Ranking the Out Of Conference Schedules: The Big 10

Pete MisthaufenAnalyst IJuly 21, 2009

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Juice Williams #7 of the Illinois Fighting Illini looks for an open receiver in the first half against against the USC Trojans during the Rose Bowl presented by Citi at the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2008 in Pasadena, California. The Trojans defeated the Illini 49-17.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Wow, some of these conferences Out-of-Conference schedules have been absolutely bad, but the Big 10 may challenge the SEC for the worst scheduling among the Big Six.  There are only a handful of good OOC games, along with the usual garbage teams.   I have literally struggled to complete this article.  I don’t know if I really want to tackle the SEC next...

Since this is the Big 10, we must at least consider that some of these schools will go down to these very cupcakes that they scheduled. 

There is a huge drop-off after the first three schools, as the lower and middle Big 10 teams (and cupcake eating Penn State) are looking for easy wins against bad schools.  Numbers 4-10 could likely change in a season ending review, as there is only a little difference in the poor quality of the OOC schedules.

1.  Illinois

Missouri (at St. Louis), Illinois St.(FCS), @ Cincy, Fresno St.

Ron Zook’s team has been inconsistent to say the least over the last several years.  With a new offensive coordinator and Juice Williams running the offense, Illinois looks to challenge for the Big 10 title.  Playing the best OOC schedule in the conference will also give the Illini a chance to make a huge statement this year.  While there are three tough games on the schedule, look for Illinois to go undefeated in OOC play.

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The border battle with Missouri has quickly turned into one of the highlights of the early football season.  Missouri has a huge whole to fill at QB and may not be able to keep up with the Illini.  With Missouri missing its great QB Chase Daniels and the Illini back on the rise, look for Illinois to win in another shoot-out.

The layup against FCS Illinois State weakens what otherwise would be one of the best OOC schedules in college football.  Illinois could not find a Wyoming or Idaho or Western Kentucky to take a paycheck here?

Going on the road to Cincinnati gives the Illini a chance to demonstrate whether the Big East really can gain a foothold in the Midwest.  Last year’s squad received a BCS bid, though it continued to demonstrate that the Big East really does not deserve an automatic bid since the ACC stole its best teams.  Cincy returns just one starter on defense and has special team weakness as well.  Look for another shoot-out here, with an Illini win.

Pat Hill is willing to play anyone, anywhere, anytime, but that philosophy has not yielded wins recently.  Fresno will pull upsets, but gets too beaten up to challenge Boise in conference play.  Until Fresno shows that it can win these road battles, look for another tough game, but a Fresno loss.

2.  Purdue

Toledo, @ Oregon, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame

Purdue declined under the last few years of retired coach Joe Tiller’s regime.  New coach Danny Hope will have little success with the struggling Boilermakers.  A very weak defense may improve slightly, but not enough to succeed.  Unfortunately for Purdue, its OOC schedule will have few places for success, lacking even an FCS school.

Toledo brought in Tim Beckman to bring the Zips back to MAC contention.  Returning 18 starters and a powerful offense, the Zips look to give Purdue all it can handle.  Toledo’s powerful running attack has the potential to devastate the Boilermakers.

Purdue heads to the Pacific Northwest to become Duck food.  The Ducks have one of the best ground attacks in the country and Purdue has nothing to stop it.  Look for a surefire loss.

Northern Illinois went bowling last year, but have no doubt that this will be Purdue’s one sure OOC win.  Northern Illinois still has a long way to go to get back to competitive football.

Notre Dame comes in with Charlie Weis’ job on the line.  This will be the eighty-first meeting between these two teams (USC and Purdue share the position of second-most games versus ND, after Navy).  Unless the Irish are heading to disaster, the Boilermakers should not have enough to stop Jimmy Clausen and company. 

3.  Ohio State

Navy, USC, Toledo (at Cleveland), New Mexico St.

