If you are going to win the Big Ten, you either better be one of the best teams in the nation or have an incredibly favorable schedule.
And if you can do both, do both.
When it comes to these annual Big Ten ratings, the schedules are just one piece of the puzzle. In reality, however, a schedule is all four corner pieces of that puzzle.
The teams that have the easiest roads can get away with lacking some personnel. Those teams that have the toughest schedules, however, will eventually be exposed.
And even the most talented teams who have difficult schedules can’t always fight their way through week after week.
So who has the easiest roads this season? Let’s take a look.
[Note: There is a formula for how I have come up with these ratings. Every team is given a grade based on wins over the last two seasons, returning starters, etc, and then those grades are plugged into each team’s schedule and a number is spit out. The lower the number, the easier the schedule. The schedule ratings below are listed in order from easiest to most difficult.]
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (Score: 40.2)
Ohio State is generally going to have the easiest schedule in the Big Ten East because they don’t have to play Ohio State. No true road game in the non-conference also helps, though we will see how neutral JerryWorld is when the Buckeyes and TCU meet. Ohio State only plays one non-Power 5 team, and they are the only P5 team to open against three other P5 teams. Road games at Penn State and Michigan State are two of the most difficult places to play, but the Buckeyes do get Michigan and Rutgers at home.
2. Michigan State Spartans (40.4)
The Spartans have road games at Arizona State and Indiana in the first three weeks of the season, which is doable, but not simple. Crossover games include Northwestern at home and Nebraska on the road. They travel to Happy Valley, but get both Michigan and Ohio State at home. Michigan State will need to avoid the typical stumble against opponents like Purdue at home or Maryland on the road. The season opener against Utah State could be interesting, but it shouldn’t be.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions (41.5)
Penn State opens against Appalachian State, which is nostalgic, but not much else. Their West Division crossovers are Wisconsin and Iowa at home and Illinois on the road. Week two has them traveling to Pitt for a rivalry game, which will be fun to watch. The key to this entire schedule is the fact that PSU gets both Ohio State and Michigan State at home. They travel to Michigan the first weekend of November. The Wolverines will be coming in off of a bye. They close with a road game at Rutgers and home against Maryland.
4. Indiana Hoosiers (42.2)
The non-conference isn’t great, but the Hoosiers do open on the road at FIU. The next week they host Virginia, who should not come within two touchdowns of Indiana. Crossover games of Iowa and Purdue at home are winnable, but a Friday night game at Minnesota will be tricky. The Hoosiers only play four B1G games on the road this year — Minnesota, Rutgers, Ohio State, and Michigan. Two of those games aren’t usually winnable even for pretty good teams. Getting Penn State at home is a blessing, in theory.
5. Maryland Terrapins (42.7)
It is an odd non-conference slate for the Terps. They open with Texas at home, then travel to Wood County to face Bowling Green, then head back home to host Temple. Their crossover games are Minnesota and Illinois at home and Iowa on the road. If they can steal the game in Iowa, that would be significant. Road games at Michigan and Penn State mean that Maryland isn’t going undefeated this season. Home games against Michigan State and Ohio State will be tricky for both the Buckeyes and Spartans. A game in Bloomington won’t be easy.
6. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (43.2)
Rutgers opens with Texas State at home before a trip to Ohio State really wakes them up. They then travel to Kansas for some reason in week three. Following the trip to Lawrence, three winnable home games against Buffalo, Indiana, and Illinois could have Rutgers just a win or two away from bowl eligibility. The closing, however, is not going to be easy. They head to Maryland, then host Northwestern, then have a week off, then head to Madison before hosting Michigan and Penn State, then finish with a road trip to Penn State. Good luck, Knights.
