Dienhart: Toughest stretch in each Big Ten schedule

Dienhart: Toughest stretch in each Big Ten schedule

A tough stretch of games can make or break a team’s season. And Ohio State has one of the most challenging in the Big Ten, as the Buckeyes have a rugged three-game run from Oct. 14-Nov. 4 when they play at Nebraska, vs. Penn State and at Iowa.

Here is a look at the “toughest stretch” of each Big Ten team’s schedule.

Illinois: at USF; vs. Nebraska; at Iowa (Sept. 15-Oct. 7). USF is a likely Top 25 squad coming off an 11-2 season that has a top signal-caller in Quinton Flowers, a monster dual-threat who will pose a big challenge for the Fighting Illini. No doubt, the Cornhuskers will want revenge after losing in Champaign the last time they visited in 2015, as Illinois scored 14 fourth quarter points to take a 14-13 decision. The Hawkeyes are 8-1 in their last nine vs. the Illini. Illinois last won in Iowa City in 1999 when Ron Turner was coach.

Indiana: at Penn State; vs. Michigan; at Michigan State; at Maryland; vs. Wisconsin (Sept. 30-Nov. 4). Can Indiana win any of these five games? If IU can go 2-3 in that stretch, it would be a success. The Hoosiers are 1-19 all-time vs. Penn State; the lone victory came in 2013. IU is 9-56 vs. Michigan, losing 21 in a row. The last IU win? It was in 1987. Indiana toppled Michigan State last season, taking a 24-21 decision in Bloomington to claim the Old Brass Spittoon for the first time since 2006.The Hoosiers are 2-1 vs. Maryland since the Terps joined the Big Ten, winning the last two. IU has lost nine in a row to Wisconsin.

Iowa: at Northwestern; vs. Minnesota; vs. Ohio State; at Wisconsin (Oct. 21-Nov. 11). Iowa has won four of the last six vs. the Wildcats, who may be the Big Ten West favorite. The Hawkeyes have won four of the last five Floyd of Rosedales, but freshly minted Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck is a new dynamic. Iowa is 2-13 in its last 15 meetings with OSU. The Badgers have won four of the last five vs. Iowa.

Maryland: vs. Michigan; at Michigan State; vs. Penn State (Nov. 11-25). The Terrapins must navigate those three games while potentially battling for a bowl slot in the season’s final stages. Michigan has won the last two vs. the Terps by an aggregate score of 87-3. MSU is 2-1 vs. Maryland since the Terps joined the Big Ten, but Maryland won last year vs. the Spartans. Maryland is just 37-2-1 all-time vs. Penn State, last winning in 2014 at State College.

Michigan: at Wisconsin; vs. Ohio State (Nov. 18-25). The Wolverines and Badgers have met just one time since 2010, with Michigan taking a 14-7 decision last year in Ann Arbor. The schools haven’t met in Madison since 2009, as Wisconsin took a 45-24 win. In fact, UW has won the last three vs. Michigan in Camp Randall Stadium, where the Wolverines last prevailed in 2001. The Buckeyes have dominated Michigan of late, going 14-2 in the last 16 meetings. The Wolverines’ lone wins have come in 2003 and 2011.

Michigan State: vs. Notre Dame; vs. Iowa; at Michigan; at Minnesota (Sept. 23-Oct. 14). The Spartans will have a bye before embarking on this rugged stretch. Still, can Michigan State earn a split? Michigan State won last year vs. ND but lost three in a row vs. the Irish before that. The Spartans have won two in a row vs. Iowa, but the Hawkeyes have won the last two times they visited Spartan Stadium. These teams last met in the 2015 Big Ten title tilt. Michigan beat Michigan State last year, but the Spartans are 7-2 vs. the Wolverines in the last nine meetings for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. MSU has won four in a row vs. Minnesota, but the schools haven’t met since 2013. This will be the Spartans first trip to Dinkytown since 2012, which they won 26-10.

