Big Ten: Navy Midshipmen

Usually when two teams renew a series that had been dormant for more than 35 years, there are few remaining connections.

Thank goodness for Joe Paterno.

Paterno actually remembers the days when Penn State opened its football seasons against Navy. From Paterno's second season as Penn State head coach in 1967 until 1971, the Nittany Lions raised the curtain against the Midshipmen. Penn State and Navy have met 37 times and played 12 games between 1961-74, but the two squads haven't faced each other since.

The hiatus ends Sept. 15, 2012, as Penn State announced Wednesday that it will host Navy at Beaver Stadium. Will JoePa still on the Nittany Lions sideline? Time will tell.

"We are excited to have Navy returning to the Penn State football (schedule," Penn State athletic director Tim Curley said in a prepared statement. "Navy was our (season opening opponent a number of times in the 1960's and '70's and (we've had many memorable games against the Midshipmen. Navy has a great (football tradition and has returned to being one of the top programs (in the nation during the past decade. We're looking forward to having (Navy playing again in Beaver Stadium."

This is a very competitive series, with Penn State holding an 18-17-2 edge against Navy, first facing the Midshipmen in 1894 in Annapolis. Penn State has won seven of the 10 meetings in State College.

Navy is no pushover, as Ohio State found out in the 2009 season opener. The Mids have made a recent habit out of giving traditional powerhouses all they can handle. Therefore, I like this addition for Penn State.

Penn State previously had been scheduled to host Temple on Sept. 15, 2012. Virginia is also part of the Nittany Lions' nonconference slate that fall.
 
  US PRESSWIRE
 Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez are facing similar problems within their programs.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg

Notre Dame and Michigan treated us to one of the season's most entertaining games back on Sept. 12 at the Big House. Both teams seemed destined for solid seasons back then, but the Fighting Irish and Wolverines have since fallen on hard times. Michigan hasn't beaten an FBS team since Sept. 26 and needs to upset No. 20 Wisconsin or No. 11 Ohio State to avoid missing a bowl for the second straight season. Notre Dame likely fell out of the BCS bowl mix by losing to Navy for the second consecutive time in South Bend. Not surprisingly, head coaches Rich Rodriguez and Charlie Weis are in the crosshairs.

Which coach's problems are worse? How did these two programs get here? Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg take a closer look.

Adam Rittenberg: Let's talk about Charlie Weis and the Irish. They lose to Navy at home again. Nose tackle Ian Williams says they're getting outschemed. What's going on with Weis and the Domers?

Brian Bennett: There's very little excuse for Notre Dame to be only 6-3 at this point. The Irish have legitimate stars in quarterback Jimmy Clausen and receivers Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, an experienced offensive line and seasoned upperclassmen all over the roster. But this program continues to lose to every ranked team it plays and throws in at least one head-scratcher each year (this time, Navy. Again.).

Something just isn't working here, and you have to blame Weis. He remains a brilliant offensive mind, but I think sometimes he outthinks himself in an effort to prove his intelligence. He doesn't appear to be able to properly motivate his teams, likely because of his NFL coordinator background. And years of suspect recruiting or talent evaluation on the defensive side has again led to a team that can't stop anybody.

Notre Dame, simply put, should be better than this in Year 5 under Weis. It's only Year 2 under Rodriguez in Ann Arbor, but people expected a lot more than this. What's wrong with the Maize and Blue?

 
  Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
  There were high expectations for both Michigan and Notre Dame this season.
Rittenberg: Those expectations certainly increased after Michigan's 4-0 start, highlighted by the win over the Fighting Irish. I remember thinking then that Notre Dame was the better team in that matchup, but Michigan found a way to win and had the potential to make major progress. Instead, the mistakes Michigan overcame in its first four victories began to cost the Wolverines in October.

