Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, May 28, 2015

Oregon vs. Michigan State ? Wisconsin vs. Alabama ? Michigan vs. Utah ? Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech ? Minnesota vs. TCU ? these are just a few of the most interesting non-conference games involving Big Ten teams in 2015.

[ MORE: Get all of Tom Dienhart's 2015 schedule analysis posts ]

It?s also interesting to note that for the first time since 1916, no Big Ten/Western Conference team will play Notre Dame. Purdue will see an annual series vs. the Irish that dated to 1946 end this season, while Michigan and Michigan State also are off the ND slate.

Not all non-conference schedules are created equally. But all teams must be mindful of scheduling some quality foes if they hope to be considered for the playoff.

Here is a ranking of the Big Ten non-league schedules, from 1 (toughest) to 14 (easiest), along with some notes on the 2015 non-league menu.

*denotes 2014 bowl team

1. Michigan
At Utah*
Oregon State
View full schedule
The skinny: Jim Harbaugh will be tested in his debut, opening at Utah. Oregon State is led by former Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen. BYU may be the best team on this non-con schedule.

2. Nebraska
South Alabama*
At Miami (Fla.)*
Southern Miss
View full schedule
The skinny: The opener vs. BYU will tell us a lot about the Cornhuskers. South Alabama lacks name-brand appeal, but it?s tough. The trip to Miami will allow Nebraska to see how much speed it has.

3. Minnesota
At Colorado State*
Kent State
View full schedule
The skinny: The opener vs. TCU will be as difficult as any non-conference game in the nation. Jerry Kill and Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson are old chums. The trip to Colorado State is a no-win situation for the Gophers.

4. Purdue
At Marshall*
Indiana State
Virginia Tech*
Bowling Green*
View full schedule
The skinny: The Boilermakers may have bitten off more than they can chew. Opening at Marshall? Home games vs. the Hokies and Falcons could leave take the steam out of the Boilers before Big Ten action.

5. Iowa
Illinois State
At Iowa State
North Texas
View full schedule
The skinny: This is an interesting slate. The opener vs. Illinois State is tougher than it looks; the Redbirds played for the FCS title last season. North Texas is led by ex-Iowa player/assistant Dan McCarney, who also coached Iowa State. Iowa can?t seem to beat Iowa State.

6. Michigan State
At Western Michigan*
Air Force*
Central Michigan*
View full schedule
The skinny: You don?t often see a school of MSU?s stature play at a MAC school. But the Spartans open at Western Michigan. Then comes the biggest non-con game on the Big Ten docket, as Oregon travels to East Lansing. No other Big Ten school plays four 2014 bowl teams.

7. Wisconsin
Alabama* (at Arlington, Texas)
Miami (Ohio)
View full schedule
The skinny: No opener is more challenging that the Badgers trip to ?Jerry World? to play mighty Alabama. The good news: three lay-ups follow.

8. Ohio State
At Virginia Tech*
Northern Illinois*
Western Michigan*
View full schedule
The skinny: The Buckeyes want revenge for losing at home to the Hokies last year. OSU should breeze in its other three non-league games.

9. Northwestern
Eastern Illinois
At Duke*
Ball State
View full schedule
The skinny: The opener vs. brain buddy Stanford will be a good measuring stick. And the trip to Duke is no gimme, as the Blue Devils have been to three bowls in a row. Plus, EIU is an elite FCS program.

10. Maryland
Bowling Green*
South Florida
At West Virginia*
View full schedule
The skinny: Visits from Bowling Green and South Florida are tougher than they look. And the trip to West Virginia to play the rival Mountaineers is always intense. WVU won a wild one at the last second last year in College Park.

11. Illinois
Kent State
Western Illinois
At North Carolina*
Middle Tennessee State
View full schedule
The skinny: Not much heavy-lifting, save for the game at UNC. Beware Middle Tennessee, which is always a tough out.

12. Indiana
Southern Illinois
Florida International
Western Kentucky*
At Wake Forest
View full schedule
The skinny: It won?t get much easier than this; even the trip to Wake Forest is manageable. Could the Hoosiers go 4-0? Yep. If so, IU may go bowling for the first time since 2007.

13. Rutgers
Norfolk State
Washington State
At Army
View full schedule
The skinny: None of these schools went to a bowl last season. And Norfolk State is a FCS program. Time to get fat, Scarlet Knights.

14. Penn State
At Temple
San Diego State*
View full schedule
The skinny: This is as soft as a baby?s bottom for a program that lacks much upperclassman heft. It?s just what the doctor ordered, as James Franklin looks to put another brick in the wall. A bowl bid is a sure thing.



The only Big Ten school that does not play a ?Power Five? school is Penn State. Four schools play two: Iowa; Michigan; Northwestern; Rutgers.

Illinois: at North Carolina
Indiana: at Wake Forest
Iowa: at Iowa State; Pitt
Maryland: at West Virginia
Michigan: at Utah; Oregon State
Michigan State: Oregon
Minnesota: TCU
Nebraska: at Miami (Fla.)
Northwestern: Stanford; at Duke
Ohio State: at Virginia Tech
Penn State: none
Purdue: Virginia Tech
Rutgers: Washington State; Kansas
Wisconsin: Alabama (at Arlington, Texas)


The Big Ten wants schools to eliminate foes like this. Until then, seven FCS schools dot league schedules. Kudos to Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin for not scheduling any ?little guys.?

Illinois: Western Illinois
Indiana: Southern Illinois
Iowa: Illinois State
Maryland: Richmond
Northwestern: Eastern Illinois
Purdue: Indiana State
Rutgers: Norfolk State


Teams from this league always are popular non-conference foes. All told, Big Ten teams will play 12 games vs. MAC opponents in 2015. The only Big Ten team to play a MAC foe on the road is Michigan State, which opens at Western Michigan. MSU, Ohio State and Minnesota are the lone Big Ten teams to play two MAC foes.

Ball State: Northwestern
Bowling Green: Maryland, Purdue
Buffalo: Penn State
Central Michigan: Michigan State
Kent State: Illinois, Minnesota
Miami: Wisconsin
Northern Illinois: Ohio State
Ohio: Minnesota
Western Michigan: Michigan State, Ohio State


Playing bowl teams from the previous season isn?t always an indicator of how tough a team?s schedule will be. But, it?s an interesting tidbit.

Here are a few notes:

  • Michigan State is the lone Big Ten school that will play four 2014 bowl teams in the non-conference.
  • Purdue, Nebraska and Ohio State will play three.
  • Rutgers is on the other end of the spectrum, standing as the lone Big Ten school that plays no non-conference games vs. 2014 bowl teams.