Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, June 18, 2013

Schedule strength will become more vital beginning in 2014, when the four-team playoff is started. Why? Because a major component of the playoff team selection process figures to be schedule strength.

So, cupcakes are on the way out. But, until then, many remain. Just look at the non-conference schedules. Here is my ranking of the Big Ten non-conference schedules.

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1. Purdue. at Cincinnati; Indiana State; Notre Dame; Northern Illinois  –Two games vs. foes that were in BCS bowls last season in ND and NIU; Cincinnati was Big East co-champ. Darrell Hazell will earn every penny in his check.

2. Northwestern. At Cal; Syracuse; Western Michigan; Maine-Two games vs. ?Big Six? league teams will be a challenge.

3. Penn State. Syracuse (at East Rutherford, N.J.); Eastern Michigan; UCF; Kent State-Tough. The only non-bowl team is the EMU. UCF played for the C-USA title. The Golden Flashes are coming off a season for the ages. At least there are no true road games.

4. Michigan. Central Michigan; Notre Dame; Akron; at UConn-Yes, there are no FCS foes, but the Zips and Huskies missed bowls. The Chippewas were 7-6. That leaves the visit from the Fighting Irish as the lone scary test.

5. Indiana. Indiana State; Navy; Bowling Green; Missouri-All four games are in Bloomington, but challenges loom. The Midshipmen and Falcons are good programs coming off bowl trips. Mizzou went 5-7 in its SEC debut but has plenty of talent.

[ RELATED: View all of our 2013 Big Ten football predictions ]

6. Illinois. Southern Illinois; Cincinnati; Washington (at Chicago); Miami (Ohio)-No true road games; that?s nice. But the Bearcats and Huskies each went to bowls last season.

7. Michigan State. Western Michigan; USF; Youngstown State; at Notre Dame-The Broncos and Bulls had losing records last year; the FCS Penguins will be overmatched. Going to South Bend will be tough.

8. Wisconsin. UMass; Tennessee Tech; at Arizona State; BYU-Yes, the Minutemen (1-11) and FCS Tennessee Tech will be pushovers. But the trip to Tempe and visit from the Cougars will be rugged. Each went bowling last season.

9. Iowa. Northern Illinois; Missouri State; at Iowa State; Western Michigan-The Huskies are coming off a BCS bowl, while the Cyclones have been a nemesis to the Hawkeyes.

10. Ohio State. Buffalo; San Diego State; at Cal; Florida A&M-Save for the trip to Cal-which has a new coach and is coming off a 3-9 season-there is little to fear. This slate is a big reason why OSU may go unbeaten.

11. Nebraska. Wyoming; Southern Miss; UCLA; South Dakota State-Yes, the Bruins-who beat the Huskers last season–will pose a big challenge. But Wyoming and Southern Miss were bad last year. And the Huskers are one of just two Big Ten teams with no road games in non-conference action. (Indiana is the other.)

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12. Minnesota. UNLV; at New Mexico State; Western Illinois; San Jose State-Let?s all say it together: ?soft.? The Spartans are coming off an 11-2 season but have a new coach. That?s it. The other three games are layups. New Mexico State annually is one of America?s worst programs. WIU is a FCS school.


Games vs. the other five ?power? leagues and Notre Dame (16). Minnesota is the lone Big Ten that will play no such opponent:

  • Illinois: Cincinnati; Washington (at Chicago)
  • Indiana: Missouri
  • Iowa: at Iowa State
  • Michigan: Notre Dame; at UConn
  • Michigan State: at Notre Dame; USF
  • Nebraska: UCLA
  • Ohio State: at Cal
  • Northwestern: at Cal; Syracuse
  • Penn State: Syracuse (at East Rutherford, N.J.)
  • Purdue: at Cincinnati; Notre Dame
  • Wisconsin: at Arizona State

Games vs. FCS foes (10): Southern Illinois at Illinois; Indiana State at Indiana; Indiana State at Purdue; Missouri State at Iowa; Youngstown State at Michigan State; Western Illinois vs. Minnesota; South Dakota State at Nebraska; Maine at Northwestern; Florida A&M at Ohio State; Tennessee Tech at Wisconsin

Big Ten teams with no games vs. FCS foes: Michigan, Penn State.

Indiana and Nebraska are the only teams with no road games.

Purdue is the only team that plays two schools that played in BCS bowls-Northern Illinois and Notre Dame.

Plenty of MAC foes (13 games). In fact, the only Big Ten teams with no games vs. the MAC are Minnesota and Nebraska.

  • Western Michigan: Iowa; Michigan State; Northwestern
  • Northern Illinois: Iowa; Purdue
  • Eastern Michigan: Penn State
  • Kent State: Penn State
  • Central Michigan: Michigan
  • Akron: Michigan
  • Bowling Green: Indiana
  • Miami (Ohio): Illinois
  • UMass: Wisconsin
  • Buffalo: Ohio State

Purdue and Penn State are the lone Big Ten teams that play three bowl foes:

  • Purdue: at Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Northern Illinois
  • Penn State: Syracuse, UCF, Kent State
About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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