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Ranking the Toughest Games on Nebraska's College Football Schedule in 2017

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Nebraska enters Year 3 of the Mike Riley era looking to contend for the Big Ten West title. But the Big Ten schedule makers did the Cornhuskers few favors in 2017.

The Huskers' crossover opponents from the East this year are arguably the league's top two teams from 2016, in Penn State and Ohio State. Additionally, Nebraska’s non-conference slate features no cupcakes, although it remains to be seen just how challenging any of the three opponents will be this fall.

Here is how the entire Nebraska schedule stacks up, ranked from easiest game to most difficult.

12. Sept. 23 vs. Rutgers

Nebraska's Big Ten opener is about the only favor the schedule makers did for the Huskers when it comes to crossover opponents from the East, as the Cornhuskers get the league's bottom-feeders at home before later facing Ohio State and Penn State.

College football rankings: Rutgers

11. Sept. 2 vs. Arkansas State

Blake Anderson's squad is usually a tough out, but despite five Sun Belt titles in the last six years, ASU has yet to notch a road upset against a Power Five team during this stretch. A Week 1 trip to Lincoln doesn't appear to be a likely time to snap that streak.

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10. Oct. 28 at Purdue

Jeff Brohm's first Boilermakers team will likely be at a talent deficiency early on against the Big Ten West. And they have to host the Huskers when Nebraska is coming off a bye. Good luck.

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9. Sept. 29 at Illinois

A Friday atmosphere in the Big Ten will be different, for sure. But that adjustment should be about the biggest challenge for the Huskers against the Illini.

College Football Rankings: Illinois

8. Sept. 16 vs. Northern Illinois

NIU's track record as the class of the MAC earns the Huskies the benefit of the doubt after a disappointing 5-7 2016 season. But they need to find an answer at QB, and with a defense that struggled last season.

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College Football Rankings: NIU

7. Nov. 4 vs. Northwestern

The Wildcats won their last game in Lincoln, in 2015, in the midst of a 10-win season. But Nebraska holds the 4-2 edge in this series, and absolutely needs to win this home game if it wants to win the West.

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6. Nov. 24 vs. Iowa

The Hawkeyes are as unpredictable as they come in the West, meaning they could easily be higher on this list come the end of the season. Still, anything goes in rivalry games, and you never know what could be at stake in this annual Black Friday clash.

College Football Rankings: Iowa Football

5. Nov. 11 at Minnesota

P.J. Fleck makes the Golden Gophers a team to watch in 2017, especially after a nine-win season. Minnesota's stable of running backs should be a handful for most defenses, but new coordinator Bob Diaco’s 3-4 scheme has historically been stout against the run.

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4. Sept. 9 at Oregon

Just how good will Willie Taggart's first Ducks team be? Especially in his second game? That's the big question in Eugene, where a win will likely carry weight in the non-conference season no matter how good Oregon ends up being.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Oregon

3. Oct. 7 vs. Wisconsin

The Badgers are seemingly the annual Big Ten West favorite, having made four of six league title games. They return some studs up front on defense and more than enough on offense to again make them the team to beat in the division.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Wisconsin

2. Nov. 18 at Penn State

The Nittany Lions are the reigning Big Ten champs, and they should be a preseason top-10 team, as they return quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley on offense. Happy Valley is one of the toughest places to play, too. Just ask the team listed No. 1 here.

College Football Top 25: Penn State

1. Oct. 14 vs. Ohio State

No doubt about this one, as the Buckeyes are on the short list of preseason national title contenders and delivered a beatdown of the Huskers last season in Columbus.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Ohio State

— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.