Big Ten: schedule analysis 14

Schedule analysis: Michigan State

August, 18, 2014
8/18/14
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One more week without football. You can do it! Until kickoff finally gets here, we've been looking forward and analyzing every Big Ten team's 2014 schedule.

Wrapping up our series is the defending champion, Michigan State Spartans.

Nonconference schedule (with 2013 records)

Aug. 29: Jacksonville State (11-4)
Sept. 6: at Oregon (11-2)
Sept. 20: Eastern Michigan (2-10)
Sept. 27: Wyoming (5-7)

East Division games

Oct. 18: at Indiana
Oct. 25: Michigan
Nov. 8: Ohio State
Nov. 15: at Maryland
Nov. 22: Rutgers
Nov. 29: at Penn State

Crossover games

Oct. 4: Nebraska
Oct. 11: at Purdue

No-plays

Iowa
Illinois
Minnesota
Northwestern
Wisconsin

Gut-check game: On paper, at least, the Nov. 8 game against Ohio State is the Game of the Year in the Big Ten. The good news is that it's at home (unlike another monster showdown for Sparty in Week 2). And Michigan State, of course, beat the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game last December. Still, there's a good chance this one will be for all the marbles (in the East Division, if not more), and Ohio State could be more talented and athletic than the bunch that limped out of Lucas Oil Stadium last season.

Trap game: A week after that Ohio State game, Michigan State goes to Maryland. There is bound to be at least some emotional letdown, win or lose for the Spartans. They will also be traveling to unfamiliar territory against a strange opponent. Maryland might have enough offensive weapons to pose a problem, even for that defense.

Snoozer: Eastern Michigan's history against major-conference opponents is often ugly; since 1996, EMU has lost all six games against Michigan State by an average of nearly 32 points. The Eagles may be in the same state as the Spartans, but they're in a different stratosphere on the football landscape.

Nonconference challenge: Well, duh. It doesn't get much tougher than playing on the road at Oregon, where the noise and the Ducks' offense can often leave opponents feeling dizzy and depressed. But Stanford has given Oregon more trouble than any other team of late, and Michigan State not only plays a similar style to the Cardinal, it beat Stanford in its most recent outing. So there's that to consider.

Analysis: It's tempting to boil Michigan State's season down to the two "O" games: Oregon and Ohio State. Oh, but it's not that simple. The Spartans also play host to Nebraska, which won't be easy. There's always the Michigan game to think about, even though Mark Dantonio & Co. have dominated that series of late. The three Big Ten road games could all be sneakily difficult, as Indiana and Maryland both have potentially electric offenses, and Penn State will view the finale as its bowl game (the Nittany Lions have beaten Wisconsin in their past two season-enders, for what it's worth). Still, getting Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State in Spartan Stadium is a definite advantage. If Dantonio's team can protect home field and avoid complacency on the road, it will have an excellent chance of going back to Indianapolis.

Schedule analysis: Rutgers

August, 15, 2014
8/15/14
12:00
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The season’s creeping closer and closer. But until it officially starts, we’ll be looking forward and analyzing every Big Ten team’s 2014 schedule.

Up next: Rutgers

Nonconference schedule (with 2013 records)

Aug. 28: at Washington State (6-7)
Sept. 6: Howard (6-6)
Sept. 20: at Navy (9-4)
Sept. 27: Tulane (7-6)

East Division games

Sept. 13: Penn State
Oct. 4: Michigan
Oct. 18: at Ohio State
Nov. 15: Indiana
Nov. 22: at Michigan State
Nov. 29: at Maryland

Crossover games

Oct. 25: at Nebraska
Nov. 1: Wisconsin

No-plays

Iowa
Illinois
Minnesota
Northwestern
Purdue

Gut-check game: Welcome to the Big Ten, Rutgers. Now good luck in the conference opener against Penn State, which boasts the 22-2 all-time edge. The two teams last squared off in 1995, but the Nittany Lions have been beating Rutgers in regional recruiting for years. The Scarlet Knights could make a big splash with a win here, but PSU won’t make it easy with Christian Hackenberg at the helm.

Trap game: If the Midshipmen could outscore the Hoosiers and their passing attack last season, then Rutgers can’t exactly mark the Navy-RU game as an automatic win, either. Navy finished 9-4 last season and should be even better in 2014. The Knights boast a great defensive line, but the triple-option offense isn’t easy to defend. This might end up being a close one.

Snoozer: Howard is just an FCS team – and a mediocre one at that. If Eastern Michigan could outscore the Bison by double digits last season, then Rutgers should be able to make quick work of them this season. Maybe there’s a chance Rutgers looks past Howard and focuses on the following week’s opponent in Penn State. But even that shouldn’t matter. This isn’t the 2007 Appalachian State team; Rutgers should cruise.

