year out. The color schemes in this match-up won’t quite compare to a Boise State Nike Pro Combat Electric Blue vs. Oregon Fighting Highlight yellow, but a lot of people love the colors of Navy Blue and White. It’s traditional. So traditional that a lot of ties will be worn at this game too. Can ESPN put it on in black and white for us?

All kidding aside, why I love this game… UVA is coming on very quickly and will be competing for ACC titles by 2013. Head Coach Mike London had an outstanding first year with Al Groh’s recruits who were told they’d play in the NFL, but had no promise of ever coming together as a real team until London showed up. UVA doesn’t return a lot of starters but that may be just fine for London who is building his own legacy and bringing in his own recruits for the second year. Plus UVA landed a huge coup by bringing in former Alabama back up QB Philip Sims. UVA was actually excited about returning quarterback Michael Rocco, but Rocco’s role as the starter will be short-lived when Sims begins working with the team this summer. Sims set the all-time state record for passing yards and TD’s at Oscar Smith H.S. and his return to the state is a scary thought for anyone who wears orange and maroon. So I love this match-up because we’ll learn a lot about the Cavaliers, but Penn State begins a new era with Head Coach Bill O’Brien. After what will be an emotional season opener at Beaver Stadium in week one against Ohio, this will be a difficult test for the Nittany Lions in what should be a ruckus atmosphere in Charlottesville.

Michigan State @ Wisconsin, Saturday October 27, Madison, WI:

Last year this was one of the games of the year. Everybody loves a Hail Mary for victory as time expires and that’s exactly what Kirk Cousins and Michigan State experienced last year in a heart stopping finish. The bad news for the Spartans, Wisconsin didn’t allow that to happen in the Inaugural Big Ten Championship and won the conference. The worse news? Kirk Cousins is gone to the Washington Redskins. Keith Nichol who caught that 44 yard pass is gone too. So is the rest of the offense. And the really bad news for this particular week? 2011 Heisman Finalist Montee Ball returns for his senior season and will be in action. Also returning is the former Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Linebacker Chris Borland along with fellow all conference defender Mike Taylor. Michigan State is in for a rough ride this season as well. They start the year with another top game, and the Legends Division is quickly looking similar to the SEC West with three to four top notch teams in the nation. This game should be fun, but we’ll see how important it actually is after the Spartans have already seen Boise State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan prior to the 27th of October. Yikes. 

Michigan @ Nebraska, Saturday October 27, Lincoln, NE:

This is one I wasn’t sure went in the North or Midwest, but definitely a critical game for the conference and the winner will have an inside track with less than a month to go to get to Indy for the Big Ten Championship. We’ve talked a lot about Michigan in this column, and the Southeast games with their match-up against ‘Bama. They will be very good and have an incredibly difficult schedule. Nebraska is a big part of that. They return eight starters on offense, eight starters on defense, and they have a guy who will rival Montee Ball to be the best running back in the Big Ten, Senior Rex Burkhead. Taylor Martinez needs to learn how to stretch the offense and successfully throw the ball if Nebraska wants to give Burkhead some room to work. Both teams have a lot of critical match-ups before and after this one, but this will go a long way in determining the winner of the Legends Division.

Wisconsin @ Penn State, Saturday November 24, State College, PA:

Penn State was a good football team last year and it's truly unfortunate the way the season ended since the players in the program had nothing to do with the mess going on. The Nittany Lions actually finished 6-2, same record as Wisconsin. The two played in the finale last year at Camp Randall and Wisconsin convincingly blew out a Penn State team that was reeling from child sex abuse scandals around the university. The score was 45-7. A new coaching staff and possible renewed excitement for Penn State could put them right back in the same position again this year, and this time they get an incredibly talented Badger squad at home. The question with this game is can Penn State keep up with Wisonsin throughout the year so a win here gives them the Division? It may already be decided before kickoff. Wisconsin could be unbeaten in conference play on November 16, but they finish the 17th and 24th with Ohio State and Penn State. So long as Penn State does not have more than two losses in conference throughout the year, then this game will matter. And outside of match-ups with Nebraska and Ohio State, Penn State will be favored in every other game until this one. My prediction: winner goes to the championship to take on the winner of Michigan and Nebraska. But through all that Ohio State might finish 12-0. It’s going to be a wild year in the Big Ten.

Notre Dame vs. Miami, Saturday October 6, Soldier Field in Chicago, IL (7:30 p.m. on NBC):

Ok I’m a traditionalist so maybe this game is wishful thinking. You see this game on paper and you think about all the great teams these two schools have produced, and put it under the lights at Soldier Field in October. Nothing says college football more than that, right? How important will this game be, though? Not sure. Notre Dame is still trying to figure things out and after a down year they go right back to one of the most intense schedules in college football. Miami has yet to play for an ACC Championship and we’re all still waiting to see how the NCAA will penalize them for some of the worst infractions ever seen in NCAA sports. Will I flip to this game to watch for a little bit? You bet.

Cincinnati @ Louisville, Friday October 26, Louisville, LY (8:00 on ESPN or ESPN 2, depending on what HS Football Match ups are available):

Ahhh Big East Footall. It’s kind of like Pac 12 Basketball. You know it’s there and its treated the same as the other power conferences but you know they don’t deserve it. So this year now that WVU is out of the picture that should open the door for Cincinatti and Louisville to duke it out on a Friday night typically reserved for high school football and decide who has the inside track to get pummeled in the Fiesta Bowl. Cincinatti was actually pretty good last year. They played WVU to a three point loss and had they not slipped up against Rutgers they would’ve won the Big East title outright and Clemson may not have hired a new defensive coordinator in the of-season. Keep your eye on the Bearcats this year. They could quietly move up in the rankings in a weak conference and a win at Louisville will probably secure the BCS bid in late October.

Army vs. Navy, Saturday December 8, Pittsburgh PA:

Navy has dominated the series, but once again both teams will have three weeks to prepare for this one. The game is played the week after the conference championships so it’s either this, or early episodes of The Christmas Story on TBS. And it’s just un-American to not tune in for a few minutes of the Army vs. Navy game.

Aaron Marks is the host of “The Drive” which airs daily from 4-6 p.m. on Myrtle Beach’s ESPN Radio 100.3 ‘The Team’. For comments on his weekly column e-mail thedrive@teammyrtlebeach.comFollow Aaron on Twitter @AMonFM 

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