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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.