Nonconference challenge: Rutgers won’t have an easy time in the season opener, as it travels to the West Coast and takes on a so-so Pac-12 team. Navy might actually be the better nonconference opponent, but Washington State is no slouch either. The Cougars boasted the No. 4 passing attack in the nation last year and could test Rutgers’ defense. Gary Nova & Co. better be ready to punch through a bad defense; Washington State put up at least 38 points in six games last season.

Analysis: Rutgers really drew the short straw this season when it came to its conference opponents. No team in the Big Ten has a harder schedule, and even its nonconference slate isn’t overly easy. If Rutgers can reach six wins, it would be a great season – one that would go a long way in showing the Knights belong in the B1G. More than likely, though, anything over five wins would be pushing it.

Schedule analysis: Penn State

August, 14, 2014
8/14/14
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The unofficial midpoint of preseason camp is here, with the college football season set to open two weeks from Thursday night. En route to kickoff, we’re examining the schedules of every Big Ten team.

The Penn State Nittany Lions are up next.

Nonconference schedule (with 2013 records)

Aug. 30: vs. Central Florida (12-1)
Sept 6: Akron (5-7)
Sept. 20: Massachusetts (1-11)
Nov. 15: Temple (2-10)

East Division games

Sept. 13: at Rutgers
Oct. 11: at Michigan
Oct. 25: Ohio State
Nov. 1: Maryland
Nov. 8: at Indiana
Nov. 29: Michigan State

Crossover games

Sept. 27: Northwestern
Nov. 22: at Illinois

No-plays

Nebraska
Iowa
Wisconsin
Purdue
Minnesota

Gut-check game: With an off week before and after the trip to Michigan and the memory fresh of the Nittany Lions’ four-overtime defeat of the Wolverines a year ago, this looks like a game to circle on the schedule as a gauge of progress in James Franklin’s initial season. Penn State has won four straight over Michigan, which saves its two most difficult games for the final six weeks and should meet Penn State with a decent amount of momentum. These blue-blood program are new division rivals. The October meeting offers a chance for Christian Hackenberg to show just how much he’s improved since his last visit to a 100,000-seat road venue after the debacle last year at Ohio State.

Trap game: Look no further than Rutgers in the Big Ten opener. It’s conceivable that the Lions will need at least a week to return to normalcy from the trip overseas. This early start to Big Ten play may fall at just the right time for Rutgers, which can make its season with a win over traditionally superior Penn State, which has regularly beat the Scarlet Knights for recruits in the state of New Jersey. Plus, Rutgers’ defensive line matches well against the suspect PSU offensive front.

Snoozer: After the ultra-interesting opener, the out-of-league games offer little. We’ll go with UMass as the foe with the least to offer after a 1-11 run through the MAC a year ago. The Minutemen’s schedule is brutal, with games against Boston College, Colorado and Vanderbilt before the trip to Penn State.

Nonconference challenge: The August trip to Ireland to face Central Florida, which beat PSU last year in State College, jumps off the page. Franklin likes to joke that when he took the job in January and heard about the season opener in Dublin, he thought it was Ohio. Blake Bortles is gone for UCF, but the Knights return plenty, especially on defense, from a team that won the Fiesta Bowl last season. Penn State figures to get plenty of support at the 82,000-seat Croke Park, but the whole thing will feel foreign. And nothing would pop the Franklin bubble like an opening-game loss.

Analysis: After the tricky first three weeks, featuring the trip to Ireland and rekindling the series with Rutgers -- scheduled as a nonleague game before the Scarlet Knights accepted an invite to join the Big Ten -- it gets fairly standard. The Lions don’t have to worry about the top three teams in the West, dropping Nebraska from the schedule after three straight losses to the Huskers in crossover play. Considering the sanctions in place, it would be nice to give Franklin a layup in his opener. Instead, the outcome against UCF figures to set a tone that will carry into October. Home games against Ohio State and Michigan State are nice, but are either truly winnable? A bowl ban remains in place, though some hope exists that the NCAA might reduce it from four years to two, allowing Penn State to play this year in the postseason.

Schedule analysis: Ohio State

August, 13, 2014
8/13/14
1:00
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We're barely two weeks from the start of the 2014 season. As the countdown continues, we're putting each Big Ten team's schedule under the microscope.

