Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, June 6, 2016

With the Big Ten playing nine league games for the first time since 1984, there are fewer non-conference tilts with each school playing just three. So, the number of marquee out-of-conference games has been trimmed. Still, there are some intriguing matchups.

Here is a ranking of the non-league schedules of the Big Ten East schools, from toughest to easiest.

1. Ohio State. The game at Oklahoma on Sept. 17 should be a doozy and one of the best non-con games in the nation. Each school has national title hopes. And each school has a Heisman-contending QB, with J.T. Barrett facing Baker Mayfield. These college football titans have met just two times, with OU taking a 29-28 decision in Columbus in 1977 and the Buckeyes prevailing 24-14 in Norman in 1983. Sooner coach and Youngstown, Ohio, native Bob Stoops would love to dump Ohio State and build on OU?s trip to the playoff last season. This will be the ultimate litmus test for a Buckeye squad that is being overhauled. Tulsa won?t know what it got hit by when it travels to Ohio State on Sept. 10 in the first meeting between these programs. A massive check will ease the pain of the Golden Hurricane, who played in a bowl last season but still will be overmatched. OSU is 4-0 all-time vs. Bowling Green, outscoring the Falcons 120-43.

Sept. 3: Bowling Green
Sep. 10: Tulsa
Sept. 17: at Oklahoma


2. Penn State. Finally, Pitt and Penn State are playing. Too bad this isn?t an annual affair. But that?s a story for another day. Let?s enjoy the renewal of this fierce rivalry, as the Nittany Lions trek west to play the Panthers on Sept. 10. Penn State leads the all-time series, 50-42-4. Pitt won the last meeting, taking a 12-0 decision in the Steel City in 2000. Prior to that, the Nittany Lions had won seven in a row. The game with Temple is a trapdoor. Last season, the Owls dumped Penn State, 27-10, to end a 39-game winless streak vs. the Nittany Lions that dated to 1941.

Sept. 3: Kent State
Sept. 10: at Pitt
Sept. 17: Temple


3. Michigan State. The game at Notre Dame on Sept. 17 will be an epic barometer for a Spartan program that is breaking in a new quarterback with retooled lines on both sides of the ball. ND and MSU have a storied rivalry, playing 77 times. But the series was put on hold the last two seasons after the programs had met every year since 1997. The Fighting Irish have won the last three meetings. The Spartans haven?t won in South Bend since 2007, dropping the last three under the Golden Dome. ND has some big holes to fill but still will be formidable in 2016 coming off a 10-3 season under Brian Kelly. The October visit from BYU drips with intrigue. If Cougars QB Taysom Hill is playing well after coming off injury, BYU will be tough. The Cougars lost at Michigan and won at Nebraska last season. FCS Furman won?t know what hit ?em when the Purple Paladins wade into Spartan Stadium for a Friday night clash with Michigan State to open the season.

Sept. 2: Furman
Sept. 17: at Notre Dame
Oct. 8: BYU


4. Rutgers. The opener on Sept. 3 at Washington will be a tough test for new coach Chris Ash. This will be the first meeting between the Scarlet Knights and Huskies, who are on the rise under Chris Petersen. But the other two games are manageable, as FCS Howard and New Mexico come to Piscataway. The Lobos are led by former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie.

Sept. 3: at Washington
Sept. 10: Howard
Sept. 17: New Mexico


5. Indiana. None of the three non-league games is daunting, but that season-opening trip to FIU is bizarre. The visit from Wake Forest on Sept. 24 could be a pot hole. The Hoosiers won 31-24 in Winston-Salem last year to start 4-0 for the first time since 1990, so the Demon Deacons will be looking for revenge. This is a well-coached under Dave Clawson, who went 3-9 in 2015 and is building a solid program. Ball State went 3-9 last year and saw coach Pete Lembo bolt to become an assistant at Maryland. FIU is led by former Illinois coach Ron Turner.

Sept. 1: At Florida International
Sept. 10: Ball State
Sept. 24: Wake Forest


6. Michigan. There is no deadly or truly challenging non-conference game. A visit from Colorado on Sept. 17 is the lone Power Five school on the non-league slate. But, this isn?t Bill McCartney?s CU, as the Buffs have been a floundering program for years, not going to a bowl since 2007 when Dan Hawkins was coach. Current boss Mike MacIntyre is 10-27 in three seasons. The Buffs? Hail Mary 27-26 win in Ann Arbor in 1994 will forever be remembered by Michigan fans. CU last visited in 1997, falling 27-3. UCF is led by a new coach in Scott Frost. Hawaii hasn?t had a winning record since 2010.

Sept. 3: Hawaii
Sept. 10: UCF
Sept. 17: Colorado


7. Maryland. 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 at Central Florida-non-Power Five schools–after opening at home with FCS Howard. The game on Sept. 17 at Central Florida will be the toughest, as the Knights have a solid program with plenty of talent under first-year coach Scott Frost, the ex-Oregon offensive coordinator and Nebraska star quarterback who takes over for George O?Leary. The opener on Sept. 2 vs. FCS Howard is a nice way for new coach D.J. Durkin to ease into his new gig. Ideally, this will be the first of three non-conference wins to open the season for Maryland.

Sept. 2: Howard
Sept. 9: at Florida International
Sept. 17: at Central Florida


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