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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

The Big Ten’s 2012 Non-Conference Schedule

After looking at the non-conference schedules found in the SEC, let’s turn our attention to the Big Ten, where every school but one, Nebraska, has filled out its dance card for the coming season. The Cornhuskers are close: three games down, one to go. And considering how Nebraska’s scheduled trio of games look, there’s little doubt that the program will look to fill that open date with the easiest, most cupcake-like opponent available on that particular Saturday — that would be Sept. 22, by the way, if you’re a lower-level program looking to plop a six-figure check in the school coffers. And the F.C.S. is certainly in the conversation: Nebraska has played one such school in each of the last two years after not doing so from 2007-9.

You’ll see a number of differences between the Big Ten’s non-conference schedule and that of the SEC, with the primary difference coming in the simplest way possible: it’s tougher. It’s more difficult, with far more road games, more B.C.S. conference competition and fewer cupcakes — though I suppose that the latter qualification lies in the eye of the beholder.

The MAC isn’t a great league, but it certainly trumps the Sun Belt, where the SEC typically dives in with both feet to fill its non-conference slate. And the MAC’s presence is felt throughout the Big Ten’s non-conference schedule, as it is every year, particularly with Big Ten programs who share a state’s borders with one of the MAC’s 14 programs.

Keep three important notes about the SEC’s schedule in mind: one, that the conference as a whole will play 13 road games altogether, 10 of which are true road games, not games played at a neutral site; two, that the SEC will play nine games against Sun Belt competition; and three, that on Nov. 17, the league will play more than twice as many games against F.C.S. competition, seven, as it does actual conference games, three.

More notes on the Big Ten’s non-conference schedule, along with a few comparisons to what the SEC will feature this fall, after the list:

9/1 Western Michigan
9/8 at Arizona State
9/15 Charleston Southern
9/22 Louisiana Tech

9/1 Indiana State
9/8 at Massachusetts (at Gillette Stadium)
9/15 Ball State
10/20 at Navy

9/1 vs. Northern Illinois (at Soldier Field)
9/8 Iowa State
9/15 Northern Iowa
9/22 Central Michigan

9/1 vs. Alabama (at Cowboys Stadium)
9/8 Air Force
9/15 Massachusetts
9/22 at Notre Dame

Michigan State
8/31 Boise State
9/8 at Central Michigan
9/15 Notre Dame
9/22 Eastern Michigan

8/30 at U.N.L.V.
9/8 New Hampshire
9/15 Western Michigan
9/22 Syracuse

Nebraska (one game T.B.A.)
9/1 Southern Mississippi
9/8 at U.C.L.A.
9/15 Arkansas State

9/1 at Syracuse
9/8 Vanderbilt
9/15 Boston College
9/22 South Dakota

Ohio State
9/1 Miami (Ohio)
9/8 U.C.F.
9/15 California
9/22 U.A.B.

Penn State
9/1 Ohio
9/8 at Virginia
9/15 Navy
9/22 Temple

9/1 Eastern Kentucky
9/8 at Notre Dame
9/15 Eastern Michigan
9/29 Marshall

9/1 Northern Iowa
9/8 at Oregon State
9/15 Utah State
9/22 UTEP

The Big Ten has scheduled 47 of its 48 allotted non-conference games; it’s only a matter of time before Nebraska closes out its non-conference slate. As of today — and the Cornhuskers could skew this total — the Big Ten as a whole will play as many games against F.C.S. competition, seven, as the SEC has scheduled on Nov. 17 alone.

The Big Ten will play nearly as many non-home games against B.C.S. conference competition, including Notre Dame in this category, as the SEC will play true road games altogether. The Big Ten has eight such road games scheduled, a list that includes marquee dates like Nebraska traveling to U.C.L.A., Wisconsin to Oregon State and Penn State to Virginia.

In all, 14 of the 47 games currently scheduled come against B.C.S. conference competition. California travels to Columbus to take on Ohio State on Sept. 15. Each of Northwestern’s first three games come against B.C.S. conference foes: at Syracuse, home for Vanderbilt and home for Boston College. Indiana is the lone school that doesn’t take on any B.C.S. conference competition, though the Hoosiers do balance that out with two road games against teams from a non-B.C.S. conference. And as we know, Indiana could use some help.

