Games to watch in the Big Ten this fall

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The 2009 season kicks off Thursday, and a full slate of Big Ten games comes your way Saturday. Let's take a look at 10 games to watch involving Big Ten squads this fall.

Illinois vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Saturday: If you like offense, this matchup delivers, as the teams have combined to score 168 points in the past two meetings at Edward Jones Dome. Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon wants to "squeeze the pulp out of" Illinois quarterback Juice Williams, who set a stadium record for total offense in last year's game.

USC at Ohio State, Sept 12: This is the defining game for not only Ohio State, but the Big Ten Conference. USC has done more damage to the Big Ten than any team or any league, and the Buckeyes get a chance to avenge last year's 35-3 loss to the Trojans, who must now win on Big Ten soil.

Notre Dame at Michigan, Sept. 12: Two of college football's winningest programs. Two lightning-rod head coaches (Charlie Weis and Rich Rodriguez) who need to see improvement on the field this fall. Two massive fan bases. Two programs trying to restore glory. What more do you need?

Cal at Minnesota, Sept. 19: Minnesota gets to show off its swanky new on-campus stadium against a nationally ranked opponent led by a Heisman Trophy candidate (Jahvid Best). A win would be huge for the Big Ten and the Gophers, who could show they're on the way back.

Iowa at Penn State, Sept. 26: The first game that shapes the Big Ten title race takes place in Happy Valley before a "whiteout," which always provides an unforgettable atmosphere. Penn State wants to punish Iowa for ruining its national title hopes last year, but the Hawkeyes have recently done well in this series.

Penn State at Illinois, Oct. 3: Given Penn State's recent dominance at home, many view this as the Nittany Lions' likeliest chance for a loss. Williams and a talented crop of receivers will attack an unproven Penn State secondary, and the Lions will need big things from quarterback Daryll Clark and running back Evan Royster.

Ohio State at Penn State, Nov. 7: For the second straight year, this is the game most believe will determine the Big Ten champion. Ohio State has won 15 consecutive Big Ten road games since falling in Happy Valley in 2005. A Penn State victory could springboard the Lions to an undefeated season.

Iowa at Ohio State, Nov. 14: If Iowa survives its previous road tests, it could head to Columbus playing for a potential Big Ten title. The Hawkeyes also might be in the spoiler role against Ohio State, which hasn't lost to Iowa at home since 1991.

Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 21: Michigan might still be in the building stage, but The Game still defines Big Ten football in the eyes of many national observers. The Wolverines try to snap a five-game slide in the series, and their fans will be waiting for Ohio State offensive lineman Justin Boren, who transferred from Michigan to its archrival last year.

Penn State at Michigan State, Nov. 21: The Land Grant Trophy doesn't mean much to either fan base, but the game certainly does. This matchup trumped Michigan-Ohio State last year and could once again be more instrumental in determining the league champ.