Up next: the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Nonconference schedule (with 2013 records)

Aug. 30: Navy (9-4)
Sept. 6: Virginia Tech (8-5)
Sept. 13: Kent State (4-8)
Sept. 27: Cincinnati (9-4)

East Division games

Oct. 4: at Maryland
Oct. 18: Rutgers
Oct. 25: at Penn State
Nov. 8: at Michigan State
Nov. 22: Indiana
Nov. 29: Michigan

Crossover games

Nov. 1: Illinois
Nov. 15: at Minnesota

No-plays

Iowa
Nebraska
Northwestern
Purdue
Wisconsin

Gut-check game: Michigan State handed Urban Meyer his first loss as Buckeyes coach and spoiled Ohio State's quest for a Big Ten championship and a shot at the national title last season. The Buckeyes-Spartans showdown under the lights Nov. 8 is the Big Ten's premier game entering the 2014 season. Ohio State was fortunate to escape East Lansing with a one-point win in 2012. These are two physical, talented teams with strong quarterbacks and excellent defensive linemen. If Ohio State wants to reclaim its place atop the Big Ten, it must get through the Spartans.

Trap game: Win or lose, the Michigan State game will take a lot out of the Buckeyes both mentally and physically. Ohio State then has to travel to Minnesota the following week. It will probably be about 16 degrees at TCF Bank Stadium before the wind chill, and Minnesota uses a power-oriented offense that, if effective, can limit possessions and shorten the game. The Gophers are only getting better under Jerry Kill and will be searching for a true signature win. Ohio State can't look past this one.

Snoozer: Ohio State's overall nonconference slate is much better than last year's, but the Kent State contest doesn't do too much for me. The return of Golden Flashes coach Paul Haynes, a former Ohio State assistant, is a nice storyline, and Kent State had some decent performances in 2013, but the Buckeyes should have little trouble in this one.

Nonconference challenge: The schedule lacks a true marquee name, but Navy, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati all pose different challenges. I'll go with Virginia Tech, as the Hokies are almost always strong on defense and special teams, which could allow them to hang around with Ohio State. There are questions on offense, but running back Trey Edmunds should bolster a rush attack that really struggled in 2013. It's a big year for coach Frank Beamer, and Virginia Tech will be anxious to show it can still compete with the nation's elite.

Analysis: This is an upgrade from 2013, even though Ohio State could be favored in every game and faces only one preseason playoff contender in Michigan State. The crossover games in the Big Ten largely stink this season, and Ohio State misses the top West Division title contenders. The Buckeyes face what should be an improved Michigan team at home, and while a trip to Penn State could be tricky, Ohio State is deeper than the Nittany Lions on both sides of the ball. The big question is whether Ohio State must run the table to qualify for a playoff spot, or if it could afford a loss along the way. Despite a 24-0 mark in regular-season Big Ten play under Meyer, Ohio State has had several close calls. Michigan State should be the Buckeyes' toughest test, but there aren't as many easy wins as there were a year ago.

Schedule analysis: Iowa

August, 12, 2014
8/12/14
1:00
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The season’s creeping closer and closer. But until it officially starts, we’ll be looking forward and analyzing every Big Ten team’s 2014 schedule.

Up next: Iowa.

Nonconference schedule (with 2013 records)

Aug. 30: Northern Iowa (7-5)

Sept. 6: Ball State (10-3)

Sept. 13: Iowa State (3-9)

Sept. 20: at Pittsburgh (7-6)

West Division games

Sept. 27: at Purdue

Nov. 1: Northwestern

Nov. 8: at Minnesota

Nov. 15: at Illinois

Nov. 22: Wisconsin

Nov. 28: Nebraska

Crossover games

Oct. 11: Indiana

Oct. 18: at Maryland

No-plays

Michigan

Michigan State

Penn State

Rutgers

Ohio State

Gut-check game: The series with Nebraska has all the makings of a spirited rivalry, and it's getting the full treatment of one with another Friday kickoff set after Thanksgiving. But until last season's easy win over the Huskers, the Hawkeyes hadn't really done much to provide any balance in the head-to-head standings, winning just once in eight tries in games spread between 1979 and 2012 -- although the two losses since Nebraska joined the Big Ten were actually competitive, low-scoring affairs. Are the Hawkeyes going to be a worthy adversary and annually get the blood boiling for the Huskers, or was claiming the Heroes Trophy last year an aberration? Considering what could be on the line in the division, this one should definitely meet the requirements for a gut-check situation.

Trap game: The returning talent is obviously part of the equation, but it's no secret Iowa's schedule is a significant factor in its emergence as a trendy pick to win the West Division. And while it will go the entire month of October without facing anybody on its side of the Big Ten thanks to two byes and its crossover matchups, it would be wise not to get caught looking ahead to a second week off ahead of the closing stretch in November when it travels to Maryland. The Terps look more than capable of surprising a few people this fall with some of the talented skill players it has returning to full strength, and if the Hawkeyes are true contenders, winning on the road will be a necessity.

Snoozer: While the slate isn't the most difficult in the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes didn't exactly go out of their way to lighten the load outside of the league. The opener against Northern Iowa might not be a cakewalk since the preseason top-10 program in the FCS has proven in recent years it can go toe to toe with the big boys in its state, and Ball State is coming off a 10-win campaign. That might actually make a conference battle with Purdue the best opportunity to squeeze in a nap.

