The Big Ten has embraced a nine-game league schedule for this season, joining the Big 12 and Pac-12 as Power Five leagues that are committed to guaranteeing nine games against well-funded competition. And most Big Ten teams will face 10 Power Five squads.
But this year’s annual ranking of the league’s nonconference otherwise finds a power outage. Outside of a few marquee foes — and by few, I mean roughly six — it’s a fairly ugly slate. No Big Ten team should have more than one loss out of its three games, and despite a commitment by the Big Ten to stop scheduling FCS squads, they’re still all over the schedule.
How bad is this slate? A matchup between North Dakota State and Iowa is among the top 10 most intriguing games.
That shouldn’t happen.
Not that it’s too surprising, given there are fewer nonconference games overall. By the numbers, here’s how it breaks down:
» Twelve games against Power Five foes — we’re including Notre Dame, but not BYU — with eight of those coming against the Pac-12 and ACC (four games each). The lone SEC team out of 42 games is LSU, which will play Wisconsin at the Packers’ Lambeau Field.
» Eight games against FCS foes — including two embarrassing games against MEAC doormat Howard.
» Seven true road games, all among Big Ten East teams, since the Big Ten West teams have five league road games. Three of those games are mid-major programs, including two games at Florida International, of all places. Indiana and Maryland clearly like recruiting in Florida.
» Seven games against the MAC and a surprising six against the Mountain West. Nebraska, which is finishing out three-game contracts against Fresno State and Wyoming, accounts for two of the games vs. the Mountain West. In upcoming years, Nebraska has four MAC teams — Northern Illinois, Akron, Central Michigan, Buffalo — scheduled.
» Sept. 17 is the weekend to watch. That’s the best day — by far — for Big Ten nonconference games. Seven of my top 10 games are played that day. As a result, the Big Ten Network enjoys a big day of programming — Temple at Penn State, Colorado at Michigan and Duke at Northwestern.
1. Ohio State at Oklahoma
The marquee game of the Big Ten nonconference slate. OU is a top Playoff contender, but the last time they met, in the 2009 BCS national championship, coach Urban Meyer (with Florida) outfoxed OU’s Bob Stoops pretty well. The Sooners will have an experience advantage, but they haven’t always been great on the big stage recently.
2. Oregon at Nebraska
A classic intersectional matchup. Vibrant uniforms. Packed house. Afternoon kickoff. It feels like 20 years ago, and that’s a good thing.
3. LSU vs. Wisconsin
(at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin)
What looked to be a really fun game before the year seems like a chance for the Badgers to fall on their face, now that defensive coordinator Dave Aranda moved from UW to LSU. Who would know Wisconsin better than Aranda?
4. Penn State at Pittsburgh
It’s about time this game was back on the schedule. They hadn’t played since 2000. PSU leads the series 50-42-4. Welcome back.
5. Michigan State at Notre Dame
The Big Ten won’t quit the Irish, will it? The Fighting Irish have an outside shot at the College Football Playoff; the Spartans probably don’t.
6. Colorado at Michigan
Better game than you think. CU’s perhaps a year away from bowl eligibility, but the Buffaloes should field their best team since 2008.
7. North Carolina at Illinois
Lovie Smith’s Cover 2 defense may have some trouble defending UNC’s fast-paced, no-huddle offense.
8. Duke at Northwestern
Two great coaching staffs. One ugly matchup in 2015, which Northwestern won. Here’s a prettier game in 2016.
9. Oregon State at Minnesota
Early must-win for Tracy Claeys. The Beavers are in the midst of a long transition from Mike Riley to Gary Andersen, and they won’t have the talent to win this one unless Minnesota is off its game.
10. North Dakota State at Iowa
The Hawkeyes against the five-time defending FCS champs, quarterbacked by Creighton Prep graduate Easton Stick. I’d suggest Nebraska fans wear green and gold that day, but Oregon’s coming to town.
11. Temple at Penn State
The Owls thumped the Nittany Lions 27-10 last year and would like to do it again. I see it happening. PSU coach James Franklin goes on the hot seat after it happens, too.
