Big Ten Football Slates
I took a hard look at 2011 Big Ten football schedules Wednesday night for the first time…you can see a handy grid at this link and it might be something you will want to bookmark and refer to. Here are a few thoughts as to what jumped out at me for various reasons…
WISCONSIN doesn’t play a road game until October 22nd…that’s right, October 22nd. They have just four road dates all season. Their non-conference foes are UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois and South Dakota, then they open Big Ten play at home against Nebraska, get a bye, home against the Hoosiers and then have back to back roadies at Michigan State and Ohio State. The Buckeyes will be at full strength by that game. Wisconsin’s other two road games are at Minnesota and Illinois, with Purdue and Penn State at home. Wisconsin loses a lot of starters off of last year’s team, but this is a pretty favorable schedule for them.
OHIO STATE will play the first five games without Terrelle Pryor, Coach Tressel and a few other key players and their third game of the year is at Miami (FL), plus they host Colorado in week four. Week Five is the Big Ten opener for them and they host Michigan State, likely one of the preseason favorites to win the Legends Division. Game Six, the first game back for the aforementioned suspension crew, is at Nebraska. It’s not far fetched to think the Buckeyes will be 4-2 after six games, needing to win out @Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, @Purdue, Penn State and @Michigan to make it to the Big Ten title game on December 3rd. However, the Leaders Division doesn’t really have a sure fire challenger to Ohio State this year, in my opinion.
ILLINOIS Big Ten road schedule is nice; Indiana, Purdue, Penn State and Minnesota. Nice as in, every one of those games is winnable. The home slate? Northwestern, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. With Arkansas State, South Dakota State, Arizona State and Western Michigan as their non-conference foes at home, the Illini will be bowling again in 2011…they don’t play a road game until October 8th.
IOWA is the lone Big Ten team with a bye on October 1st, the week Big Ten play kicks off. Purdue hosts Notre Dame that week as well, as two league teams will miss league action in the first seven weeks of league play, with all teams playing the final two weeks of the season. Iowa plays at Penn State following their bye, having beaten the Nits in seven of their last eight meetings…also, Iowa does not play any opponent after they come off a bye.
MICHIGAN doesn’t see the road until October 8th when they play at Northwestern…they play at Iowa on November 5th, having hosted Purdue the week before…they host Nebraska and Ohio State to end the regular season.
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MICHIGAN STATE plays Iowa on November 12th and will have just hosted Minnesota the week before visiting Kinnick. The Hawks will be looking forward to this one more than usual due to some dirty recruiting pool Sparty tried to pull on signing day. Had this happened before last year’s game, I think we might have seen the first attempt to run up the score on an opponent in the Ferentz era…30-0 at half would not have been good enough…They open the year at Ohio State but won’t face Terrelle Pryor. They will also play at Nebraska this year.
MINNESOTA opens the year at USC. You think the Trojans will be champing at the bit in their season opener this year, being eligible for post season play again and looking to restore some pride to Heritage Hall? The Gophers open Big Ten play with back to back road games; Michigan and Purdue and they will face Nebraska the week before hosting Iowa.
NEBRASKA begins Big Ten play at Wisconsin, having had a roadie at Wyoming the week before. They get Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa at home and will have played at Michigan before hosting the Hawkeyes.
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NORTHWESTERN opens the season with three road games in their first four games. They will have played at home against Michigan before visiting Iowa.
PENN STATE will play at Indiana the week before it hosts Iowa and will close the season with a killer three game stretch. Following a bye week on November 5th, they host Nebraska then have back to back road games at Ohio State and Wisconsin.
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PURDUE will limp into their home game against Iowa on November 19th having just played a gauntlet of a schedule. @PSU in Week 7, Illinois in Week 8, @Michigan in Week 9, @Wisconsin in Week 10 and Ohio State in Week 11. Throw in a home game against Notre Dame in Week 5 and you are looking at a nightmare of a slate.
One final thought here…just from a cursory glance at the schedules without having spent a great deal of time poring over rosters and really analyzing what each team will look like this year, but having a decent idea of who loses what, I don’t see any Big Ten team getting to bowl season without at least two losses, which means none will play for the national title in 2012. If I had to give one pick as the team that I think has the best chance of being undefeated, while already having told you I don’t think that is going to happen, I would say Nebraska, based upon what they return and their home and road Big Ten slate. Had Wisconsin not lost so much, they might have been the pick due to what I see as a schedule that plays out well for such a run.