Nonconference challenge: With bragging rights and a Cy-Hawk trophy on the line against Iowa State, the Hawkeyes aren't likely to come out flat or unfocused in a rivalry setting. But taking on Pittsburgh will provide a test for Iowa as it hits the road and deals with all the logistics that go into traveling to and preparing for a hostile environment for the first time.

Analysis: The climb to a potential division crown isn't as steep for the Hawkeyes as it might be for others thanks to the schedule, but the path isn't without astill has a few potential pitfalls. Kirk Ferentz and his staff have put together a roster that is certainly capable of beating any opponent it will face, but the Hawkeyes also aren't loaded enough to just breeze right through the year to a crown either. Both inside and outside of the Big Ten, Iowa is likely going to be playing numerous tight, competitive games that could simply come down to which way a ball bounces. But if the Hawkeyes don't have much luck work against them, they could be in great position down the stretch with the presumptive favorites in the West both coming to their stadium to close out what could be a memorable season.

Schedule analysis: Indiana

August, 11, 2014
8/11/14
1:00
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The season’s creeping closer and closer. But until it officially starts, we’ll be looking forward and analyzing every Big Ten team’s 2014 schedule.

Up next: Indiana

Nonconference schedule (with 2013 records)

Aug 30: Indiana State (1-11)
Sept. 13: at Bowling Green (10-4)
Sept. 20: at Missouri (12-2)
Oct. 4: North Texas (9-4)

East Division games

Sept. 27: Maryland
Oct 18: Michigan State
Nov. 1: at Michigan
Nov. 8: Penn State
Nov. 15: at Rutgers
Nov. 22: at Ohio State

Crossover games

Oct. 11: at Iowa
Nov. 29: Purdue

No-plays

Illinois
Minnesota
Nebraska
Northwestern
Wisconsin

Gut-check game: The Hoosiers last beat Ohio State in 1988, so it’s pretty safe to say the Buckeyes have had their number. OSU is 20-0-1 in the last 21 meetings, and Indiana’s only come within 10 points once in the last 13 meetings. Oh, and Indiana’s defense has allowed at least 30 points in the last 10 meetings against OSU, too. Defensive coordinator Brian Knorr and his 3-4 defense will definitely have their hands full against Braxton Miller. It’s gut-check time.

Trap game: Bowling Green is far from a guaranteed win and, with two high-scoring offenses, it’s a matchup that has the potential to be pretty entertaining. Sure, Bowling Green lost its head coach, Dave Clawson, to Wake Forest -- but it also hired FCS Eastern Illinois’ Dino Babers, whose quarterback last season passed for more than 5,000 yards and 50 TDs en route to winning the equivalent of the FCS Heisman. Some experts are already picking the Falcons to win the MAC, so last season’s 42-10 win might not translate into another easy win in 2014.

Snoozer: Not only did Indiana schedule an FCS team, but it scheduled a pitiful FCS team. The Hoosiers upended the Sycamores, 73-35, last season while piling up 619 yards on offense. And it shouldn’t be much different this season. This is about as close to an automatic win as you can get.

Nonconference challenge: If Missouri finishes the season within the Top 25, it would surprise absolutely no one. The Tigers are a solid team in a solid conference, and it won’t help the Hoosiers much to play Missouri on the road this season. The Tigers cruised past Indiana, 45-28, last season and it could be more of the same this year. Indiana doesn’t play Nebraska or Wisconsin this season but, with Missouri on the schedule, it won’t receive any kind of break.

Analysis: Indiana is aiming for a bowl this season after missing out on the postseason for the last six years. Still, it’s not going to be easy -- and Indiana could end up right on the bubble. Two things really have to happen for the Hoosiers to reach or break .500: One, improve that awful defense and, two, win the close games. Only two Indiana games were decided by a touchdown or less in 2013, and it lost them both (to Navy, 41-35, and to Minnesota, 42-39). On the plus side, Indiana’s defense can’t get much worse ... but, on the negative end, we’ve also been saying that for years.

Schedule analysis: Illinois

August, 8, 2014
8/08/14
1:00
PM ET
Just a few more weeks before the games kick off. Until then, we're looking forward and analyzing every Big Ten team's 2014 schedule.

Up next: Illinois

Nonconference schedule (with 2013 records)

Aug. 30: Youngstown State (8-4)
Sept. 6: Western Kentucky (8-4)
Sept. 13: at Washington (9-4)
Sept. 20: Texas State (6-6)

West Division games

Sept. 27: at Nebraska
Oct. 4: Purdue
Oct. 11: at Wisconsin
Oct. 25: Minnesota
Nov. 15: Iowa
Nov. 29: at Northwestern

Crossover games

Nov. 1: at Ohio State
Nov. 22: Penn State

No-plays

Indiana
Maryland
Michigan
Michigan State
Rutgers

Gut-check game: In the last two years against Wisconsin, Illinois has given up 87 points and lost by a combined 41 points. An Illini defense that was one of the worst in the country against the run last season goes up against Melvin Gordon, Corey Clement and that massive Badgers O-line. On the road. Yeah, that's gut-check time.

