Bill Parcells famously said, "You are what your record says you are." But teams hovering between good and great are often defined largely by the quality of their schedules.
Take Michigan, for example. The Wolverines finished 11-2 in 2011, Brady Hoke's first season as coach. There's little doubt Michigan made major strides from the 2010 season, but the team also benefited from a schedule that included rivals Ohio State and Notre Dame at home, excluded Leaders Division front-runners Wisconsin and Penn State, and featured eight total home games. They drew a Virginia Tech team in the Sugar Bowl that many believed didn't belong there. You can make a case that the 2011 Michigan squad wasn't as good as its record indicated.
You can also make the case the 2012 Michigan team was better than its record (8-5). The Wolverines caught far fewer scheduling breaks. They lost to the top three teams in the post-regular season AP Poll -- Notre Dame, Alabama and Ohio State -- and four of their losses came against opponents that finished in the top 10 of both final polls. Michigan only had six home games, faced Alabama in a quasi-road environment in Arlington, Texas, and had a much tougher bowl draw in South Carolina.
The schedule factor simply can't be ignored.
Michigan's scheduling fortunes once again change for the 2013 season. The Wolverines play seven home games and face quite possibly their three toughest opponents -- Ohio State, Notre Dame and Nebraska -- at the Big House. Unlike the 2012 slate, Michigan's non-league schedule features only one marquee opponent in Notre Dame. And though Penn State returns to Michigan's schedule, a Wisconsin team pegged to challenge Ohio State in the Leaders Division does not.
The 2013 schedule certainly seems to help Michigan. And the Wolverines aren't alone.
Several teams projected to be among the Big Ten's elite in 2013 face schedules that look quite favorable. Major non-league tests are few and far between, and some of the crossover schedules don't appear nearly as difficult as they were in 2012. Again, this is all based on how teams look on Jan. 14, not Sept. 14, but it's still a fun exercise.
Let's look at the schedules for the top six teams in the first version of the 2013 power rankings ...
Home games: 7
Non-league games: Buffalo (home), San Diego State (home), California (road), Florida A&M (home)
B1G crossover games: Northwestern (road), Iowa (home), Michigan (road)
B1G no plays: Nebraska, Michigan State, Minnesota
Toughest games: Michigan (road), Northwestern (road), Wisconsin (home), San Diego State (home)
Verdict: Another 12-0 regular season can't be dismissed for the Buckeyes, who must travel to Michigan and to Northwestern for the Big Ten opener but otherwise have a very manageable schedule. Ohio State misses two of the better Legends Division teams in Nebraska and Michigan State and faces its toughest division challenger, Wisconsin, in Columbus.
Home games: 7
Non-league games: California (road), Syracuse (home), Western Michigan (home), Maine (home)
B1G crossover games: Ohio State (home), Wisconsin (road), Illinois (road)
B1G no plays: Penn State, Indiana, Purdue
Toughest games: Ohio State (home), Nebraska (road), Wisconsin (road), Michigan (home)
Verdict: Northwestern is the major exception in the group of six, as its schedule appears to get significantly tougher in 2013. Both Ohio State and Wisconsin return, and Northwestern gets few breaks with its Big Ten home schedule. The Wildcats will face both Michigan and Michigan State in Evanston, and a potentially tricky non-league slate got a bit easier when Vanderbilt bailed out of a game against Northwestern in Nashville.
Home games: 8
Non-league games: Wyoming (home), Southern Miss (home), UCLA (home), South Dakota State (home)
B1G crossover games: Illinois (home), Purdue (road), Penn State (road)
B1G no plays: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Indiana
Toughest games: Michigan (road), UCLA (home), Northwestern (home), Penn State (road)
Verdict: The schedule sets up very well for Nebraska to make a return trip to the Big Ten championship game. Although the Huskers have struggled in big games away from Lincoln, they've been very tough to beat at Memorial Stadium, where they'll face UCLA, Northwestern and Michigan State. After getting the league's hardest crossover draw (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State) in their first two seasons in the Big Ten, the Huskers get one of the easiest in 2013.
Home games: 7
Non-league games: Massachusetts (home), Tennessee Tech (home), Arizona State (road), BYU (home)
B1G crossover games: Northwestern (home), at Iowa (road), at Minnesota (road)
B1G no plays: Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska
Toughest games: Ohio State (road), Arizona State (road), Northwestern (home)
Verdict: After living in cupcake city for years, Wisconsin plays a non-league schedule that might be tougher than its Big Ten slate. Like Nebraska, Wisconsin should benefit from a crossover schedule that features only one top Legends Division contender in Northwestern. The Ohio State trip won't be easy, but Wisconsin's other Big Ten road trips don't appear too daunting and it finishes with three of four at Camp Randall Stadium.
Home games: 7
Non-league games: Central Michigan (home), Notre Dame (home), Akron (home), Connecticut (road)
B1G crossover games: Penn State (road), Indiana (home), Ohio State (home)
B1G no plays: Wisconsin, Purdue, Illinois
Toughest games: Ohio State (home), Notre Dame (home), Michigan State (road), Nebraska (home)
Verdict: The 2013 schedule certainly has more similarities to 2011 than to 2012, as Michigan faces most of its top opponents in Ann Arbor, where it has yet to lose a game under Hoke. The Wolverines have two tough division road games against Michigan State and Northwestern, but they should have a very strong record, possibly a perfect one, when the calendar turns to November.
Home games: 7
Non-league games: Western Michigan (home), South Florida (home), Youngstown State (home), Notre Dame (road)
B1G crossover games: Indiana (home), Purdue (home), Illinois (road)
B1G no plays: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State
Toughest games: Notre Dame (road), Nebraska (road), Michigan (home), Northwestern (road)
Verdict: After a disappointing 2012 season, Michigan State could vault right back into the Big Ten title mix thanks in part to its schedule. The Spartans appear to have the easiest crossovers, while avoiding the top three teams in the Leaders Division. Michigan State's road schedule isn't easy, but it will host archrival Michigan and gets its toughest games later in the season.
Five of the six teams listed appear to have favorable schedules for 2013 (Northwestern being the exception). The lack of marquee crossover games could lead to a league race with several unanswered questions. It also might result in the first Big Ten title game matchup featuring teams that haven't played during the regular season.