Before we get started, it is important to know that the Big Ten doesn't exactly have an appealing non-conference schedule. There aren't going to be many of these games featured on prime time television and a lot of these matchups are only going to be watched by the hardcore fans of that respective Big Ten squad.
Still, the non-conference schedule is another exciting thing about college football. It can get old watching the same conference teams play year after year; it is the out of conference play that can really spice up the schedule. Seeing teams that usually don't play each other can be intriguing, but in some cases, can really be a waste of a weekend.
Really, how much of the game are going to watch when you team plays a team from the Big Sky conference?
With all of that said, here are all of the Big Ten non-conference schedules for the 2013 season in order from easiest to toughest.
Schedule includes: vs. UNLV, at New Mexico State, vs. Western Illinois, vs. San Jose State
The reason Minnesota is No. 12 is because there isn't any possible way I could have put the Golden Gophers at the 13th spot.
UNLV has only won two games in each of the last three seasons. New Mexico State won an impressive one game last year and Western Illinois is still Western Illinois. The toughest competition would be against San Jose State, a team that won 11 games last season, but that record includes not one victory against a ranked opponent.
Minnesota should have very little trouble with this cakewalk of a non-conference schedule.
Schedule includes: at Syracuse (in East Rutherford, NJ) , vs. Eastern Michigan, vs. UCF, vs. Kent State
An early trip to take on Syracuse could be tricky for the Nittany Lions. A season opener on the road is never easy for any team, especially when the Orange were a feisty group last year that returns seven starters on the defensive side of the ball.
As far as the other matchups, Penn State should roll fairly easily. Eastern Michigan won two games last year, Kent State lost a head coach and most of its key players and UCF is going to be a question mark with only five defensive starters returning.
Penn State has a favorable conference schedule with only two true road games and was given a break in non-conference play as well.
Schedule includes: vs. Buffalo, vs. San Diego State, at California, vs. Florida A&M
Urban Meyer says the Big Ten needs to improve as an overall conference. The recruiting needs to get better and the play as a whole has seen better days. Well, it doesn't look good for him when his non-conference schedule is full of cupcakes.
Buffalo is a team that couldn't get out of its own way last season. Florida A&M is one of the few schools in the state of Florida that isn't capable of hanging with the big boys. San Diego State was good last year by Mountain West Conference standards, but shouldn't be much of a threat to a national championship contender. Cal should provide an interesting matchup, but with a new head coach and only nine starters returning, it isn't looking good.
Meyer and his Buckeyes will continue to roll with a schedule like this.
Schedule includes: at California, vs. Syracuse, vs. Western Michigan, vs. Maine
Northwestern is another Big Ten team that is going to take a trip out to the west coast and take on the Golden Bears. With it being the season opener, it could be a trap game for a young Wildcats team that is looking to earn more respect.
Other than that meeting, it is hard to image Northwestern losing any other non-conference game. Western Michigan will continue to get beat up by this conference. Syracuse could provide a challenge, but you have to go with the home team.
Also, pardon my ignorance, but I didn't know there were football players in Maine.
This non-conference schedule should help Northwestern reach another bowl game under head coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Schedule includes: vs. Wyoming, vs. Southern Miss, vs. UCLA, vs. South Dakota State
Other than UCLA, who is going to give this Nebraska team a scare?
Wyoming lost to Cal Poly last season. If you have never heard of the Mustangs, I think that tells you all you need to know. Southern Miss won as many games last season as you and I did. And South Dakota State is only showing up for the paycheck.
You have to move this non-conference schedule up simply because of the Bruins being on here. But with every one of these matchups being played in Memorial Stadium, it shouldn't be much of an issue for the Cornhuskers.
Schedule includes: vs. Northern Illinois, vs. Missouri State, at Iowa State, vs. Western Michigan
If you had asked me about this schedule before the 2012 season, I would have told you it was in the same category as the Minnesota slate of games. However, with Northern Illinois playing out of its mind last season and returning quarterback Jordan Lynch, the Huskies should be respected.
Also, Iowa State has built this reputation of being this giant killer over the years, simply thriving off of being an underdog. Already winning the last two meetings against the Hawkeyes, taking a trip to Jack Trice Stadium should provide a tough challenge.
The other two games shouldn't be an issue even for a team such as Iowa.