Ohio State looks to go to Pasadena in January, but not for the Rose Bowl game.  In order to get there, the Buckeyes have one serious challenge in their OOC schedule.  Outside of the one big game, this is a schedule unbecoming of a national contender.   The traditional match up with Cincy is long gone, especially given their recent success.  The Buckeyes do not want too much of a challenge from their three cupcakes.

Navy returned as a competitive program under Paul Johnson, but seems to remain that even since he left for Georgia Tech.  While Navy should be able to challenge Ohio State for a little bit, this game will not be in question in the second half.

Maybe the very best college football game of the regular season will take place in Columbus when the University of Southern California comes to town.  Both teams hope to make the BCS Championship Game in Pasadena.

Ohio State plays Toledo in Cleveland in a faux neutral site game.  This stadium will be all Buckeyes.  While Toledo could challenge Purdue, as mentioned above, it will not challenge Ohio State, at least not beyond the second quarter.

New Mexico State is one of the worst FBS schools.  With a new coach, maybe the school will become respectable some day, but it is doubtful.  New Mexico State’s true challenge is beating out Idaho for the bottom of the WAC.

4.  Iowa

Northern Iowa (FCS), @ Iowa State, Arizona, Arkansas State

Kirk Ferentz looked like he was on the hot seat halfway through last season with his team at 3-3 and three straight losses to Pitt, Northwestern, and Michigan State.   Instead, the Hawkeyes went 6-1 including win over Penn State which kept JoePa from the BCS title game (for the benefit of all of college football, considering how USC destroyed Penn State).  Kirk Ferentz just got a huge contract extension, so he will be around for awhile. 

Iowa lost super RB Shonn Greene and his 1850 yards rushing, but Iowa has talent in the backfield and a solid 0-line and should be able to run the ball.  Iowa hopes to make a run for the Big 10 title and more.

Northern Iowa is not your average FCS school.  This excellent program would contend for a conference title in the Sun Belt or the MAC.  While Iowa should win the game, this is a respectable game, better than Ohio State against FBS New Mexico State or Illinois’s versus FCS Illinois State. 

Rival Iowa State has been at the bottom of the very average Big 12 North for some time.  Losing its coach to Auburn should actually help this squad, but not enough to prove a challenge in this fierce rivalry.  Iowa State must be happy to have Kansas State in its division so that it has a chance to finish in fifth place.

Arizona won just enough games last year to save Mike Stoops’ job, including a bowl win over a disinterested BYU.  Arizona will be breaking in a new QB, but returns a bunch of skill position guys in a Texas Tech style Air Raid spread offense.  Mike Stoops knows defense (and his brother’s OU teams have not been as good on D since he left for Arizona) and this year’s team has a lot of returning starters.  Iowa will be favored here, but look for the dog to have some bite.

A Sun Belt school looks normally just like an easy OOC win.  But the Sun Belt Conference is full of improving teams and it is very dangerous to overlook, especially the Red Wolves of Arkansas State.  Last year they beat down Texas A&M (but hey, the Aggies are so bad, they are even below Baylor now…).  Arkansas State plays traditional, hard-nosed football with steady defense and ground-pounding offense. While they might not win this road trip, the Red Wolves are a better team than Big 10 doormat Indiana.

5.  Minnesota

@ Syracuse, Air Force, California, South Dakota St (FCS)

The Gophers break in a beautiful new outdoor stadium this year, which means that home games in November will be really rough for everyone.  Minnesota was a classic example last year of a team scheduling four cupcakes in order to get a winning season.  Minnesota started off 7-1, but could not win again.  Oh, well, I guess creative scheduling does not make you into a good team.  Last year saw the Gophers with a much improved defense that may be assisted by Minnesota’s frigid winter this year.

While they have left their dome behind, the Gophers will start in another dome at Syracuse.  This may be a true test as to whether Minnesota is back or if Syracuse will ever come back.  The only way they could have scheduled a worse Big Six school was to get Washington State.

