Big Ten: schedule analysis 12

Schedule analysis: Northwestern

August, 10, 2012
8/10/12
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Our 2012 schedule analysis series has reached its conclusion. Go ahead and shed a few tears. But not before perusing the slate awaiting the Northwestern Wildcats this fall.
Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: at Syracuse (5-7)
Sept. 8: Vanderbilt (6-7)
Sept. 15: Boston College (4-8)
Sept. 22: South Dakota (6-5)

Legends Division games

Oct. 13: at Minnesota
Oct. 20: Nebraska
Oct. 27: Iowa
Nov. 10: at Michigan
Nov. 17: at Michigan State

Crossover games

Sept. 29: Indiana
Oct. 6: at Penn State
Nov. 24: Illinois (protected)

No plays

Ohio State
Purdue
Wisconsin

Gut-check game: Illinois appears to be working feverishly to make the Land of Lincoln battle a real rivalry, and the Illini have won two straight in the series. Northwestern can't let that streak reach three, especially with this year's game coming on Senior Day in Evanston. Both teams could be playing for bowl positioning -- or just plain bowl eligibility -- on Nov. 24.

Trap game: The Oct. 13 trip to Minnesota is sandwiched between a road contest at Penn State and a visit from Nebraska. The Wildcats can't really afford to look past any Legends Division opponents, but the Gophers -- who won both of their Big Ten games at home in 2011 -- could be lying in wait for this one. Minnesota also has a bye week before Northwestern comes to the Twin Cities, giving it two weeks to prepare.

Snoozer: After opening up with three straight BCS AQ conference opponents, the Wildcats deserve a break. They'll get one with the FCS Coyotes on Sept. 22. South Dakota lost by 49 points to Wisconsin last year. Wake us up when this one is over.

Non-con challenge: None of the first three games looks particularly easy. The Syracuse game is on the road. Boston College was bad last year but returns 17 starters and should be improved. Vanderbilt, believe it or not, might present the toughest challenge. Second-year coach James Franklin took the Commodores bowling last season and brings back 15 starters this season. And, hey, if Northwestern wins this home game, it can say it beat an SEC team in 2012.

Telltale stretch: The final three weeks could very well make or break this season for the Wildcats. They draw the unenviable task of playing Michigan and Michigan State -- arguably the top two teams in the Big Ten -- on the road in consecutive weeks. They lost to both Michigan schools by a combined 32 points a year ago. And if Northwestern is still in one piece after those two difficult games, it gets to finish up against their top rival in the league. At least the Wildcats have a bye week Nov. 3 to gear up for the tough stretch drive.

Analysis: Northwestern has to be considered a dark horse candidate at best in the Legends Division. This schedule will test it both at the beginning and the end. Though none of the first three nonconference opponents are Top 25 teams to start the year, all are capable of beating the Wildcats, who have no time to ease Kain Colter into the full-time starting quarterback job. Northwestern catches a break in its crossover games by missing Ohio State, Wisconsin and an improved Purdue, and it gets Iowa and Nebraska -- two teams it has proved it can beat -- at home. Getting off to a good start will be critically important, as will be surviving that brutal finish. There's not a ton of margin for error here if Pat Fitzgerald's team wants to make its fifth straight bowl game.

More B1G schedule analysis:

Legends: Minnesota | Iowa | Michigan State | Michigan | Nebraska

Leaders: Indiana | Purdue | Wisconsin| Illinois | Penn State | Ohio State


Schedule analysis: Ohio State

August, 9, 2012
8/09/12
11:00
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Our 2012 schedule analysis series wraps up the Leaders Division teams today. Last but not least in the division are the Ohio State Buckeyes, who -- like Penn State -- have only the regular season to play for this year.
Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: Miami (Ohio) (4-8)
Sept. 8: UCF (5-7)
Sept. 15: Cal (7-6)
Sept. 22: UAB (3-9)

Leaders Division games

Oct. 13: at Indiana
Oct. 20: Purdue
Nov. 3: Illinois
Oct. 27: at Penn State
Nov. 17: at Wisconsin

Crossover games

Sept. 29: at Michigan State
Oct. 6: Nebraska
Nov. 24: Michigan (protected)

No plays

Iowa
Minnesota
Northwestern

Gut-check game: The Buckeyes open with four very winnable games at home, offering them a great chance to get off to a fortuitous start under Urban Meyer. But lest they get ahead of themselves, they will close September with a very difficult road game at Michigan State. The Spartans beat Ohio State last year in Columbus, and the number of Ohio natives on the Michigan State roster means this will be a high-intensity, hard-hitting affair. Meyer will get his first real read on how tough his first edition Buckeyes are on Sept. 29.

