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Big Ten Football: Ranking the Toughest Schedules in 2020

The schedule's been revamped again and Scott Frost's Nebraska Cornhuskers still have the toughest conference-only slate

The start of the Big Ten football season is finally just around the corner. When the action does get started in the Big Ten, it will be a springboard to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game with Ohio State expected to lead the pack. And with the schedule the Buckeyes get to play, Justin Fields should have plenty of opportunities to pad his Heisman Trophy profile along the way.

 

But who has the most difficult road to travel? That unenviable position belongs to Nebraska, who should find it difficult to muster a winning record.

 

The Big Ten will play an eight-game conference-only schedule. In addition, each team will get to play a ninth game the weekend of the conference championship game (Dec. 18-19) as teams are paired up with a cross-division opponent based on the standings. For now, we will focus just on the scheduled eight games.

 

Now that we have an updated conference schedule, it's time to once again figure out who has the most difficult schedule in the Big Ten.

 

1. Nebraska

West Home: Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota

West Away: Northwestern, Iowa, Purdue

Crossover: at Ohio State, Penn State

 

You may not find a tougher first four games in the Big Ten than the gauntlet Nebraska will open with. Getting Ohio State and Penn State in crossover matchups in the first four weeks, plus a game against the Badgers and pesky Northwestern will make for a tough start for the Cornhuskers. It will, potentially, get a little easier after that, but Nebraska has very few easy wins to look forward to.

 

2. Michigan

East Home: Michigan State, Penn State, Maryland

East Away: Indiana, Rutgers, Ohio State

Crossover: at Minnesota, Wisconsin

 

Like Nebraska, Michigan also will face arguably the four top teams in the Big Ten. But at least they get those matchups a little more spread out. If Michigan can manage to go 2-0 at home against Wisconsin and Penn State, that clash with the Buckeyes could be very interesting.

 

3. Maryland

East Home: Ohio State, Michigan State, Rutgers

East Away: Penn State, Indiana, Michigan

Crossover: at Northwestern, Minnesota

 

The Terrapins play Minnesota, Penn State, and Ohio State in consecutive weeks. That’s a tough trio to work through for a rebuilding program. It could be a long year for Maryland.

 

4. Indiana

East Home: Penn State, Michigan, Maryland

East Away: Rutgers, Michigan State, Ohio State

Crossover: at Wisconsin, Purdue

 

The Hoosiers open the year at home against Penn State and will play road games at Ohio State and Wisconsin. Indiana could spring an upset of the Nittany Lions or Michigan in Bloomington, but there won't be enough wins to make a surprise run to the division.

 

5. Michigan State

East Home: Rutgers, Indiana, Ohio State

East Away: Michigan, Maryland, Penn State

Crossover: at Iowa, Northwestern

 

The Spartans don't figure to be doing much this season, and back-to-back road games against Michigan and Iowa certainly don't seem like they will help build much momentum. Ending the year with Ohio State and Penn State is a tough way to end the year too.

 

6. Penn State

East Home: Ohio State, Maryland, Michigan State

East Away: Indiana, Michigan, Rutgers

Crossover: at Nebraska, Iowa

 

Penn State gets the biggest Big Ten game of the season at home against Ohio State on Halloween, but road trips to Nebraska and Michigan have upset potential. Iowa hasn't had much success against Penn State lately, but the Hawkeyes are no pushover.

 

7. Rutgers

East Home: Indiana, Michigan, Penn State

East Away: Michigan State, Ohio State, Maryland

Crossover: Illinois, at Purdue

 

We know the bar is low for Rutgers, and playing some of the teams they will face in the division could be tough to watch. Rutgers will be an underdog every week.

 

8. Illinois

West Home: Purdue, Minnesota, Iowa

West Away: Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern

Crossover: at Rutgers, Ohio State

 

The Illini hit the ground running with Wisconsin and Minnesota in their first three games, and they'll hope to be the team to play spoiler in a big way when the Buckeyes come to town in late November. They also draw Rutgers to balance out the crossover difficulty as much as possible.

 

9. Iowa

West Home: Northwestern, Nebraska, Wisconsin

West Away: Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois

Crossover: Michigan State, at Penn State

 

Iowa has an excellent chance to be in the Big Ten West race this season. The Hawkeyes get Wisconsin at home in the last game of the regular season in what could determine the fate of the division. But back-to-back road games earlier in the year against Minnesota and Penn State could make or break Iowa's division hopes. A split, at worst, may be needed.

 

10. Minnesota

West Home: Iowa, Purdue, Northwestern

West Away: Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska

Crossover: Michigan, at Maryland

 

The Golden Gophers get their crossover matchups at the beginning of the year, starting with Michigan in the battle for the Little Brown Jug. Minnesota will have to find a win in Madison against the Badgers at the end of November, otherwise P.J. Fleck's crew could be on the outside looking in on the division title. But the schedule certainly is manageable for the Gophers.

 

11. Wisconsin

West Home: Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota

West Away: Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa

Crossover: at Michigan, Indiana

 

The home game against Minnesota in late November should help determine the outcome in the West. Wisconsin also has to play at Michigan, which is a bit of a toss-up.

 

12. Northwestern

West Home: Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois

West Away: Iowa, Purdue, Minnesota

Crossover: Maryland, at Michigan State

 

If you are looking for a sleeper pick in the Big Ten West, it should be Northwestern. Pat Fitzgerald's team draws the most favorable pairing of crossover games against Big Ten East opponents and will play two of its biggest division games at home against Nebraska and Wisconsin. Road trips to Iowa and Minnesota are challenging, but this is without a doubt a schedule that could see some good success by the Wildcats.

 

13. Purdue

West Home: Iowa, Northwestern, Nebraska

West Away: Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota

Crossover: Rutgers, at Indiana

 

Or maybe Purdue has a better schedule to be a sleeper in the West? The Boilermakers get a home game against Rutgers in crossover play but will have to play at Wisconsin and Minnesota.

 

14. Ohio State

East Home: Rutgers, Indiana, Michigan

East Away: Penn State, Maryland, Michigan State

Crossover: Nebraska, at Illinois

 

The prohibitive favorite in the Big Ten has the best schedule possible. Other than a Halloween matchup at Penn State, Ohio State's schedule is incredibly favorable. Not only do the Buckeyes not have to play Wisconsin or Minnesota, but they also don't have to play themselves! And they get Michigan at home.

 

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB, on Instagram, and Like him on Facebook.

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