Northwestern's home games against Notre Dame and Duke give the Wildcats the toughest out-of-league slate this fall
The Big Ten was left out of the College Football Playoff last season but redeemed itself in the postseason against other conferences. But if the Big Ten is going to ride that conference momentum, then it must thrive on non-conference play this fall.
Overall, the non-conference schedule for the Big Ten leaves a little something to be desired, but it is not without some challenges. But which Big Ten team has the most challenging non-conference schedule this season? It may not be exactly the team most thought it might be this season.
Sept. 8 vs. Duke
Sept. 15 vs. Akron
Nov. 3 vs. Notre Dame
Two power conference opponents for the Wildcats, but both coming at home. Northwestern plays Duke a week after a Big Ten opener to start the new season, and the Fighting Irish come to Evanston a week after a key division contest with Wisconsin (and a week before a road game at Iowa).
2. Ohio State
Sept. 1 vs. Oregon State
Sept. 15 vs. TCU (Arlington, Texas)
Sept. 22 vs. Tulane
Two power conference opponents for the Buckeyes, but one is lowly Oregon State. The road trip to Texas to face a potential Big 12 contender could be a challenge, but Ohio State should be favored.
Sept. 1 at Notre Dame
Sept. 8 vs. Western Michigan
Sept. 15 vs. SMU
After opening the new season on the road in South Bend, Michigan gets a couple of more favorable draws at home against non-power conference opponents before jumping into Big Ten play.
Sept. 8 vs. Eastern Michigan
Sept. 15 vs. Missouri
Sept. 22 vs. Boston College
Purdue will be given a challenge by one of the top offenses in the SEC when Missouri pays a visit and a usually effective running game and defense of Boston College. Getting both games at home is nice.
5. Penn State
Sept. 1 vs. Appalachian State
Sept. 8 at Pittsburgh
Sept. 15 vs. Kent State
Appalachian State is capable of giving Penn State a surprising test in the opener, and a road trip to western Pennsylvania resulted in a loss two years ago. Still, Penn State should be looking at a clean record heading to Big Ten play.
6. Michigan State
Aug. 31 vs. Utah State
Sept. 8 at Arizona State
Sept. 29 vs. Central Michigan
Two favorable draws at home against non-power conference foes and one trip to Pac-12 territory to face Herm Edwards and his Sun Devils. The Spartans should be in good shape going to October.
Sept. 1 vs. Texas (Landover, Md.)
Sept. 8 at Bowling Green
Sept. 15 vs. Temple
Maryland stunned many with a season-opening win at Texas last season, but the Longhorns may be improved this season. Picking up a minimum of two non-conference wins should be the expectation.
Sept. 1 vs. Akron
Sept. 8 vs. Colorado
Sept. 15 vs. Troy
Nebraska gets the first three games of the Scott Frost era at home, and they all should result in wins for the Huskers. Having Colorado back on the schedule should be fun.
Sept. 1 vs. Northern Illinois
Sept. 8 vs. Iowa State
Sept. 15 vs. Northern Iowa
Iowa gets three games at home, including the rivalry matchup with Iowa State. NIU should not be overlooked, but the Cyclones are the biggest threat to the Hawkeyes here.
Aug. 31 vs. Western Kentucky
Sept. 8 vs. New Mexico
Sept. 15 vs. BYU
This schedule would look a little more threatening if BYU has a bounce-back season after a dreadful 2017 season. The Badgers should steamroll their way through these games.
Sept. 1 vs. Kent State
Sept. 8 vs. Western Illinois
Sept. 15 vs. South Florida (Chicago)
The biggest challenge here will be taking on the South Florida Bulls in head coach Lovie Smith's return to Soldier Field, but this non-conference schedule shouldn't be a huge obstacle for Illinois this fall.
Sept. 1 at FIU
Sept. 8 vs. Virginia
Sept. 15 vs. Ball State
The Hoosiers open on the road against FIU and get Virginia and Ball State at home for what could be a favorable non-conference slate. While the Hoosiers should get out of this with two wins at the least, coming away with two losses is certainly a possibility. That would not be a good look for the Hoosiers.
Aug. 30 vs. New Mexico State
Sept. 8 vs. Fresno State
Sept. 15 vs. Miami Ohio
The Gophers managed to not have to play a power conference opponent this season, although Fresno State is coming off a 10-win season and could emerge as a potential hurdle. Even New Mexico State gave Arizona State a good scare in the season opener last fall.
Sept. 1 vs. Texas State
Sept. 15 at Kansas
Sept. 22 vs. Buffalo
Rutgers's non-conference opponents went a combined 9-27 last season, with Buffalo ending the year at 6-6. The only thing concerning about a road trip to Kansas is it comes a week after playing at Ohio State.
-- 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.