Quarterback Tate Forcier has battled injuries and some inconsistent play. He still creates a lot of plays with his feet, but he's still too much of a freelancer and struggles with his throws in the pocket. Brandon Minor might be the Big Ten's most dominant running back, but he just can't stay healthy. But for the most part, the offense hasn't been the problem. Like Notre Dame, Michigan's major issues are on the defensive side. There's a lot of youth and not much depth there, as evidenced by several walk-ons in the two-deep, but the number of major breakdowns is shocking. It's one thing to allow big plays to Notre Dame on Sept. 12. But to give up the same plays to Iowa, Illinois and Purdue later in the season is unacceptable.

Rodriguez isn't to blame for all the problems, but like Weis, I think he fights himself a lot. He has won a certain way for years, and he can be stubborn. Rich has talked a lot about the need to have patience but admits he doesn't have much himself. And he still talks too much about the program he inherited from Lloyd Carr. Last I checked, he coaches Michigan, not Eastern Michigan, and while there were problems in 2007, a program like Michigan should never miss bowls in consecutive years (a strong possibility), especially in an average Big Ten.

Both of these coaches are known for offense, and yet both have major problems on defense. Has Weis put enough focus on the other side of the ball?

Bennett: Well, as you know, Weis is the offensive coordinator again this year and fully admits that he leaves most of the responsibility for the defense in the hands of veteran coordinator Jon Tenuta. The blitzing schemes favored by Tenuta haven't really worked, but that's mostly because of the personnel. Though Weis has brought in some highly rated recruiting classes, there still aren't enough big-time playmakers on defense, especially up front. When you look at, say USC, or even this week's opponent, Pittsburgh, the Irish simply don't stack up athlete for athlete on the defensive line.

What I don't understand is how Michigan can have talent problems, even in the coaching transition. Shouldn't the Wolverines have enough blue-chippers to field a good defense even as they adjust to a new offensive system?

Rittenberg: You would think, Brian, but Michigan has had an abnormal amount of attrition on that side of the ball, coupled with some bad recruiting classes for defense toward the end of Carr's tenure. The Wolverines also have had veteran players regress this season, and there aren't enough young guys ready to fill the gaps. Rodriguez needs his defensive recruits to blossom immediately, especially since Michigan will be losing its best defensive player (DE Brandon Graham) and possibly its No. 2 defender (junior CB Donovan Warren). It will be interesting to see what happens with first-year coordinator Greg Robinson, who hasn't had the desired effect on this unit.

OK, you're on the spot. What's your prediction for the rest of Notre Dame's season? Can Weis turn things around? Will next year's Fighting Irish head coach be Weis or your man-crush, Brian Kelly?

Bennett: The rest of the season brings a trip to No. 12 Pitt this week, followed by a visit from dangerous UConn next week and the season finale at Stanford. I have a hard time seeing Notre Dame winning more than two of those, so 8-4 or 7-5 looks like the final tally.

Jack Swarbrick isn't going to call me for advice, but I wouldn't think that record would be enough to keep Weis, especially since the Irish could once again lack any real quality wins. They don't hang banners for Gator Bowls in South Bend.

If there is a change, I would imagine Notre Dame would first try and land a big-time name, such as Urban Meyer or Jon Gruden. Once those guys say no -- and I don't think either would take the job -- the Irish would be crazy not to go after Kelly. He's Catholic, a great program salesman, he's built strong recruiting ties in the Midwest and he just wins big everywhere he goes.

He'd be a perfect fit at Notre Dame -- unless Michigan came calling first. Any chance Rodriguez doesn't survive, especially if the NCAA finds something in that whole practice time investigation?

Rittenberg: The NCAA investigation is the wild card, especially if major violations are found for the first time in Michigan football history. But this isn't boosters paying players or academic fraud, so I can't see the penalties being too terrible. Michigan AD Bill Martin said earlier this week that Rodriguez is safe, and though Martin will be retiring soon, they're not going to make a change in football after only two years, especially during an athletic director transition.

A 5-7 season combined with NCAA violations would really sting, but Rodriguez should be back in 2010. He'll definitely be on the hot seat entering next fall, needing at least eight or nine wins to keep his job at a tradition-rich program.

