The Big Ten Conference released its schedules for the 2018 and 2019 seasons on Wednesday, lending further insight and clarity into how the league will operate with its soon-to-be new additions.
With Maryland and Rutgers set to join the conference in 2014, the league will slowly start its shift toward the nine-game league schedule, which is set to begin in 2016.
These new schedules both reflect that one-game addition, with the East division playing five home games and four road games in even-numbered years, and the West division doing the same in odd-numbered ones.
Here are some other nuggets to take away from the release.
Michigan Plays Nebraska in 2018
With Nebraska hosting Michigan on Nov. 9 of this year, it was starting to appear like the two teams would not know the date of their next encounter.
Now, finally, they do.
The Huskers will travel to Ann Arbor in 2018 to play Michigan for the first time in five years. Though both teams inhabit the Legends division in 2013, Nebraska will be in the new East division and Michigan will be in the West.
Nebraska has lost some of its recruiting luster outside of middle America, but the program still has enough cachet to remain competitive through the years.
It's good for the conference when a prestigious program like that showcases its stuff against a powerhouse like Michigan—even if it's no longer on a yearly basis.
Still, the five-year gap between (regular season) meetings will feel odd.
Nebraska and Wisconsin Keep Year-End "Rivalries"
Ohio State-Michigan, Illinois-Northwestern and Indiana-Purdue are locked in for Rivalry Saturday going forward, and it doesn't seem like that will ever change.
Nebraska has a similar deal with Iowa, and Wisconsin has a similar one with Minnesota. But those games have a lot to be desired in terms on competition, so some folks had speculated about a switch that would pit the Huskers against the Badgers to end each regular season.
At least for now, that doesn't appear to be in the works. The 2018 and 2019 schedules both feature year-end showdowns between Nebraska-Iowa and Wisconsin-Minnesota.
According to Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com, here is what Big Ten senior associate commissioner for television administration Mark Rudner, who helps craft each team's schedule, had to say about the Nebraska-Iowa game:
They're building a rivalry game...so at least in this term, it's still there. We examined a lot of different scenarios, but the one we kept coming back to is Nebraska and Iowa to close the season on that Friday after Thanksgiving.
Michigan State, Penn State, Rutgers and Maryland—the four teams left without a date to the rivalry dance—will rotate and play one another on the last Saturday of each year.
Early Season Conference Games
The Big Ten continues to—finally—conduct itself progressively with regard to early-season conference games, as both 2018 and 2019 feature intraleague battles toward the start of the year.
Here's how it breaks down in 2018:
- Northwestern at Purdue – Week 1
- Rutgers at Ohio State – Week 2
- Michigan State at Indiana – Week 4
- Nebraska at Michigan – Week 4
- Penn State at Illinois – Week 4
- Wisconsin at Iowa – Week 4
And here's how it breaks down in 2019:
- Rutgers at Iowa – Week 2
- Ohio State at Indiana – Week 3
- Michigan at Wisconsin – Week 4
- Michigan State at Northwestern – Week 4
- Nebraska at Illinois – Week 4
This is a deviation from the traditional mode of Big Ten scheduling, which has waited for after Week 4 to start conference play and then conducted itself, for the most part, in exclusive, straight-line fashion.
Putting the games at the start of the season allows teams to evaluate themselves earlier, gets the conference quick national exposure and allows the nine-game schedule some room to breathe without feeling so cramped.
All in all, it's a very sound move.