Big Ten teams had a terrific bowl season at the end of the 2017 campaign, and now they must carry over the non-conference momentum into this fall. Doing so will not be easy with a handful of tough road trips and some potential wild-card College Football Playoff contenders on the schedule.
The Big Ten requires each of its members to schedule at least one game in non-conference play against another power conference program. As a result, the Big Ten has served up some intriguing non-conference matchups in recent years with fun home-and-home series against powers from autonomous conferences and restoring traditional rivalries. This year's slate of non-conference games may not be quite as deep as it was a year ago, but the Big Ten has a handful of attractive games scheduled against teams from the Big 12, a pair of games against Notre Dame worth paying close attention to and some old rivalries renewed.
In all, the Big Ten will play 36 percent of its non-conference games against Power 5 programs, equal to the percentage of non-conference games the Pac-12 has scheduled against P5 programs and one percentage point less than the Big 12. Compared to the ACC and SEC, the Big Ten has the more demanding non-conference schedule in terms of depth, but that also means the Big Ten runs the risk of hurting itself in the long run if it cannot win a majority of these games.
1. Ohio State vs. TCU (Sept. 15 in Arlington, Texas)
After playing a home-and-home series with Oklahoma the past two seasons, this year the Buckeyes turn their attention to a possible Big 12 wild-card candidate, the TCU Horned Frogs. Traveling down to Texas to face Gary Patterson’s program in AT&T Stadium could be a good early test for the Buckeyes in Week 3, and a win in Texas against a Big 12 program would be good to have on the playoff resume, as well as a nice notch for the entire Big Ten.
2. Michigan at Notre Dame (Sept. 1)
Perhaps the most interesting season for Michigan under Jim Harbaugh begins with a primetime season opener against longtime rival Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. The Fighting Irish will be a great opening test to see just how much the Michigan offense has improved, supposing it truly has.
3. Northwestern vs. Notre Dame (Nov. 3)
The Wildcats could be a possible threat in the Big Ten West Division this fall, and the home schedule bringing many of the toughest games to Evanston is a big reason why. In early November, Northwestern will also get a huge home game against Notre Dame for the first time since 1976. Northwestern hasn’t beaten the Irish on their home field since 1962.
4. Maryland vs. Texas (Sept. 1 in Landover, Md.)
After stunning the Longhorns in Austin to open the 2017 season in wild fashion, Texas has had this game circled on its calendar. Getting Texas a little closer to home, Maryland will hope to be healthy and show last year was not a fluke. This could be a sneaky-good game on the Week 1 schedule.
5. Iowa vs. Iowa State (Sept. 8)
Iowa and Iowa State played a true classic last season, and the Cyclones went on to hang around in the Big 12 title hunt later on in the year to make the Iowa win look a little better. Iowa State makes the trip to Iowa City this season in Week 2, which is shaping up to be a pretty big week around the Big Ten.
6. Penn State at Pittsburgh (Sept. 8)
Penn State controlled Pitt last year and nearly escaped with a wild come-from-behind victory in western Pennsylvania two seasons ago before coming up just short. Penn State loses a good amount of talent but still looks to have a better equipped roster for the third game in this four-year revival of the in-state rivalry. And this one is getting the national primetime treatment.
7. Nebraska vs. Colorado (Sept. 8)
Who knows if this game will actually be worth much of your attention, but rekindling an old Big 8 and Big 12 rivalry is always fun to see. Scott Frost is familiar with the Colorado rivalry and will look to come up with a good statement win in Week 2 at home against the Pac-12’s Buffs.
8. Northwestern vs. Duke (Sept. 8)
A revenge game for Northwestern after being embarrassed by the Blue Devils in Durham last season, 41-17. Aside from last year’s lopsided result, the recent games in this ACC-Big Ten academic bowl have been up for grabs. There may be no reason to expect anything different this time around.
9. Michigan State at Arizona State (Sept. 8)
The Spartans head out to Pac-12 territory for a showdown with Arizona State and new head coach Herm Edwards. Michigan State should be the favorite here, but never underestimate the power of #Pac12AfterDark. A trip out west should never be taken for granted.
10. Purdue vs. Missouri (Sept. 15)
Last year proved Purdue was capable of playing some tough football against some good opponents. In Week 3, the Boilermakers will host one of the better offenses the SEC will have to offer, so the defense will be put to the test. Missouri was stunned by Purdue last season and will be looking to score some revenge at Purdue this season.
Best of the Rest:
Purdue vs. Boston College (Sept. 22)
Wisconsin vs. BYU (Sept. 15)
Minnesota vs. Fresno State (Sept. 8)
Penn State vs. Appalachian State (Sept. 1)
Illinois vs. USF (Sept. 15 in Chicago)
-- 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.