Sound familiar?
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Minnesota once again proved Friday that it's willing to set a higher standard for nonconference scheduling in the Big Ten.

On the eve of its matchup against No. 8 California, Minnesota finalized a two-game series with national powerhouse Texas. The Gophers will host Texas in 2015 and travel to Austin in 2016. Minnesota also added a two-game series against Navy in 2019 and 2020.

The Texas series had been in the works for some time. Gophers head coach Tim Brewster served as an assistant to Mack Brown at both North Carolina and Texas from 1989-2001.

“It’s another great opportunity to help ourselves, facing two great teams like Texas and Navy,” Brewster said in a statement. “It creates tremendous excitement with our fan base, our players and in recruiting."

Brewster and athletic director Joel Maturi have been aggressive in nonconference scheduling, adding teams like Cal, USC and now Texas to future slates. It's a refreshing philosophy in a league still too prone to cupcake scheduling.

Here are Minnesota's updated schedules for 2015 and 2016.

Big Ten mailblog

September, 11, 2009
9/11/09
5:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Big weekend, burning questions.

Beckham from Phoenix writes: Is it fair that the entire reputation of the Big Ten is placed on the shoulders of one team in Ohio State?Should the other 10 teams step up as well and do fans realize the current rep is the entire Big Ten's fault and not just Ohio States?

Adam Rittenberg: Totally agree that more Big Ten teams need to help Ohio State carry the banner, and it appears as though Penn State is on its way toward doing so. But when a team dominates a league as thoroughly as Ohio State has and then flops on the national stage multiple times, that team will take an excessive amount of blame. It's just the way it is. The Big Ten certainly needs to catch up to Ohio State, but the Buckeyes would be well served by winning one of these big games.


Aaron from Holland, Mich., writes: Do you think that Oklahoma might be wishing that they still had Keith Nichol right about now?

Adam Rittenberg: Great call, Aaron. I forgot about the Nichol-OU connection until you brought it up. The answer is absolutely. Oklahoma would be much better off right now with Nichol at the helm, but you can't fault Nichol for transferring to Michigan State, where he'll likely get more playing time in the long term. But the Sooners certainly could use him right about now.


Ossim from Chicago writes: Hey Adam,What gives? Ralph Bolden leads the entire country in rushing after week one and he isn't even worth mentioning in most sports media outlet's heisman lists? I realize that the way the overall team performs tends to heavily weigh in on who wins the trophy, but if they're looking players on a week to week basis, he should at least be acknowledged.

Adam Rittenberg: Whoa, slow down there, Ossim. Bolden had a great game and should be a stud this fall for Purdue, but he's got to do a bit more than run wild against Toledo to be considered for the Heisman. Let's not forget the Rockets ranked 96th nationally in rush defense last season. The Heisman is such a screwy award, and preseason hype really means more than anything, but if Bolden puts up more big numbers against Oregon, people will notice him.

(Read full post)

Big Ten power rankings: Week 2

September, 8, 2009
9/08/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


After several installments of power rankings during the offseason (when no games were actually being played), it's time to assess the league with a bit of concrete evidence.

First, a quick power rankings primer. These rankings are meant to be fluid. If a team loses or struggles in a game it should win, it pays the price. If a team looks impressive in victory or pulls an upset, it usually moves up. Try not to throw a tantrum if your team isn't where you think it should be. There are opportunities every week to move up. And move down.

Week 1 wasn't great for the Big Ten, as two ranked teams (Ohio State, Iowa) struggled and a potential sleeper team (Illinois) simply fell asleep. But there was good news in Ann Arbor, as Michigan looks to be respectable again. The top three look very solid to me. After that, it's a bit murky.

1. Penn State (1-0) -- The Nittany Lions handled their business with no drama against Akron, surging to a 31-0 halftime lead. Daryll Clark showed why he's the Big Ten's best quarterback, and for now, Penn State is the league's top team. Joe Paterno wants to see better play from his offensive line, but the wide receivers looked impressive.

