June 5, 2007

Teeth pulled from many Big Ten schedules

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At a Glance
A quick look at how Steve Megargee ranks the schedules in the Big Ten starting with the most difficult:
1. Michigan State 7. Penn State
2. Michigan 8. Minnesota
3. Purdue 9. Iowa
4. Illinois 10. Northwestern
5. Wisconsin 11. Indiana
6. Ohio State

Those glamorous intersectional matchups that made the Big Ten's non-conference games so appealing last season have disappeared from this year's schedules.

Ohio State won't be facing Texas this September. The Buckeyes instead open the season with probable victories against Youngstown State, Akron and Washington.

Rather than facing California on the second week of the season, Minnesota will play host to Miami University that's the one in Ohio.

Only three teams in the conference scheduled 12 Division I-A opponents, which is a troubling sign for a league that doesn't have a full round-robin schedule.

Michigan may have the most ambitious non-conference schedule with back-to-back games against Oregon and Notre Dame, but the Wolverines leave home just four times. Penn State, Michigan State and Purdue also face Notre Dame this year.

The biggest complaint about last year's Big Ten schedule the absence of an Ohio State-Wisconsin game won't be a worry this fall. Wisconsin travels to Columbus on Nov. 3.

The Big Ten schedule includes some memorable late-season games. The Wisconsin-Ohio State game, Michigan-Wisconsin skirmish and Ohio State-Michigan showdown occur in consecutive November weekends.

But will that late-season excitement compensate for all those early-season snoozers?

1. Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 UAB
Sept. 8 Bowling Green
Sept. 15 Pittsburgh
Sept. 22 at Notre Dame
Sept. 29 at Wisconsin
Oct. 6 Northwestern
Oct. 13 Indiana
Oct. 20 at Ohio State
Oct. 27 at Iowa
Nov. 3 Michigan
Nov. 10 at Purdue
Nov. 17 Penn State
Why: Michigan State doesn't have a Division I-AA foe on its schedule. Penn State and Iowa are the only other Big Ten teams that won't be playing any I-AA programs this fall. Michigan State's 12 opponents posted a .592 winning percentage, which is the highest among all Big Ten schedules. Michigan State faces all four of the top Big Ten programs Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State and also has a pair of tricky non-conference games at Notre Dame and at home against Pittsburgh. The Spartans face Notre Dame and Wisconsin on the road in back-to-back weeks in September. They also have a grueling five-game stretch against Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan, Purdue and Penn State to end the season.
Toughest game: Oct. 20 at Ohio State. We could have gone with the Sept. 29 game at Wisconsin, but the trip to Ohio State may prove tougher. Although Ohio State has an offense full of first-year starters, those underclassmen should have gained quite a bit of experience by the time the Spartans visit the Horseshoe on Oct. 20.
Cakewalk: Sept. 1 vs. UAB. This season-opening home game with a Conference USA visitor should allow Mark Dantonio to start his Michigan State tenure on a winning note. UAB returns only seven starters from a team that went 3-9 last season.
Trap game: Sept. 15 vs. Pittsburgh. This game could prove tricky if Michigan State is looking ahead to its visits to Notre Dame and Wisconsin the next two weeks.
Changes from last season: Wisconsin and Iowa replace Illinois and Minnesota on Michigan State's Big Ten schedule. The Spartans' first two games against UAB and Bowling Green might not seem like much of a challenge, but they're slightly tougher than the home games with Idaho and Eastern Michigan that started the 2006 season.
2. Michigan Wolverines
Michigan Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Appalachian State
Sept. 8 Oregon
Sept. 15 Notre Dame
Sept. 22 Penn State
Sept. 29 at Northwestern
Oct. 6 Eastern Michigan
Oct. 13 Purdue
Oct. 20 at Illinois
Oct. 27 Minnesota
Nov. 3 at Michigan State
Nov. 10 at Wisconsin
Nov. 17 Ohio State
Why: Michigan might have the toughest non-conference schedule of any Big Ten team with reigning I-AA national champion Appalachian State, Oregon, Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan all visiting the Big House. The Wolverines aren't in the top spot because they have eight home games and stay in Ann Arbor for six of the first seven weeks.
Toughest game: Nov. 10 at Wisconsin. Michigan's hopes of playing for the national title could come down to how they fare when they close the regular season with Wisconsin and Ohio State in back-to-back weeks. Since the Ohio State game is in Ann Arbor, we'll mark the trip to Wisconsin as the Wolverines' biggest challenge. The Wisconsin game marks the only time all year that Michigan goes on the road to face a team that had a winning record last season.
Cakewalk: Oct. 6 vs. Eastern Michigan. Who's the bigger pushover the reigning I-AA national champion or a Mid-American Conference team that went 1-11 last year? We think Eastern Michigan is less likely to put up a fight than Appalachian State, which could stay competitive for a quarter or two if it isn't intimidated by the Big House.
Trap game: Nov. 3 at Michigan State. Michigan has the misfortune of facing its in-state rival on the road the week before those back-to-back games with Wisconsin and Ohio State. That type of scheduling certainly provides the opportunity for an upset.
Changes from last season: Michigan should benefit from playing Notre Dame at home instead of on the road, but the addition of Oregon to the schedule gives the Wolverines two dangerous non-conference games. Purdue and Illinois replace Iowa and Indiana on Michigan's Big Ten schedule.
3. Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 at Toledo
Sept. 8 Eastern Illinois
Sept. 15 Central Michigan
Sept. 22 at Minnesota
Sept. 29 Notre Dame
Oct. 6 Ohio State
Oct. 13 at Michigan
Oct. 20 Iowa
Oct. 27 Northwestern
Nov. 3 at Penn State
Nov. 10 Michigan State
Nov. 17 at Indiana
Why: Purdue has a I-AA foe on its schedule (Eastern Illinois) and gets to avoid Wisconsin, but the Boilermakers' I-A opponents posted an impressive combined record of 82-58 last season. Purdue also has a grueling stretch from mid-September to mid-October when it plays six 2006 bowl teams in a row, including games with Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan in consecutive weeks.
Toughest game: Oct. 13 at Michigan. As if heading to Ann Arbor isn't already tough enough, the Boilermakers have to make the journey one week after facing Ohio State. If they lose both games, this veteran team will fall out of Big Ten title contention by midseason.
