With less than 10 weeks to go before football returns and your weekends disappear, it's time to do some planning. Before you begin scouring for tickets, gassing up the RV and RSVP'ing to those fall wedding invites with full regrets, let's map out the best way to see as much high-quality Big Ten football as possible this season.
We took the liberty of putting together our ultimate road trip for the 2017 season. We focused on finding the biggest and best games each week while hitting as many campuses as possible and trying to keep the travel from getting too repetitive. We start today with plans for September. October and November will follow later this week.
Week 1 (Aug. 31/Sept. 2) -- Multiple stops
The first weekend of college football has morphed into a four-day opening ceremony jam-packed with matchups that make the offseason feel more tolerable. So why not take advantage and start with a double dip? Indiana hosts No. 1 Ohio State on Thursday night. Former Hoosiers head coach Kevin Wilson (now the Buckeyes' offensive coordinator) will be back on familiar territory for the debut of an Ohio State offense that has promised throughout the offseason to be more explosive through the air.
After spending a day or two in beautiful Bloomington, head south to AT&T Stadium in Dallas, where Michigan opens its third season under Jim Harbaugh against Florida. Gators coach Jim McElwain also enters his third year as the head coach of a program that was in need of a rebuild. Both coaches start an important year with big questions to answer. Michigan returns fewer starts than almost any team in the country. Florida recently acquired transfer Malik Zaire to try to solve its quarterbacking woes, but the former Notre Dame player remains a bit of an unknown entity. Kicking the year off at Jerry World will set the tone and expectations for both programs.
Week 2 (Sept. 9) -- Penn State vs. Pittsburgh (State College, Pennsylvania)
A strong slate of non-conference games provides plenty of options, including Nebraska's trip to Oregon and a top-10 meeting between Oklahoma and Ohio State. We'll see a lot of the Buckeyes on the season-long road trip, though, so best to spend this weekend in Happy Valley watching the Pennsylvania rivalry between the Nittany Lions and Pitt. Last season's rekindling of this matchup lived up to its billing, with Pitt squeaking out a field goal victory before Penn State's offense fully hit its stride.
At that time, James Conner was the best-known back in Pennsylvania. Saquon Barkley has secured that title in 2017, and this game will be his first big chance to start building a resume for what might become a Heisman-contending season.
Week 3 (Sept. 16) -- BYU vs. Wisconsin (Provo, Utah)
Our last trip outside the Big Ten footprint this season comes in Utah, where Wisconsin faces its stiffest test of the non-conference schedule. Along with being a unique and worthwhile venue to check off the college football passport, BYU has won nine games in each of its past two seasons and is 2-1 against Big Ten competition during that stretch. Taking in a Badgers' game also means that our trip will provide a good look at each of the four teams from the conference that are expected to start the season in the rankings during the first three weeks.
Week 4 (Sept. 23) -- Michigan State vs. Notre Dame (East Lansing, Michigan)
Michigan State's trip to Notre Dame felt a lot different a year ago than it will when the Irish visit East Lansing in late September. Both had historically bad seasons. Head coaches Brian Kelly and Mark Dantonio will be in need of a reassuring victory by this point in the season. A loss for either could send their season spiraling in a dangerous direction. This series has produced a long line of nail-biting finishes in the past decade or so. Their history alone makes it a worthwhile game to see, especially on a weekend that doesn't feature many other blockbuster matchups.
Week 5 (Sept. 30) -- Wisconsin vs. Northwestern (Madison, Wisconsin)
The longest month of the season ends with a trip to Camp Randall Stadium where Northwestern and Wisconsin will have an early battle among what could be the top two teams in the West this season. The Wildcats' backfield duo of Clayton Thorson and Justin Jackson will face their toughest test of the season. Wisconsin will be coming off of a bye week with a fired-up home crowd behind it. Plus, it's always nice to enjoy one of the conference's best game-day experiences before it gets too bone-jarringly cold in Madison.