Welcome to the Big Ten, Nebraska head coach Scott Frost. Now, you are getting thrown right into the fire of the Big Ten with what may be the most difficult schedule any team in the conference faces this upcoming college football season.
Frost is bringing plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future of Nebraska football, but he will have his work cut out for him this season, leaving many to wonder if Nebraska will even get to a bowl game this season. If Nebraska has the toughest schedule in the conference, which school has the second-most difficult? Does any contender have a schedule that will provide some hurdles they won't be able to clear to get to the Big Ten Championship Game?
Here is a look at the schedules of the 14 Big Ten members this season, starting with the most difficult and working our way down to the most pillow-soft schedule the Big Ten has this season.
Non-Con: Akron, Colorado, Troy
West Home: Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois
West Away: Wisconsin, Northwestern, Iowa
Crossover: at Michigan, at Ohio State, Michigan State
The Cornhuskers don't play an overwhelming non-conference schedule to start things off, but they draw one of the toughest crossover rotations in the Big Ten with road trips to Michigan and Ohio State, as well as hosting Michigan State. On top of that, three of their potentially toughest games in division play (Wisconsin, Northwestern, Iowa) all will be played on the road, including back-to-back road tests against the Badgers and Wildcats in October.
Non-Con: at Notre Dame, Western Michigan, SMU
East Home: Maryland, Penn State, Indiana
East Away: Michigan State, Rutgers, Ohio State
Crossover: Nebraska, at Northwestern, Wisconsin
Playing in the East Division presents some typical challenges for any team, and this year the Wolverines play Michigan State and Ohio State on the road. They do get a bye week between a road game at Michigan State and a home game against Penn State, but the crossover rotation is as tough a draw of West opponents as you can get. Fortunately, two of those games (Nebraska and Wisconsin) are at home. Opening the season in South Bend could be a little tricky too.
3. Ohio State
Non-Con: Oregon State, TCU (in Arlington, Texas), Tulane
East Home: Rutgers, Indiana, Michigan
East Away: Penn State, Michigan State, Maryland
Crossover: Minnesota, at Purdue, Nebraska
The Buckeyes will face two stiff road tests in division play with an early trip to Penn State and a November visit to Michigan State. Ohio State also will get a good test in Texas against Big 12 contender TCU in Arlington in Week 3. Considering the talent and depth of Ohio State, the Buckeyes should be equipped to handle themselves well with a relatively challenging schedule.
Non-Con: Texas (in Landover, Md.), at Bowling Green, Temple
East Home: Rutgers, Michigan State, Ohio State
East Away: Michigan, Indiana, Penn State
Crossover: Minnesota, at Iowa, Illinois
Maryland won't play a true home game until Week 3 against Temple and they won't play its second home game until the middle of October. While the crossover rotation is the most favorable it could be, it is not one with any automatic wins. Having to play in Ann Arbor and Happy Valley are tall orders for Maryland too, and the season starts with Texas looking for revenge for what happened last season.
5. Michigan State
Non-Con: Utah State, at Arizona State, Central Michigan
East Home: Michigan, Purdue, Ohio State, Rutgers
East Away: Indiana, Penn State, Maryland
Crossover: Northwestern, at Nebraska
Michigan State has an early bye week (Week 3) this season, which sets the Spartans up for a tough run for the remainder of the season that includes back-to-back games against Penn State and Michigan and later back-to-back games against Ohio State and Nebraska. A Week 2 trip to Arizona State still looks favorable for Michigan State, but you know the Sun Devils will play to win the game.
6. Penn State
Non-Con: Appalachian State, at Pittsburgh, Kent State
East Home: Ohio State, Michigan State, Maryland
East Away: Indiana, Michigan, Rutgers
Crossover: at Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin
The Nittany Lions open the year against one of the top Sun Belt teams and then make a trip to western Pennsylvania (where they lost two years ago), but the highlight of September will be a home game against Ohio State at the end of the month and just before a bye week. Penn State then hosts Michigan State after the bye, setting Penn State up for a terrific opportunity to grab the division by the horns. Playing at Michigan and then hosting Wisconsin in back-to-back weeks in November could be tough.