Trap game: While Illinois can't afford complacency in any of its games, the Purdue game at home on Oct. 4 sticks out like a trap. It's sandwiched between difficult road games at Nebraska and Wisconsin. And remember that the Illini only won by four points in West Lafayette last year, the Boilers' closest shave in a winless Big Ten season. This is not a game Tim Beckman's club can overlook.

Snoozer: Take your pick between the three nonconference opponents not named Washington. None of the three figure to be hideously uncompetitive, but they also don't offer many interesting storylines, either.

Nonconference challenge: It's hard to fault the Illinois nonconference schedule too much because of that trip to Washington. The Huskies outclassed Beckman's team last year in a 34-24 win at Soldier Field, and now they get the Illini on their turf. UDub could have the element of surprise on its side as well with new coach Chris Petersen in charge.

Analysis: It might just be bowl or bust this year for Beckman, who is 6-18 in two years in Champaign with one Big Ten victory. If so, his fate will boil down to league play. The Illini should go 3-1 in the nonconference slate unless disaster strikes. Can they triple their Big Ten win total from the past two years combined in order to reach the postseason? That won't be easy, with a crossover game at Ohio State and road trips to Nebraska and Wisconsin. Illinois likely will have to get those three wins against the group that includes Purdue, Penn State, Minnesota and Iowa at Memorial Stadium and rival Northwestern on the road. It's certainly doable -- the Illini very nearly beat the Nittany Lions and Wildcats last year, after all -- especially if the defense makes significant improvement. But the margin for error is undoubtedly slim.

Schedule analysis: Minnesota

August, 6, 2014
8/06/14
1:00
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Just a few more weeks before the games kick off. Until then, we're looking forward and analyzing every Big Ten team's 2014 schedule.

Up next: the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Nonconference schedule (with 2013 records)

Aug. 28: Eastern Illinois (12-2)
Sept. 6: Middle Tennessee (8-5)
Sept. 13: at TCU (4-8)
Sept. 20: San Jose State (6-6)

West Division games

Oct. 11: Northwestern
Oct. 18: Purdue
Oct. 25: at Illinois
Nov. 8: Iowa
Nov. 22: at Nebraska
Nov. 29: at Wisconsin

Crossover games

Sept. 27: at Michigan
Nov. 15: Ohio State

No-plays

Indiana
Maryland
Michigan State
Penn State
Rutgers

Gut-check game: The Gophers haven't played Ohio State since 2010, and after that 52-10 loss, they weren't exactly clamoring for more games with the Buckeyes. Urban Meyer's team visits TCF Bank Stadium on Nov. 15, which also happens to be Senior Day for Minnesota. Since the final two games are on the road against Nebraska and Wisconsin, the Gophers need to make their best stand here or risk a rough finish.

Trap game: The Oct. 25 game at Illinois arrives after a stretch of two winnable home games and before a bye that precedes the challenging final four games. If the Illini offense is as potent as it was a year ago, the Gophers may have a hard time keeping pace.

Snoozer: Eastern Illinois may have presented a stiff challenge last year, but since quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went to the NFL and head coach Dino Babers bolted for Bowling Green, Minnesota should be a heavy favorite in the opener.

Nonconference challenge: The TCU game stands out in an otherwise ho-hum collection of nonleague games. The Horned Frogs had a rough go of it last year in the Big 12 and are trying to regain their footing. Given the conference hurdles awaiting the Gophers, grabbing a win in Fort Worth could prove crucial to the season.

Analysis: Jerry Kill and his staff are very confident in the roster they've built, thinking this might be their best Gophers team yet. But the schedule might mean this is a case where the team is improved and the record is not. Those final four games are a bear, and drawing Ohio State and a road trip to the Big House as crossovers is about as burdensome as it gets. Minnesota faltered down the stretch last season after a great start. This schedule sets up for a similar story unless the Gophers have truly taken the next step forward.

Schedule analysis: Purdue

August, 5, 2014
8/05/14
1:00
PM ET
Just a few more weeks before the games kick off. Until then, we're looking forward and analyzing every Big Ten team's 2014 schedule.

Up next: the Purdue Boilermakers.

