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The Big Ten on Thursday released its football schedules for the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the first years that the league will play nine conference games.
Highlights include cross-division games between Ohio State and Nebraska and Michigan and Wisconsin in both 2016 and 2017, Wisconsin versus Ohio State in 2016 and Nebraska at Penn State in 2017.
The league has taken a "parity-based" approach with its scheduling, meaning the marquee programs will play each other outside of division play as often as possible. The Big Ten also wants every player to have a chance to face each of the other 13 conference teams during his four-year career, so cross-division opponents will change from season to season.
"I think the real winners in all of this are, No. 1, the players," Big Ten senior associate commissioner Mark Rudner said. "They certainly want to play in these kind of games and against this kind of competition. And also the fans are winners. Every week in the Big Ten, we're going to be playing big conference games."
Major rivalries, such as Ohio State-Michigan, Wisconsin-Minnesota and Northwestern-Illinois will continue to be played on the season's final weekend.
The arrival of the nine-game schedule also means earlier Big Ten action. In 2017, Ohio State will open the season on Sept. 2 at Indiana. In recent years, Big Ten play usually has begun no earlier than the fourth or fifth week of the season. Previously scheduled nonconference games prevented the league from pushing more Big Ten games into early September in 2016 and '17.
Even with rotating opponents, not every marquee team will face one another. Michigan and Nebraska won't play between 2014 and 2017, for example, and the same goes for Wisconsin and Penn State. But the conference hopes that the schedules "will even out over time," Rudner said.
In May the Big Ten released its conference schedule for the 2014 season, when new members Maryland and Rutgers join the league and play in the East and West divisions begins.