The Big Ten enters a new era in 2014. Rutgers and Maryland, not exactly college football powerhouses, have joined the stately Big Ten. Maryland is playing a solid schedule. Rutgers is not. But old standbys Ohio State (after a scheduling dip), Wisconsin, Michigan State and Michigan carry the banner.
1. Ohio State: at Navy, Virginia Tech, Kent State, Cincinnati. Excellent schedule. One pushover. You go, Buckeyes.
2. Northwestern: California, Northern Illinois, Western Illinois, at Notre Dame. Another excellent schedule. Four games, one pushover. Northern Illinois will be a beast. Cal’s in the Pac-12. Notre Dame is Notre Dame. Schools with far more reputation than Northwestern won’t play a schedule like this.
3. Wisconsin: LSU in Houston, Western Illinois, Bowling Green, South Florida. The OSU-Mississippi State game of 2013 at Reliant Stadium has become LSU-Wisconsin. Quite a game.
4. Michigan State: Jacksonville State, at Oregon, Eastern Michigan, Wyoming. Michigan State in Eugene is a whale of a matchup. Not much more meat on the bone, but a game at Oregon carries a lot of weight.
5. Michigan: Appalachian State, at Notre Dame, Miami-Ohio, Utah. The Wolverines lost at home to Appalachian State in 2007 and at home to Utah in 2008, and Michigan is good for losing to Notre Dame most any time. But Michigan never has lost to Miami-Ohio.
6. Nebraska: Florida Atlantic, McNeese State, at Fresno State, Miami. It’s an OK schedule. Nothing too ferocious. Sort of like Nebraska’s program in general.
7. Maryland: James Madison, at South Florida, West Virginia, at Syracuse. Decent slate for the Terrapins. Maryland could have run scared, using a maiden Big Ten voyage as an excuse to play all rumdums.
8. Iowa: Northern Iowa, Ball State, Iowa State, at Pittsburgh. The Hawkeyes are completely capable of going 4-0, or 0-4, against this quartet. Oh, I shouldn’t say that for sure. I have no idea if Ball State is a decent Mid-American team this year.
9. Purdue: Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Notre Dame in Indianapolis, Southern Illinois. The Boilermakers have played Notre Dame every season since 1945. But this is the last scheduled game until 2020.
10. Indiana: Indiana State, at Bowling Green, at Missouri, North Texas. Mizzou is good. At least you can say that.
11. Illinois: Youngstown State, Western Kentucky, at Washington, Texas State. Washington is decent. At least you can say that.
12. Minnesota: Eastern Illinois, Middle Tennessee, at TCU, San Jose State. TCU might be decent. At least you can say that.
13. Penn State: Central Florida in Dublin, Akron, Massachusetts, Temple. Central Florida has been decent. At least you can say that.
14. Rutgers: at Washington State, Howard, at Navy, Tulane. Washington State was decent long ago and far away. At least you can say that.