Trap game: Few here really seem to qualify, but keep an eye on that Nov. 3 visit from Illinois. That game comes a week after what should be a stern test at Penn State and before a bye week and the two headliner games to close the year. If the Buckeyes start looking ahead to their first week off of the season, then the Illini might be able to pull out a surprise.

Snoozer: UAB won three games last year and fired its coach. The Blazers haven't had a winning season since 2004. A couple of other FBS teams from the state of Alabama would have gotten the juices flowing, but this one is just a final, minor speed bump before Big Ten play begins.

Non-con challenge: There's nothing on the schedule as difficult as recent non-league games against USC, Texas or even Miami. Cal comes closest to being a challenge, though the Golden Bears haven't been too intimidating the past few years. They've also only got 11 starters back. But Jeff Tedford's teams can usually put points on the board, and that might create a challenge for an Ohio State offense that could still be finding its sea legs.

Telltale stretch: There are two, really. The first two Big Ten games against Michigan State and Nebraska will tell us whether this Ohio State team is capable at making a run at a 10-win or better season. But the closing two games are what people are most likely to remember. Even though they can't win a division title, the Buckeyes will be fired up for going to Madison and making a statement against Wisconsin -- and no matter what they say, you know Urban Meyer wants to beat Bret Bielema. Of course, the Michigan game is always the Michigan game, and this year it will serve as Ohio State's bowl. If the Buckeyes can spoil their rival's chances at winning the Legends Division, all the better.

Analysis: All told, this is the type of schedule that's built for success in Meyer's first year. On paper, at least, Ohio State should be 4-0 going into Big Ten play, and it will be favored to beat Indiana, Purdue and Illinois. Nebraska and Michigan, both of whom beat the Buckeyes in 2011, have to come to Columbus. The road trips to Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin probably mean a 12-0 season is out of the question. But a nine-win season, at least, looks very achievable.

More B1G schedule analysis:

Legends: Minnesota | Iowa | Michigan State | Michigan | Nebraska

Leaders: Indiana | Purdue | Wisconsin| Illinois | Penn State

Schedule analysis: Penn State

August, 6, 2012
8/06/12
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Rejoice, Penn State fans. Here is a post that has nothing to do with scandals or transfers and everything to do with this coming football season. The Nittany Lions are up on our schedule analysis, which is reaching its final days. Let's see what the team will have to deal with on the field this season.

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: Ohio (10-4)
Sept. 8: at Virginia (8-5)
Sept. 15: Navy (5-7)
Sept. 22: Temple (9-4)

Leaders Division games

Sept. 29: at Illinois
Oct. 27: Ohio State
Nov. 3: at Purdue
Nov. 17: Indiana
Nov. 24: Wisconsin

Crossover games

Oct. 6: Northwestern
Oct. 20: at Iowa
Nov. 10: at Nebraska (protected)

No plays

Michigan
Michigan State
Minnesota

Gut-check game: The Wisconsin and Ohio State games will be big, but the Lions shouldn't have any problems being ready for those games at home. The trip to Nebraska is the toughest road game on the schedule, and the Huskers beat Penn State last year in State College. With the game coming late in the year and with no bowl game to shoot for, Penn State might have trouble matching the intensity of the home team in Lincoln.

Trap game: Openers usually aren't considered as potential trap games, but the Week 1 matchup against Ohio could pose trouble. The Bobcats won 10 games a year ago and have 14 starters back for Frank Solich. While Penn State is usually money in its home openers, the team will be playing its first game under Bill O'Brien, and the offense might have problems finding its footing without Silas Redd, Justin Brown or any other proven offensive playmakers. But we do expect the Nittany Lions to be eager to finally play another football game.

Snoozer: While there are no real marquee nonconference opponents, there is not a snoozer in the bunch as Penn State plays four very solid squads out of the league. The closest thing to a snoozer on the schedule is Indiana, which has lost all 15 meetings with the Nittany Lions. At least Penn State fans hope the latest meeting with the Hoosiers is another snoozer.

Non-con challenge: As we mentioned, none of the four nonconference games are breathers. The Week 2 trip to Virginia looks like the biggest challenge since it's against an ACC team on the road. But don't discount Temple, which has come close the past couple of years to knocking off its in-state big brother.

Telltale stretch: After a bye in the second weekend of October, Penn State will face a four-game stretch that includes trips to Iowa, Purdue and Nebraska, with the only home game in that time a visit from Ohio State. The Nittany Lions have not played well historically in Iowa City and will take on what should be a much improved team in Purdue. Again, with no postseason goal, Penn State will have to battle to keep things together during this difficult four-game stretch.