2. Ohio State (1-0) -- Sure, Navy is a tricky team with a tricky offense. Tell me something I don't know. Bottom line: Ohio State was bigger and more talented at pretty much every position. The Buckeyes had a chance to put away the game early in the fourth quarter, but head coach Jim Tressel made a poor decision and his players had several breakdowns. It will take a much better performance across the board to simply keep pace with USC.

3. Michigan State (1-0) -- The Spartans hold a firm grip on the No. 3 spot after a stress-free win against Montana State. Quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol continue to pace one another in a good way, and linebacker Greg Jones picked up where he left off in 2008. Michigan State's line play still concerns me a bit, but I like the team's depth at most key positions.

4. Northwestern (1-0) -- Iowa's near disaster allows Northwestern to move up a spot. Towson didn't present much of a challenge for the Wildcats, who could have easily put up 60 points in Saturday's game. They might not get a true test until Week 3 or 4, but they had to be pleased with quarterback Mike Kafka and wide receiver Andrew Brewer in the opener.

5. Iowa (1-0) -- Hawkeye fans are already spreading the Northern Iowa gospel after their team was a 41-yard field goal away from a crushing defeat on Saturday. True, the Panthers are an excellent FCS program, but Iowa should feel free to take care of business and perform like a ranked team. It didn't happen, and the Hawkeyes' run game seems a bit shaky with Jewel Hampton lost for the season. There will be chances to move up, and Iowa needs to look like the team that ended last season on a great run.

6. Michigan (1-0) -- No team in the Big Ten had a more impressive debut, especially considering the circumstances. Rich Rodriguez's team showed unity, toughness and, most important, better execution on both sides of the ball as it totally dismantled Western Michigan. Rodriguez finally has the right quarterbacks in place to run his offense (Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson), and the defense looked extremely well coached and energized as it ruined Tim Hiller's day. A chance to make a national statement and move up the rankings arrives Saturday against Notre Dame (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

7. Wisconsin (1-0) -- Finishing games will continue to be a theme in Madison after Wisconsin allowed two late touchdowns to Northern Illinois. But for the most part, the Badgers had a nice debut as Scott Tolzien performed well at quarterback and Isaac Anderson distinguished himself as a playmaker at wide receiver. Wisconsin will need a more complete performance against Fresno State to move up the rankings.

8. Minnesota (1-0) -- A come-from-behind road win certainly means something, but Minnesota probably shouldn't have been in such a desperate position against Syracuse. The Gophers easily jumped ahead 14-3 but endured an offensive lull similar to the ones that cropped up late last season. Linebacker Lee Campbell led an admirable defensive performance. Air Force provides a good test this week as Minnesota opens TCF Bank Stadium.

9. Purdue (1-0) -- Boilers fans have the right to be a bit ticked off with this placement, but I need to see a little more from Danny Hope's team before buying in. If Purdue heads to Eugene and pulls the upset -- or merely keeps pace with Oregon for the second straight year -- I'll be happy to move the Boilers up the rankings. Ralph Bolden's performance was extremely impressive, though the defense needs to be better against Jeremiah Masoli and the wounded Ducks.

10. Illinois (0-1) -- Granted, Illinois played a tougher opponent (Missouri) than its Big Ten brethren in Week 1, but a complete collapse in St. Louis is simply unacceptable. The Illini were the deeper and more experienced team, but they looked flustered and lifeless at times, delivering the type of performance that kept them out of a bowl game last year. A 1-4 start isn't out of the question for Illinois, which needs to bounce back strong to avoid a trip to the basement.

11. Indiana (1-0) -- A win's a win, but there won't be many more in Bloomington if Indiana doesn't pick up its play on both sides of the ball. The pistol formation was supposed to spark the rushing attack, but the Hoosiers gained just 73 yards on the ground against Eastern Kentucky, an FCS team. Indiana had three turnovers and endured several breakdowns in the secondary. Western Michigan and Hiller provide a bigger test this week, and Indiana needs to meet it.