Cakewalk: Sept. 8 vs. Eastern Illinois. This I-AA foe lost 42-17 to Illinois in its only game against a Big Ten opponent last year. The Panthers don't figure to be more competitive against Purdue.
Trap game: Sept. 1 at Toledo. Purdue opens the season by going on the road to face a hungry Toledo team that returns eight starters on offense and eight more on defense. The Rockets are eager to make a statement after suffering their first losing season since 1993 last year. The Boilermakers face another tough non-conference test when they play host to Motor City Bowl champion Central Michigan the week before they open their Big Ten schedule.
Changes from last season: The changes in the Big Ten schedule hurt Purdue more than anyone else in the conference. The Boilermakers have to face Michigan and Ohio State after dodging both Big Ten heavyweights last year. The Wolverines and Buckeyes replace Wisconsin and Illinois on the schedule. After struggling last year to beat Miami (Ohio) and Ball State two Mid-American Conference teams that went a combined 7-17 last year Purdue again faces a pair of MAC foes in Toledo and defending league champion Central Michigan.
4. Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 vs. Missouri (in St. Louis)
Sept. 8 Western Illinois
Sept. 15 at Syracuse
Sept. 22 at Indiana
Sept. 29 Penn State
Oct. 6 Wisconsin
Oct. 13 at Iowa
Oct. 20 Michigan
Oct. 27 Ball State
Nov. 3 at Minnesota
Nov. 10 at Ohio State
Nov. 17 Northwestern
Why: Illinois faces all four of the strongest Big Ten teams (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State). A non-conference schedule that includes trips to Syracuse and a game with Missouri at St. Louis also could prove challenging. The 11 Division I-A foes on Illinois' schedule went a combined 82-57 last year. The good news for the Illini is that Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan all have to come to Illinois.
Toughest game: Nov. 10 at Ohio State: Illinois gave Ohio State all it could handle before falling 17-10 last year, so the Illini can't expect the Buckeyes to be looking ahead to a showdown with Michigan the following week.
Cakewalk: Sept. 8 vs. Western Illinois: This matchup with a Division I-AA team that went 5-6 last year is perhaps the only certain win on Illinois' schedule.
Trap game: Oct. 27 vs. Ball State: The return of Nate Davis could make Ball State one of the most improved teams in the Mid-American Conference next year. Illinois faces the Redbirds for homecoming right before back-to-back road games with Minnesota and Ohio State, so the Illini can't afford a letdown.
Changes from last season: Illinois' Big Ten schedule got harder when Michigan and Minnesota replaced Purdue and Michigan State on the Illini's list of conference opponents. Illinois doesn't have to face Rutgers after losing to the Scarlet Knights 33-0 last year, but facing Missouri in St. Louis is no picnic.
5. Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Washington State
Sept. 8 at UNLV
Sept. 15 The Citadel
Sept. 22 Iowa
Sept. 29 Michigan State
Oct. 6 at Illinois
Oct. 13 at Penn State
Oct. 20 Northern Illinois
Oct. 27 Indiana
Nov. 3 at Ohio State
Nov. 10 Michigan
Nov. 17 at Minnesota
Why: Wisconsin won't face a team that had a winning season last year until its Oct. 13 trip to Penn State. Things get much tougher in the second half of the season, as the Badgers have to face Ohio State and Michigan on back-to-back weeks.
Toughest game: Nov. 3 at Ohio State. Last year, Wisconsin's critics pointed out that the Badgers benefited from a schedule that didn't include a game with Ohio State. That won't be the case this year. Wisconsin has won each of its last three games at Ohio State.
Cakewalk: Sept. 15 vs. The Citadel. This Division I-AA team's 5-6 season last year included a 35-3 loss to Texas A&M and a 51-6 setback against Pittsburgh.
Trap game: Nov. 17 at Minnesota. After playing two huge games against Ohio State and Michigan on back-to-back weeks, the Badgers close the regular season with this road game. You have to wonder how much Wisconsin will have left for the Gophers.
Changes from last season: All four of Wisconsin's non-conference games last year were at home against non-BCS teams. This season the Badgers play host to Washington State and travel to UNLV in the first two weeks. Ohio State and Michigan State replace Purdue and Northwestern on Wisconsin's Big Ten schedule.
6. Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Youngstown State
Sept. 8 Akron
Sept. 15 at Washington
Sept. 22 Northwestern
Sept. 29 at Minnesota
Oct. 6 at Purdue
Oct. 13 Kent State
Oct. 20 Michigan State
Oct. 27 at Penn State
Nov. 3 Wisconsin
Nov. 10 Illinois
Nov. 17 Michigan
Why: You can make a pretty convincing argument that Ohio State might be favored by at least 10 points in every game it plays until its Oct. 27 trip to Penn State. The Buckeyes have clear sailing until they face Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan in the final four weeks of the season.