Analysis: This is the type of schedule that could have helped Penn State win the Leaders Division in a normal year, as top division rivals Ohio State and Wisconsin must come to State College. As it stands, this looks like a demanding slate for a first-year coach who must cope with some personnel losses. Other than the Indiana game, there is not a single game on the schedule that you could confidently predict a blowout -- and remember the Hoosiers played the Nittany Lions to within six points last year in Bloomington. This schedule is going to demand concentration and focus each and every week from a group that has had arguably more distractions than any other school ever. Expect the players to rally around each other and try to play spoiler in the Big Ten, especially when heavy Leaders favorite Wisconsin visits in the finale.

More B1G schedule analysis:

Legends: Minnesota | Iowa | Michigan State | Michigan | Nebraska

Leaders: Indiana | Purdue | Wisconsin| Illinois

Schedule analysis: Nebraska

August, 3, 2012
8/03/12
3:45
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Nebraska is no longer the new kid in the Big Ten, and the Huskers have high hopes for their second go-round in the league. They play an interesting nonconference slate followed up by another taxing run through the Big Ten.

Let's see what Bo Pelini's squad can look forward to in 2012 ...

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: Southern Miss (12-2)
Sept. 8: at UCLA (6-8)
Sept. 15: Arkansas State (10-3)
Sept. 22: Idaho State (2-9)

Legends division games

Oct. 20: at Northwestern
Oct. 27: Michigan
Nov. 3: at Michigan State
Nov. 17: Minnesota
Nov. 23: at Iowa

Crossover games

Sept. 29: Wisconsin
Oct. 6: at Ohio State
Nov. 10: Penn State (protected)

No plays

Illinois
Indiana
Purdue

Gut-check game: Ohio State. Some might have expected to see Wisconsin here, but the result of the Big Ten opener won't matter much unless Nebraska follows it up with a strong effort on the road. The Huskers suffered two blowout losses in hostile road venues (Camp Randall Stadium and Michigan Stadium) in 2011, and if they want to contend for the league title, they'll have to be better away from Lincoln. Ohio State will be an improved team under Urban Meyer, especially on defense, and Nebraska must contend with Braxton Miller, who played well in Lincoln last year before leaving with an injury. The game also marks a homecoming for Pelini, an Ohio State alum who has a big opportunity to make a statement at his alma mater.

Trap game: Penn State. It would be Northwestern, but Nebraska lost to the Wildcats last year and should be geared up to avenge the defeat. The Penn State game, meanwhile, falls after Legends division showdowns against Michigan and Michigan State. Nebraska could be in command of the division on Nov. 10, or it could be essentially out of the race. Penn State is banned from postseason play and has been weakened by player transfers in recent days. Nebraska gets the Lions in Lincoln, where the Huskers typically lose one game they shouldn't. They need to be geared up for Bill O'Brien's team.

Snoozer: Three of Nebraska's nonconference games are very intriguing, in part because of the new head coaches at Southern Miss (Ellis Johnson), UCLA (Jim Mora) and Arkansas State (Gus Malzahn). This contest doesn't fit the description. Idaho State went 1-7 in the FCS Big Sky Conference last year. Huskers should roll.

Non-con challenge: There are a few options here, but I'm going with the opener against Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles won a team-record 12 games in 2011, including an upset win against Houston in the Conference USA championship game. Although Southern Miss loses seven starters on defense and must reload there, it boasts a dangerous weapon on offense in Tracy Lampley. Defensive playmakers Deron Wilson and Jamie Collins also return.

Telltale stretch: After an open date in Week 7, the Huskers open Legends division play on the road against a Northwestern team that stunned them last year in Lincoln. Two division showdowns follow against Michigan (home) and Michigan State (road) before Nebraska faces a cross-division foe in Penn State. While the opening games against Wisconsin and Ohio State will tell a lot about Big Red, Nebraska needs to take care of business within the division, beginning with the Northwestern game. A 3-1 or 4-0 stretch here should put Nebraska in good shape for the stretch run.

Analysis: Nebraska once again plays one of the toughest schedules in the Big Ten, especially when factoring the division crossover games and some tricky nonconference contests. The Huskers should emerge from non-league play at 4-0 before opening the Big Ten portion with defending champ Wisconsin and an improved Ohio State team. The big key is consistency, particularly in hostile road environments, where Nebraska made too many major errors to win games in 2011. Nebraska's overall road schedule isn't easy with a long Week 2 trip to Pasadena and Big Ten road contests at Ohio State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa. If the Huskers go 4-1 away from Lincoln, they should be in the mix for the division crown.

More B1G schedule analysis:

Legends: Minnesota | Iowa | Michigan State| Michigan

Leaders: Indiana | Purdue | Wisconsin| Illinois

Schedule analysis: Illinois

August, 1, 2012
8/01/12
5:00
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What does the schedule have in store for first-year Illinois coach Tim Beckman? Let's take a look at the Fighting Illini's 2012 slate, which kicks off exactly one month from today.

