Northwestern is coming off a stellar season that saw the Wildcats win 10 games. And NU is thinking big in 2016 as it looks to win what looks like a wide-open Big Ten West. And, it just may happen, as this could be Pat Fitzgerald’s most talented team yet. But it faces a daunting schedule that offers little relief. [ MORE: Dienhart: Northwestern’s offseason to-do list ] Here’s a breakdown. Toughest non-conference game: vs. Duke, Sept. 17. The Wildcats waded into Durham, North Carolina, last year and took a 19-10 decision. This was a good Blue Devil squad that would
The 2015 season didn’t go as scripted for Minnesota. Jerry Kill abruptly retired and the Gophers finished with their first losing record since 2012. [ MORE: Dienhart: Get Minnesota’s offseason to-do list ] Now, Tracy Claeys is leading the Gophers. And he wasted little time putting his stamp on the program, letting go offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Matt Limegrover and quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski. Jay Johnson was hired from Louisiana-Lafayette to run the offense and coach quarterbacks, while Bart Miller was tabbed to coach the line. Work remains to be done if Minnesota wants to improve on a 6-7 mark
The honeymoon is over for Mike Riley. He knows that. Last year’s 6-7 debut was difficult to stomach, as the Huskers seemed to find a new way to lose each week. But on an up note, Nebraska finished with some momentum, going 3-1 in its last four games with a bowl win vs. UCLA in an otherwise vexing season. [ MORE: Get Tom Dienhart’s Nebraska offseason to-do list ] A challenging schedule awaits the Huskers as they look to move up the pecking order in the Big Ten West in search of the program’s first league title since 1999. Here
Michigan State is the defending Big Ten champ, coming off its first playoff appearance. This program is rolling. But, some big personnel issues are staring at Mark Dantonio as he begins his 10th season in East Lansing.
Jim Harbaugh enjoyed a smashing debut in 2015, posting 10 wins. And, his second Michigan squad has a good chance for success thanks to plenty of returning talent and another year of familiarity with the system. [ MORE: Get Tom Dienhart’s Michigan offseason to-do list ] Check this out: Michigan opens with five—yes, FIVE—home games. In fact, the Wolverines play six of their first seven in the Big House. The back half of the schedule is a challenge. But, by then, Michigan could be filled with confidence behind its new quarterback. Here is a breakdown of the 2016 schedule. Toughest
Maryland is looking to get back on the bowl track under first-year coach DJ Durkin. But, a tough schedule could make that goal difficult for a team that has installed new schemes on both sides of the ball with some key personnel spots to fill. Here’s a breakdown of the Terrapins’ 2016 schedule. Toughest non-conference game: at Central Florida, Sept. 17. Absolutely no bite. In fact, this is one of the most bizarre non-league schedules in the Big Ten, as the Terps play road games at Florida International and Central Florida—non-Power Five schools–after opening at home with FCS Howard. The
What can Iowa do for an encore to last year’s stunning success? The Hawkeyes raced to a school-record 12-0 start before losing their final two games of the season in falling in the Big Ten title tilt and the Rose Bowl. It will be difficult to top that this fall, but the schedule is built for success a season after having another favorable schedule. Here is a breakdown of Iowa’s 2016 schedule. Toughest non-conference game: vs. North Dakota State, Sept. 17. The battle for the Cy-Hawk trophy always is a humdinger. The proof: Kirk Ferentz is just 8-9 vs. the
Indiana enjoyed a breakthrough last year, earning its first bowl since 2007. Now, the Hoosiers are aiming at playing in a bowl in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1990-91. IU finished 6-7, but two of its losses came in OT: to Michigan in double OT and vs. Duke in the Pinstripe Bowl. So, Kevin Wilson’s crew knows it can hang with most any team. Now, it’s time to take the next step and earn some signature wins in addition to another postseason trip, as IU hasn’t won a bowl since dumping Baylor in the 1991 Copper Bowl. Here
Tumult has defined Illinois in the last 10 months. The program is on its third head coach in less than a year as the Fighting Illini search for just their fourth bowl since 2007. But hope is running over with the hiring by new A.D. Josh Whitman, who subsequently tabbed former NFL coach Lovie Smith to run the program. [ MORE: Dienhart: Check out Illinois’ offseason to-do list ] Here is a look at the 2016 Illinois schedule. Toughest non-conference game: North Carolina’s visit on Sept. 10 will be a great test. Last year, the Illini waded into Kenan Stadium
AthlonSports.com has a very early football Top 25 for 2016. Yes, you knew it was coming because they come every year and we roll our eyes at them and then read them anyway because they're fun to talk about. The national title game for this season hasn’t even been played and college players still can declare for the NFL draft until Jan. 18. Regardless, early, early, early Top 25 lists wait for no one.