Video: Ohio State edges Navy

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
3:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


In a season where the Big Ten needs its best teams to play like it, Ohio State and Iowa didn't help the collective cause.

The sixth-ranked Buckeyes found a way to survive against Navy, thanks to Brian Rolle's interception return on a potential game-tying two-point conversion attempt late in the fourth quarter. Ohio State simply never found a way to shake the Midshipmen, even after taking a 29-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. Some will point to Terrelle Pryor's play as a reason for concern, but my biggest issue here is an Ohio State defense that allowed far too many big plays. The Buckeyes have to be much better on D to keep pace with USC next week. This game really resembled last year's poor performance in a USC tune-up against Ohio.

Iowa barely escaped against Northern Iowa, an upper-tier FCS program but one the 22nd-ranked Hawkeyes should handle fairly easily at home. The losses in the running game are obvious, though Adam Robinson did some nice things, and UNI's Pat Grace had far too easy a time throwing the ball against a veteran Hawkeyes secondary. The Panthers had two chances to win at the end, but Iowa came up big on special teams.

From the preseason injuries to today's performance, you can tell this won't be an easy season for Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes.

Both teams will take a hit in the power rankings Monday, but these performances will continue the Big Ten bashing for at least another week.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Any team that has USC on the horizon wants to be at or near its peak.

For the second straight year, Ohio State is falling short of the mark.

Watching the Buckeyes struggle to separate from Navy, I can't help but remember being in Columbus last year for Ohio State's very tight affair against Ohio the week before it traveled to USC. The Buckeyes struggled to shake the Bobcats, and we all know what happened next at the L.A. Coliseum. Despite superior size and talent on both sides of the ball, Ohio State once again enters the fourth quarter with the game somewhat in doubt.

Navy has moved the ball surprisingly well against the Buckeyes' defensive front, mounting a 99-yard scoring drive late in the third quarter, chewing up eight minutes of clock in the process. Mids quarterback Ricky Dobbs has done some nice things, and Ohio State's offense hasn't been able to pull away. I do like the way Terrelle Pryor is throwing the ball and Brandon Saine could be the answer at running back.

Ohio State will win the game, but it would have been nice to see the Buckeyes run away with this one before taking on the Trojans.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Big Ten football is here!

If you could see me right now, I'd be doing my happy dance. On second thought, it's probably better you don't see me.

Anyway, after this Sahara of an offseason, I'm excited to start blogging about actual games again.

Here's a quick rundown of what's on tap for the opening weekend in the Big Ten:

THURSDAY

Eastern Kentucky at Indiana, 8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network

Indiana debuts the pistol offense against FCS Eastern Kentucky, a team that enjoyed good success under current Purdue head coach Danny Hope from 2003-07. Keep an eye on the Hoosiers' running back race, as three or four backs, including dynamic redshirt freshman Darius Willis, are expected to get carries. Coming off a 3-9 season, Indiana needs a strong start from its defense, who will face Colonels quarterback Cody Watts, a converted wide receiver who led the team in touchdown receptions (5) last season.

SATURDAY

Towson at Northwestern, noon ET, Big Ten Network

The Wildcats shouldn't have much trouble with Towson, a team that went 3-9 last season and still hasn't decided on its starting quarterback. But this will be a chance for Northwestern senior quarterback Mike Kafka and a new crop of starting skill players to get comfortable and gain confidence. Star defensive end Corey Wootton returns to the field after recovering from a torn ACL, and true freshman running back Arby Fields likely will see a lot of work.

Montana State at Michigan State, noon ET, Big Ten Network

All eyes will be on the Spartans' offensive backfield, where position battles at both quarterback and running back have intensified. Quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol both are expected to play a lot, but who creates separation will be key. Michigan State coaches told ESPN.com last week that running backs Caulton Ray, Larry Caper and Edwin Baker likely will enter the season as the top ball carriers. Montana State also remains unsettled at quarterback with Mark Iddins and Cody Kempt competing for the top spot.