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: Western Michigan (7-6)
Sept. 8: at Arizona State (6-7)
Sept. 15: Charleston Southern (0-11)
Sept. 22: Louisiana Tech (8-5)

Leaders division games

Sept. 29: Penn State
Oct. 6: at Wisconsin
Oct. 27: Indiana
Nov. 3: at Ohio State
Nov. 17: Purdue

Crossover games

Oct. 13: at Michigan
Nov. 10: Minnesota
Nov. 24: at Northwestern (protected)

No plays

Iowa
Michigan State
Nebraska

Gut-check game: Penn State. While this matchup got a lot spicier after Beckman's aggressive recruiting approach with Penn State's roster, it always meant a lot to Illinois. The Illini open Big Ten play on their home field before extremely difficult trips to Madison and Ann Arbor in back-to-back weeks. They could be staring at an 0-3 start to Big Ten play if they can't knock off the Lions in Champaign. Penn State scored a late touchdown to edge Illinois 10-7 last year at Beaver Stadium.

Trap game: Indiana. The game falls between trips to Ann Arbor and Columbus. Although Indiana went 1-11 last year, the Hoosiers should be improved, and Illinois can't afford to look past Kevin Wilson's squad. The road tests could take their toll on the Illini, and the team's health for the Indiana game will be worth monitoring. This is a Leaders division home game, and if Illinois wants to make any noise in the race, it has to prevail.

Snoozer: Charleston Southern. I ranked this as the least compelling of the Big Ten's 48 nonconference games this season. Charleston Southern went 0-11 in the FCS last season. Illinois will roll. Wake me when it's over.

Non-con challenge: Aside from Charleston Southern, Illinois must be on its toes during the nonconference portion. Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder will test the Illini secondary, while Louisiana Tech won the WAC championship in 2011. But the pick here is Arizona State. Big Ten teams rarely fare well when they head west in September, and Illinois must contend with an up-tempo Sun Devils offense under new coach Todd Graham and most likely extreme heat in the Valley of the Sun.

Telltale stretch: After the trip to Ann Arbor, Illinois plays three of its next four at home (Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue) and three of four within the Leaders division (Indiana, Ohio State, Purdue). This is a chance for Illinois to make a move in what could be a wide-open division with both Ohio State and Penn State banned from postseason play. Indiana is pretty much a must-win. Illinois has given Ohio State some trouble over the years, but a victory in Columbus will be tough. The Purdue game likely will determine which team challenges Wisconsin in the division. Minnesota has been a big headache for Illinois as of late, winning the teams' past two contests and six of the past eight.

Analysis: This isn't Michigan's schedule, but Illinois has few easy games on its 2012 slate. The Illini should be tested at least once during nonconference play, and their Big Ten road schedule -- Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern -- is among the toughest in the league. Penn State is a major swing game, especially with the forthcoming trips to both Madison and Ann Arbor. If Illinois can defend its home turf, particularly within the division, it should be in good shape for another bowl berth. But a few home losses could leave Beckman's squad reeling by November. If Illinois can pull off a road upset or two, it could be right in the mix for the division crown.

More B1G schedule analysis:

Legends: Minnesota | Iowa | Michigan State| Michigan

Leaders: Indiana | Purdue | Wisconsin

Schedule analysis: Michigan

July, 31, 2012
7/31/12
2:00
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We've said in this space that Michigan has the toughest schedule in the Big Ten. Is that really true? Let's break down the Wolverines' road in the latest installment of our Big Ten schedule analysis series:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: Alabama* (12-1)
Sept. 8: Air Force (7-6)
Sept. 15: UMass (5-6)
Sept. 22: at Notre Dame (8-5)

* at Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Legends Division games

Oct. 20: Michigan State
Oct. 27: at Nebraska
Nov. 3: at Minnesota
Nov. 10: Northwestern
Nov. 17: Iowa

Crossover games

Oct. 6: at Purdue
Oct. 13: Illinois
Nov. 24: at Ohio State

No plays

Indiana
Penn State
Wisconsin

Gut-check game: The schedule is full of gut-check moments, but the most important one comes against Michigan State at home on Oct. 20. The Wolverines have lost four straight to the Spartans and can't let that streak continue if they really want to win the Big Ten. Michigan State has gotten on a roll in this rivalry by being far more physical than Michigan, so it's up to Brady Hoke's team to punch back this year.

Trap game: The difference in talent between Michigan and Air Force is substantial. But the problem for the Wolverines is that the Falcons arrive in Ann Arbor just a week after what will surely be a highly emotional, highly physical confrontation with Alabama. Michigan could be beat up for that game while needing to deal with Air Force's option attack. Danger, Denard Robinson (and friends)!

Snoozer: Nobody can blame Michigan for scheduling one relative breather in its otherwise rugged nonconference schedule. UMass is that breather. The rest of us might be snoring.

