The Ultimate Schedule: Big Ten

August 5th, 2009

There are many articles out there on the best games this season, on a national level as well as by conference. But how would each conference’s (or in some cases division) schedule look if you had to follow the actual rules when doing so? This is just one person’s opinion, so feel free to add your input/suggestions. Today: the Big Ten, a league with two clear favorites and some intriguing matchups on the schedule.


Big Ten Schedule “Rules”:

-         Four non-conference games

-         Eight conference games


Week 1: Illinois vs. Missouri (in St. Louis) September 5th


Be it basketball or football this is one of the more enjoyable rivalries in college sports. Unfortunately, this series will be coming to an end following this season, which is a crying shame. Missouri won last year’s meeting thanks in large part to the duo of Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin; they’re both gone now so the Illini’s chances improve substantially. But what happens should Illinois encounter some early struggles? They’ve shown the ability to fight back in previous meetings, but it will be a true test of whether or not there was an improvement in team chemistry in the offseason.


Other Games Considered: Minnesota @ Syracuse (9/5), Navy @ Ohio State (9/5)


Week 2: USC @ Ohio State (September 12th)


There are some appealing matchups on the schedule for the second Saturday of the season, but those are mere appetizers when compared to this showcase. Aaron Corp takes over as the starter at USC, and this trip to the Horseshoe will be his first start in hostile territory. Freshman Matt Barkley could get some playing time as well, but that’s the only question mark for a Trojan offense that returns ten starters. USC thoroughly dominated last year’s meeting, but don’t expect the same this time around. At the least the Buckeyes need to be competitive throughout, if not win the game.


Other Games Considered: Notre Dame @ Michigan (9/12), Iowa @ Iowa State (9/12), Air Force @ Minnesota (9/12), Central Michigan @ Michigan State (9/12), Fresno State @ Wisconsin (9/12)


Week 3: Michigan State @ Notre Dame (September 19th)


This series has been a wild one in recent years; before Michigan State’s win in South Bend last season the home team had lost seven straight. This series has had thrilling comebacks, flag plantings and entertaining football so don’t expect much of a change. Either Kirk Cousins or Keith Nichol will be the man under center for the Spartans, and given the strength of the defense they won’t be required to pull off any Superman-like heroics. Notre Dame gets a year older, and some expect the Irish to be part of the BCS at-large conversation. Overall, a very good litmus test for both teams in mid-September.


Other Games Considered: California @ Minnesota (9/19), Arizona @ Iowa (9/19)


Week 4: Illinois @ Ohio State (September 26th)


Two years ago the Illini won in Columbus, getting the ball rolling towards an eventual trip to the Rose Bowl. This meeting comes a lot earlier in the season, but it will be a solid test for an Illinois team that could make some noise within the league. The Buckeyes won in Champaign 30-20 last November despite throwing for just forty-nine yards and being outgained by just over one hundred yards. But with Terrelle Pryor and Beanie Wells both rushing for more than 100 yards Ohio State was able to hold the ball for more than thirty-three minutes. With the Buckeyes having a solid rushing game again this season, Illinois’ defense needs to get off the field when the opportunity presents itself.


Other Games Considered: Iowa @ Penn State (9/26), Michigan State @ Wisconsin (9/26), Minnesota @ Northwestern (9/26)


Week 5: Michigan @ Michigan State (October 3rd)


Last season’s game didn’t go too well for the maize and blue, who turned the ball over four times and was outgained by more than two hundred yards in the 35-21 defeat. The Wolverines, by the time of the battle for the Paul Bunyan-Governor of Michigan trophy, will hope that Tate Forcier is comfortable as the starter. The Spartans have one of the best defensive units in the Big Ten, and rest assured that this rivalry game means an awful lot to Coach Dantonio (thanks to Mike Hart’s “little brother” comments a couple of seasons ago). It’s the first meeting in East Lansing since those infamous comments; look for Sparty to be more than ready to welcome Michigan to town.


Other Games Considered: Penn State @ Illinois (10/3), Wisconsin @ Minnesota (10/3)


Week 6: Michigan State @ Illinois (October 10th)


Back with the Spartans, this time to see how well the defense can perform against an Illinois offense that doesn’t lack for playmaking options. The two schools haven’t played since 2006, when the then-struggling Illini picked up their lone conference win of the season with a 23-20 triumph in East Lansing. Juice Williams and Pierre Thomas ran for more than one hundred yards apiece in the win, and it may be a safe bet to say that Greg Jones and company won’t allow that to happen again. The winner leaves with a chance to crack the top two at season’s end, while the loser may be in a dogfight to finish in the top half of the Big Ten.