Navy at No. 6 Ohio State, noon ET, ESPN

Before a much anticipated rematch with USC, Ohio State must get past Navy, which always provides a challenge but doesn't appear to be as strong as it is in most years. Terrelle Pryor's progress from Year 1 to Year 2 will be interesting to watch, and I'm also very curious about the left tackle position. Will Andrew Miller or J.B. Shugarts emerge as the answer to protect Pryor's blind side?

Akron at No. 9 Penn State, noon ET, Big Ten Network

Whether it's fair or not, everyone expects a blowout here, and Penn State needs to deliver. The Lions' schedule forces the team not only to win, but win in very impressive fashion. Penn State can build confidence at wide receiver and offensive line against Akron, which ranked 90th nationally in total defense last fall. Akron quarterback Chris Jacquemain is pretty solid and will provide a good test for a new-look Penn State secondary.

Minnesota at Syracuse, noon ET, ESPN2

What is it about Minnesota and dome stadiums? The Golden Gophers thought they had rid themselves of domes for good by moving out of the Metrodome last fall, but they head indoors again to face Syracuse. Emotions will be high in the Carrier Dome as the Doug Marrone era begins and former Duke basketball player Greg Paulus starts at quarterback. Minnesota is the better team here, and as long as the Gophers keep their composure and don't struggle too much with their new pro-style offense, they should be fine.

Toledo at Purdue, noon ET, Big Ten Network

The Danny Hope era begins in West Lafayette as Purdue takes on Toledo, which also welcomes in a new coach (Tim Beckman). It will be interesting to watch how much the Boilers offense has changed under coordinator Gary Nord. Running back is arguably Purdue's deepest position, and backs like Jaycen Taylor, Ralph Bolden and Frank Halliburton all should get work. Boilers quarterback Joey Elliott needs to be aware of Toledo star safety Barry Church, a Nagurski Award candidate.

Northern Iowa at No. 22 Iowa, noon ET, Big Ten Network

This isn't your run-of-the-mill FBS vs. FCS beatdown. It could turn out that way, but Northern Iowa is pretty good and Iowa has some issues at running back. Former walk-on Paki O'Meara likely will get the start at running back for the Hawkeyes. Former Wisconsin linebacker Elijah Hodge, whose brother Abdul starred for Iowa, is making his debut with Northern Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa has won the last 14 meetings in the series stretching back to 1898.

Western Michigan at Michigan, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

There's plenty of intrigue here, and I'll be on hand to watch it. Michigan tries to win its first opener since 2006 and close the book on a disastrous 2008 season. The Wolverines could use three quarterbacks (Nick Sheridan, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson) in the game, and they must try to contain a really good signal-caller (Tim Hiller) on the other side. Perhaps the biggest question is how Michigan will come out after the allegations from players about NCAA rule violations within the program. Can Michigan keep it together for a critical opener?

Illinois vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), 3:40 p.m. ET, ESPN

Easily the best matchup of a pretty bland opening weekend, Illinois and Missouri meet in what is usually an extremely entertaining game. Illinois returns more experience on offense and really needs a win to start a tough opening stretch. A key matchup pairs Illini quarterback Juice Williams and Missouri star linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who recently Tweeted he'd "squeeze the pulp out of Juice." Williams set the total offense record at Edward Jones Dome in his last appearance against Missouri and needs a repeat performance.

Northern Illinois at Wisconsin, 7 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network

Week 1 wraps up with a night game at Camp Randall Stadium, where Wisconsin's surprise starting backfield of Scott Tolzien and Zach Brown takes on Northern Illinois. The Badgers likely will play both Tolzien and redshirt freshman Curt Phillips at quarterback, but Tolzien will have the first chance to create some separation. Versatile NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish provides a good challenge for a Wisconsin defense replacing five starters in the front seven.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ohio Stadium remains one of the nation's least hospitable and most intimidating venues for visiting teams. Ever since I covered my first game at The Shoe in 2001, I've considered it the toughest place to play in the Big Ten.