Non-con challenge: Do you have to ask? Challenge is an understatement for the opener against the defending national champion. The Wolverines likely will start the season in the top 10 or just beyond it. They'll prove just how good they are against Alabama. The good news: if Michigan wins that game, it will immediately become a national title contender.

Telltale stretch: The Legends Division could very well be decided on the last two weekends of October, when Michigan plays Michigan State and then goes to Nebraska. Just about everybody agrees those are the top three teams in the division, and the ticket to Indianapolis could come down to head-to-head results. The Wolverines blew out the Cornhuskers last season at the Big House, but will have to deal with a revenge-minded Big Red this time around on the road.

Analysis: It's easy to see why this is the toughest schedule in the Big Ten, at least on paper. The season begins against the defending champs and ends on the road against chief rival Ohio State, which will be all-in for that game without a bowl on the horizon. There are also difficult road tests at Notre Dame and Nebraska, and while Michigan does miss Wisconsin and Penn State, it opens Big Ten play on the road against what should be a vastly improved Purdue squad. The Wolverines got some scheduling breaks last season, especially with the home schedule. This season, if they go 11-2 or better, they will have definitely earned every bit of it.

More B1G schedule analysis:

Legends: Minnesota | Iowa | Michigan State

Leaders: Indiana | Purdue | Wisconsin

Schedule analysis: Wisconsin

July, 30, 2012
7/30/12
2:30
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It's time once again to turn a critical eye toward the entire schedule of a Big Ten team. Today, we focus on the Wisconsin Badgers, who are now the overwhelming favorites to win the Leaders Division. Where could they get tripped up? Let's find out.

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: Northern Iowa (10-3)
Sept. 8: at Oregon State (3-9)
Sept. 15: Utah State (7-6)
Sept. 22: UTEP (5-7)

Leaders Division games

Oct. 6: Illinois
Oct. 13: at Purdue
Nov. 10: at Indiana
Nov. 17: Ohio State
Nov. 24: at Penn State

Crossover games

Sept. 29: at Nebraska
Oct. 20: Minnesota
Oct. 27: Michigan State

No plays

Iowa
Michigan
Northwestern

Gut-check game:
The Badgers will get challenged right off the bat in conference play with that trip to Nebraska. You know the Huskers have been lying in wait for this one ever since getting embarrassed 48-17 in their Big Ten debut last year in Madison. It will be a night game in Lincoln and Big Red will be wearing some funky uniforms. Wisconsin will have its hands full and then some.

Trap game:
The only game that seems like a potential trap is the Week 2 road trip to Oregon State. The Beavers were pretty brutal in 2012 but do have 16 starters back. Flying across two times zones and playing on Pac-12 turf could be dangerous if Wisconsin spends too much time remembering last year's easy 35-0 win over Oregon State at home.


Snoozer: Outside of the Oregon State game, nothing on Wisconsin's nonconference schedule draws much interest. The UTEP game could be particularly sleep-inducing, coming as it does after another potential yawner against Utah State and a week before the much-anticipated showdown at Nebraska. At least Montee Ball should pile up a bunch more touchdowns.

Non-con challenge: See: Trap Game.

Telltale stretch: The Badgers' Big Ten schedule is severely backloaded, with three of the final four games coming against Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State. The closing two weeks against the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions could have been especially epic if those two opponents weren't both on probation. But we expect the Ohio State game to be incredibly hyped, and Penn State will likely look at Wisconsin as its bowl game. All that said, the most important stretch might actually come in the first two weekends of October against Illinois and Purdue. If the Badgers win both of those, they should have some room to play with in the Leaders race and their march to Indianapolis may become a long coronation.

More B1G schedule analysis:

Minnesota | Iowa | Michigan State

Indiana | Purdue

Schedule analysis: Purdue

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
10:15
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Let's dive back into our series analyzing the 2012 schedules of every Big Ten team. Today, we take a look at the Purdue Boilermakers, who hope to make a move in a chaotic Leaders Division:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: Eastern Kentucky (7-5)
Sept. 8: at Notre Dame (8-5)
Sept. 15: Eastern Michigan (6-6)
Sept. 29: Marshall (7-6)

Leaders Division games

Oct. 13: Wisconsin
Oct. 20: at Ohio State
Nov. 3: Penn State
Nov. 17: Iowa
Nov. 24: Indiana

Crossover games

Oct. 6: Michigan
Oct. 27: Minnesota
Nov. 10: at Iowa


No plays

Michigan State
Nebraska
Northwestern

Gut-check game:
Wisconsin is the overwhelming Leaders Division favorite, so Purdue will have to knock off the Badgers at home to have a shot at winning the division. Problem: the Boilers have lost to Wisconsin each of the past three years by a combined score of 133-30. They'll have to reverse that trend if this is to be a special year.

