The Big 10 Schedule
Big Ten Leaders Division Breakdown & Analysis
Big Ten Legends Division Breakdown & Analysis
Big Ten Composite Schedule & Week Rankings
The Big Ten is probably going to be worse in 2011 than it was in 2010. Ohio State will be without five of its best players for half the season; Wisconsin has to rebuild in some key places; Michigan State needs a new linebacking corps; Iowa has to prove it can overcome all the off-field adversity; Illinois loses its three best players (RB Mikel Leshoure, DT Corey Liuget, and LB Martez Wilson); Penn State is still trying to find a consistent offense; and Michigan is still looking for some semblance of a defense.
But the conference should be more fun. Far more fun, and it doesn't even have to do with Nebraska joining the party.
It it's up to me and I'm the Tsar of College Football, I make the Big 12, er, the Big Ten Plus Two go to a round-robin, 11-game conference schedule with just one non-conference game to fatten up on, but that's obviously not going to happen. If it really is inevitable and the Big Ten really is going to split into two divisions, and it really is going to stick with the dopey Leaders and Legends division names, then this isn't going to be too bad.
You can say a lot of things about Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, especially since he's one of the key reasons we don't have a college football playoff, but he doesn't just use that thing as a hat rack. With all the attention and all the juice with the addition of the Huskers, the Big Ten offices have come up with a whale of a conference schedule to make sure that the big games keep on coming.
How strong is the Big Ten schedule? We tried to come up with the ten most intriguing conference games, and we couldn't leave off Penn State at Ohio State, Iowa at Penn State, Iowa at Nebraska, and Penn State at Wisconsin, so we just threw them all in as a tie for No. 10.
Really, how strong is the Big Ten schedule? A case could be made that Ohio State at Michigan doesn't really deserve a spot in the top ten and is only on the list because of name recognition. Until Michigan can get its head back above water, the new guy makes things more interesting with games like Ohio State at Nebraska (which is conveniently the game after the OSU suspensions are up), Nebraska at Penn State, Nebraska at Wisconsin, and Nebraska at Michigan a bigger deal … potentially.
The key battles of last year are going to all be played now with Michigan State at Ohio State on October 1st the game we didn't get, while Wisconsin has to make the trek to Columbus to face the Buckeyes and has to face Michigan State in East Lansing for the second year in a row.
Seriously, how strong is the Big Ten schedule? Michigan vs. Illinois, a rematch of one of the best games in the history of the league, doesn't even make the cut for the top 15 most interesting battles.
Of course, that doesn't mean the conference itself will be a big bowl of Christmas; it just means the schedule is interesting. The Big Ten isn't exactly extending itself with Alabama's trip to Penn State and Ohio State's date at Miami the only big non-Notre Dame real battles the conference will face, but this year, at least for one season, it's all about the conference play.
Non-Big Ten fans will go nuts with all the attention the league will receive, but it'll be tough to avoid the hype. Every week will be worth the watch.
Ho-hum. It's another slate of Big Ten games, a rendition we've seen played out annually over the past century. Of course, the big difference this fall is that Big Red is set to make its debut in the league.
For the first time since 1993, when Penn State shed its independence, the Big Ten is expanding, swiping Nebraska out of the Big 12. New rivalries, new match ups, new divisions. A new twist to the usual dance. In this case, change will be good, for the conference and college fans. So, naturally, all eyes will be on how well the Huskers can navigate an unfamiliar slate. The season will begin like any other, opening with home games against UT-Chattanooga, Fresno State, and Washington, and a trip to Laramie to play Wyoming. However, the new era kicks off in style on Oct. 1 with a trip to Wisconsin, followed by a delicious visit from Ohio State, which will mark the return of Terrelle Pryor and four others from suspension. After a bye week and a lighter load, Nebraska will finish with trips to Happy Valley and Ann Arbor, and a visit from Iowa that could decide the first Legends Division champion.
Ohio State-Michigan is still larger than life, and every Penn State game will have added intrigue because of the presence of Joe Paterno in the latter stages of his career. Nebraska, though, promises to be a unique attraction, looking historically out of place, yet very much at home as it breaks the seal on its Big Ten membership.
By Matt Zemek
Important, penetrating questions are waiting to be asked after assessing the Big Ten's schedules in the first year of its 12-team, two-division existence:
First off, whom did Illinois coach Ron Zook bribe? The Illini's road games feature weak opponents and their home games involve strong opponents… just the way a team wants its schedule to work out. Plus, Illinois avoids Michigan State. The only negative about all this is that if Illinois can't go 9-3 (at minimum), the season will rank as a clear-cut disappointment.
Question number two: Did Kevin Wilson demand this schedule when he negotiated with Indiana officials? The Hoosiers will play winnable games – games in which they will be less than a one-touchdown underdog – at home in Bloomington. Only a road date at Wisconsin on Oct. 15 should produce a decisive loss for this team in the first two months of its schedule. If the Hoosiers can avoid dropping a fourth-down pass against Iowa and not blow a lead against Northwestern (the former happened in 2010, the latter in 2009), they can reach the six-win plateau against this schedule.
Question three: What is a bigger torture chamber: Penn State's November schedule (Nebraska, Ohio State, Wisconsin), Wisconsin's October (Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State plus Indiana), Michigan State's October (Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska), or Nebraska's October (Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State)?
Last but certainly not least is the question that towers over everything else in the Big Ten for 2011: Will Ohio State be sharp and crisp at the beginning of October, when the five-game suspensions begin and end for the Sugar Bowl Gang? The way Ohio State handles the Oct. 1 and Oct. 8 games against Michigan State and Nebraska will cast a longer shadow over the Big Ten season than any other two-game stretch. That's saying something in a season when other two-game periods – Wisconsin-Michigan State on Oct. 22, followed by Wisconsin-Ohio State and Michigan State-Nebraska on Oct. 29 – are also part of the docket in the new-look conference schedule.
On a larger level, what's striking about the composition of the Big Ten schedule is that the majority of big games occur in October, not November. By the morning of Sunday, Oct. 30, we should have a very good idea of how the division races will pan out. Champions might not be decided, but division contenders should be whittled down to two teams unless everyone has a 3-2 record heading into November.
The other thing to watch is how Iowa responds to all the off-field miseries that have hit the program over the past few months. If the Hawkeyes crumble in 2011, every upper-tier Big Ten team that expected a tough matchup in Iowa City will suddenly look at life a little differently, thereby shifting the balance of power and rewarding (not punishing) the teams who drew Iowa in the Big Ten scheduling hopper.
Sit back and enjoy the popcorn. It's going to be a fun ride in the 12-team 2011 Big Ten season. Who will play its 13th game of the season and its ninth Big Ten game of the year in Indianapolis? (See – the numbers 9 through 13 were invoked in those two sentences… that's the entertainment waiting to be had in Jim Delany's new pigskin kingdom.)