Last week we ranked the SEC’s non-league slates, this week we move on to the Big Ten.
What sets the Big Ten apart from the SEC is the lack of FCS foes. Where the SEC has all but one member playing an FCS opponent in 2015, the Big Ten has only half of its membership—or seven teams—squaring off with FCS schools.
The other difference worth noting is that where a whopping four SEC squads won’t play a Power-Five team out of conference, only one Big Ten school will have such an easy ride through non-league play.
What the two conferences have in common is a huge gap between the most difficult non-conference schedules and those that are the easiest.
The net effect is that some programs’ road to a potential CFB Playoff bid will be easier than others.
14. Penn State
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: at Temple, Buffalo, San Diego State, Army
Not only is Penn State the only Big Ten member without a Power-Five opponent out of league play, it’s playing four teams that combined for a 22-26 record in 2014. The only saving grace is the lack of an FCS foe on the slate.
Penn State’s most recent regular-season, Power-Five opponent was in 2013 when it opened the season with a 23-17 win over Syracuse in East Rutherford, N.J.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: Kent State, FCS Western Illinois, at North Carolina, Middle Tennessee
The Illini are one of an impressive eight Big Ten teams who will hit the road to play a Power-Five non-conference game. They are also one of two Big Ten members who won’t play a winning team from last season out of league play.
Combined, Illinois’ four foes went 19-29 in 2014.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: FCS Norfolk State, Washington State, Kansas, Army
No Big Ten team will play a combined group of non-league foes with a worse record that Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights’ opponents combined for a woeful 14-34 record in 2014, the best mark coming from an Army team that went 4-8.
On the upside, Rutgers is one of four Big Ten schools with two Power-Five teams out of conference play: Washington State and Kansas, squads that combined for a 6-18 record in 2014.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: FCS Southern Illinois, Florida International, Western Kentucky, Wake Forest
The only redeeming bits of Indiana’s non-conference schedule is a road trip to ACC Wake Forest (3-9 in 2014) and then a September date with a Western Kentucky team that went 8-5 last season.
Indiana has played Missouri out of conference play each of the last two seasons, so Wake represents an improvement that could mean bowl eligibility for the Hoosiers for the first time since 2007.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: BYU, South Alabama, at Miami (Fla.), Southern Miss
What you’ve got to love about Nebraska’s non-Big Ten slate is its visit to Miami, where the Huskers haven’t played a regular-season game since the series between the two schools first began in 1951. That said, the Hurricanes went 6-7 last season making them not necessarily a Top 10 opponent.
On the plus side is BYU, not a Power-Five, but better than most of the bottom teams in the major conferences.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: FCS Illinois State, at Iowa State, Pittsburgh, North Texas
Iowa is the second of the four Big Ten members with two Power-Five teams out of conference in 2015. The Hawkeyes get Pitt at home and travel to Iowa State.
What hurts Iowa is the fact that only one winning team from 2014 graces its non-Big Ten schedule: FCS Illinois State, a squad that went 13-2, losing 29-27 to North Dakota State in the FCS National Championship Game.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: Alabama (in Arlington, TX), Miami (OH), Troy, Hawaii
With the opener vs. powerhouse Alabama in Arlington, you might expect to see Wisconsin’s non-Big Ten slate ranked higher. It’s not because its other three opponents, all home games, combined for a 9-28 record last season.
This is the first year Wisconsin hasn’t played an FCS team since 2005, when it faced Bowling Green, Temple, North Carolina and Hawaii outside of Big Ten play.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: FCS Richmond, Bowling Green, USF, at West Virginia
The Terrapins are one of only four Big Ten teams that will face three-plus winning teams from last season: FCS Richmond (9-5), Bowling Green (8-6) and West Virginia (7-6).
The class of the schedule is the road trip to Morgantown, were Maryland hasn’t played since 2012 and hasn’t won since blasting the Mountaineers 48-17 in 2002.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: at Marshall, FCS Indiana State, Virginia Tech, Bowling Green
What hurts Purdue’s non-Big Ten schedule strength is the omission of Notre Dame, a team that up until this year, it has faced consecutively since 1946.
In place of the Irish is Virginia Tech, the Boilermakers’ first non-Notre Dame, power opponent since 2009 when they traveled to Eugene and lost to Oregon 38-36.
The balance of the schedule features three teams that finished last season with winning marks: 13-1 Marshall, 8-6 FCS Indiana State, and 8-6 Bowling Green.
Purdue is one of only two Big Ten schools playing all of its non-league games against winning opponents from 2014.
5. Ohio State
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: at Virginia Tech, Hawaii, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan
What gives Ohio State the edge over Purdue is three fold: First, the Bucks get the common opponent, Virginia Tech, on the road. Next up are Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, teams that combined for a 19-8 mark last season.
Though Marshall was a force to be reckoned with last season and went 10-3 in 2013, before that it hadn’t hit double digits since 2002. Northern Illinois, on the other hand, has posted 11-plus wins in each of its last five seasons. It’s the same program that that won 23-15 at Northwestern last season and won 30-27 at Iowa and 55-24 at Purdue in 2013.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: Stanford, FCS Eastern Illinois, at Duke, Ball State
Not only does Northwestern have one of the best smart-school vs. smart-school schedules ever in 2015, its two brain battles are against Stanford and Duke, teams that combined for a 17-9 mark in 2014.
That makes Northwestern the only Big Ten school with two winning Power-Fives on its 2015 non-conference slate.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: at Utah, Oregon State, UNLV, BYU
Though Michigan isn’t necessarily going up against USC and Oregon, it will face two full-fledged Pac-12 squads and as solid an independent as you’ll find.
The only flaws are UNLV, a team that only won two games in 2014, and Oregon State, a team that went 5-7. But remember, the Beavers have a new lease on life with new head man Gary Andersen, a guy who hasn’t suffered a losing season as a head coach since 2010, his second year at Utah State.
Michigan hasn’t opened up a season with a true road game since 1998, when it lost at Notre Dame 36-20. The Wolverines’ last win in a season-opener away from Michigan Stadium came in 1991, when they traveled to Boston College and won 35-13.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: TCU, at Colorado State, Kent State, Ohio
Minnesota will open up its season against a pair of non-Big Ten opponents that went 22-4 last season. It makes up what could be the most difficult opening salvo of the entire FBS field.
If the Gophers were to beat the Horned Frogs, a team that could be No. 1 by the time the season kicks off, it will have to rebound against a Rams’ squad that hasn’t lost at home since Nov. 2, 2013 when Boise State rolled into town and won 42-30.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: at Western Michigan, Oregon, Air Force, Central Michigan
Not only will Michigan State host National Championship runner-up Oregon in 2015, it is one of only two Big Ten teams with four non-league games vs. four winning opponents from 2014.
Other than the 13-2 Ducks, the Spartans will wrangle with 8-5 Western Michigan, 10-3 Air Force and 7-6 Central Michigan. That equals a combined record of 38-16, by far the best mark in the Big Ten.
Amy Daughters is a contributor to FBSchedules.com.