Breaking in the new stadium against Air Force may not result in a Minnesota win.  Troy Calhoun has brought the Falcons back to competitiveness, though the Big Three in the MWC conference have made it really hard.  Minnesota will struggle with the reinvigorated Triple Option that Air Force has run for years.  The Falcons only lost by a TD to eventual No. 2 Utah.

California brings in the nation’s top returning RB in Jahvid Best.  QB-guru Tedford’s QBs have struggled recently and will likely do so again this year, but the Bears will ride Best and his 8.1 yards per carry to victory here.  A Minnesota win here would be a major upset.

South Dakota State will finish Minnesota’s OOC schedule with a mid-November date.  Mother Nature should be unleashing a powerful winter storm just for this game.  Frozen tundra indeed.  The Jackrabbits will give the Gophers no trouble here, which may just interrupt a losing streak.

6.  Michigan State

Montana State (FCS), Central Michigan, @ Notre Dame, Western Michigan

Last year, Mike Dantonio brought Michigan State into respectability it had not seen since Nick Saban left a decade ago.  Michigan State built its team in the traditional Big 10 way—solid defense and solid running.  The four losses were all respectable—Cal, Ohio State, Penn State, and Georgia.  The Spartans look to challenge for the Big 10 title.

The Spartans really should have played an FBS opponent.  Big Sky also-ran Montana State was blown out by Kansas State last year, but pressed Minnesota.  The Bobcats will not challenge Michigan State.

Central Michigan is a top MAC team and QB Dan LeFevour can lead his team to victory.  Last year, the Chippewas took out Big 10 doormat Indiana.  The Spartans look to be kings of Michigan this year.

Domer fan hopes for huge improvements.  ND needs this win at home versus the Spartans, in their seventy-third meeting.  Since I do not have Golden-colored glasses, let’s just say that I would not be too surprised if Michigan State beat Notre Dame here.  The Spartans look for three wins in a row here.  Over the last twelve meetings, Michigan State has won nine games.

Western Michigan went 9-4 last year, including a huge win against Illinois, and returns much of their offensive firepower.  Western Michigan should contend for the MAC crown again this year.  The biggest area of concern is the quality of the DBs.  Last year, the Broncos came in at below 100 in pass defense and are bringing in a whole new crew to improve this crucial area.


7.  Michigan

Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Delaware St. (FCS)

Michigan is in serious rebuilding mode under RichRod.  Wolverine fans hope that last year was an aberration that will never be repeated.  Michigan has seriously downgraded its OOC schedule (no Utah this year) in a hope to get three OOC wins and get to a winning record.  The Big House will be full of cupcakes (which may or may not include ND in the final tally).

Western Michigan is one of the better MAC schools, but Michigan should not have too much trouble with the Broncos unless RichRod is doomed to failure.  If RichRod’s spread attack works at all, it will work against a team that cannot play pass defense.  A loss here (possibly) might be the beginning of the end.

In the battle to see which of these two storied programs rebounds the fastest, the Irish come to the Big House for another epic battle.  This will be only the thirty-seventh meeting between these Rustbelt powers.  Look for the Irish to cut Michigan’s five-game lead down to four in the series record books.

Eastern Michigan is not one of the good MAC schools.  Michigan has no chance of losing this game.  At least, that is what I would have said before they lost to App State.

Michigan needs a really average FCS school to give it an easy win.  Coach Al Lavan’s Hornets are coming off a losing season and got blown out by Kent State.  No reason to fear an upset here.

8.  Northwestern

Towson (FCS), Eastern Michigan, @ Syracuse, Miami-Ohio

Pat Fitzgerald pushed Northwestern to a winning season last year with a 9-4 mark, but don’t look too much into it.  The Wildcats played one of the weakest OOC schedules in FBS last year, and do not look for much improvement this year. 

Northwestern beat Iowa early in the season for its one decent win and lost to Indiana.  Again, they lost to Indiana last year.  Look for the Mildcats to lose more than four games (though not from its OOC schedule).   Northwestern returns a solid offensive line, but must rebuild its offense.  The defense cannot contend with real teams, so look for Northwestern to go .500 or so.

