There is no shortage of toughest schedule rankings at this point in our long journey to a new season, but which Big Ten team has the peskiest schedule? You know, the one that's subtly tough, potentially annoying and full of "man, that would be a tough one to lose" type of games.
In some cases, this determination of peskiest schedules is reliant on the strength of the schedule-haver. A team that is all-the-way-pesky on, say, Indiana's schedule is only medium-pesky to Ohio State, for example. That said, we don't run up against that particular conundrum often with this year's Big Ten slates, sort of a strange quirk.
To determine peskiness, I'm looking exclusively at the nonconference and cross-division draws. Division play is division play, after all. Here's how I'd rank the Big Ten schedules from most to least pesky.
MICHIGAN (MTSU, Army, ND, Wisc, Iowa, Ind): The Wolverines are looking like a slight favorite in the league, and if Jim Harbaugh's to finally get over the hump his Michigan team will have to earn it. Middle Tennessee might be reloading a bit, but it hasn't had a losing season since 2011. Army could begin the season ranked. And then there's a mid-season Notre Dame game in there. Michigan also faces Wisconsin and Iowa from the West, tough outs though those teams' style of play probably fits the Wolverines better than some others in the West.
OHIO STATE (FAU, Cincinnati, Miami OH, Neb, NW, Wisc): A bit strange to have the two most talented teams in the conference with the two peskiest schedules, but so it is. Florida Atlantic had a steep drop off last year but will again have more talent than most people think, Cincinnati took a big jump last year and Miami (Ohio) is improving. Then you throw three live teams from the West on the schedule (though most of the West appears "live" at this point).
WISCONSIN (USF, CMU, Kent St, Mich, MSU, OSU): I was really resistant to have the Badgers this high as the nonconference schedule is decidedly non-pesky (despite a strange trip to Tampa to open the season), but the East draw is a huge factor in trying to sort out the West Division.
MINNESOTA (SDSU, Fresno St, Georgia Southern, PSU, Rut, Md): Classically speaking, the Gophers' nonconference schedule is the pinnacle of pesky. You have an FCS team that went to the semifinals a year ago, a G5 conference champ on the road (Fresno) and one of the most improved teams in the country in 2018 (Georgia Southern). The cross-division slate pulls this one back down a bit with Rutgers and Maryland on there, but Minnesota's September is going to be must-watch.
PURDUE (Nevada, Vanderbilt, TCU, Penn St, Md, Ind): Purdue has a ton to replace on offense and this is not a soft open to the season. Nevada is only decent, but things could get weird in Reno in the opener, then the Boilermakers tackle two Power 5 teams in nonconference play.
IOWA (Miami OH, Iowa St, MTSU, Rut, Mich, PSU): We've already addressed the potential annoyingness of Miami (Ohio) and Middle Tennessee. Iowa adds Iowa State to that mix in a year when the Cyclones are meriting a little dark horse Big 12 title-game buzz. The visit from Penn State could be a massive game for the Hawkeyes' 2019 season.
NORTHWESTERN (Stanford, UNLV, UMass, MSU, OSU, Ind): Northwestern travels to Stanford to open the season in a game many will watch but few will likely enjoy. UNLV could offer some resistance, too, then there's the Spartans and Buckeyes still to deal with for the Wildcats. If you're thinking at this point, "boy, that's a lot of West teams already," I'm saying that's because the East is more clearly defined in terms of team strength. At least that's what we think here in July.
MICHIGAN STATE (Tulsa, WMU, Arizona St, NW, Wisconsin, Ill): We're officially on the downward slope to least pesky at this point. Tulsa is a middle-of-the-pack G5 team, presumably, in 2019, Western Michigan is a team you have to beat and then Arizona State rolls in with a little bit of momentum. The West draw includes maybe the only clear "break" from that side in that it includes Illinois.
MARYLAND (Howard, Syracuse, Temple, Pur, Minn, Neb): For Maryland, this one is tough and a little bit pesky. Syracuse is one of the tougher nonconference games in the conference and Temple, while transitioning to a new coach, is still a program that's gotten used to success of late. There are worse ways for a totally overhauled team to open the season, but other than Howard there are no easy wins here as the Terps do not face Texas this season.
NEBRASKA (S. Alabama, Colorado, NIU, OSU, Ind, Md): The Huskers' potential annoyance level should be pretty low. There's the big mission-statement game against Ohio State in Lincoln the last week of September, but Nebraska catches its three nonconference opponents at good times. All three are undergoing coaching transitions. While South Alabama's started last year, that was very much a Year 0 situation.
PENN STATE (Idaho, Buffalo, Pitt, Pur, Iowa, Minn): Buffalo could've been an intriguing game if the Bulls hadn't lost most of their top-line talent off a good team last year. I still don't know what to make of Pat Narduzzi's Pittsburgh teams. Idaho is Idaho. The West Division draw is challenging, but could be worse. The Nittany Lions have some things to sort out this season, but the schedule isn’t adding a whole lot of additional difficulty on top of that.
RUTGERS (UMass, Boston College, Liberty, Iowa, Minn, Ill): Rutgers gets the chance to face both FBS teams from Massachusetts, a unique treat. Boston College could be a little down from what it has been (though it can't afford to be down much for Steve Adazzio's sake). Keep a close eye on that Liberty game, however. It's possible the Knights could be 1-6 going into that game and a loss to Liberty, now led by Hugh Freeze, would make it pretty tough to not pull the plug on the Chris Ash era right then and there. (And then Freeze is coaching Rutgers in 2020?)
INDIANA (Ball St, EIU, UConn, Neb, NW, Pur): Blech. The Hoosiers get two of the bottom-20 teams in FBS plus an FCS team in nonconference play. All three have to be wins–but should be–which keeps the peskiness levels lower than they could be.
ILLINOIS (Akron, UConn, EMU, Mich, Rut, MSU): There seems to be a common trait to having Connecticut on the schedule. Akron's got a tough road ahead in 2019, too. Eastern Michigan is solid, but that's one Illinois should win. Add in Rutgers from the East and there's a reason people seem to like the over for the Illini at three wins.
The Grab Bag
- Fireworks-plus-Nebraska football. The artillery shell selection is probably my favorite.
- There are Huskers all over the USA Volleyball scene right now.
- Greg Smith looks at potential wide receiver targets for Nebraska in 2020 recruiting. (Premium)
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.