Dienhart: Your Big Ten football team's toughest 2016 stretch

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: Your Big Ten football team's toughest 2016 stretch

B1G PRESSER - Nebraska WR Jordan Westerkamp discusses the team's talented receiving corps.

Every coach looks at a schedule, scanning the list of games. Which ones figure to be tough ones? Even more vital: Which stretch of games figures to be the most daunting, a potential make-or-break run of contests?

[ MORE: Best chance to pull upset | Best chance to be upset | Toughest non-conference games | Toughest conference game ]

I have identified the toughest stretch of games on each Big Ten schedule.

Illinois. The last four games are daunting. The season-ending run begins with a visit from Michigan State on Nov. 5 followed by a trip to Wisconsin, a visit from Iowa and game at Northwestern. The Illini have one win vs. MSU since 1995 (1-12); one victory vs. Wisconsin since 2003 (1-10); one triumph vs. Iowa since 2003 (1-7); and just four wins vs. Northwestern since 2003 (4-9).

Indiana. Check out IU’s first three Big Ten games beginning Oct. 1: Michigan State, at Ohio State and Nebraska. That, or Rutgers’ start (vs. Iowa; at Ohio State; vs. Michigan), is the most difficult open to Big Ten play. MSU has won seven in a row and 15 of 17 from the Hoosiers. The Buckeyes have lost to the Hoosiers just two times since 1951. This will be the first time Indiana plays Nebraska as a Big Ten team. The schools last met in 1978, with the Cornhuskers taking a 69-17 decision.

Iowa. The Hawkeyes will be pushed by a three-game stretch that begins with a visit from Wisconsin on Oct. 22, is followed by a needed off week, picks up with a trip to Penn State and ends with a visit from Michigan. Iowa hasn’t played Penn State since 2012 and has lost the last two meetings after winning three in a row. The Hawkeyes are 3-5 in their last eight vs. Wisconsin but won last year in Madison to end a three-game slide vs. the Badgers. Iowa has four of the last five vs. the Wolverines, including three in a row in Kinnick.

Maryland. The first three games of November will go a long way in shaping the tale of this season. It begins with a game on Nov. 5 at Michigan and is followed by a visit from Ohio State and a game at Nebraska. The Buckeyes are 2-0 all-time vs. Maryland, outscoring the Terps, 101-52, the last two seasons. This will be the Terrapins’ first game ever vs. the Cornhuskers.

Michigan. The last five games of the season will be challenging, beginning with an Oct. 29 game at Michigan State. The run also includes games at Iowa and at Ohio State. In between those three tilts are home games vs. Maryland and Indiana, which lost 48-41 in double OT to Michigan last season. The Spartans are 7-1 in the last eight games vs. Michigan, which hasn’t won in East Lansing since 2007. Iowa has won four of the last five vs. the Wolverines, including three in a row in Kinnick.

Michigan State. It comes early in the season. After opening with Furman, the Spartans play at Notre Dame on Sept. 17, welcome Wisconsin, go to Indiana and play host to BYU and Northwestern. MSU hasn’t played the Badgers since 2012 but has won three of the last four. Yes, the Spartans have won seven in a row and 15 of 17 from Indiana, but going to IU is never easy. This will be the first time Michigan State plays BYU. Northwestern is coming off a 10-win season and won the last time it came to East Lansing in 2012.

Minnesota. It comes early. The Gophers will be tested, beginning with a visit from Colorado State on Sept. 24 followed by a trip to Penn State and game vs. Iowa. The Golden Gophers need to find a way to go 2-1 over this key early three-game stretch to gain some momentum.

Nebraska. The back-to-back games at Wisconsin on Oct. 29 and at Ohio State on Nov. 5 will be brutal. And that’s followed by a visit from always pesky Minnesota. The Cornhuskers have lost the last three vs. the Badgers, including three in a row in Madison. NU is 1-4 vs. UW as a Big Ten member. Nebraska won in Minnesota last year. But before that, the Golden Gophers won two in a row vs. the Huskers.

Northwestern. The Big Ten season opens with a bang, as Nebraska comes to Evanston on Sept. 24 followed by a trip to Iowa and then a game at Michigan State. The Nebraska vs. NU series has been one of the Big Ten’s best of late. Since joining the Big Ten, the Cornhuskers are 3-2 vs. the Wildcats, losing last year in Lincoln. The games have been fun, with Northwestern stunning Nebraska in Lincoln in 2011 with a backup QB. The Huskers won by a point the next year and then needed a Hail Mary to win in 2013. The Wildcats have lost three in a row to Iowa including the last three in Kinnick; NU last won in Iowa City in 2009. Northwestern is 1-5 in its last six vs. the Spartans, but the Wildcats won the last time they were in East Lansing (2012).

Ohio State. November will be a challenge. The month opens with a visit from Nebraska. And it ends with a game at Michigan State and vs. Michigan. The Cornhuskers haven’t played the Buckeyes since 2012, with OSU taking a 63-38 win in Columbus. NU won the other meeting vs. Ohio State as a Big Ten school, taking a 34-27 decision in 2011 in Lincoln. Urban Meyer is 2-2 vs. Michigan State. The Wolverines are aching to knock off Ohio State and flip the script in this rivalry that has favored the Buckeyes in recent years.

Penn State. Things get tough early, as Penn State goes to Pitt on Sept. 10, plays host to Temple on Sept. 17 and travels to Michigan on Sept. 24. That three-game run will tell us a lot about James Franklin’s third squad. Pitt and Penn State will play for the first time in 16 years. Last season, the Owls dumped Penn State, 27-10, to end a 39-game winless streak in the series that dated to 1941. Penn State has lost its last two vs. Michigan, last winning in Ann Arbor in 2009.

Purdue. There is a three-game stretch in October that looks rugged, beginning with an Oct. 15 visit from Iowa. That is followed by a trip to Nebraska and a visit from Penn State. The Boilers are 2-8 in their last 10 vs. the Hawkeyes, who last lost in WL in 2007. The Cornhuskers will be thinking revenge when Purdue arrives in Lincoln, as Nebraska suffered one of its most humiliating losses ever last year in falling 55-45 in West Lafayette. Since joining the Big Ten in 1993, Penn State is 13-2 vs. Purdue, winning seven in a row.

Rutgers. The start of Big Ten season will be daunting. Rutgers opens at home on Sept. 24 vs. Iowa, then travels to Ohio State before coming home to take on Michigan. Can the Scarlet Knights win any of those games?

Wisconsin. This is a doozy of a six-game run. In fact, it’s the most daunting stretch for any Big Ten squad in 2016. The league schedule opens on Sept. 24 with a game at Michigan State. That is followed by a trip to Michigan. UW is off the next week before welcoming Ohio State, going to Iowa, playing host to Nebraska and going to Northwestern. That’s six games vs. teams with a combined 62-18 (.775) record in 2015. Rough, right? Right.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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