If a team is going to win the Big Ten, they better have a schedule conducive to doing so. Too many road games against top-level opponents, and you can kiss your trophy-hoisting dreams goodbye.
That’s why I’ve always included the schedule when I do my Big Ten ratings. It is given equal weight with every other position rating, and finishing with the hardest schedule can rightfully ding a contender out of contendership.
In case you think the ratings are just my willy-nilly thoughts, I want to reassure you that I have created a formula that gives every opponent a weight and coordinating score for that weight. The formula, however, is a bit willy nilly. I can’t go into the formula because I did this part a couple of months ago and have forgotten. Don’t worry, though, this is still totally legit. The scores are tabulated for each schedule, which then gives me the easiest and hardest schedules. The easiest schedules will be ranked first.
Big Ten West
Wisconsin’s non-conference schedule consists of Utah State, Florida Atlantic, and a trip to BYU. There is no Ohio State or Penn State and they get to host Michigan. Northwestern and Iowa both come to Wisconsin. The Badgers’ toughest road test is at Nebraska. They could be favored in every game this year.
Having an easy schedule when you’re a bad team is like having a dune buggy on a shrimp boat. It’s cool, but you still can’t go very far. Road games at USF, Iowa, Minnesota, and Ohio State are sure losses. A game in West Lafayette might be a toss up. Getting Northwestern, Nebraska, and Wisconsin at home is a plus.
Northwestern’s non-conference schedule is Nevada, on the road at Duke, and home against Bowling Green. The toughest road games are Wisconsin and Nebraska, but don’t be surprised when they trip up at Maryland. Home games against Penn State, Iowa, and Michigan State are all winnable.
Based on what we saw from Oregon State this weekend, the Gophers could start out 3-0 with non-conference games against Buffalo, (at) Oregon State, and Middle Tennessee. Road games at Iowa, Michigan, and Northwestern are difficult. Home games against Wisconsin and Nebraska in the final leg will determine their season.
The Boilers open against Louisville, Ohio, at Missouri, and then home versus Michigan, which is one helluva welcome to Big Ten football for new head coach Jeff Brohm. It doesn’t get much easier after that with road games at Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Iowa. Hell, the game at Rutgers between Wisconsin and Nebraska might be too much for them.
Iowa opens with a home game against Wyoming, which features a top NFL quarterback prospect in Josh Allen. The Hawkeyes get arguably the two best teams in the East — Ohio State and Penn State — to come to Iowa City. It’s not an ideal crossover, but it’s the ideal situation for that crossover. They could lose any of their five road games (Iowa State, Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Nebraska).
The Huskers have the most difficult schedule in the West. Like Iowa, they get both of Ohio State and Penn State, but they have to travel to State College for the Nittany Lions. A trip to Oregon in week two is interesting as well. It is not an overly difficult schedule, as it would rank sixth in the Big Ten East.
Big Ten East
1. Penn State
Despite road trips to Northwestern and Iowa, my unpatented strength-of-schedule formula still has Penn State with the easiest schedule in the east. Playing Akron and Georgia State helps with that. Getting Nebraska and Michigan at home helps as well. A road game at Ohio State is likely the only game they won’t be favored in this year.
2. Ohio State
Only six other Big Ten East opponents are rated easier than Army and UNLV, who appear on Ohio State’s schedule in weeks three and four. Road games at Iowa, Nebraska, and Michigan won’t be easy, and neither will be a home game against Penn State. What actually makes Ohio State’s schedule easier than most everyone else’s is that they don’t have to play Ohio State.
3. Michigan State
Michigan State opens with Bowling Green and Western Michigan, then takes a week off before playing Notre Dame. Road games at Michigan and Ohio State this year make life impossible, and trips to Minnesota and Northwestern aren’t much better for this team. Getting Penn State at home could be trouble for the Nittany Lions though.
Maryland has road games against Texas, Ohio State, and Wisconsin on the schedule, so kudos to them. Playing Rutgers in the Bronx is interesting. Can they win one of their two home games against Penn State and Michigan? Getting Northwestern at home is an interesting matchup as well. Non-conference matchups against Towson and UCF won’t do much for schedule strength if they’re in the playoff hunt.
The Hoosiers open with Ohio State at home and then Virginia on the road, followed by home games against FIU and Georgia Southern. They sandwich an off week between a road trip to Penn State and a home game against Michigan. Every other road trip is actually winnable, which is saying something. Getting Michigan and Wisconsin at home, however, may not be.
Rutgers opens with Washington at home on a Friday, which is a pretty cool game, even if it gets ugly. Road trips to Nebraska, Michigan, and Penn State mean that Rutgers can only go 9-3 at best this year. They follow up the trip to Nebraska with a home game against Ohio State, which isn’t ideal. Eastern Michigan and Morgan State round out their non-conference slate.
Michigan opens with Florida at Jerry World, which is one of the biggest games of the opening weekend. Home games against Cincinnati and Air Force won’t be simple, but they are quite manageable. The Wolverines get their three rivals at home, as Michigan State, Rutgers, and Ohio State all have to come to town. Road trips to Indiana, Penn State, Maryland, and Wisconsin could prove treacherous.