Towson is bad even for an FCS school.  They have only six wins the last two seasons combined.  This really should not count as a game.

Eastern Michigan is the lowest of the directional Michigan schools.  They can score, but cannot play defense.  They pulled a major upset last year in defeating Central Michigan.  New coach Ron English was the defensive coordinator at both Louisville and Michigan, so maybe their defense can improve in several years.

What more can be said about the once storied Orangemen?  This program with its once proud tradition now rests at the bottom of the college football world.  Syracuse may be the very worst BCS program.  New coach Doug Marrone must help Syracuse recover from the Greg Robinson disaster.  Even so, the Orangemen somehow beat Louisville and Notre Dame last year, so the Mildcats better watch out.

Playing another team with a bad defense should help Northwestern win against Miami-Ohio.  With a new coach who was offensive coordinator at Notre Dame the last four years, maybe we will see a little improvement.   I doubt it, since the Irish could not move the ball very well for the last several seasons.

9.  Indiana

Eastern Kentucky (FCS), Western Michigan, @ Akron, @ Virginia

Indiana is another one of college football’s worst teams.  Rarely has this school even risen up enough to pretend to challenge anyone.  They sure do not challenge themselves.  Even so, Indiana has a schedule worthy of itself.  1 FCS school, 2 MAC schools, and a bottom tier ACC team.

Eastern Kentucky won its conference last year before losing in the first round of the FCS playoffs.   Last year they lost to both Western Kentucky and Cincy.  Neither game was close.  Even Indiana should get a win here.

Western Michigan is one of the better MAC schools and a win by the Broncos would not really be that much of an upset.  The Hoosiers could pull this out only if they have really improved.  I do not think we will see much improvement.

The Zips may prove to be a challenge for the defenseless Hoosiers.   Indiana visits the Zips new stadium, and the Zips hope to break a three year losing streak.  The Zips do not play defense, but neither do the Hoosiers.

Virginia is not a quality ACC program.  Its coach may finally be making an early exit, but a huge buyout clause makes it cheaper to keep him around.  Even so, Indiana will be hard pressed to win on the road.

10.  Wisconsin

Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Wofford (FCS), @ Hawaii

Wisconsin enters its fourth year under Coach Bret Bielema and appears headed in the wrong direction. Each year the team struggles more and more, with his first year (12-1) being his best.  The Badgers should have another winning season, but are not really top 25 material.

The Badgers have two large problems: QB and defense.  The running game will be solid as always, but unless the QB situation or the defense make huge improvements, this could be a long, but ultimately winning season for the Cheeseheads.

Northern Illinois went bowling, but only because there were no other available teams in college football.  Under any reasonable standard, they are merely average.  Wisconsin will not be challenged here.

Fresno State hopes to do what it failed to do last year: beat the Badgers.  Fresno gets so few home and homes that maybe they will feel more comfortable in a hostile environment, as the kings of anywhere, anyone, anytime.  The Bulldogs are more than capable of pulling an upset here.

Wofford went to the FCS championships last year.  They played one FBS school, losing by ten to the Gamecocks.  While the Badgers should win this one, it may not be easy.

Going to Hawaii at the end of the season is almost like a second bowl game.  Lots of Cheeseheads will make the journey to sand and sun.  Hawaii has never recovered from its beat down by Georgia.   They are just another average team in a beautiful environment.

11.  Penn State

Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Eastern Illinois (FCS)

BCS title contenders should not be playing the Little Sisters of the Poor.  Penn State will win every single OOC game.  They will not be challenged in any of them.  Sure, JoePa has been passed over for the MNC on several occasions, but this time it will be his own fault if it happens.  Of course, Penn State will do us all a favor by losing a conference game or two like last year.

Given how bad this schedule is, look for 25,000 empty seats at each game.  I would go and review each one, but I have already discussed most of them and Penn State has spit in the face of the college football world with this schedule.


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