Buckeye Nation undoubtedly will make things tough for Navy when toe meets ball around noon ET on Sept. 5, but for a few moments before, Ohio State fans are being asked to serve as a welcoming committee. Ohio State wants its supporters to stand and cheer when Navy's players and coaches take the field before the opener. The athletic department has produced an online video that outlines the request and reads:
"Buckeyes know there are some things more important than football ... On September 5th, Buckeye fans can show our appreciation with a simple, yet powerful gesture ... rise to your feet and cheer when the U.S. Navy team when they take the field."

It's hard not to like this, and I hope more teams follow suit when they face the service academies. Navy players make tremendous sacrifices to play football.

I'd expect Buckeye fans to follow through and create a memorable scene on Sept. 5. Something tells me, though, that the reception won't be nearly as warm when USC takes the field a week later.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

If you haven't noticed, scheduling is the theme around ESPN.com this week. My colleagues have examined the decline of marquee nonleague games and the money-driven formula that goes into scheduling.

Now it's time to get more specific and look at the nonconference schedules for each Big Ten team. The Big Ten has taken a lot of heat for softening its nonleague slates, though other BCS conferences, namely the SEC, are also guilty of the practice.

Here's how they stack up, from toughest to easiest.

1. ILLINOIS -- vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Illinois State, at Cincinnati, Fresno State

It's not just the opponents that make the slate tough, but also unusual dates of the games. Illinois must finish with two tough nonleague foes in late November and early December, when a bowl berth likely will be on the line. The Illini have lost their last five games against Missouri in St. Louis.

2. PURDUE -- Toledo, at Oregon, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame

First-year head coach Danny Hope has his work cut out for him early on this fall. Oregon is the toughest nonconference road game for a Big Ten team this season, and Notre Dame has been pegged as a BCS bowl contender (jury's still out for me) and lit up the Boilermakers' defense last year in South Bend. Northern Illinois also could be a very tough game for Purdue.

3. MINNESOTA -- at Syracuse, Air Force, California, South Dakota State

Arguably no Big Ten team has a tougher opening stretch than the Gophers. Sure, Syracuse is down, but Doug Marrone's first game and the possible debut of Greg Paulus at quarterback should get the Carrier Dome cranked. Air Force and especially Cal provide major tests at the new TCF Bank stadium.

4. OHIO STATE -- Navy, USC, vs. Toledo (at Cleveland), New Mexico State

The USC factor simply can't be overlooked on what is otherwise a soft slate for the Buckeyes. Ohio State's matchup with USC once again serves as the league's premier nonconference matchup and a chance for the Buckeyes and the Big Ten to gain some redemption. Navy is never an easy game, especially in the opener.

5. IOWA -- Northern Iowa, at Iowa State, Arizona, Arkansas State

The Hawkeyes are consistently solid in scheduling, and this slate shouldn't generate too many complaints. If you're going to play an FCS team, Northern Iowa is a darn good one. Mike Stoops returns to Iowa City with an Arizona team coming off of a bowl victory in 2008. Iowa shouldn't have much trouble going 4-0 -- rival Iowa State remains a disaster -- but the competition isn't terrible.

6. MICHIGAN STATE -- Montana State, Central Michigan, at Notre Dame, Western Michigan

The Spartans' slate isn't as challenging as it was last season, but a trip to what should be an improved Notre Dame team could be tough. Michigan State has won three straight against the Irish, who crumbled on offense last year in East Lansing. Two tough MAC opponents with talented quarterbacks (Western Michigan's Tim Hiller and Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour) should test Michigan State's defense.