Non-Con: Eastern Michigan, Missouri, Boston College
West Home: Northwestern, Iowa, Wisconsin
West Away: Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota
Crossover: Ohio State, at Michigan State, at Indiana
Purdue faces one of the more difficult non-conference schedules with one of the SEC's top offenses (Missouri) and a run-heavy and solid defensive threat from the ACC (Boston College) just weeks after opening the season at home against Northwestern. Throw in a three-game stretch against Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa in late October into November and the Boilermakers have a tough road to get back to a bowl game in 2018.
Non-Con: Duke, Akron, Notre Dame
West Home: Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois
West Away: Purdue, Iowa, Minnesota
Crossover: Michigan, at Michigan State, at Rutgers
The Wildcats have a challenging home schedule, but the benefit of that is having most of the toughest games this season played at home. The Wildcats have an early bye week before taking on Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska, and hosting Wisconsin and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks in the second half of the season could be a challenge.
Non-Con: Texas State, at Kansas, Buffalo
East Home: Indiana, Michigan, Penn State
East Away: Ohio State, Maryland, Michigan State
Crossover: Illinois, Northwestern, at Wisconsin
Rutgers has one of the easiest non-conference schedules you will find in the Big Ten, but the road trip to Kansas comes a week after playing Ohio State. The November schedule could be brutal too with Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State the final gauntlet to the season for the Scarlet Knights.
Non-Con: Western Kentucky, New Mexico, BYU
West Home: Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota
West Away: Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue
Crossover: at Michigan, Rutgers, at Penn State
The non-conference portion of Wisconsin's schedule could be beefed up a bit if BYU has a rebound season, but the Badgers have a schedule that looks to set them up for another trip to the Big Ten Championship Game if all goes according to plan. Crossover matchups on the road against Michigan and Penn State are not the most favorable draws for the Badgers, and it could leave for a minimal margin for error in the division.
Non-Con: at FIU, Virginia, Ball State
East Home: Michigan State, Penn State, Maryland
East Away: Rutgers, Ohio State, Michigan
Crossover: Iowa, at Minnesota, Purdue
The Hoosiers have to wait until the first week of November to get a rest. By then they will have already played Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa and Penn State in the midst of a five-week stretch. Even though three of those games will be played at home, that is not a favorable draw. A home game against Virginia may be a toss-up as well, which could put Indiana's bowl hopes in jeopardy in the final three weeks after the bye week.
Non-Con: New Mexico State, Fresno State, Miami (Ohio)
West Home: Iowa, Purdue, Northwestern
West Away: Nebraska, Illinois, Wisconsin
Crossover: at Maryland, at Ohio State, Indiana
Non-conference play should go well for the Gophers (but don't sleep on Fresno State), and Minnesota could be going into their bye week 4-0. After that, the true test begins with Iowa, Ohio State and Nebraska in consecutive weeks, the latter two coming on the road. Other than the Buckeyes, the crossover rotation is manageable and Minnesota gets home games against Purdue and Northwestern in November when the Gophers could already have bowl eligibility clinched to allow them the opportunity to move up the Big Ten's bowl lineup.
Non-Con: Northern Illinois, Iowa State, Northern Iowa
West Home: Wisconsin, Northwestern, Nebraska
West Away: Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois
Crossover: at Indiana, Maryland, at Penn State
The Hawkeyes get to stay home for the entire month of September, featuring games against Iowa State and Wisconsin, and they will play pivotal division games against Northwestern and Nebraska at home in November. Back-to-back road games at Penn State and Purdue could be a stumbling point, but Iowa's schedule throws some breaks its way to stay in contention for the division.
Non-Con: Kent State, Western Illinois, South Florida (in Chicago)
West Home: Purdue, Minnesota, Iowa
West Away: Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern
Crossover: Penn State, at Rutgers, at Maryland
The Illini won't have much time to ease into the season before the challenges start flying at them. After getting off to what should be a 2-0 start, Illinois must play South Florida in Soldier Field and then host Penn State before a bye week. If Illinois gets to that break 3-1, that would be a successful start, and that is possible. But the second half of the season is where things could quickly crumble with the bulk of division matchups, including road games at Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern.
-- Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.