Trap game: Minnesota might not be a powerhouse, but the Gophers did win two Big Ten games at home last season and should be improved this year. The Boilermakers go to TCF Bank Stadium a week after playing at Ohio State and before going to Penn State. You don't need Admiral Ackbar to tell you that's a trap.

Snoozer: Danny Hope will be facing his alma mater in the opener against Eastern Kentucky, a place where he served as head coach before coming to Purdue. That might make for a few nice quotes leading up to the game, but few outside of West Lafayette will care about it.

Non-con challenge: Purdue hasn't beaten rival Notre Dame since 2007 and got blown out 38-10 last year at home in a hyped game. The Irish are beatable, and the rest of the nonconference schedule is very manageable. If the Boilers can pull out a victory in South Bend, they'll likely get off to a much-needed great start to the season.


Telltale stretch: Without a doubt, it's the three-week stretch to open October, as Purdue faces Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State in successive weeks. The good news is that the first two games are at home. The bad news is that Ross-Ade Stadium hasn't been the most inhospitable place for visitors in recent times. This could very well be a make-or-break stretch for the season right at the beginning of Big Ten play.

Analysis:
All things considered, Purdue couldn't ask for a much better schedule. They should be favored in three of their nonconference games and will have a chance against Notre Dame. They get Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State at home and don't have to play Michigan State or Nebraska. Hope will roll out his best and deepest team this fall and will have an opportunity to make some noise in a division where only four teams are eligible for the postseason. But Purdue will still have to raise its overall level of play to compete with the Big Ten's big boys.

More B1G schedule analysis:

Minnesota | Iowa | Michigan State

Indiana

Schedule analysis: Indiana

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
11:00
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Our schedule analysis series rolls on with a look at the Indiana Hoosiers' 2012 docket.

No one expects IU -- which suffered through a dreadful 1-11 season a year ago -- to rise up and contend in the Leaders Division. But after playing so many freshmen last year, the team should be improved under second-year coach Kevin Wilson. How many more victories could that mean? Let's look at the road ahead:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: Indiana State (6-5)
Sept. 8: at Massachusetts (5-6)
Sept. 15: Ball State (6-6)
Oct. 20: at Navy (5-7)

Leaders Division games

Oct. 13: Ohio State
Oct. 27: at Illinois
Nov. 10: Wisconsin
Nov. 17: at Penn State
Nov. 24: at Purdue

Crossover games

Sept. 29: at Northwestern
Oct. 6: Michigan State (protected)
Nov. 3: Iowa

No plays

Michigan
Minnesota
Nebraska

Gut-check game: If there's one Big Ten game that Indiana fans really want to win every year, it's the Oaken Bucket game against Purdue. The Hoosiers have been competitive most years in that rivalry, including last year's eight-point loss. This time around, the game is on the road against what figures to be a much-improved Boilermakers' squad. The Hoosiers will be looking to finish the year strong and spring the upset.

Trap game: Indiana is not good enough for any games to really be considered a trap. But let's go with the road contest against FBS newbie UMass. The Hoosiers lost in embarrassing fashion at North Texas last season and can't afford another slip-up against a bottom-rung team in Year 2 under Wilson. No matter the struggles, any Big Ten team should have more talent than a school which had a losing record in the FCS last year.

Snoozer: Indiana State has gotten better since a recent horrific streak of futility. Still, no one outside the state of Indiana (and precious few inside it) are going to pay much attention to the season opener at Memorial Stadium.

Non-con challenge: Going to Navy in the middle of the season looks like a situation rife with trouble. The Hoosiers will have little time to prepare for a Midshipmen option attack that will seriously test their young defense. Indiana will be an underdog in this one.

Telltale stretch: The Hoosiers' best chances for victory come in September, with three winnable nonconference game and a not-too-intimidating road trip to Northwestern. Wilson's team will have a chance to do what it couldn't last year: build some confidence with positive early season results. But if the Hoosiers suffer setbacks to teams like Ball State and UMass, it likely will mean another long year is in store.

Analysis: Indiana's goal this year should be marked improvement, both in the number of victories and overall competitiveness. The schedule offers opportunities to pick up some wins, and getting to four or five this year would have to be considered a success. Three of the four Big Ten road games (at Illinois, at Northwestern, at Purdue) are manageable, though that means the home schedule, with Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa, is incredibly demanding. The Hoosiers will have to take care of business against teams with similar or worse talent levels and be a strong road team if this year is going to wind up much better than 2011.

More B1G schedule analysis:

Minnesota | Iowa | Michigan State
Michigan State opens its season in exactly six weeks. (Pause for applause). While the opener against Boise State is a big one, we're here to analyze the Spartans' entire 2012 season as part of our ongoing series looking at each Big Ten's slate this fall.