Nonconference schedule (with 2013 records)

Aug. 30: Western Michigan (1-11)
Sept. 6: Central Michigan (6-6)
Sept. 13: Notre Dame* (9-4)
Sept. 20: Southern Illinois (7-5)

* -- at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis

West Division games

Sept. 27: Iowa
Oct. 4: at Illinois
Oct. 18: at Minnesota
Nov. 1: at Nebraska
Nov. 8: Wisconsin
Nov. 22: Northwestern

Crossover games

Oct. 11: Michigan State
Nov. 29: at Indiana

No-plays

Maryland
Michigan
Ohio State
Penn State
Rutgers

Gut-check game: The truth is that all Big Ten games qualify for gut-check status right now for Purdue, which went 0-8 in the league last year. But at least some of the toughest opponents must come to Ross-Ade Stadium. That's not the case with Nebraska, which hosts Darrell Hazell's team on Nov. 1. The Huskers blew out Purdue 44-7 last year, and it wasn't even that close. The Boilermakers must find some way to make it competitive this time around, or else November could get off to a rough start.

Trap game: It's hard to call anything a trap, since Purdue's margin of error is likely minuscule each week. But one to watch out for is the Southern Illinois game. The FCS Salukis threw a scare into Illinois last year in the season opener, and the Boilermakers will be coming off what likely will be an emotional and physical game against Notre Dame a week earlier. If they're fatigued from that one, or peeking ahead to the Big Ten opener vs. Iowa, then potential trouble looms.

Snoozer: Nothing outside the Notre Dame game gets one's blood pumping on that nonconference schedule. While openers always contain a certain amount of curiosity, the Week 1 matchup against Central Michigan features teams that combined for two wins in 2013. That's not exactly going to lead "SportsCenter."

Nonconference challenge: Perhaps you've heard of a certain Catholic school from South Bend. Hazell told me last week that the Notre Dame game is "huge" for his program. The two schools are taking a break from their annual series because of the new ACC affiliation for the Irish, and the last installment for several years occurs on a supposedly neutral field in Indianapolis. If the Boilermakers want to show they're truly an improved team to be reckoned with, they need to turn in a good performance here.

Analysis: Purdue scheduled a bit too aggressively in 2013 and paid the price in Hazell's first year. The good news is that major opportunity exists to double or even triple last year's win total in September alone. While nothing can be considered a guarantee, the Boilers should be favored to beat both directional Michigan schools and Southern Illinois. The Big Ten schedule offers few breathers, but Purdue should at least be able to compete against Illinois and Indiana on the road and take its shot at a home upset. The bar was set so low last year that even something like a 4-8 season would represent considerable progress in 2014. Hazell and his team can't blame the schedule if that doesn't happen.

Schedule analysis: Maryland

August, 1, 2014
8/01/14
1:30
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Football is back. At least preseason practice is. And our schedule analysis for every Big Ten team is also back after taking a brief hiatus during the media days/coaches car wash craziness.

We resume by looking at the Maryland Terrapins:

Nonconference opponents (with 2013 records)

Aug. 30: James Madison (6-6)
Sept. 6: at South Florida (2-10)
Sept. 13: West Virginia (4-8)
Sept. 20: at Syracuse (7-6)

East Division games

Sept. 27: at Indiana
Oct. 4: Ohio State
Nov. 1: at Penn State
Nov. 15: Michigan State
Nov. 22: at Michigan
Nov. 29: Rutgers

Crossover games

Oct. 18: Iowa
Oct. 25: at Wisconsin

No plays

Illinois
Minnesota
Nebraska
Northwestern
Purdue

Gut-check game: Terrapins fans get their real introduction to the league when Ohio State visits on Oct. 4. Maryland went to a bowl game last year but got blown out by ACC powers Florida State and Clemson. Can it change the trend against what might be the Big Ten's most talented team?

Trap game: Randy Edsall might feel like he's back in the Big East with a schedule that includes three straight games against South Florida, West Virginia and Syracuse. Of those, the first one -- against the Bulls in Tampa -- feels the most like a trap game. USF was awful last year, but that program has a history of pulling off big upsets at home. Maryland had better not focus on the Bulls' 2-10 record from last year and instead be ready to go in the Florida heat in Week 2.

Snoozer: There aren't any total dogs on this schedule, though the opener against FCS opponent James Madison won't tell us much of anything about Maryland's Big Ten readiness. Then again, there's always this to consider.

Noncon challenge: Syracuse might offer the bigger challenge. Yet West Virginia is much more of a rival for Maryland, and the Mountaineers lead the all-time series 26-22-2. The Terps dominated the game last year in a 37-0 win, so Dana Holgorsen's crew will be looking for revenge this season.

