- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Ever since the Big Ten decided to go to a nine-game schedule beginning in 2016, we've been anxiously waiting to see how those schedules would line up.
The wait is now over, as the league has put out its schedules for 2016 and 2017, the first two years of the nine-game conference slates. This is big, because there are so many competitive balance questions with the uneven crossover opponents and home/road splits. As previously announced, all East Division teams will play five conference home games in 2016, while the West Division teams will play five at home in '17.
OK, let's delve into the important details ...
Indiana: Nebraska, at Northwestern, Purdue (protected)
Maryland: Purdue, Minnesota, at Nebraska
Michigan: Wisconsin, Illinois, at Iowa
Michigan State: Wisconsin, Northwestern, at Illinois
Ohio State: at Wisconsin, Northwestern, Nebraska
Penn State: Minnesota, at Purdue, Iowa
Rutgers: Illinois, at Minnesota, Iowa
Illinois: at Rutgers, at Michigan, Michigan State
Iowa: at Rutgers, at Penn State, Michigan
Minnesota: at Penn State, at Maryland, Rutgers
Nebraska: at Indiana, at Ohio State, Maryland
Northwestern: at Michigan State, Indiana, at Ohio State
Purdue: at Maryland, Penn State, at Indiana (protected)
Wisconsin: at Michigan, at Michigan State, Ohio State
Indiana: Wisconsin, at Illinois, at Purdue (protected)
Maryland: at Minnesota, Northwestern, at Wisconsin
Michigan: at Purdue, Minnesota, at Wisconsin
Michigan State: Iowa, at Minnesota, at Northwestern
Ohio State: at Nebraska, at Iowa, Illinois
Penn State: at Northwestern, at Iowa, Nebraska
Rutgers: at Nebraska, at Illinois, Purdue
Illinois: Rutgers, Indiana, at Ohio State
Iowa: at Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State
Minnesota: Maryland, Michigan State, at Michigan
Nebraska: Rutgers, Ohio State, at Penn State
Northwestern: Penn State, at Maryland, Michigan State
Purdue: Michigan, at Rutgers, Indiana (protected)
Wisconsin: Maryland, at Indiana, Michigan
Now you see the effect of the so-called "parity-based" scheduling. There was some rumbling about the 2014 and 2015 schedules because a lot of the marquee programs don't play each other those years. Well, we get Ohio State-Nebraska and Wisconsin-Michigan in both 2016 and 2017, both Michigan State-Wisconsin and Wisconsin-Ohio State in '16, and Penn State-Nebraska in '17. While it's impossible to predict how good any team will be four or five seasons from now, these figure to be the marquee games for the league.
Sadly, there's no Nebraska-Michigan on the schedule, meaning the Huskers and Wolverines won't play for at least four consecutive years (2014-2017). I would imagine we'll see those two hook up in 2018, but it's the one real headliner matchup missing in the conference over that period. Savor this year's game in Ann Arbor, folks. We'll also miss Penn State-Wisconsin, as those teams also do not play from 2014-2017.
Let's look at the schedule in terms of opponents each team will miss in 2016 and 2017:
Indiana: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin
Maryland: Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Michigan: Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue
Michigan State: Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue
Ohio State: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue
Penn State: Illinois, Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Rutgers: Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin
Illinois: Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State
Iowa: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State
Minnesota: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State
Nebraska: Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Rutgers
Northwestern: Maryland, Michigan, Penn State, Rutgers
Purdue: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Rutgers
Wisconsin: Indiana, Maryland, Penn State, Rutgers,
Indiana: Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern
Maryland: Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Purdue
Michigan: Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska,, Northwestern
Michigan State: Illinois, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin
Ohio State: Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin
Penn State: Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue, Wisconsin
Rutgers: Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Illinois: Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State
Iowa: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Rutgers
Minnesota: Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers
Nebraska: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State
Northwestern: Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State or Rutgers
Purdue: Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State
Wisconsin: Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers
Some more thoughts:
Many people thought Wisconsin and Ohio State got breaks with their 2014 and 2015 opponents. Well, it's payback time. The Badgers have arguably the toughest crossovers in 2016, and they will start the league season playing road games against Michigan and Michigan State before hosting Ohio State, all out-of-division games. Remember that Wisconsin is also scheduled to play at Virginia Tech in Week 2 of 2016. Have fun with all that, Gary Andersen. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes draw Nebraska both years, and also face Northwestern and Wisconsin in 2016.
You want earlier conference games? It doesn't happen in 2016, because of previously scheduled nonconference contests. But in 2017, Ohio State plays at Indiana in the season opener. How's that for early? The 2017 slate also includes a pair of Week 3 conference games: Rutgers at Nebraska, and Michigan at Purdue.
The beginning of the nine-game schedule also begins a new two-year cycle when it comes to home/road games. So, for example, Indiana plays at Purdue in both '15 and '16, but the Hoosiers will have hosted the Boilermakers in '13 and '14. Michigan will be at Michigan State in three out of four years: 2013, 2014 and 2016.
Though Wolverines fans won't like that road rotation with the Spartans, Michigan made out pretty well overall. Brady Hoke's team plays Wisconsin both years, but misses Nebraska and Northwestern while drawing Illinois and Iowa in '16 and Purdue and Minnesota in '17. Michigan could have an upper hand on Ohio State in the East Division race in 2016 simply because of the crossover schedule.
Michigan State drew a tough division and difficult 2014 and '15 schedules. The good news is that in 2017, the Spartans do not play Wisconsin or Nebraska from the West.
Looking for sleepers? How about Purdue in 2016, when the Boilers don't have to play Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State. They pick up Michigan in 2017, but don't have to play the Buckeyes, Spartans or Penn State that year.
In excellent news, rivalry games will continue to be played on the final weekend, including Michigan-Ohio State, Wisconsin-Minnesota, Purdue-Indiana, Northwestern-Illinois and Iowa-Nebraska. And for the most part, teams play mostly division games in November.
That's a lot to digest for now. We'll have much more on the future schedules, including a post this afternoon on how these came together. Send us your thoughts on these lineups here.
3dDan Murphy and Austin Ward