Here's what the defending Legends Division champs can look forward to this year:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Aug. 31: Boise State (12-1)
Sept. 8: at Central Michigan (3-9)
Sept. 15: Notre Dame (8-5)
Sept. 22: Eastern Michigan (6-6)

Legends Division games

Oct. 13: Iowa
Oct. 20: at Michigan
Nov. 3: Nebraska
Nov. 17: Northwestern
Nov. 24: at Minnesota

Crossover games

Sept. 29: Ohio State
Oct. 6: at Indiana (protected)
Oct. 27: at Wisconsin

No plays

Penn State
Illinois
Purdue

Gut-check game: The last few games between the two have been classics, but can Michigan State win at Wisconsin? The Badgers hardly ever lose in Madison, where the Spartans haven't won since '01 and the crowd will be geeked up for the game (and by the Halloween weekend festivities). That sure looks like the Spartans' biggest road test of the year, though luckily for them it is not a division game.

Trap game: Iowa should never be considered a gimme game in any way. But the Spartans will be favored at home against the Hawkeyes. Thing is, it comes a week before the colossal showdown at Michigan, and Michigan State has to be careful not to get caught looking ahead.

Snoozer: Pick your directional Michigan school for this one. The Spartans should outclass both its in-state MAC opponents. Eastern Michigan was better than Central Michigan last year, but the game against the Chippewas is slightly more interesting because it comes on the road.

Non-con challenge: The toughest challenge arrives in August as Boise State comes to East Lansing. Michigan State is lucky in the sense that the Broncos will be opening their post-Kellen Moore era, but anyone who thinks this one will be easy hasn't paid attention to recent history. The Notre Dame game is always interesting, too.

Telltale stretch: Michigan State doesn't have an unrelenting stretch quite like last year's October obstacle course, but the four-week run from Oct. 13 to Nov. 3 is still pretty daunting, with Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska all in a row. When that is over, we should have a pretty good idea where the Legends Division race stands.

Analysis: We thought last year's schedule would keep Michigan State from winning the division, but we were wrong as the Spartans proved up to the challenge. It isn't much easier this year, though Nebraska, Ohio State and Notre Dame have to go to East Lansing. The team's fortunes may well depend on whether it can keep up its winning streak against Michigan by going into the Big House and making it five in a row. The toughest job for Mark Dantonio might be keeping his players fresh and focused, since they play their first 10 games without a bye week. If they can get to that point in the season in good shape, the schedule eases up considerably for the final two weeks. And if the Spartans are to return to Indianapolis, they once again will have earned their way there against what's arguably no worse than the second-toughest schedule in the Big Ten.

More B1G schedule analysis:

Minnesota

Iowa

Schedule analysis: Iowa

July, 19, 2012
7/19/12
9:00
AM ET
We're just six weeks away from the season, folks. With that in mind, we're breaking down each Big Ten team's complete schedule, looking for trapdoors, key stretches and other odds and ends.

Installment No. 2 of our series spotlights the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: Northern Illinois* (11-3)
Sept. 8: Iowa State (6-7)
Sept. 15: Northern Iowa (10-3)
Sept. 22: Central Michigan (3-9)

* at Soldier Field in Chicago

Legends Division games

Sept. 29: Minnesota
Oct. 13: at Michigan State
Oct. 27: at Northwestern
Nov. 17: at Michigan
Nov. 23: Nebraska

Crossover games

Oct. 20: Penn State
Nov. 3: at Indiana
Nov. 10: Purdue (protected)

No plays

Ohio State
Wisconsin
Illinois

Gut-check game: The Hawkeyes don't have to play a true road game the first five weeks before heading to Michigan State on Oct. 13. The schedule gives them a chance to get off to a great start, and they have a bye week before the trip to East Lansing. Even if Iowa is 5-0 going into that game, there will be questions about how good this team is. Playing one of the Legends Division favorites on the road -- especially one that whipped the Hawkeyes last year in Iowa City -- could tell us a lot about whether this is a serious contender in 2012.

Trap game: Oct. 27 at Northwestern. Iowa will be coming off games against the Spartans and Penn State in back-to-back weeks, surely the two most physical games it will have played up to that point. The following week brings a trip to Evanston, where the Hawkeyes are just 2-5 in their last seven contests. Iowa snapped a three-game losing streak to Northwestern last year.

Snoozer: Central Michigan. Northern Iowa may be an FCS team, but it has a solid program and is an in-state opponent who will play with max effort, much like it did in the 2009 near-upset. The Chippewas, meanwhile, are coming off back-to-back 3-9 seasons, though they do return a lot of experience.

Non-con challenge: Iowa State. The opener against Northern Illinois could be tricky, but Iowa's must-win nonconference game is against the rival Cyclones. Last year's overtime loss on the road was painful, and Iowa can't afford to give away any games at home.

