For most of its history, the Big Ten has been a model of stability. Of course, with the realignment games finally coming to a conclusion (or at the very least, a détente), the Big Ten has not found itself immune to change. First was the addition of Nebraska to bring the league to twelve teams. Next season the league will add Rutgers and Maryland and realign geographically.
So let’s bid a fond farewell to Leaders and Legends by looking at the conference and trying to figure out who has the easiest road to Lucas Oil Stadium and who has the biggest challenge. From hardest to easiest, here are the rankings of the Big Ten schedules:
1) Indiana – The team closest to the site of the Big Ten Championship game has the hardest route to getting there. The non-conference schedule is not that bad, with only one team from an automatic qualifying conference on the schedule (Missouri) and all of the games at home in Memorial Stadium (BGSU, Navy, Indiana State). But the conference schedule is a bear, with road games at Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
2) Purdue – The Boilermakers have three non-conference games that could be challenging (at Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Northern Illinois) even with two of the games at home. The game against Indiana State is a game that Purdue should be able to handle. In conference, Purdue gets road games against Michigan State and Wisconsin and home games against Nebraska, Iowa and Ohio State.
3) Michigan – The Wolverines have Notre Dame coming to the Big House and travel to UConn in non-conference. The rest of the out of conference games are two MAC opponents (Akron, Central Michigan). In conference play, Michigan has to travel to Northwestern and Michigan State as well as Penn State and Iowa, and the annual tilt to close the regular season against Ohio State looms large as it always does.
4) Penn State – The Nittany Lions stumbled out of the gate last season, but wound up having a solid season. In year two of their sanctions, it will be interesting to see how they fare. Penn State opens with a neutral site game against a retooling Syracuse squad before heading home to face perennial cellar-dweller Eastern Michigan, a tough Central Florida squad and Kent State, a team that won its division of the MAC last season. In conference, Penn State has to travel to Ohio State and Wisconsin, hosts Michigan and Nebraska, but misses Northwestern and Michigan State.
5) Illinois – The Fighting Illini have three non-conference home games (Southern Illinois, Cincinnati, Miami (OH)) and one neutral site game at Soldier Field against Washington. The Illini face Michigan State and Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin all at home and travel to Nebraska.
6) Minnesota – Gopher fans will welcome a couple of teams from the Pacific Time Zone to TCF Bank Stadium (UNLV, San Jose State University) as well as an FCS opponent (Western Illinois). The Gophers will head to Las Cruces to face the New Mexico State Aggies in a curious non-conference intersectional matchup. In conference, the Gophers get visits from Penn State, Wisconsin and Nebraska and travel to Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern. But they avoid Ohio State.
7) Michigan State – Sparty is trying to have a bit of a bounce back season after some struggles last season. The schedule is manageable, with three of four conference games at home (Western Michigan, South Florida and Youngstown State) and a road game at Notre Dame. In conference, Michigan State will travel to Nebraska and Northwestern but gets archrival Michigan in Spartan Stadium.
8) Iowa – The Hawkeyes will play all four nonconference games within the borders of the state, although only three games will be at home (Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, Missouri State). The Hawkeyes will also welcome Michigan and Michigan State to Iowa City, with trips to Nebraska and Ohio State in the offing in the conference slate.
9) Nebraska – The Cornhusker faithful will welcome four teams to the Sea of Red in the non-conference slate which includes a return game against UCLA. Wyoming, Southern Mississippi and FCS squad South Dakota State are the other lucky winners of a trip to Lincoln. Conference play has the Huskers traveling to Purdue, Penn State, Minnesota and Michigan, and bypassing Ohio State completely unless they meet in the championship game in Indianapolis.
10) Northwestern – The Wildcats are enjoying a seemingly extended run of football success of late. The schedule is definitely manageable for them this year, with non-conference games against Cal (in Berkeley), Syracuse, Western Michigan and Maine, an FCS team. In conference, the Wildcats get Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State at home and face Nebraska and Wisconsin on the road. Their rivalry game against Illinois is in Champaign this year.
11) Ohio State – It’s year two of the Urban Meyer experience in Columbus, and the Buckeyes have teams from three different parts of the country on the non-conference schedule. They travel to Berkeley to play Cal, and host San Diego State, Buffalo and Florida A&M. In league, Ohio State gets Penn State and Wisconsin at the Horseshoe, but has to travel to the Big House for the annual bad blood matchup with Michigan. Road games with Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue are also in the offing.
12) Wisconsin – In Gary Andersen’s first year at the helm in Madison, his team gets a schedule that features an FCS opponent (Tennessee Tech), a team that was FCS just a couple of seasons ago (Massachusetts), and an independent (BYU) at home. There is also a road game against Arizona State. In conference, Wisconsin avoids Michigan and Michigan State, hosts Northwestern and travels to Ohio State.