Ohio State is the lone program to not play a game on the road outside of Big Ten play. This isn’t that common, believe it or not: the Buckeyes played at Miami (Fla.) last fall, for starters, and have played at least one non-home game in six of the last seven years, if we count a 2009 game against Toledo played in Cleveland.

In all, the Big Ten will play those 14 games against B.C.S. conference competition, with eight of those coming either on the road or at a neutral site — of the latter list, Michigan’s game against Alabama, at Cowboys Stadium, looks like the most highly-anticipated game of the season’s opening weekend. Another 12 games will come against the MAC, with two, Indiana’s trip to Massachusetts and Michigan State’s to Central Michigan, coming on the road.

Another 14 games come against other non-B.C.S. conference programs, with three coming on the road: Indiana goes to Navy on Oct. 20; Minnesota to U.N.L.V. on Aug. 30, a game recently moved up to Thursday from Saturday; and Iowa plays Northern Illinois at Chicago’s Soldier Field. And, as noted, there will be seven games played against F.C.S. competition.

Michigan seems the most likely to benefit from a beefed-up non-conference schedule, should push come to shove in the B.C.S. standings. If the Wolverines go undefeated — stay with me — against the Big Ten and also beat Alabama, Air Force and Notre Dame in September, there should be no team in the country with a stronger case for the B.C.S. title game.

And as a whole, the Big Ten’s entire non-conference schedule should put the league in a place to have more than one team making news in September, should everything go according to plan. That plan involves Michigan unseating Alabama on Sept. 1; Nebraska and Illinois doing the same to U.C.L.A. and Arizona State, respectively, a week later; and the Wolverines, Michigan State and Purdue taking care of business against Notre Dame.

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  1. BobJ says:

    You have to give credit to the Michigans for each scheduling two difficult OOC opponents when some of the teams aren’t scheduling any, but again, eleven conference opponents and only eight on the schedule, pretty lame.

  2. jjncaa says:

    thirteen conference opponents and only eight on the schedule, that’s what I call pretty lame…
    btw the Big Ten will add a plus conference game in 2017

  3. Lee says:

    Nice OOC schedule.

  4. DMK says:

    Michigan and Michigan St. have certainly done their part. A few others are solid, for sure.

    But what is the main point this non-conference discussion?

    Bama/Michigan, Sparty/Boise, Nebraska@UCLA: we can’t help tune in to watch those, and it’s easy to see that titles and reputations are involved here.

    But I’m not sure what the difference is between Temple and UCF and ArkSt. They are all FBS middle-class strivers who are sometimes decent, sometimes not, and can beat you on an off day but never should. Nor is anyone salivating over sitting on the couch in front of Purdue/EasternMichigan.

    MAC, SunBelt, ConfUSA are as far removed from the AQs as they are from the (top-20) FCS.

    I’m all for cutting out the FCS and adding top, top games, but the FBS non-AQs are all the same in this discussion and, with the exception of a Boise or TCU in recent years, should never even be mentioned as far as strength of schedule goes.

    It’s always going to be an upset when one of those teams knocks off an AQ with real aspirations at winning a title or going to a big bowl, no?

    Or, to put it another way, if the discussion is about comparing big-conference *supremacy* then we need to focus on matters of supremacy, not how it’s unfair that Wisconsin has to play Utah St. while LSU’s playing Western Kentucky.

  5. Raj says:


    B1G isn’t adding another conference game anymore, but will add a game against a pac12 team as a part of that new agreement with our brethern out west

  6. Bill condon says:

    I could point out that the Big Howevermany has more in-conference cupcakes than some other conferences I could name. Still, good for Michigan and MSU for going big. As for MAC vs Sun Belt, that’s largely an effect of travel costs. Those cupcakes understandably want to keep as much of that 6-figure payday as possible. A bus is a lot cheaper than an airplane.

  7. Bobak says:

    The PAC12/B1G partnership is going to make for some great games in the future. Heck, Indiana might even get to play UCLA in the Rose Bowl and pretend like it’s New Years Day!

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