Telltale stretch: The final three weeks against Purdue, Michigan and Nebraska. While Iowa has had lots of success lately against Purdue, the Boilermakers figure to be much improved this season and could offer a challenge. Even more important are the final two games against Legends rivals Michigan and Nebraska. If the Hawkeyes are serious about contending in the division, they'll have to beat at least one of those teams. They slipped past the Wolverines last year but have to go to Ann Arbor this time around. And they don't want to suffer a second straight loss in the new Heroes Game series against the Cornhuskers. The potential of a late-season losing streak could also have an impact on their bowl placement.

Analysis: Iowa is a bit of an enigma this season given its youth at several key spots and the rare coaching turnover under Kirk Ferentz. What we know is that this is a schedule that's as custom-built for success as you'll find in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes don't play a single true road game until the second week of October and will only play in two really difficult road environments (Michigan and Michigan State) all season. They also avoid Leaders Division powers Wisconsin and Ohio State. It doesn't take much to envision eight or more victories if Iowa simply takes care of business during games in which it should be favored. But that's easier said than done.

More B1G schedule analysis:

Schedule analysis: Minnesota

July, 18, 2012
7/18/12
1:00
PM ET
We've waited long enough, and with the 2012 season in the not too distant future, it's time to break down each Big Ten team's complete schedule. We'll follow the same format as last year.

Let's kick things off with the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Aug. 30: at UNLV (2-10)
Sept. 8: New Hampshire (8-4)
Sept. 15: Western Michigan (7-6)
Sept. 22: Syracuse (5-7)

Legends Division games

Sept. 29: at Iowa
Oct. 13: Northwestern
Nov. 3: Michigan
Nov. 17: at Nebraska
Nov. 24: Michigan State

Crossover games

Oct. 20: at Wisconsin (protected)
Oct. 27: Purdue
Nov. 10: at Illinois

No plays

Indiana
Ohio State
Penn State

Gut-check game: Northwestern. Sandwiched between tough road trips to Iowa City and Madison, the Northwestern game falls after an open week and looms very large for Jerry Kill's squad. Minnesota recorded its two Big Ten wins in 2011 at home, and needs to defend its turf to have any shot at becoming bowl-eligible. Although Northwestern won last year's meeting 28-13, Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray rushed for 147 yards on 26 carries. It's tough to see the Gophers winning a third straight against Iowa or beating Wisconsin at Camp Randall, so the Northwestern game is huge to prevent an 0-3 start to league play.

Trap game: Purdue. There is no obvious trap game on Minnesota's schedule, and the Gophers are in no position to take any opponent lightly. The Purdue game comes after the rivalry test at Wisconsin and before the Jug game against Michigan, which embarrassed the Gophers 58-0 last season at the Big House. Purdue could be a dangerous team in the Leaders Division, but Minnesota certainly has an opportunity, like with the Northwestern game, to record a key Big Ten win at home.

Snoozer: New Hampshire. There's actually no true snoozer on Minnesota's slate, although a matchup with FCS New Hampshire might not generate much interest in the Twin Cities. Then again, New Hampshire has been very strong over the years -- Chip Kelly served as its offensive coordinator from 1999-2006 -- and Minnesota must be careful after falling to North Dakota State, the 2011 FCS national champion, last September at TCF Bank Stadium. UNLV might be the pick here, although it's the season opener.

Non-con challenge: Western Michigan. Minnesota had no pass rush in 2011 and ranked 107th nationally in pass efficiency defense. That doesn't bode well against a Western Michigan team that almost always boasts one of the country's best air attacks. Senior quarterback Alex Carder returns for the Broncos, who nearly knocked off Illinois last year in Champaign and are no stranger to Big Ten competition. Although the return of cornerback Troy Stoudermire boosts Minnesota's secondary, the Gophers have to find a way to pressure Carder.

Telltale stretch: The schedule does Minnesota few favors, but the Gophers have a chance to make some noise after the trip to Wisconsin. They return home for consecutive games against Purdue and Michigan before visiting Illinois, where they've won their past three contests (2010, 2008 and 2003). Although Michigan will be an extremely tough test for Kill's crew, the Gophers have great opportunities against both Purdue and Illinois. With a tough start to Big Ten play and a very tough finish (Nebraska, Michigan State), Minnesota has to capitalize during this stretch.

Analysis: Minnesota should be a better team in Year 2 of the Kill era, but the schedule isn't easy by any means. It's critical Minnesota wins the opener against a poor UNLV team before facing three tricky nonconference opponents. Aside from Illinois, the Big Ten road trips look very tough, and Minnesota also gets arguably the league's top two teams (Michigan and Michigan State) on its home field. There are no gimmes here at all and it will take at least a few upsets for Minnesota to get to the six-win mark and become bowl-eligible. The key is to go at least 3-1 during non-league play and avoid an 0-3 start to the Big Ten portion, which is why the Northwestern game means so much.

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