Nobody gets an easy schedule in the Big Ten conference.
The Ohio State Buckeyes enter 2022 as a trendy College Football Playoff and national championship contender, the Michigan Wolverines are the defending Big Ten champions and Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker seemingly has his Spartans on the rise.
Then, there’s also Penn State head coach James Franklin and his Nittany Lions that have plenty of talent and expectations of their own to meet in the Big Ten East.
What about the Big Ten West? Iowa is the defending Big Ten West champion and boasts one of the league’s best defenses. If they can find a way to improve offensively, it won’t be a surprise to see the Hawkeyes make a return trip to the Big Ten championship game.
Aside from the Buckeyes’ TreVeyon Henderson, Wisconsin has the Big Ten’s most explosive running back in Braelon Allen and—similarly to Iowa—the Badgers routinely have one of the Big Ten’s most frustrating defenses to match up against. Then, there’s Tanner Morgan who is back to quarterback Minnesota and Aidan O’Connell who’s generating some Heisman Trophy darkhorse consideration at Purdue.
You get the picture. It’ll be a challenging slate for everybody once more in 2022. Still, it’s a fun exercise to break down and debate who has it the most difficult, and who caught a couple of scheduling breaks?
CBS Sports’ Tom Fornelli attempted to clear up that picture, ranking all of the Big Ten’s 2022 schedules from most difficult to easiest. Let’s take a look at how he sees the conference teams’ schedules.
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The good news for Maryland is that they return one of the Big Ten’s better quarterbacks in Taulia Tagovailoa. He passed for 3,860 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2021. The bad news? According to Fornelli, Maryland winds up with the most treacherous schedule in 2022.
The conference slate starts with Michigan on the road before Michigan State comes to College Park, Maryland. It’s never easy for any Big Ten East team outside the top programs, but getting Michigan and Penn State on the road is hard. Plus, the draw from the West includes a road trip to Wisconsin. The killer stretch is November with the road game against Wisconsin, followed by the road trip to Penn State and a home date with Ohio State. By the time the Terps get to Rutgers, they could be banged up. – Fornelli, CBS Sports.
Ohio State Buckeyes
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An offense that’s headlined by quarterback C.J. Stroud, wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and running back TreVeyon Henderson has Buckeyes fans thinking about the program’s third all-time trip into the College Football Playoff’s national championship game.
First things first, Ohio State needs to take care of business and win the Big Ten unlike they were able to do in 2021. Instead, Michigan reversed recent history in their rivalry series and derailed those hopes for the Buckeyes. If there’s a team equipped to handle one of the league’s gauntlets, it’s Ohio State.
Fornelli notes that it’s unusual to see a team that’s expected to win the league ranked this highly on a strength of schedule ranking because they don’t get the “boost” of playing themselves. Ohio State opens the season against Notre Dame, though, and draws really all of the teams that most prognosticators feel are the Big Ten’s best heading into 2022 save for Purdue.
Conference play doesn’t get much easier, as the Buckeyes get Wisconsin and Iowa from the West (at home at least), but will hit the road for Michigan State and Penn State. As usual, the season finishes with Michigan. The Buckeyes will play three teams that have reached the College Football Playoff during the upcoming regular season and could face the top five teams in the conference outside of themselves. – Fornelli, CBS Sports.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
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Rutgers has to play a pair of road games at Boston College and at Temple before it even embarks on its Big Ten slate. Playing in the Big Ten East with this roster means life is going to be difficult any way you slice it.
The draw from the West could’ve been worse, but Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota could all be bowl teams in 2022. As for the “Big Four” games, the Scarlet Knights get Michigan and Penn State at home, but will hit the road for Ohio State and Michigan State. Getting to a bowl with this slate will not be easy. – Fornelli, CBS Sports.
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Northwestern starts its 2022 season in Ireland against Nebraska. The Wildcats do get Wisconsin at home, but road trips to Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue makes this schedule one of the Big Ten’s most difficult.
We’re four teams into the rankings and we finally have a Big Ten West team. That’s what happens when your cross-division draw includes Ohio State and road trips to Penn State and Maryland. – Fornelli, CBS Sports.
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That 2020 season suddenly feels like a lifetime ago. Indiana opens on a Friday night against Illinois. After Idaho, Indiana will also see Western Kentucky and Cincinnati in its nonconference schedule.
The Hoosiers avoid dates against either Iowa or Wisconsin, so that part’s good. Again, it’s being in the Big Ten East and pairing that with a nonconference slate that houses Cincinnati.
The swing games here will be Illinois, WKU, Maryland, Rutgers and Purdue. If Indiana doesn’t win at least four of those games, a bowl berth is unlikely. – Fornelli, CBS Sports.
Illinois Fighting Illini
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Illinois opens with a Wyoming team that saw some transfer portal casualties. There’s also a home date against a Virginia team that routed the Illini last season 42-14. Add those nonconference dates in with the likes of both Michigan and Michigan State to go along with its Big Ten West schedule and it winds up as one of the more challenging paths of any team in the league.