Toughest game:: Nov. 17 at Michigan. Ohio State has beaten its rival three consecutive times, but this could be the year the Wolverines end the streak. Michigan has much more experience on offense as well as the home-field advantage. The Buckeyes will have to hope their own young offense has matured by that point in the season.
Cakewalk:: Sept. 1 vs. Youngstown State. Jim Tressel might not coach at Youngstown State anymore, but his current team should provide quite a clinic to this Division I-AA foe in the season opener for both schools.
Trap game:: Sept. 15 at Washington. Washington lost each of its final three home games last year, so perhaps the Huskies' home-field advantage isn't as strong as it was in the program's glory days. But after the Buckeyes open the season with one-sided victories over Youngstown State and Akron, this road trip should provide the first indication of whether this young offense can meet OSU fans' lofty standards.
Changes from last season:: Ohio State opened its 2006 schedule with non-conference games against three teams that went on to play in bowls, including a road game with 2005 national champion Texas. Youngstown State, Akron and Washington probably won't provide nearly as much of a test. Wisconsin and Purdue replace Indiana and Iowa on Ohio State's Big Ten schedule.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Florida International
Sept. 8 Notre Dame
Sept. 15 Buffalo
Sept. 22 at Michigan
Sept. 29 at Illinois
Oct. 6 Iowa
Oct. 13 Wisconsin
Oct. 20 at Indiana
Oct. 27 Ohio State
Nov. 3 Purdue
Nov. 10 at Temple
Nov. 17 at Michigan State
Why: Notre Dame comes to Happy Valley on Sept. 8, but Penn State's other three non-conference games (Florida International, Buffalo and Temple) are likely blowouts. Penn State does have to face the "big three" of Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin, but two of those games are at home.
Toughest game: Sept. 22 at Michigan. Penn State has lost to Michigan eight consecutive times. The last time Penn State visited the Big House, Mario Manningham caught a touchdown pass as time expired to hand the Nittany Lions their only loss of the 2005 season.
Cakewalk: Nov. 10 vs. Temple at Lincoln Financial Field. Frankly, every non-conference game other than the matchup with Notre Dame belongs in this category. Florida International, Buffalo and Temple went a combined 3-33 last season. Florida International at least stayed competitive in most of its early season games last year, and Buffalo beat Temple in overtime in 2006. Because of that, we'll mark the Temple game down as the easiest of them all.
Trap game: Oct. 20 at Indiana. This is a classic sandwich game. The Nittany Lions head to Bloomington one week after a home game with Wisconsin and one week before they play host to Ohio State. Penn State can't afford to get caught reminiscing or looking ahead to the Buckeyes.
Changes from last season: Having Notre Dame at home instead of on the road makes the non-conference schedule easier. Iowa and Indiana replace Minnesota and Northwestern on Penn State's Big Ten schedule.
8. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota Schedule
Date Opponent
Aug. 30 Bowling Green
Sept. 8 Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 15 at Florida Atlantic
Sept. 22 Purdue
Sept. 29 Ohio State
Oct. 6 at Indiana
Oct. 13 at Northwestern
Oct. 20 North Dakota State
Oct. 27 at Michigan
Nov. 3 Illinois
Nov. 10 at Iowa
Nov. 17 Wisconsin
Why: Minnesota doesn't have a non-conference game against a team from a BCS conference. The Gophers' three Division I-A non-conference foes posted a combined record of 11-25 last year. Nearly all the Gophers' toughest opponents have to face them at the Metrodome.
Toughest game: Oct. 27 at Michigan. This game marks the only time all season that Minnesota will go on the road to face a team that had a winning record last year.
Cakewalk: Sept. 8 vs. Miami (Ohio). We can't call the Oct. 20 game against North Dakota State a cakewalk when Minnesota beat that Division I-AA team only 10-9 last year. Miami only went 2-10 last year and lost 21-3 at home to Northwestern, but we may be a bit presumptuous calling this a cakewalk. Five of Miami's losses last year were decided by seven or fewer points.
Trap game: Sept. 15 at Florida Atlantic. We don't think Minnesota is in any real danger of losing this game, but it is the only time the Gophers will go on the road in the first five weeks of the season. That factor alone could make this game surprisingly close.
Changes from last season: Minnesota doesn't have any non-conference opponents anywhere near as tough as California, which handed the Gophers a 42-17 drubbing last year. Illinois and Northwestern replace Michigan State and Penn State on Minnesota's Big Ten schedule.
9. Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 vs. N. Illinois
(at Chicago)
Sept. 8 Syracuse
Sept. 15 at Iowa State
Sept. 22 at Wisconsin
Sept. 29 Indiana
Oct. 6 at Penn State
Oct. 13 Illinois
Oct. 20 at Purdue
Oct. 27 Michigan State
Nov. 3 at Northwestern
Nov. 10 Minnesota
Nov. 17 Western Michigan
Why: Iowa's non-conference schedule (Northern Illinois and Western Michigan at home, Syracuse and Iowa State on the road) actually ranks among the toughest in the Big Ten, but we can't ignore the fact that the Hawkeyes avoid Michigan and Ohio State this year.
Toughest game: Sept. 22 at Wisconsin. Penn State is the only other Iowa opponent that finished the 2006 season in the Top 25.
Cakewalk: Sept. 8 vs. Syracuse. There are no Division I-AA foes or guaranteed wins on Iowa's schedule. Syracuse forced Iowa into overtime last year, but that was at the Carrier Dome and the Hawkeyes were missing their starting quarterback. Iowa should have a much easier time beating the Orange at home.
Trap game: Nov. 3 at Northwestern. Iowa's schedule offers hope for a late-season surge because three of its last four games are at home. The lone exception is this trip to Northwestern, which has beaten the Hawkeyes each of the last two years.
Changes from last season: Iowa gets a huge break from the changes in its Big Ten schedule. Penn State and Michigan State replaced Michigan and Ohio State on the Hawkeyes' list of conference foes. The only change on Iowa's non-conference schedule is that the Hawkeyes will face Western Michigan instead of Montana.
10. Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Northeastern
Sept. 8 Nevada
Sept. 15 Duke
Sept. 22 at Ohio State
Sept. 29 Michigan
Oct. 6 at Michigan State
Oct. 13 Minnesota
Oct. 19 vs. E. Michigan
(at Detroit)
Oct. 27 at Purdue
Nov. 3 Iowa
Nov. 10 Indiana
Nov. 17 at Illinois
Why: Northwestern's four non-conference foes went a combined 14-34 last year. The Wildcats face only four teams that posted winning records last season. Northwestern's Big Ten schedule allows the Wildcats to avoid Wisconsin and Penn State.
Toughest game: Sept. 22 at Ohio State. We're guessing Northwestern's first three games of the season against Northeastern, Nevada and Duke won't adequately prepare the Wildcats for this Big Ten opener.
Cakewalk: Sept. 1 vs. Northeastern. You can argue that no game with a I-AA opponent is a cakewalk after Northwestern lost 34-17 to New Hampshire last season, but the Wildcats shouldn't have too much trouble winning this season opener. Northeastern went 5-6 last year and lost 38-0 to Virginia Tech in its only game against a I-A opponent.
Trap game: Oct. 19 vs. Eastern Michigan at Detroit. Northwestern clearly has more talent than Eastern Michigan, a Mid-American Conference team that went 1-11 last year. But the Wildcats could have a letdown because this game is scheduled between encounters with Big Ten foes Minnesota and Purdue.
Changes from last season: Northwestern's non-conference schedule is similar to last year's slate, though the Wildcats benefit from having Nevada at home this year. Indiana and Minnesota replace Wisconsin and Penn State on Northwestern's Big Ten schedule.
11. Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Indiana State
Sept. 8 at Western Michigan
Sept. 15 Akron
Sept. 22 Illinois
Sept. 29 at Iowa
Oct. 6 Minnesota
Oct. 13 Aat Michigan State
Oct. 20 Penn State
Oct. 27 at Wisconsin
Nov. 3 Ball State
Nov. 10 at Northwestern
Nov. 17 Purdue
Why: This is the type of schedule that could help Indiana finish .500 and earn its first bowl bid since 1993. Indiana avoids Ohio State and Michigan while playing a schedule that includes only four teams that posted winning records last year. Indiana doesn't have a non-conference game against a BCS school.
Toughest game: Oct. 27 at Wisconsin. The Badgers buried Indiana 52-17 at Bloomington last season. The Hoosiers need to do a better job of slowing down P.J. Hill, who rushed for three touchdowns against them a year ago.
Cakewalk: Sept. 1 vs. Indiana State. The Sycamores are a Division I-AA team that went 1-10 last season.
Trap game: Sept. 8 at Western Michigan. The Broncos went 8-5 and reached the International Bowl last year after losing at Indiana in their season opener. This time the Hoosiers have to make the trip to Kalamazoo. This game could end up determining whether Indiana becomes bowl eligible.
Changes from last season: The big difference is the Hoosiers will face Penn State and Northwestern instead of Ohio State and Michigan. Indiana State and Akron replace Southern Illinois and Connecticut as non-conference opponents. Mid-American Conference programs Western Michigan and Ball State return to the schedule after losing to Indiana last season.

More: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | SEC | Pac-10 | Non-BCS I | Non-BCS II | Ultimate Road Trip

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.




 

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