12. Iowa State at Iowa
As he was fired, former ISU coach Paul Rhoads was confident the Cyclones were close. New coach Matt Campbell will try to put a Cy-Hawk Trophy on his wall early.
13. BYU at Michigan State
Taysom Hill and his oft-injured body return for another season of football. By Oct. 8, when the Cougars visit East Lansing, he may be hurt again.
14. Rutgers at Washington
The Huskies are going to be very good in 2016 — perhaps the Pac-12 favorites. This one could get ugly, much like Washington’s two recent meetings with Illinois.
15. Western Michigan at Northwestern
The Broncos and coach P.J. Fleck are the MAC favorites, and they’ll give the Wildcats everything they want in a game. Northwestern won’t be sneaking up on anyone this season.
16. Bowling Green at Ohio State
Tough little season opener for the Buckeyes. OSU coach Meyer got his head coaching start at Bowling Green.
17. Western Michigan at Illinois
WMU will jolt Illinois in an upset. Illini fans may ask why their school didn’t hire Western Michigan’s Fleck.
18. Central Florida at Michigan
This one might leave a mark on new coach Scott Frost’s chin.
19. Hawaii at Michigan
This is a noon kickoff in Ann Arbor. That’s 6 a.m. Hawaii time. Can you say body clock?
20. Tulsa at Ohio State
The Buckeyes’ defense won’t look too good after this game. Tulsa’s offense never lacks for explosiveness.
21. Maryland at Central Florida
A battle of new coaches, Maryland’s D.J. Durkin and UCF’s Frost. The teams are, for one year, roughly equal in talent.
22. Wake Forest at Indiana
The Deacs can play some D. Too bad they gained just 334 yards per game last season.
23. Wyoming at Nebraska
Mini-trap game for the Huskers. Early kickoff, major motivation from Cowboy coach and former Husker Craig Bohl. Watch this one.
24. Colorado State at Minnesota
Tight game in Fort Collins last season; CSU could steal one from the Gophers this time.
25. New Mexico at Rutgers
Bob Davie, who once allegedly had his cable installed in Lincoln, heads into his fifth year leading the Lobos.
26. Indiana at Florida International
The Hoosiers open their season with a Thursday night trap game at a middling foe. Good move there.
27. Maryland at Florida International
I’m beginning to think the Terps like playing in Florida.
28. Fresno State at Nebraska
As hot as it’ll be at the Sept. 3 kickoff, trust me — trust me! — it’ll never be as cracklin’ fire hot as it was in Fresno. Never again!
29. Cincinnati at Purdue
It ain’t basketball.
30. Nevada at Purdue
How does it even occur to Purdue to schedule this team? Was Utah State unavailable?
31. Ball State at Indiana
The only reason Ball State isn’t the worst team in the MAC West is that Eastern Michigan chooses to play football.
32. Kent State at Penn State
With bated breath, I await this season opener. A 21-7 special.
33. Miami (Ohio) at Iowa
Since 2001, the Hawkeyes have either opened their season with an FCS or MAC foe. The streak continues!
34. Akron at Wisconsin
My favorite “Akron plays the Big Ten” score was a 20-2 loss to Ohio State in 2007.
35. Georgia State at Wisconsin
I can just see GSU’s defensive line trying to hold up against Badger beef. Not likely.
36. Illinois State at Northwestern
The FCS Redbirds peaked in 2014 and 2015, and slide back in 2016.
37. Furman at Michigan State
The Paladins are one of the great mascots in sport. Their team, alas, is no longer an FCS power.
38. Indiana State at Minnesota
Missouri Valley foe. Indiana State switching it up a bit and not playing Purdue.
39. Murray State at Illinois
It ain’t basketball, Part 2. The Racers’ football team finished 3-8 last year. An FCS feast for the Illini in the season opener.
40. Eastern Kentucky at Purdue
EKU took Kentucky to overtime last year, so, naturally Purdue should be on upset alert. Nebraska lost to Purdue last year. Can you believe that?
41. Howard at Maryland
An abomination. Howard finished 1-10 in FCS and lost 76-0 to Boston College.
42. Howard at Rutgers
An abomination, especially after Howard loses 76-0 to Maryland.
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