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Ranking the Big Ten's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2018

College Football Nebraska Cornhuskers

College Football Nebraska Cornhuskers

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.

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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.

Nebraska's college football logo

1. Nebraska

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.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan

2. Michigan

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.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Ohio State

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.

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4. Maryland

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.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan State

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.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Penn State

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.

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7. Purdue

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.

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8. Northwestern

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.

College football rankings: Rutgers

9. Rutgers

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.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Wisconsin

10. Wisconsin

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.

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11. Indiana

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.

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12. Minnesota

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.

College Football Rankings: Iowa Football

13. Iowa

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.

College Football Rankings: Illinois

14. Illinois

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.