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Ranking the Big Ten's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2016

Ohio State Buckeyes football

Ohio State Buckeyes football

The 2016 college football season is shaping up to be a wild ride in the Big Ten with matchups in September against the SEC, Pac-12, ACC and Big 12 (and Notre Dame) highlighting the non-conference slate. Big Ten play will also open with a number of games that could set the tone for the division and conference championship hunt.

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Ohio State and Michigan State may have some holes to plug, and they better figure out how to do that early. Meanwhile, Michigan continues to redeem itself under Jim Harbaugh, and the Wolverines may have some advantages schedule-wise. But which team has the toughest draw of the lot? The answer to that falls in the Big Ten’s West Division.

College Football’s Toughest Predictions in 2016

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* - neutral site

1. Wisconsin

Non-Con: LSU*, Akron, Georgia State

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Big Ten Home: Ohio State, Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota

Big Ten Road: Michigan State, Michigan, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue

The Badgers have a tough road ahead this fall, and it starts at Lambeau Field against Leonard Fournette and LSU. Big Ten play opens with a gauntlet with back-to-back road trips to Michigan State and Michigan and continues after a bye week at home against Ohio State, which is followed by a road game at Iowa. If Wisconsin can survive that start, the back end of the schedule appears much more manageable, but will be no cakewalk.

2. Ohio State

Non-Con: Bowling Green, Tulsa, at Oklahoma

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Big Ten Home: Rutgers, Indiana, Northwestern, Nebraska, Michigan

Big Ten Road: Wisconsin, Penn State, Maryland, Michigan State

After Wisconsin, you will not find a tougher schedule in the Big Ten than the one Ohio State will play. The Buckeyes hit the road to take on Oklahoma in mid-September and open the season against one of the top programs from the MAC, Bowling Green. The Buckeyes also make trips to Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State in conference play before ending the season at home against Michigan. Ohio State also hosts Nebraska.

3. Nebraska

Non-Con: Fresno State, Wyoming, Oregon

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Big Ten Home: Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota, Maryland

Big Ten Road: Northwestern, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa

The Huskers host the (Pac-12 championship contender?) Oregon Ducks in mid-September after hosting Mountain West opponents Fresno State and Wyoming. Nebraska then heads on the road against pesky Northwestern and makes back-to-back road trips to Wisconsin and Ohio State in late October into early November. Ending the season on the road against Iowa is always challenging for Nebraska too.

4. Michigan State

Non-Con: Furman, at Notre Dame, BYU

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Big Ten Home: Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan, Rutgers, Ohio State

Big Ten Road: Indiana, Maryland, Illinois, Penn State

The defending Big Ten champs get their two biggest division games (Michigan, Ohio State) at home, as well as a good non-conference matchup with BYU in October. Michigan State also renews its rivalry with Notre Dame in South Bend, one of the highlights of the Big Ten non-conference schedule this fall.

5. Penn State

Non-Con: Kent State, at Pittsburgh, Temple

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Big Ten Home: Minnesota, Maryland, Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State

Big Ten Road: Michigan, Purdue, Indiana, Rutgers

Penn State’s non-conference schedule is highlighted by the long-awaited revival of the in-state rivalry with Pitt and followed up with a revenge game against Temple (still weird to say that). Penn State’s Big Ten schedule gives the Nittany Lions the Buckeyes and Spartans at home, and Iowa also pays a visit this season, while James Franklin’s team must head to Ann Arbor early in the Big Ten schedule.

6. Northwestern

Non-Con: Western Michigan, Illinois State, Duke

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Big Ten Home: Nebraska, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois

Big Ten Road: Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Minnesota

Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats get the short straw with road games against Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State but they get Nebraska and Wisconsin at home. Northwestern also gets prickly Western Michigan and ACC foe Duke at home in some good early contests.

7. Rutgers

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Non-Con: at Washington, Howard, New Mexico

Big Ten Home:  Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Penn State

Big Ten Road: Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan State, Maryland

The new era for the Scarlet Knights opens on the west coast against Washington and has perhaps the toughest three-game stretch any Big Ten team will have in conference play: Iowa, at Ohio State, Michigan. Rutgers also gets Penn State at home after a road trip to Michigan State. Rutgers has been much more competitive at home than on the road since joining the conference.

8. Michigan

Non-Con: Hawaii, UCF, Colorado

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Big Ten Home: Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Maryland, Indiana

Big Ten Road: Rutgers, Michigan State, Iowa, Ohio State

Michigan’s non-conference schedule may not be too intimidating (this isn’t 1994 Colorado), but the Big Ten slate starts fast at home against Penn State and Wisconsin and ends with three road games in the final five games against Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State.

9. Illinois

Non-Con: Murray State, North Carolina, Western Michigan

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Big Ten Home: Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan State, Iowa

Big Ten Road: Nebraska, Rutgers, Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern

Lovie Smith gets a good challenge out of the gate in the non-conference portion of the schedule against defending ACC Coastal Division champion North Carolina and an emerging, confident Western Michigan program at home. He also gets the Spartans and Hawkeyes at home. Aside from a road trip to Ann Arbor, the road schedule may not be too difficult if Smith has the Illini playing well.

10. Minnesota

Non-Con: Oregon State, Indiana State, Colorado State

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Big Ten Home: Iowa, Rutgers, Purdue, Northwestern

Big Ten Road: Penn State, Maryland, Illinois, Nebraska, Wisconsin

The Gophers get a favorable draw in cross-division play with Rutgers and Maryland on the schedule, and an early road trip to Penn State is not incredibly daunting at this point in time. With a favorable non-conference slate and Iowa at home, Minnesota could set itself up well for a challenging back-end of the schedule against Nebraska and Wisconsin on the road.

11. Indiana

Non-Con: at FIU, Ball State, Wake Forest

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Big Ten Home: Michigan State, Nebraska, Maryland, Penn State, Purdue

Big Ten Road: Ohio State, Northwestern, Rutgers, Michigan

The Hoosiers draw a tough draw on the road against the Buckeyes and Wolverines, but the non-conference schedule includes three teams that went a combined 11-26 last fall.

12. Maryland

Non-Con: Howard, at FIU, at UCF

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Big Ten Home: Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan State, Ohio State, Rutgers

Big Ten Road: Penn State, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska

Maryland’s non-conference opponents went a combined 6-29 last season, and FIU won five of those games. In conference play, Maryland hits the road against Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska but gets Ohio State and Michigan State at home. The Terrapins have fared slightly better at home than on the road since joining the Big Ten, but they are a work in progress under a new head coach.

13. Iowa

Non-Con: Miami (Ohio), Iowa State, North Dakota State

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Big Ten Home: Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska

Big Ten Road: Rutgers, Minnesota, Purdue, Penn State, Illinois

North Dakota State is not your typical FCS opponent, but the Hawkeyes have a very favorable non-conference schedule leading into what may be the most favorable conference schedule. Iowa avoids Ohio State and Michigan State but gets Michigan at home. Iowa also hosts Wisconsin and Nebraska, perhaps the two top opponents in West Division play, and the road schedule is very manageable as well.

14. Purdue

Non-Con: Eastern Kentucky, Cincinnati, Nevada

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Big Ten Home: Iowa, Penn State, Northwestern, Wisconsin

Big Ten Road: Maryland, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana

Purdue’s non-conference schedule could actually be pretty decent with Cincinnati and Nevada, and the Boilermakers are fortunate not to have Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State on the cross-division rotation this year. They also get Iowa and Wisconsin at home. The biggest road test may be Nebraska, the only team Purdue beat in Big Ten play last fall.

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for, and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.