Dienhart: Ranking 2017 Big Ten West schedules
Not all schedules are created equally. And college football may be the sport most impacted by scheduling, especially in today’s divisional setup. Have a favorable one, and your school could cruise. Have a difficult one, and your school could struggle.
Here is my ranking of the Big Ten West schedules, with the toughest at the top.
Non-con: Louisville (Indianapolis), at Missouri, Ohio
Big Ten, home: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska
Big Ten, road: Iowa, Northwestern, Rutgers, Wisconsin
Skinny: This slate does new coach Jeff Brohm no favors. In fact, the Boilermakers are the only Big Ten team to play two Power Five opponents in non-league action. And a visit from Ohio isn’t a gimme. Will Purdue win a non-conference game? Cross-division tilts vs. Indiana and Rutgers offer hope.
Non-con: at Iowa State, North Texas, Wyoming
Big Ten, home: Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue
Big Ten, road: Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Skinny: Road games loom against arguably the three best West teams in the Huskers, Wildcats and Badgers. If that isn’t daunting enough, the Hawkeyes play host to the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions, arguably the two best teams in the Big Ten. Not ideal for a program breaking in a new quarterback. If Iowa wins the West vs. this schedule, it will have earned it.
Non-con: Arkansas State, Northern Illinois, at Oregon
Big Ten, home: Iowa, Northwestern, Ohio State, Rutgers, Wisconsin
Big Ten, road: Illinois, Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue
Skinny: The elusive search for the program’s first league title since 1999 continues. This schedule offers few breaks, as cross-division tilts with the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions loom. Before that, Nebraska will be put to the test by a visit to raucous Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. But know this: The road to the West crown may be going through Lincoln, as the Hawkeyes, Wildcats and Badgers all come to Memorial Stadium.
Non-con: Ball State, at South Florida, Western Kentucky
Big Ten, home: Indiana, Nebraska, Northwestern, Rutgers, Wisconsin
Big Ten, road: Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue
Skinny: This slate of games won’t help Lovie Smith’s rebuilding efforts, beginning with an underrated non-league schedule. A trip to USF is thankless and a big challenge. And the visit from Western Kentucky is big trapdoor. The cross-division schedule offers relief with tilts vs. Indiana and Rutgers.
Non-con: at BYU, Florida Atlantic, Utah State
Big Ten, home: Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Northwestern, Purdue
Big Ten, road: Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska
Skinny: It takes guts to play in Provo, Utah. Kudos to Wisconsin for making one of the most difficult non-league road trips in the Big Ten. The cross-division football gods smiled on the Badgers again. Yes, there is a visit from Michigan, but there also are games vs. Maryland and Indiana. It wouldn’t be a shock to see UW go 4-0 on the road in league play.
Non-con: Buffalo, Middle Tennessee State, at Oregon State
Big Ten, home: Illinois, Maryland, Michigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin
Big Ten, road: Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, Purdue
Skinny: The non-league menu may look low-calorie. But the trip to Corvallis and visit from Middle Tennessee are sneaky-tough. The Gophers get cross-division home games vs. the Terps and Spartans. Nice. Any big breakthrough in P.J. Fleck’s debut may come down to home games vs. the Cornhuskers and Badgers.
Non-con: Bowling Green, at Duke, Nevada
Big Ten, home: Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue
Big Ten, road: Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, Wisconsin
Skinny: The Wildcats just may win the West, with this schedule playing a big part of it. NU may go 6-1 at home. It all may come down to visits to Lincoln and Madison. But first, a trip to Duke will be a nice litmus test for Northwestern.