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Ranking the Big Ten’s Toughest College Football Schedules in 2017


The 2016 Big Ten season may not have ended the way you would have expected. Who could have seen it coming, with Penn State getting blown out at Michigan and losing on the road in Pennsylvania for a second straight season (at Temple in 2015, at Pittsburgh in '16), and then stunning Ohio State with a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown? The lesson learned in 2016 is every game means something when it comes to the Big Ten.

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Related: Ranking College Football's Top 25 Toughest Schedules for 2017

Glancing ahead to the 2017 season in Big Ten country, there are a number of games of interest. From non-conference games against defending the defending Big 12 champion (Ohio State vs. Oklahoma), defending Pac-12 champion (Rutgers vs. Washington), and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner (Purdue vs. Louisville and Lamar Jackson), the Big Ten is once again in a position to shine in the spotlight. The conference schedule isn’t too bad either.

But which team has the best overall schedule in the Big Ten? For this discussion, here's a ranking of individual team schedules from best to worst, giving consideration to marquee games, strength of schedule and the importance some of those matchups may carry.

1. Ohio State

Non-Con: Oklahoma, Army, UNLV

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Ohio State

Big Ten Home: Maryland, Penn State, Michigan State, Illinois

Big Ten Road: Indiana, Rutgers, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan

Ohio State once again owns the most notable non-conference game on the Big Ten schedule this season with a home date against defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma. Ohio State also hosts defending Big Ten champion Penn State in a revenge game, and the Buckeyes get a bye week to prepare after a road trip to Nebraska. The Buckeyes play on the road against Michigan this season, where the stakes could once again be high for at least one of the teams. The season actually kicks off in Bloomington, Indiana, on a Thursday night against Indiana (Kevin Wilson storylines galore).

2. Michigan

Non-Con: Florida (in Arlington, Texas), Cincinnati, Air Force

College Football Top 25: Michigan

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

Big Ten Road: Purdue, Indiana, Penn State, Maryland, Wisconsin

The Wolverines begin a brand-new season in Arlington, Texas, against the Florida Gators, the two-time defending SEC East champions. And those two other non-conference games at home against Cincinnati and Air Force could potentially be some good battles, although Michigan should have the upper hand. Michigan will have to go on the road to play Penn State (major revenge game) and the Nittany Lions' whiteout crowd, and Madison to play Wisconsin. This year sees Michigan host Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have held the upper hand in this series of late.

3. Penn State

Non-Con: Akron, Pittsburgh, Georgia State

College Football Top 25: Penn State

Big Ten Home: Indiana, Michigan, Rutgers, Nebraska

Big Ten Road: Iowa, Northwestern, Ohio State, Michigan State, Maryland

Penn State’s chances of defending its Big Ten championship in 2017 likely come down to a big game at Ohio State, but in order for that to be true the Nittany Lions must score revenge in two games at home this season. Pittsburgh of the ACC and Michigan were the only two teams to beat Penn State in the regular season last fall, and both make their way to Happy Valley this season. Penn State also must play tricky road games at Iowa and Northwestern, and hosts Nebraska in mid-November. Penn State may be a Big Ten favorite, but the schedule is a challenge.

4. Rutgers

Non-Con: Washington, Eastern Michigan, Morgan State

College football rankings: Rutgers

Big Ten Home: Ohio State, Purdue, Maryland, Michigan State

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

Rutgers has a long way to go to be competitive in the Big Ten, and the schedule this season throws the Scarlet Knights few softballs outside of Morgan State. Rutgers faces two College Football Playoff teams (Pac-12 champion Washington, Ohio State) and plays road games in the division against Michigan and Penn State and make a trip to Nebraska in the longest-distance game of the season in the Big Ten. Good luck Rutgers. You’re going to need it.

5. Nebraska

Non-Con: Arkansas State, at Oregon, Northern Illinois

Nebraska's college football logo

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