The East draw isn’t very kind, though. The Illini have Indiana on the road on a short week after the opener against Wyoming and will welcome Michigan State to Champaign in early November before heading to Ann Arbor to face Michigan a few weeks later. The divisional games could be worse. Wisconsin on the road isn’t easy, but Illinois isn’t likely to beat the Badgers anywhere. Meanwhile, getting Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue at home makes those games a little easier to deal with. A bowl game isn’t out of reach here, but a solid start to the season will be critical. – Fornelli, CBS Sports.
Penn State Nittany Lions
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Fornelli looks at the nonconference date against Auburn and sees an opponent that suddenly doesn’t look as daunting as when the game was originally scheduled. Avoiding Iowa and Wisconsin and getting Purdue in the season opener does make the West opponents look a little more manageable.
What keeps the Penn State schedule from being ranked higher than this is its draw from the West. Getting Purdue, Northwestern and Minnesota (only Purdue is on the road in the season-opener) is the best draw Penn State could hope for. In the division, the Lions get Ohio State and Michigan State in Beaver Stadium, and their road trip to Michigan comes after a bye week. Also, the most demanding games are spaced well, so while it’s not going to be easy, it could’ve been a lot worse. – Fornelli, CBS Sports.
Michigan State Spartans
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Payton Thorne and company check in with the Big Ten’s first schedule on the back half of the difficulty meter according to Fornelli. While Michigan State does head to Washington in week three for a suddenly spicier nonconference affair, that’s really the only roadblock before Big Ten play.
The good news is that they get Illinois, Rutgers and Indiana between those games. That’s nice. What isn’t as nice is a stretch of games from mid-September to mid-October. It starts with the road trip to Washington, followed by Minnesota, a road game against Maryland, then Ohio State and Wisconsin in consecutive weeks. Michigan State is going to need the bye week that follows. – Fornelli, CBS Sports.
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Any schedule that features both Michigan and Ohio State seems pretty challenging from where I’m sitting, but Fornelli points out that Nevada shouldn’t pose much of a threat in the nonconference and generally feels like the Hawkeyes have one of the easier to navigate slates.
The Big Ten schedule starts with Rutgers, which is the conference’s way of saying, “we’re sorry we’re making you play both Michigan and Ohio State this season,” because that’s what it’s done. The good news for Iowa is that it gets Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium late in the year, but road games against Purdue and Minnesota will be tricky. – Fornelli, CBS Sports.
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Nebraska plays host to Oklahoma in the nonconference in one of the most challenging out-of-conference games of any Big Ten team. Really, it’s Nebraska’s draw from the East that has Fornelli comfortable ranking this schedule as the 10th-most difficult.
The Huskers do well with their draw from the East. While playing Michigan on the road isn’t fun, getting Indiana and Rutgers as the other two games helps. However, if Nebraska wants to get to a bowl this year, it would be best served to get the wins early. November is a monster. It starts with Minnesota at home, then Michigan on the road, Wisconsin, and at Iowa on Black Friday. – Fornelli, CBS Sports.
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Purdue opens the season at home against Penn State. If the Boilermakers are a legitimate darkhorse threat to win the West, then starting off with a win against the Nittany Lions would be quite the statement that its indeed Purdue’s throne. Its other two East opponents are Maryland and Indiana, so that helps, too.
Where I become skeptical about Purdue’s chances in its division are the road games against Minnesota and Wisconsin. There’s also a tough stretch of games that sees the Boilermakers playing Nebraska before a road trip to Wisconsin and then Iowa at home. At least there’s a bye between Wisconsin and Iowa. Also, those “coin flip” games that can determine a season against Maryland, Illinois and Indiana are all on the road. – Fornelli, CBS Sports.
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The likely preseason pick to win the Big Ten West has one of the conference’s easiest slates according to Fornelli. Washington State shouldn’t offer too much resistance in the nonconference and Wisconsin gets its road trip to Ohio State out of the way early to finish the month of September. Wisconsin has to travel to Michigan State in October as well.
The most pivotal stretch of the season will be November. That’s when Wisconsin will face its primary competition for the West. The final three games of the year are at Iowa, at Nebraska and at home against Minnesota. – Fornelli, CBS Sports.
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Colorado State, Hawaii and Uconn in the nonconference schedule invokes no fear at all. A road trip to Ohio State will obviously be incredibly difficult, but the rest of the Wolverines’ schedule lays out pretty favorably.
While there is no such thing as an easy Big Ten schedule, Michigan’s is as manageable as you could hope. Sure, there’s the season finale at Ohio State, but the Wolverines get both Penn State and Michigan State in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with a bye in between. Also, while it’s never easy going to Kinnick Stadium to play Iowa, drawing home games against Nebraska and Illinois is a fair trade-off. – Fornelli, CBS Sports.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
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Congratulations, Minnesota! According to Fornelli, this is the easiest schedule of any Big Ten team. The Golden Gophers get New Mexico State, Western Illinois and Colorado at home in the nonconference. With the Buffaloes coming off a 4-8 season, it’s easy to see why Fornelli doesn’t think Colorado is altogether imposing.
The good news is the home slate is manageable, as the Gophers host Purdue, Rutgers, Northwestern and Iowa. It’s hard to imagine the Gophers missing out on a bowl against this schedule, but drawing Michigan State and Penn State as road games from the East probably means winning the division isn’t a realistic goal. – Fornelli, CBS Sports.
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