Minnesota: at Iowa; at Michigan; vs. Nebraska; at Northwestern; vs. Wisconsin (Oct. 28-Nov. 25). Iowa has dominated the Floyd of Rosedale series with Minnesota, going 12-4 in the last 16 encounters. The Gophers have won the Little Brown just two times (2005 and 2014) since 1986, going 2-23 in the last 25 meetings with Michigan. Minnesota is 2-4 vs. Nebraska since the Huskers joined the Big Ten. The Gophers have won three of the last four vs. the Wildcats. But Minnesota hasn’t won Paul Bunyan’s Axe from Wisconsin since 2003, losing the last 13 meetings and 20 of 22 since 1995.

Nebraska: vs. Northwestern; at Minnesota; at Penn State; vs. Iowa (Nov. 4-24). This stretch could make or break the Huskers’ West Division title hopes. The games vs. Northwestern have been fun and exciting, as the Cornhuskers have won four of the last five. But the Wildcats won the last time they visited Lincoln in 2015. Nebraska won the last two meetings vs. Minnesota. Before that, the Gophers took two in a row from the Huskers. Nebraska has won all three games vs. Penn State as a member of the Big Ten. Iowa has won the last two vs. Nebraska.

Northwestern: at Wisconsin; vs. Penn State. The Wildcats have lost three of the last five vs. the Badgers, but have won the last two vs. the Nittany Lions. Before that, PSU won six in a row vs. NU.

Ohio State: at Nebraska; vs. Penn State; at Iowa (Oct. 14-Nov. 4). This will be the Buckeyes’ first trip to Lincoln since 2011, when NU won 34-27. Ohio State has won the last two vs. Nebraska in dominating fashion, taking a 62-3 decision last year in Columbus and a 63-38 outcome in 2012 in Columbus. Last year, the Nittany Lions were the only team to beat Ohio State in the regular season, shocking the No. 2 Buckeyes 24-21 after Grant Haley ran back a blocked field goal 60 yards for the winning TD late in the fourth quarter. Before that, OSU had won four in a row vs. PSU. Iowa and OSU haven’t met since 2013. Ohio State has won the last five meetings. The Hawkeyes’ last win? A 33-7 romp in Iowa City in 2004. Before that, Iowa hadn’t toppled the Buckeyes since 1991.

Penn State: at Northwestern; vs. Michigan; at Ohio State; at Michigan State (Oct. 7-Nov.4). The Wildcats have won the last two vs. the Nittany Lions. Before that, PSU won six in a row vs. NU. Penn State beat Ohio State in 2016; before that, OSU had won four in a row vs. PSU. The Wolverines have won the last three meetings vs. the Nittany Lions, including a 28-16 victory in Beaver Stadium in 2015. Penn State will be motivated to reverse the tide in this series, as it tries to defend its Big Ten title. Penn State won the Land Grant Trophy from Michigan State last season but lost the previous three vs. the Spartans.

Purdue: vs. Michigan; vs. Minnesota; at Wisconsin (Sept. 23-Oct. 14). The Wolverines and Boilers haven’t met since 2012. Michigan has won the last three in the series, including the last two in West Lafayette. Purdue last toppled the Wolverines in 2009—in Ann Arbor, no less. The Golden Gophers have taken four in a row vs. Purdue, which last beat Minnesota in 2011. New Gopher coach P.J. Fleck lost at Ross-Ade in 2014 as coach of Western Michigan. The last time Purdue beat Wisconsin was in Madison in 2003. UW has won the last five meetings in Camp Randall—and 11 in a row overall vs. the Boilers.

Rutgers: at Nebraska; vs. Ohio State (Sept. 23-30). The Cornhuskers have beaten RU two times as Big Ten foes, winning 42-24 in 2014 and 31-14 in 2015. The Buckeyes have obliterated the Scarlet Knights in three all-time meetings, winning by scores of 56-17, 49-7 and 58-0.

Wisconsin: vs. Iowa; vs. Michigan; at Minnesota (Nov. 11-25). The Badgers have won four of the last five vs. Iowa, but the Hawkeyes won their last visit to Camp Randall in 2015, 10-6. Wisconsin is 4-3 in its last seven clashes with Michigan. Wisconsin has dominated the Golden Gophers. In fact, Minnesota hasn’t won Paul Bunyan’s Axe from Wisconsin since 2003, losing the last 13 meetings and 20 of 22 since 1995.

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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