A conference schedule can make or break the championship hopes for many teams, and the Big Ten is no different in 2013. This begs the question: what teams have the toughest roads remaining to the conference championship in Indianapolis?
Although most Big Ten teams will not start conference play until September 28 or October 5, the first conference game is a little over a week away (Purdue at Wisconsin).
Thus, this weekend is the final weekend where all 12 conference teams will play non-conference games. Most of what will be known about these teams before Big Ten play has therefore already been established in the first two weeks of 2013.
There are three criteria that have been used to evaluate the relative strength of schedule for Big Ten teams this year: (1) tough road games, (2) non-favorable cross-division games and (3) brutal two-to-four week stretches of nothing but difficult games. These are the items that tend to sidetrack title contenders on an annual basis.
It is incredibly difficult to defeat a good or mid-quality team on their own home field, thanks to the inherent advantages of having a raucous fan base behind it. Similarly, a higher density of games against the top teams in the conference caused by rough cross-division matchups also makes it very hard to run the table.
If teams could hand pick schedules, the big games would be punctuated by lesser games and bye weeks so that the team could really gear up for these bigger contests. Larger breaks also allow a team to get healthier between major conference games as well.
With these three criteria in mind, five teams have schedules that stood out in at least two of the three criteria categories. The following teams will have the toughest schedules and paths to Indianapolis.
* Honorable mention goes to Illinois, Ohio State and Nebraska, who just missed the list. However, they only fit one of the three criteria, even if these teams fit that single criteria well.