Five games, five opportunities for Big Ten

My colleague Heather Dinich over the ACC blog is feeling a little disrespected these days.

Everyone is hatin' on the ACC. When it comes to ranking conferences heading into the 2010 season, the ACC is struggling to stay in the top 5.

Well, HD, welcome to my world between January 2007 and January 2010.

The Big Ten feels the ACC's pain after being the national piƱata for the better part of three seasons. And while the Big Ten didn't do much to help the ACC's rep this bowl season -- Iowa and Wisconsin outclassed Georgia Tech and Miami -- the league knows what it's like to be dissed nationally.

The Big Ten's rep has been restored a bit, thanks to a strong bowl performance highlighted by two BCS wins and four victories against top-15 opponents. But until the Big Ten ends its national title drought, it likely won't fully regain respect around the college football world.

Leagues get two chances to improve their national perception: the nonconference and the postseason. While I won't predict Big Ten bowl matchups just yet, here are five opportunities for the league to help itself in the eyes of the nation.

1. Penn State at Alabama, Sept. 11: What better way to boost the league's image than to beat the reigning national champs in their house? The fact that Penn State is rebuilding a bit after losing six first-team All-Big Ten performers, including quarterback Daryll Clark, would only make it sweeter.

2. Miami at Ohio State, Sept. 11: Sorry, Dinich, but I look at this as a hold-serve matchup for Ohio State (think Isner-Mahut at Wimbledon). Miami should be very good, but the Buckeyes will be expected to defend their home turf against Jacory Harris & Co. A loss by the Big Ten favorites could really hurt the league's national reputation.

3. USC at Minnesota, Sept. 18: USC might have no bowl future and an untested head coach in Lane Kiffin, but it's still USC, the program that has tormented the Big Ten like none other during the last decade. Minnesota can make a major statement for itself and the league by upsetting the Trojans at TCF Bank Stadium. A Big Ten team hasn't beaten USC since Aug. 25, 1996, when Penn State knocked off the Trojans in the Kickoff Classic.

4. Iowa at Arizona, Sept. 18: This game means more for Iowa's reputation than it does the Big Ten's, but a league never wants one of its best teams to stumble early. Arizona is a good but not great team, but Iowa must travel two time zones away and play a night game. It's a classic trap game that the Hawkeyes need to survive, for their sake and the Big Ten's.

5. Purdue/Michigan/Michigan State against Notre Dame: Beating Notre Dame certainly doesn't mean what it used to, but people around the country still pay attention every time the Fighting Irish take the field. The Big Ten might not gain a ton of respect by beating Notre Dame, but the league certainly can't hurt its national perception by taking care of the Irish.