If head coach Kirk Ferentz can't find a way to win at least three of these games, folks in Iowa City won't be happy.
Schedule includes: vs. Western Michigan, vs. USF, vs. Youngstown State, at Notre Dame
Frankly none of those teams except for Notre Dame stands much of a chance.
So why so high on Michigan State?
Well, taking a trip to Notre Dame Stadium is by far the toughest Big Ten non-conference matchup we have seen yet. The Spartans have not only lost the last two meetings against the Irish, but they haven't won a game in South Bend since 2007.
Notre Dame will likely be even better than it was a season ago, which instantly makes up for the rest of the lousy teams on this non-conference schedule.
Schedule includes: vs. Indiana State, vs. Navy, vs. Bowling Green, vs. Missouri
Scratch off Indiana State and the Hoosiers have themselves a surprisingly tough non-conference schedule. Oh, it may not seem like many of those teams can hang, but they are all capable of making things difficult.
Navy is always an interesting team to prepare against simply because of the triple-option offense. It doesn't matter how great your defense is, it becomes frustrating not knowing where the ball is going to end up. Bowling Green won eight games last year and returns 19 starters, which is by far the most of any team in the MAC.
As for Missouri, well, it is a team in the SEC. Every team from that conference is good; just ask any college football fan from the south.
Indiana has its work cut out.
Schedule includes: vs. UMass, vs. Tennessee Tech, at Arizona State, vs. BYU
Unless wide receiver Victor Cruz comes out to help UMass, there is no chance Wisconsin loses. And unless Tennessee Tech replaces players with the real team from Tennessee, the Badgers will win once again.
The part of this schedule that should scare Badgers fans is the trip to Sun Devil Stadium and the matchup against BYU. Arizona State has the goods to compete for a Pac-12 title, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The Cougars were a nasty team last year defensively and although they lost a lot of those players, they still usually give opponents all they can handle.
Wisconsin gets the best of both worlds and will be tested on the back end of this schedule.
Schedule includes: vs. Southern Illinois, vs. Cincinnati, vs. Washington (In Chicago, Illinois), vs. Miami (OH)
It's nice that Illinois is helping out a school within the same state. Southern Illinois shows up and receives a beatdown of its life, while Illinois cuts a check and thanks the Salukis for the easy victory. Miami of Ohio is also a team that should struggle with quarterback Zac Dysert no longer around to provide offense.
Other than that, the Fighting Illini will be in for a battle.
Washington should be one of the most improved teams in the country and the game will be played in Soldier Field in front of a lot of people. Illinois will have to play extremely well in order to beat the Huskies. If Cincinnati can be a little more consistent than it was last year, the Bearcats should be the favorite to win the Big East.
Not the sexiest non-conference schedule in the world, but Cincy and Washington are two solid clubs.
Schedule includes: vs. Central Michigan, vs. Notre Dame, vs. Akron, at Connecticut
Central Michigan shouldn't pose much of a threat even with seven starters on both sides of the ball returning. This Michigan team is solid and the Chippewas were as inconsistent as they come last year. As for Akron, I think Brady Hoke and his guys have already marked a victory on the schedule for that meeting.
This schedule all comes down to Notre Dame and Connecticut. We know what the matchup against the Irish is all about, as those games have been coming down to the wire each year. The Huskies also shouldn't be overlooked. This was a team that was a tough test last year, lost a lot of close games and returns eight starters on offense.
The strength of this schedule is banking on Connecticut having another solid year under head coach Paul Pasqualoni. With the game taking place in East Hartford, the result could be a lot closer than most people think.
Schedule includes: at Cincinnati, vs. Indiana State, vs. Notre Dame, vs. Northern Illinois
Purdue is the team that gets the mixed bag of goodies, playing a squad that at least one other Big Ten team will play this year.
Even with all of the questions surrounding the Boilermakers, the Sycamores won't scare anybody in West Lafayette. However, it is the rest of the teams that will create a few nightmares before game day.
Cincinnati should be jacked up for the season opener in Nippert Stadium. Purdue has lost the last five games against the Irish, not winning a game in this rivalry since 2007. And Northern Illinois is of course a team that can't be taken lightly with its playmaking quarterback leading the way yet again.
The Big Ten non-conference schedule is weak for the most part, but Purdue easily has the toughest road ahead in 2013.