Other Games Considered: Wisconsin @ Ohio State (10/10), Michigan @ Iowa (10/10)


Week 7: Bye Week (October 17th)

Seems like a good time to take an off week, with the best games looking to be Northwestern/Michigan State and Iowa/Wisconsin. Ohio State (Purdue) and Penn State (Minnesota) will both be favored by a couple of scores to take care of business.


Week 8: Penn State @ Michigan (October 24th)


This game has lost a little of its luster with the recent struggles of the Wolverines, but they could be a trendy upset pick when the Nittany Lions visit Ann Arbor. Penn State has a very good shot at going into this one undefeated, with revenge being the theme for Michigan following last season’s 46-17 beating in Happy Valley. The Wolverines actually led that game 10-0 in the first quarter…and things went downhill from there. No one thought that Iowa would beat Penn State last season, and in front of a frenzied crowd in Iowa City that’s exactly what happened. Maybe Michigan can do the same.


Other Games Considered: Iowa @ Michigan State (10/24), Illinois @ Purdue (10/24)


Week 9: Michigan State @ Minnesota (October 31st)


With the Golden Gophers visiting both Penn State and Ohio State this is the biggest league game to be played in the new TCF Bank Stadium this season. Minnesota won the last meeting (31-18 in 2006) thanks to a +3 turnover margin, holding Javon Ringer to just twenty-five yards rushing and harassing Brian Hoyer all afternoon. Similar pressure could yield similar results with the quarterback situation unsettled and Ringer off to the NFL, but the Spartan defense will bring some things to the table as well. Not expecting this game to garner too much national attention, but it will be an entertaining affair.


Other Games Considered: Michigan @ Illinois (10/31), Purdue @ Wisconsin (10/31)


Week 10: Ohio State @ Penn State (November 7th)


The Big Ten Game of the Year, with the winner most likely punching their ticket to the BCS. The Nittany Lions won last season’s meeting in Columbus, but since 1997 the road team is just 3-9 in this series (even with visitors winning the last two; stat courtesy of Ohio State could get nothing done on the ground last season, rushing for just sixty-one yards on thirty-one carries, so it will be on the offensive line and backs such as Dan Herron, Brandon Saine and QB Terrelle Pryor to make an impact in that area. A hard-fought game is to be expected; don’t look for either team to light up the scoreboard since the defenses are solid.


Other Games Considered: Illinois @ Minnesota (11/7), Northwestern @ Iowa (11/7)


Week 11: Bye Week (November 14th)


Outside of Northwestern/Illinois and Michigan/Wisconsin it’s a lean week on the schedule…or at the least nothing to match up with Ohio State/Michigan looming on the horizon.

Week 12: Ohio State @ Michigan (November 21st)


No need for cute nicknames or trophies, this rivalry stands up to any in all of sports. With there being a history of underdogs rising up to derail a favorite possibly headed to Pasadena, the Wolverines put up a disappointing effort in Columbus a season ago. There could be a lot riding on this one for the Buckeyes: anywhere from a share of the Big Ten to a possible national title game berth should they go undefeated. Expect Michigan to come out with a lot more fight than a season ago; both teams seemed resigned to the end result before the game even began.


Other Games Considered: Penn State @ Michigan State (11/21), Minnesota @ Iowa (11/21), and Purdue @ Indiana (11/21)


Week 13: Illinois @ Cincinnati (November 27th)


A solid non-conference game to end the slate with the Illini actually having another game to play the following weekend (Fresno State). The Bearcats, reigning Big East champions, will have found a solution to the question of how you go about replacing ten defensive starters. By the time this game rolls around just about all the questions for both teams will have been answered; it will be more about improving how attractive you are to bowl executives than anything else.


From an individual standpoint, Arrelious Benn will have the opportunity to watch one of the better wide receiving corps in the country. Cincinnati’s stable or wideouts are so good that Marcus Barnett, who was a Second-Team All-Big East selection as a redshirt freshman in 2007, may have a hard time cracking the starting rotation this year. Expect a high-scoring affair at Nippert Stadium.


Week 14: Bye Week (December 5th)


Fresno State/Illinois and Wisconsin/Hawaii both have the potential to be solid games, but the schedule is complete.