The PAC-12, as we know it, is no more. Starting with the 2024 season, four new teams are joining the Big Ten conference: the USC Trojans, UCLA Bruins, Oregon Ducks and Washington Huskies. This makes for some very compelling matchups. Here, we take a look at the best of the best.
We do have to be mindful that with possible head coaching and coordinator changes, early NFL draft enrollees, NIL and its impact on the transfer portal, the “players” in these matchups may end up looking much different than predicted today.
Best Big Ten College Football Matchups for 2024
Michigan At Washington
The Michigan Wolverines will travel to Seattle in a rematch of the final version of the four-team College Football Playoff. There will be no Michael Penix, Jr., Blake Corum and possibly no JJ McCarthy or Jim Harbaugh. There is speculation that if Jim Harbaugh leaves for the NFL, Huskies head coach Kalen DeBoer could replace him. Both teams will undoubtedly reload and this game will be hyped up regardless of who is under center or manning the sidelines.
Michigan vs. USC
Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams is going to the NFL. Wolverines quarterback JJ McCarthy’s status for next season is up in the air. Harbaugh is likely going to the NFL and USC has a new defensive coordinator. Despite that, it’s still Michigan vs. USC. Fortunately for the Trojans, this early season matchup in Ann Arbor takes place in September and not late in the season where weather would be a factor. The Trojans will be looking to mark their territory early in the Big Ten campaign.
Michigan v Oregon
Ducks quarterback Bo Nix is gone, but former Oklahoma Sooners signal-caller Dillon Gabriel heads to Eugene to lead an always-explosive Oregon offense. We’ve already discussed possible big changes at Michigan and the Ducks will look to get back to the College Football Playoff. They showed they could win big road games, as evidenced by their win in Columbus a few years ago. Gabriel will look to post big numbers in this one against an always-tough Wolverines defense to boost his Heisman candidacy.
Michigan at Ohio State
Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day’s seat on third base is getting even hotter after three consecutive losses in “The Game.” Additionally, the Buckeyes will need this one after a poor showing in the Cotton Bowl against the Missouri Tigers. Fortunately for Ryan Day, former Kansas State Wildcats quarterback Will Howard is coming to the rescue. Howard already has embraced the rivalry by joining the rest of Buckeye Nation in calling Michigan TTUN (The Team Up North).
Iowa vs. Washington
Former Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara returns from injury to jumpstart a woeful Iowa Hawkeyes offense to compliment a championship-level defense. National runner-up Washington heads to Kinnick Stadium, which is never an easy place for opponents to play. How good the Huskies will be remains to be seen, given how much they lose to the NFL this offseason. This game could be a spot in the top 12 for the expanded playoff.
Nebraska vs. UCLA & at USC
Except for his brief stint in the NFL, Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Matt Rhule has always shown significant progress in year two. It happened at Temple and it happened at Baylor. Expect it to happen in Nebraska. The Huskers have two intriguing matchups against Big Ten newcomers from Los Angeles. The Trojans will look drastically different without Williams and a new defensive coordinator. The cupboard is never bare as they showed in the bowl game against the Louisville Cardinals.
Across town in Westwood, Bruins coach Chip Kelly seems to be on the hot seat. This season will be no different, especially heading to the Big Ten. Both of these games will provide an excellent barometer of where coach Rhule is with the latest rebuild in Lincoln.
The Huskers will need to show significant improvement on the offensive side of the ball for the turnaround to meet expectations in year two. The game against UCLA will provide a good test of where the offense is.
Penn State Trio
Head coach James Franklin is also under the microscope as his Penn State Nittany Lions are sitting at the top of tier two in the conference heading into the 2024 campaign. The Nittany Lions have games against USC, Washington and Ohio State, who most people pick to win the conference after Will Howard transferred in. Big changes are expected at Michigan.
Franklin needs to start winning some of the games against teams they either aren’t expected to win or are considered toss-ups. Having quarterback Drew Allar back helps to go with an always tough defense.
Old PAC-12 Matchups
The Trojans, Huskies and Bruins all play each other in their first years in the new Big Ten. That won’t always be the case as the conference moves away from the division format. These games take on added importance for each of these teams as they’re all facing significant turnover in players and the travel involved is much more limited than going to play other conference foes across the country.
Big Change Is Here
The Big Ten Conference has done what they needed to keep pace with the vaunted SEC. With the College Football Playoff expanding to 12 teams this coming season, one or two losses won’t knock the top teams out of contention for a spot. However, these games will still mean a lot when seeding for the playoffs. When the calendar turns to December and January, home field for the playoffs will matter.
Next season in the Big Ten promises to be like no other. Buckle up.
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