Big Ten football schedules honorably
Give Big Ten football credit. The Big Ten schedules honorably.
* Few games against I-AA opponents (only two in 2018, Illinois and Iowa). The SEC and Big 12 combined have only two schools (OU and Texas) that don’t play a I-AA opponent in 2018.
* Lots of quality mid-majors. The Big Ten plays South Florida, Fresno State, Brigham Young, Temple, Troy, Western Kentucky and Appalachian State, plus solid Mid-American programs like Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Northern Illinois and Central Michigan.
* The renewal of some old rivalries. This season, Colorado plays at Nebraska, their first meeting since both left the Big 12 after the 2010 season, and Penn State plays at Pitt, Game No. 3 of a four-game renewal. The series halted after the 2000 games, picked back up in 2016 and expires again after the 2019 game.
Now, the Big Ten’s list of marquee non-conference games isn’t as vibrant as the SEC’s or even the Big 12’s. The best opponents on Big Ten schedules are Notre Dame twice, Texas and TCU. That’s not great for a 14-team league.
But overall, the Big Ten schedules admirably. Here’s how I rank the non-conference schedules:
1. Northwestern: Duke, Akron, Notre Dame. Excellent schedule, and against liked-minded schools to boot. The Wildcats try.
2. Maryland: Texas in Baltimore, at Bowling Green, Temple. Wonderful depth. The worst team on this schedule (take your pick) would be the second-best team on most SEC schedules.
3. Ohio State: Oregon State, TCU in Arlington, Tulane. Two Power 5 opponents for the Buckeyes, though Oregon State is the Pac-12’s Kansas.
4. Michigan: at Notre Dame, Western Michigan, SMU. The Wolverines dropped Arkansas to make way for the renewal of the Notre Dame series.
5. Purdue: Eastern Michigan, Missouri, Boston College. Two Power 5 foes, so give the Boilermakers credit. But Mizzou and BC are lower-division teams in their leagues.
6. Michigan State: Utah State, at Arizona State, Central Michigan. Excellent attempt at a great schedule. We’ll see how it turns out. But a road game at Sun Devil Stadium traditionally would be a quality game. And Utah State and CMU are solid mid-majors.
7. Penn State: Appalachian State, at Pittsburgh, Kent State. Can Appy State do to the Nittanys what it did to Michigan 11 years ago? Probably not, but it should be fun to follow.
8. Nebraska: Akron, Colorado, Troy. The evidence is not overwhelming that Colorado is the toughest team on this slate. CU’s best win in 2017 was over California. Troy’s best win was over LSU.
9. Iowa: Northern Illinois, Iowa State, Northern Iowa. The Hawkeyes keep it regional. Did Iowa get a dispensation from the Big Ten, allowing them to keep the rivalry with I-AA Northern Iowa going?
10. Wisconsin: Western Kentucky, New Mexico, Brigham Young. New Mexico and Brigham Young? Couldn’t the Badgers have replaced Western Kentucky with Wyoming, then they’d have a true old-WAC schedule.
11. Indiana: at Florida International, Virginia, Ball State. Not a good schedule, but who can blame the Hoosiers for trying to step gingerly as they build up their program?
12. Minnesota: New Mexico State, Fresno State, Miami-Ohio. Fresno State turned into a good team in 2017. Maybe the Gophers aren’t thrilled with that development.
13. Illinois: Kent State, Western Illinois, South Florida in Chicago. USF might be favored to beat the Illini.
14. Rutgers: Texas State, at Kansas, Buffalo. Ugh. If the Scarlet Knights don’t beat Kansas, there’s little hope.
Total games: 42
Games against Power 5 opponents: 14 (33.3 percent)
Games against Power 5 and strong mid-majors: 20 (47.6 percent)
Games against Division I-AA opponents: 2 (3.6 percent)
Road games: 6 (10.7 percent)
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew... Read more ›