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

College Football Northwestern Wildcats

College Football Northwestern Wildcats

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.

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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.

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1. Northwestern

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).

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Ohio State

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.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan

3. Michigan

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.

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4. Purdue

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.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Penn State

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.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan State

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.

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7. Maryland

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.

Nebraska's college football logo

8. Nebraska

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.

College Football Rankings: Iowa Football

9. Iowa

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.

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10. Wisconsin

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.

College Football Rankings: Illinois

11. Illinois

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.

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12. Indiana

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.

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13. Minnesota

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.

College football rankings: Rutgers

14. Rutgers

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.