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Take Two: Biggest nonconference game

Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

Today's first Take Two topic is this: Which nonconference game is most important for the league in 2011?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

Hmm ... trying to decide between Indiana-North Texas and Purdue versus Rice. Nah, it's Ohio State at Miami on Sept. 17. Sure, the Hurricanes are not what they used to be, and the Buckeyes could be a shell of their former selves when they head to Florida without Terrelle Pryor and the suspended players. Ohio State's current problems, though, are exactly why this game is important. Like it or not, the Buckeyes are still the marquee team in the Big Ten, and the league needs them to keep playing at a high level throughout this current storm. If Luke Fickell can hold this thing together and beat Miami, then Ohio State has a very good chance of starting off 4-0. That makes the showdown games to follow against Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin -- and even The Game -- much more interesting. A struggling Buckeyes team doesn't do the league any favors, especially when there's not necessarily any BCS title contenders this season. Besides, the Big Ten might lose some games to the SEC, but it can't let the ACC get one over on it.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

Some good points, Bennett, but what if Ohio State receives a midseason bowl ban? Will the Miami game matter at that point? The two games that come to mind are Alabama-Penn State and Michigan State-Notre Dame. While I think the Notre Dame game in South Bend will be a barometer for Michigan State, especially with the Spartans' brutal road slate, I'm going with Alabama-Penn State. No other nonconference game can help the Big Ten more than this one. As we both know, the SEC is king right now, and the Big Ten must start beating the SEC's best in marquee national games to begin closing the gap. The Big Ten has two chances to do so: the nonconference season and the bowl season. This is a great opportunity because an SEC team will be coming to Big Ten territory. Penn State will be an underdog Sept. 10, potentially a sizable underdog against an Alabama team very much on the national radar. A Nittany Lions loss isn't a killer, but what if Penn State beats Bama? It would provide a huge boost for the Big Ten and put another Big Ten squad (Penn State) in the BCS bowl mix. If the NCAA hammers Ohio State, the Leaders division could become awfully thin in a hurry. A Penn State victory against Alabama provides instant credibility for the Lions, and the Big Ten.