Analysis: Maryland's inaugural Big Ten season isn't quite as daunting as Rutgers' slate. Or is it? Both teams face Wisconsin in a crossover game, with the Terps having to go to Camp Randall. Edsall's team drew Iowa as another crossover, while Rutgers got Nebraska. It's debatable as to which game will be tougher. Maryland doesn't face a marquee team in the nonconference, but it also doesn't have a lot of gimmes with USF, West Virginia and Syracuse on the docket. Ohio State and Michigan State both come to College Park, where the home team will be a significant underdog, and the Terrapins will have to find a way to win in the Big House and at Beaver Stadium. The key games could be the league opener and finale against Indiana and Rutgers, respectively. If Maryland wins those two and sweeps in the nonconference, it can at least assure itself of another bowl appearance.

Schedule analysis: Northwestern

July, 25, 2014
7/25/14
2:20
PM ET
Opening weekend in college football is just five weeks away. Yay. We're we're peeking ahead and breaking down every Big Ten team's 2014 schedule to get you even more geeked up.

Batting third in our series: The Northwestern Wildcats

Nonconference opponents (with 2013 records)

Aug. 30: Cal (1-11)
Sept. 6: Northern Illinois (12-2)
Sept. 20: Western Illinois (4-8)
Nov. 15: at Notre Dame (9-4)

West Division games

Oct. 4: Wisconsin
Oct. 11: at Minnesota
Oct. 18: Nebraska
Nov. 1: at Iowa
Nov. 22: at Purdue
Nov. 29: Illinois

Crossover games

Sept. 27: at Penn State
Nov. 8: Michigan

No plays

Indiana
Maryland
Michigan State
Ohio State
Rutgers

Gut-check game: Nebraska. The Wildcats stunned the Huskers in Lincoln in their first meeting as Big Ten teams in 2011. But the past two years of this series have left Northwestern shellshocked. Taylor Martinez engineered an epic fourth-quarter comeback in Evanston in 2012, and of course, Nebraska won on that Hail Mary last year. Pat Fitzgerald's team has to find a way to finish off Big Red better this year at home, or else the path to a potential West Division title gets much more difficult.

Trap game: Northern Illinois doesn't have Jordan Lynch anymore, but this is a strong program that has won at least 11 games in each of the past four seasons. The Huskies, who won at Iowa last year, would love nothing more than to beat their in-state neighbors to the East. And Northwestern will be coming off a potential track meet in the opener vs. Cal.

Snoozer: You certainly can't find much fault in Northwestern's nonconference schedule overall. But when the Western Illinois game arrives, we'll definitely be flipping channels.

Noncon challenge: Wildcats fans have been looking forward to playing Notre Dame again since their team pulled off the upset in South Bend in 1995. The game finally arrives this fall, but it won't be in an easy spot. Not only does Northwestern go on the road (albeit a short trip), the game comes right in the middle of November when Big Ten races are at their most intense. In fact, the Cats play Iowa, Michigan and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks. No small task, that.

Analysis: Credit goes to Northwestern for once again assembling a challenging schedule. It's one of the few schools willing to play two Power 5 conference teams (or at least the equivalent, in Notre Dame's case) in the same season, and Cal should be improved over last year's disaster. Throw in one of the most dangerous mid-major programs in the country, and that should make for a strong SOS. The Wildcats should be considered a dark horse in the West Division since they can't suffer all the bad luck they experienced in 2013 for a second straight year. But drawing Michigan and Penn State as crossovers is tougher on paper than what fellow West contenders Iowa and Wisconsin face, and looping Notre Dame into that November mix increases the degree of difficulty. Still, if the team can survive the grind, it gets a relatively light finish with Purdue and Illinois. There's a decent chance more will be on the line for this program in the final weeks of 2014 than there was a year ago.

Schedule analysis: Michigan

July, 24, 2014
7/24/14
1:30
PM ET
The first games involving Big Ten teams kick off five weeks from Thursday. (Hello, Minnesota and Rutgers). We can't wait, which is why we're peeking ahead and breaking down every Big Ten team's 2014 schedule in this new series.

Next up: The Michigan Wolverines.

Nonconference opponents (with 2013 records)

Aug. 30: Appalachian State (4-8)
Sept. 6: at Notre Dame (9-4)
Sept. 13: Miami (Ohio) (0-12)
Sept. 20: Utah (5-7)

East Division games

Oct. 4: at Rutgers
Oct. 11: Penn State
Oct. 25: at Michigan State
Nov. 1: Indiana
Nov. 22: Maryland
Nov. 29: at Ohio State

Crossover games

Sept. 27: Minnesota
Nov. 8: at Northwestern

No plays

Illinois
Iowa
Nebraska
Purdue
Wisconsin

Gut-check game: at Michigan State. Maize and Blue fans are not happy about having to travel to East Lansing two straight years, but it's a quirk of the new division setup and expansion. The Spartans have won by a combined 37 points the last two times they've hosted Michigan (last year and in 2011) and have claimed five of the past six Paul Bunyan Trophies. The Wolverines haven't scored more than 20 points against their instate rivals since 2008, as the Spartan Dawg defense has given them all kinds of trouble. The Ohio State game will always demand more of Michigan's attention, but the program has been getting its butt kicked in the "other" rivalry of late.