7. Michigan Wolverines (44.5)
Michigan’s schedule starts with a bang on the road at Notre Dame. South Bend is the first of four tough venues (and Rutgers). The Wolverines also play at Northwestern (off of a bye), at Michigan State, and at Ohio State. These three games may keep Michigan from once again winning a division. Home games against Nebraska, Maryland, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Indiana give the Wolverines five non-patsies to deal with. The other two non-conference games are Western Michigan and SMU, which aren’t terrible, but should be problem free.
1. Iowa Hawkeyes (38.0)
Iowa’s three non-conference games are all home tilts against Northern Illinois, Iowa State, and Northern Iowa. Then business picks up with a home game against Wisconsin. If the Hawkeyes can beat the Badgers, then all bets are off in the West. Iowa plays five conference games on the road, and only one of them (Penn State) is probably unwinnable. The other four are Minnesota, Indiana, Purdue, and Illinois. Not murderer’s row. They also host Maryland, Northwestern, and Nebraska. Ten wins isn’t out of range as long as Iowa doesn’t beat themselves.
2. Illinois Fighting Illini (38.8)
Kent State and Western Illinois at home to open the season should give the Illini their win total from last season. The same thing happened last year before a 10-game losing streak. The question this year is if there is a sure-fire win somewhere else on the schedule, and the answer is a resounding no. They meet USF in week three in Chicago, then host Penn State on a Friday night. A bye week before a road game at Rutgers might give Illinois a chance. They host Purdue for homecoming, then travel to Wisconsin and Maryland, then home for Minnesota, off to Nebraska, home for Iowa, and the season finale at Northwestern.
3. Wisconsin Badgers (40.2)
A non-conference slate of Western Kentucky, New Mexico, and BYU is colorful, but not exciting. Big Ten season gets underway in week four at Iowa, which won’t be easy. The Badgers’ crossover games are ridiculous in a bad way with road games at Michigan and Penn State, and a home game against Rutgers. Wisconsin also plays Northwestern and Purdue on the road. Home games against Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota are manageable. The Badgers may have the most talent in the division, but the schedule could muck it all up.
4. Minnesota Golden Gophers (40.3)
I’m not really sure Minnesota’s schedule is more difficult than Wisconsin’s, but the science is never wrong. The Gophers host Mountain West foes New Mexico State and Fresno State to open the season. Miami (Ohio) is the week three game in Minneapolis. This could be a 3-0 start for Minnesota. Then they hit the road and head to Maryland and Ohio State. A home game at Iowa splits the two East Division road games. The last half of the schedule features road games at Nebraska, Illinois, and Wisconsin, with home games against Indiana, Purdue, and Northwestern.
5. Northwestern Wildcats (43.2)
The Wildcats open the season with a bang at Purdue on a Thursday. They then host Duke and Akron. An early-season trip up is the norm for Northwestern, so expect it here as well. After a bye week, they host Michigan in week five, then play at Michigan State, home with Nebraska, on the road at Rutgers, and then home again for Wisconsin. Notre Dame then comes to town, which is then followed by road games at Iowa and Minnesota. Illinois closes out the season in Evanston. There are no unwinnable road games here, which means every game can be won.
6. Purdue Boilermakers (43.6)
Hosting Northwestern on a Thursday to open the season is one hell of a tone setter. The entire non-conference schedule takes place in West Lafayette, as the Boilers host Eastern Michigan, Missouri, and Boston College. Road games at Nebraska and Illinois follow, and then Ohio State comes to town on October 20. After the Buckeyes, Purdue heads to Michigan State, then hosts Iowa, then is off to Minnesota. They close the season by hosting Wisconsin and traveling to Indiana for the Old Oaken Bucket.
7. Nebraska Cornhuskers (44.1)
Akron, Colorado, and Troy all come to Lincoln right in a row to start the season. Even starting a freshman quarterback, the Huskers could open 3-0. Good luck after that, however. The Nebraska schedule features road games at Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State, and Iowa. Expect them to be underdogs in each contest. Home games against Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan State make life a little easier, but don’t expect the Huskers to go 4-0 in those games. There is enough to be bowl eligible here, but likely not by much.