We're comparing various aspects of the Big Ten divisions this week, starting with the nonconference schedules. Last September, the league dug itself a giant hole early, requiring nearly three months for its climb back to respectability.
Does history repeat itself? Regardless of your opinion, we offer this debate on the most attractive lineup of games:
Take 1: Dan Murphy
The East is going to stack up well to their counterparts out West in most ways this year, and that includes the early-season schedules. The headliner here is a rematch between two of last year’s top five teams -- Oregon at Michigan State on Sept. 12.
The Spartans fell victim to a patented quick-hitting Oregon scoring spree in the second half of last year’s game for one of their two losses in 2014. This year, the game is in East Lansing, and Michigan State is a one-point favorite in what might end up being the best nonconference game in all of college football this year. There aren’t many games that can put playoff hopes on the line in early September, but this might be one of them.
Speaking of the playoff picture, on Sept. 7, Ohio State has a chance to start its season this year by knocking off Virginia Tech, the one team that threatened the Buckeyes’ chances at a national title run last year. A Monday night game in Blacksburg is a circle-your-calendar event for any team. The vengeance factor when Urban Meyer and company visit on Labor Day will heighten things even further.
The other notable games in the early going for the East Division include Pac-12 opponents, going head-to-head with an old, familiar face. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh -- formerly Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh -- faces Utah and Oregon State to start the season. Pretty much whatever Harbaugh does in his first few weeks on the job is going to draw a lot of eyeballs. The Utes are a quality team that will test Michigan in Harbaugh's Thursday night debut on Sept. 3 to open the college football season.
Other early games of note: BYU at Michigan and Maryland at West Virginia.
Take 2: Mitch Sherman
I’m with you, Dan, on Michigan State-Oregon. It’s the most nationally significant game on the Big Ten’s September slate, unless, of course, Virginia Tech pulls another upset of Ohio State, which is not likely.
Or unless Minnesota beats TCU. Again, let’s not go crazy. Early-season games never unfold according to form across an entire conference or division, but barring a series of unforeseen events, I like the quantity of West Division games over the East.
Start with Week 1. The West lineup features the Horned Frogs’ aforementioned journey north. No better way for Minnesota to gauge its progress than against an opponent that figures to open the season ranked in the top three. Same goes for Wisconsin-Alabama. Sure, the odds are stacked against the Badgers, but the Arlington, Texas game packs plenty of intrigue in Paul Chryst’s debut.
BYU visits Nebraska. And Northwestern hosts Stanford.
Week 2 tips toward the East, but Minnesota at Colorado State and Iowa at Iowa State hold some intrigue. If Kirk Ferentz loses to the Cyclones for the fourth time in five years, that's a problem.
I’ll take the West again in Week 3, with four games against Power 5 foes, headlined by Nebraska at Miami at Pittsburgh at Iowa.
Week 4 favors the East, though Kansas (at Rutgers) and Wake Forest (vs. Indiana) aren’t great draws.
Much like the quality of play in the Big Ten overall, the top two teams in the East make its schedule look attractive and appeal to a broad base. But don’t overlook the West for its depth.