Trap game: It's tempting to say Appalachian State, given the massive trap the Wolverines fell into in 2007. We appreciate Dave Brandon's sense of humor in scheduling this as an opener. But the history means Michigan will be well aware of the danger in this one, and the Mountaineers aren't quite as good as they were last time. So we'll say the trap game here is at Rutgers. By reputation, maybe, it doesn't seem all that dangerous. But it will be the Wolverines' first Big Ten road game, and it's a night game in unfamiliar territory. Conditions were similar last year when UConn almost pulled the upset, and the Scarlet Knights are much more capable of notching a big win than the Huskies. Their defense could give Michigan problems, especially if the offensive line and running game aren't much improved.

Snoozer: Miami went 0-12 last year. 'Nuff said.

Non-con challenge: Week 2 brings the last scheduled meeting with Notre Dame, and with Brady Hoke calling the Irish "chicken" last year -- along with the "Chicken Dance" being played over the Big House speakers after Michigan's win -- expect the home crowd to be ready to rumble. Four of the past five games in this series have been decided by seven points or fewer, and even last year's 41-30 Wolverines victory was closer than the final score indicated.

Analysis: Michigan's schedule is challenging but not overwhelming. Missing Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin from the West is an advantage, especially given the historical dominance over Minnesota and Northwestern. The nonconference schedule does contain some hurdles -- keep an eye on Utah, a team which beat Stanford last year and shouldn't be intimidated in the Big House. The East Division games are likely where the Wolverines' season will be decided, and having to travel to both Michigan State and Ohio State is not easy. To have any chance of reaching Hoke's goal of a Big Ten title, Michigan will have to protect home field and hope to steal a win or two on the road.

Schedule analysis: Nebraska

July, 23, 2014
7/23/14
3:15
PM ET
Good news: the college football season begins five weeks from today. (Abilene Christian at Georgia State. Who's excited?) We can't wait, which is why we're peeking ahead and breaking down every Big Ten team's 2014 schedule in this new series.

Up first: the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Nonconference opponents (with 2013 records)

Aug. 30: Florida Atlantic (6-6)
Sept. 6: McNeese State (10-3)
Sept. 13: at Fresno State (11-2)
Sept. 20: Miami (Fla). (9-4)

West Division games

Sept. 27: Illinois
Oct. 18: at Northwestern
Nov. 1: Purdue
Nov. 15: at Wisconsin
Nov. 22: Minnesota
Nov. 28: at Iowa

Crossover games

Oct. 4: at Michigan State
Oct. 25: Rutgers

No plays

Indiana
Maryland
Michigan
Ohio State
Penn State

Gut-check game: at Wisconsin. Sure, the Michigan State game on the road is a big gut-check game, too, but the Spartans are in the other division. Nebraska could have a hard time getting to Indianapolis if it doesn't get past Wisconsin. And, of course, Big Red lost 48-17 the last time it went to Madison (and 70-31 the most recent time it played the Badgers away from home). Camp Randall can be an intimidating place for visitors to play, but Bo Pelini's team has to be ready to step up and stop the run.

Trap game: Fresno State. Coming a week before the more heavily-hyped showdown versus those Hurricanes, this one has all the makings of a trap. The Bulldogs have fielded a solid program for years, won 11 games last year and have been picked to win their division in the Mountain West. Plus, the game is on the road with a night kickoff before Fresno fans who will be foaming at the mouth. No overlooking allowed here.

Snoozer: McNeese State won 10 games last year and pummeled South Florida, so the Cowboys are not your typical FCS pushover. Still, the talent and size difference should be immense, and we'll be impatiently tapping our toes waiting for the next two nonconference games.

Non-con challenge: Miami. The Hurricanes are nowhere near as talented as they were the last time these teams met, when Miami trotted out scores of future pros in the 2001 Rose Bowl. Nebraska has had more cumulative success since then, though neither have reached the heights to which they aspire. Regardless, the 'Canes are always going to be loaded with speed and athletes, and running back Duke Johnson will present problems for any defense. The Huskers need to win this game at home to build their national credibility.

Analysis: Nebraska might end up as the best team in the West, but to win the division will require overcoming some schedule hurdles. Playing Michigan State in East Lansing is as tough a draw from the East as it gets, and neither Wisconsin nor Iowa face similar challenges in their crossover slate. Moreover, the Huskers have to play at both Wisconsin and Iowa in November, so Pelini's crew will have to become road warriors. Throw in at least two strong nonconference games, and this is a schedule that should give us an accurate read at just where this program is at the moment.

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