7. INDIANA -- Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan, at Akron, at Virginia

The Hoosiers are the only Big Ten team to play two true nonconference road games, which stands for something even though both Akron and Virginia have struggled recently. Western Michigan also provides a big test in Week 2 for a Hoosiers defense hoping to turn a corner behind Jammie Kirlew, Greg Middleton and Matt Mayberry.

8. MICHIGAN -- Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Delaware State

Michigan doesn't deserve to be ranked this high, but the Wolverines' schedule looks like a gauntlet compared to the sorry slates belonging to some other Big Ten teams. Western Michigan presents a sizable challenge in the opener, as Greg Robinson's defense faces off against Hiller. A transitioning Michigan offense might need to keep pace on the scoreboard. Notre Dame also will test the Wolverines with its high-powered passing attack.

9. WISCONSIN -- Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Wofford, at Hawaii

Soft scheduling has been a hot topic in Badger Nation, and this year's rundown won't do much to quench the fire. Northern Illinois and Fresno State are decent teams, but the lack of a BCS opponent drags down the quality of the schedule. Hawaii has been tough to beat at home in recent years, and Wisconsin could be fighting for bowl position when it heads to Oahu.

10. NORTHWESTERN -- Towson, Eastern Michigan, at Syracuse, Miami (Ohio)

Northwestern is trying to make bowl games on a more consistent basis, and another visit to Cupcake City should help. All four of these teams have new head coaches, and the lone "test," a trip to Syracuse, certainly isn't what it used to be. The watered-down slate certainly won't remedy Northwestern's attendance problems, and the school should (and will) take a more aggressive approach to scheduling in the future.

11. PENN STATE -- Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Eastern Illinois

This is the hard truth for Penn State: A desire to fill Beaver Stadium eight times could very well keep the Nittany Lions out of the national title game. We won't get a true read on Penn State until Iowa visits Happy Valley on Sept. 26, and anything less than an undefeated season will prevent the Lions from reaching the BCS championship in Pasadena. Sure, Penn State had no idea Syracuse would be this bad, but the absence of a road game against a decent opponent could really hurt the national profile of the team and its individual stars this fall.

Early schedule snapshot: Ohio State

February, 11, 2009
2/11/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

In what has become a trend, Ohio State once again will play the Big Ten's premier nonconference game this season as USC visits Columbus on Sept. 12. Here's a look at the Buckeyes' full 2009 slate. 

NONCONFERENCE SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 Navy

Sept. 12 USC

Sept. 19 Toledo (at Cleveland)

Oct. 31 New Mexico State

My take: The Buckeyes' philosophy of scheduling one national showcase game and three revenue-generating contests holds true again this season. USC provides an excellent barometer for a young Ohio State team trying to regain its swagger in big games. A win against the Trojans could put the Buckeyes in the BCS title mix. A home loss, and especially a lopsided one, would reinforce the perception about Ohio State and the Big Ten. So there's definitely risks and rewards with the game, which makes it more exciting for players, coaches and fans. Navy is a well-respected team that should provide Ohio State a nice Week 1 test. The Buckeyes won't have any trouble with Toledo or New Mexico State.

BIG TEN SCHEDULE

Sept. 26 Illinois

Oct. 3 at Indiana

Oct. 10 Wisconsin

Oct. 17 at Purdue

Oct. 24 Minnesota

Nov. 7 at Penn State

Nov. 14 Iowa

Nov. 21 at Michigan

Byes: Michigan State, Northwestern

My take: Aside from the trip to Beaver Stadium -- the last place Ohio State lost a Big Ten road game (2005) -- the schedule favors Jim Tressel's squad. The Buckeyes open with three of five at home and make trips to arguably the league's two worst teams in Indiana and Purdue. Should Ohio State knock off USC, it could be 8-0 heading to Happy Valley. November won't be easy with games against Penn State, Iowa and archrival Michigan, which should be much improved by the time Ohio State visits the Big House. So it's important the Buckeyes avoid October stumbles. Though the Buckeyes have dominated Michigan State this decade and Northwestern for several decades, they won't mind having two teams that finished in the league's upper half off of the 2009 slate.

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