No college football season is complete without a few upsets sprinkled in along the way.
Last season, Michigan State was involved in each of the three most shocking results of Big Ten play. Arguably the moment of the year occurred when the Spartans stunned Michigan by returning a blocked punt for a touchdown as time expired to shock the Big House.
Two weeks later, Michigan State was upset by Nebraska in Lincoln, thanks to a controversial touchdown during which Nebraska receiver Brandon Reilly went out of bounds and came back inbounds before catching the game-winning pass.
Michigan State then pulled another shocker by going into Columbus without quarterback Connor Cook and knocking off Ohio State, 17-14.
Which crazy upsets could happen in 2016? Here are the five most possible upsets in Big Ten play:
5. Illinois over Michigan State (Nov. 5, at Illinois)
Illini fans would love to see a signature win over a flagship Big Ten program during Lovie Smith’s first season at the helm. A home game against a rebuilding Michigan State team could provide that opportunity.
The Spartans are without quarterback Connor Cook, offensive tackle Jack Conklin, wide receiver Aaron Burbridge and defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun, just to name a few. Illinois returns nine starters, including quarterback Wes Lunt.
Michigan State could be prone for a trap game in Champaign. The Spartans host arch-rival Michigan the week before and it’s tough to gauge what Michigan State’s offense will look like with so many pieces being replaced. It could be easy for the Spartans to look past Illinois.
4. Wisconsin over Ohio State (Oct. 15, at Wisconsin)
The Buckeyes lose 16 starters from last year’s team, while the Badgers must replace quarterback Joel Stave and leading receiver Alex Erickson. Wisconsin should have a more effective running game than last season with an experienced offensive line returning and running back Corey Clement healthy.
Quarterback play could be the difference and that’s why this upset might not happen. J.T. Barrett is capable of carrying Ohio State this season and he could be enough to propel the Buckeyes to a road victory in a tough environment. Wisconsin hasn’t beaten Ohio State since 2010, when Jim Tressel coached the Buckeyes.
3. Penn State over Ohio State (Oct. 22, at Penn State)
There are a few reasons why this is a plausible upset at Beaver Stadium. First of all, it’s extremely tough to predict what Ohio State will look like this season with its roster overhaul.
Penn State returns nine offensive starters and will employ a new system under first-year coordinator Joe Moorhead. The Nittany Lions will need to replace quarterback Christian Hackenberg, but Trace McSorley appears to have grasped the offense well during the spring.
Coach James Franklin is 0-6 against Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State during his first two seasons. With a win on the road against Michigan unlikely, this will be Franklin’s next chance to snap the losing streak.
Penn State has its bye week before this game, while Ohio State will be playing its second straight on the road after going to Wisconsin the week before. Ohio State might need to work hard to survive the Badgers and could enter Happy Valley susceptible for an upset.
2. Nebraska over Northwestern (Sept. 24, at Northwestern)
It’s pretty wild that we live in a world where Nebraska beating Northwestern would be an upset, but the Wildcats likely would be favored in their Big Ten opener. The Huskers will host Oregon the week before, which should be an emotional contest either way.
Nebraska has a ton of offensive talent returning, including quarterback Tommy Armstrong. The Cornhuskers lost several close games during Mike Riley’s first season. All of Nebraska’s seven losses were by 10 points or fewer. If Nebraska improves upon its minus-12 turnover margin from a year ago, it will find itself winning some of those close games in 2016.
The difference in this contest could be quarterback and receiver play. Armstrong’s top three weapons return this season and Nebraska’s offense could be quite explosive this season. The Wildcats will need more from quarterback Clayton Thorson and his weapons around him.
1. Minnesota over Iowa (Oct. 8, at Minnesota)
Minnesota could surpass expectations in coach Tracy Claeys’ first full season at the helm. The Gophers have seven returning starters on each side of the ball and a backfield tandem that could be one of the best in the Big Ten by season’s end. Quarterback Mitch Leidner is the X-factor and his development will determine how far Minnesota goes in 2016.
Iowa should be the favorites again in the Big Ten West, but this road trip caps a potentially tricky two-game stretch. The Hawkeyes host Northwestern the week before. Minnesota has enough defensive talent to bottle up Iowa’s offense and quarterback C.J. Beathard. This game could be a defensive struggle, as Iowa returns eight starters to a defense that allowed only 20.4 points per game last season and should be even stingier in 2016.
A win by the Gophers would make the Big Ten West race much more interesting. Don’t be surprised if they pull it off. One thing’s for certain: Bet the under in this one.