- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Ready for some schedule news? Who am I kidding? Everyone loves schedule news. Well, here's some.
The 2018 and 2019 Big Ten schedules are out after being approved by the league's athletic directors last week. For those keeping score, this is Season 3 and Season 4 of the nine-game league schedule, which begins in 2016. Remember, the East division will play five home games and four road games in 2018, and the West division will play five home and four road in 2019.
First, the vitals:
DIVISION CROSSOVERS (three per team)
Indiana: Iowa, at Minnesota, Purdue (protected)
Maryland: Minnesota, at Iowa, Illinois
Michigan: Nebraska, at Northwestern, Wisconsin
Michigan State: Northwestern, Purdue, at Nebraska
Ohio State: Minnesota, at Purdue, Nebraska
Penn State: at Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin
Rutgers: Illinois, Northwestern, at Wisconsin
Illinois: Penn State, at Rutgers, at Maryland
Iowa: at Indiana, Maryland, at Penn State
Minnesota: at Maryland, at Ohio State, Indiana
Nebraska: at Michigan, at Ohio State, Michigan State
Northwestern: Michigan, at Michigan State, at Rutgers
Purdue: Ohio State, at Michigan State, at Indiana (protected)
Wisconsin: at Michigan, Rutgers, at Penn State
Indiana: at Nebraska, Northwestern, at Purdue (protected)
Maryland: at Purdue, at Minnesota, Nebraska
Michigan: at Wisconsin, Iowa, at Illinois
Michigan State: at Northwestern, at Wisconsin, Illinois
Ohio State: at Nebraska, at Northwestern, Wisconsin
Penn State: Purdue, at Iowa, at Minnesota
Rutgers: at Iowa, Minnesota, at Illinois
Illinois: Michigan, Rutgers, at Michigan State
Iowa: Rutgers, at Michigan, Penn State
Minnesota: at Rutgers, Maryland, Penn State
Nebraska: Ohio State, Indiana, at Maryland
Northwestern: Michigan State, Ohio State, at Indiana
Purdue: at Penn State, Maryland, Indiana (protected)
Wisconsin: Michigan, Michigan State, at Ohio State
The wait for Michigan-Nebraska finally ends in 2018, as the Wolverines host the Huskers in the Big Ten opener for both squads. It will mark the teams' first meeting since Nov. 9, 2013. Although the teams once again don't play in 2019, expect them to meet again in 2020. It is odd that Nebraska and Ohio State play crossover games every year between 2016-19, but Nebraska and Michigan meet just once.
Parity-based scheduling provides more appealing matchups across the board in these seasons. To recap: Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State all face Nebraska in 2018; Nebraska and Ohio State also meet in 2019; Wisconsin plays Michigan in both 2018 and 2019, as well as Penn State in 2018 and both Michigan State and Ohio State in 2019; and Northwestern-Michigan State and Iowa-Penn State are two sneaky-good matchups that occur in both seasons. Ohio State's 2019 slate is no picnic, as the Buckeyes play crossovers against arguably the three best West division opponents (Wisconsin, Michigan State and Northwestern).
"The goal is to have top-level, A-plus type of games every week of the season and really build toward a championship crescendo," said Big Ten senior associate commissioner for television administration Mark Rudner, who crafts the league schedules with his staff. "It’s hard to project in 2013 what teams are going to look like six or seven years down the road, but there are some pretty good games here."
Indeed there are. But before going any further, let's look at the regular-season Big Ten matchups you won't be seeing in 2018 or 2019 …
NO PLAYS (four per team)
Indiana: Illinois, Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Maryland: Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin
Michigan: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue
Michigan State: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin
Ohio State: Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Penn State: Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue
Rutgers: Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue
Illinois: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State
Iowa: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Rutgers
Minnesota: Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Rutgers
Nebraska: Indiana, Maryland, Penn State, Rutgers
Northwestern: Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State
Purdue: Maryland, Michigan, Penn State, Rutgers
Wisconsin: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State
Indiana: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin
Maryland: Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Michigan: Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue
Michigan State: Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue
Ohio State: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue
Penn State: Illinois, Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Rutgers: Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin
Illinois: Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State
Iowa: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State
Minnesota: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State
Nebraska: Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Rutgers
Northwestern: Maryland, Rutgers, Michigan, Penn State
Purdue: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Rutgers
Wisconsin: Indiana, Maryland, Penn State, Rutgers
Some more notes from talking with Rudner and thoughts on the 2018 and 2019 schedules:
The Big Ten continues to see the light about scheduling league games earlier in the season. Purdue and Northwestern will kick off the 2018 campaign at Ross-Ade Stadium, followed by Rutgers-Ohio State in Week 2, and then four league contests in Week 4, including Nebraska-Michigan and Wisconsin-Iowa. The 2019 season features Big Ten games in Week 2, Week 3 and Week 4, a departure from the league's traditional scheduling model. "We're committed to playing conference games earlier in the season," Rudner said. "It's just a matter of building it around already scheduled nonconference games. When we go to schedule these games, we look to see who's available on which dates and see if there are games that fit. Obviously, in each of those years, there were some games that fit."
There had been some talk of moving the Wisconsin-Nebraska game to the final weekend of the regular season, replacing Iowa-Nebraska, but the 2018 and 2019 schedules still feature Hawkeyes-Huskers on Black Friday. Wisconsin will continue to wrap up its regular season against rival Minnesota. "They're building a rivalry game," Rudner said of Iowa and Nebraska, "so at least in this term, it's still there. We examined a lot of different scenarios, but the one we kept coming back to is Nebraska and Iowa to close the season on that Friday after Thanksgiving."
Three other traditional end-of-season games remain -- Ohio State-Michigan, Indiana-Purdue and Illinois-Northwestern -- while Michigan State, Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers will rotate playing one another on rivalry Saturday.
The desire/demand from Big Ten teams to play at least seven home games per season remains a challenge with the nine-game league schedule in place. Rudner said it helps that other leagues are moving to nine-game slates and beefing up their schedules for the Playoff. "There may be a year where somebody has six home games but the next year they have eight, so that averages out to seven over two years," Rudner said.
It's encouraging to see mostly division games in November in both 2018 and 2019, as the Big Ten tries to build toward the championship game. Other than Indiana-Purdue, the Big Ten's only protected crossover and a traditional end-of-season game, there are only four November crossovers in both 2018 and 2019.
Like this season and next, the 2019 season features the double-bye as the regular season lasts 14 weeks. That's the bad news. The good news is the 2019 season, like the 2014 campaign, will feature more Big Ten games that can be spread out. This will lead to fewer dud Saturdays like the ones we've had this season.
Although the Big Ten is adding more conference games in the first four weeks of the season, the league remains lukewarm about midweek contests. "We'll stay on Saturday," Rudner said "No talk about moving off of Saturday." Most fans prefer Saturday games, but I still wonder if some Big Ten programs could use the exposure boost from playing on a Thursday night or Friday night.
Northwestern can't afford to start slowly in 2019, as the Wildcats open Big Ten play with Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Ohio State. Yikes. Michigan gets few breaks during the 2018 schedule, as it hosts Nebraska, Wisconsin and Penn State, and must visit Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State.
Nebraska fans likely won't be pleased with the 2018 home schedule, which features Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan State. Big Red backers undoubtedly will spend some time on the road that fall as their beloved Huskers visit Ann Arbor, Madison, Columbus, Evanston and Iowa City.
The league accommodated Northwestern in 2018 as the Wildcats had a previously scheduled November non-league game scheduled against Notre Dame. There are no other such games around the league, Rudner said.