The 11 member institutions of the Big Ten Conference are entering the 2009 college football season with a chip on their shoulder. Or at least they should be.
Of the several knocks on the nation's oldest collegiate athletic conference, one of the biggest is that it's members routinely schedule soft non-conference schedules. To be honest, it is a point that is hard to argue.
Last season, the Big Ten champion Penn State had a non-conference schedule that included an FCS school, Oregon State, Syracuse, and Temple. This season, defying all odds, the schedule is actually softer with games against Akron, Syracuse, Temple, and an FCS school.
But things are changing in the Midwest, and maybe, just maybe, Big Ten athletic directors are starting to get the not-so-subtle hint.
To be the best you have to beat the best. The future in Big Ten scheduling is looking brighter, but there is always room for improvement.
Here is a look at what Big Ten teams are doing to bring in the best.
Illinois Fighting Illini—The Illini will face the Missouri Tigers in St. Louis the next two seasons, begin a home-and-home series with Cincinnati and Fresno State this season, and will start a home-and-home series with Arizona State in 2011.
Indiana Hoosiers—The Hoosiers begin a home and home series with Virgina this season, start a three-game series with South Florida next season, and just finalized a deal to play a home-and-home series with Missouri beginning in Bloomington in 2013.
Iowa Hawkeyes—Iowa has a long-term series with Iowa State, begins a home-and-home series with Arizona this season, started a four game series with Pittsburgh last season, and will start a home-and-home series with Connecticut in 2013.
Michigan Wolverines—Other than Big Blue's long-term series with Notre Dame, there are no other games of note on the schedule. Michigan doesn't release schedules in advance and notoriously schedules non-conference games on the fly.
It's time Michigan starts scheduling better, though. This season the Wolverines will face two directional Michigan schools, an FCS school, and the aforementioned Notre Dame.
Michigan State Spartans—The Spartans will continue their long-term series with Notre Dame, begin a two-game series with South Florida in 2013, start a home-and-home series with West Virginia in 2014, and have finalized a deal to play a home-and-home series with Alabama starting in 2016.
Minnesota Golden Gophers—The Gophers will host the Cal Bears this season, begin a home-and-home series with USC next season, start a home-and-home series with Colorado in 2012, start a home-and-home series with Oregon State in 2014, and are in serious discussions to begin a home-and-home series with Texas.
Northwestern Wildcats—This season, the non-conference schedule for the Wildcats is pitiful, but the 'Cats will start a four-game series with Vanderbilt next season, begin a home-and-home series with Boston College in 2011, and will face Stanford for a home-and-home series beginning in 2014.
Ohio State Buckeyes—The Buckeyes continue their series with USC this season, begin a home-and-home series with Miami (FL) next season, start a home-and-home series with Cincinnati and California in 2012, and begin home-and-home series with Virginia Tech in 2014, Oklahoma in 2016, and Tennessee in 2018.
Penn State Nittany Lions—I already mentioned Penn State's weak 2009 schedule, but the Lions do start a home-and-home series with Alabama next season and will begin home-and-home series with Virginia in 2012 and Rutgers in 2014.
Purdue Boilermakers—The Boilermakers are scheduled to play Notre Dame through the 2012 season, but are in negotiations to continue the series. This season, Purdue will conclude it's series with Oregon and have a three-game series with Cincinnati beginning in 2013.
The Boilermakers have a ways to go in the scheduling department. The Oregon series was promising, but with the coaching change, the Purdue athletic director may keep the cupcakes coming for a few years.
Wisconsin Badgers—The Badgers are notoriously horrible schedulers, and this season is no different. Wisconsin will begin home-and-home series with Arizona State in 2010, Oregon State in 2011, and Washington State in 2014.