Of the 54 Power 5 members who have a cross-divisional element of their schedule, only seven (or 13%) will play two of these games against opponents ranked in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25.
Of these, five hail from the Big Ten and two are SEC members. The ACC and Pac-12, with only two representatives mentioned in the rankings apiece (each from the opposing division), are not a part of the mix. That leaves the Big 12, which doesn’t have divisions.
It’s yet another under-the-radar scheduling caveat with the potential to impact not only wins and losses but championships.
(7). MICHIGAN STATE
Cross division schedule: Northwestern, at (20) Iowa, (16) Minnesota
The Spartans are set to play two of the three Big Ten West teams ranked in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early poll. The upside is, they avoid the highest ranked of the trio, Wisconsin, which came in at No. 13. Their last win over a ranked opponent came in 2018 when they visited (8) Penn State and won 21-17. They’re 0-6 since.
Compare Michigan State’s cross-division slate to that of fellow Big Ten East member Penn State, which also draws (20) Iowa (at home) but combines that with Nebraska and a roadie at Illinois.
Cross division schedule: (16) Minnesota, at Northwestern, (13) Wisconsin
The Terps draw the top two ranked squads from the West but they get them both at home. They beat a ranked opponent as recently as last season, destroying (21) Syracuse 63-20. They’ve never beaten a ranked Big Ten opponent in conference play, posting a 0-21 mark since joining the league in 2014.
Compare Maryland’s schedule with Rutgers, which has games vs. Illinois, at Purdue and vs. Nebraska.
Cross division schedule: (13) Wisconsin, at (16) Minnesota, Purdue
Like Maryland, Michigan gets the top two ranked teams from the West, but they up the ante by playing one of the two games on the road. The Wolverines were 1-3 vs. ranked Big Ten opponents last season – losing at (13) Wisconsin, at (7) Penn State and vs. (2) Ohio State. The sole win was a 10-3 victory over (14) Iowa in the Big House.
Compare Michigan’s cross-division slate with Ohio State’s, which does draw (20) Iowa at home but softens that minor blow with games vs. Nebraska and at Illinois.
(4). SOUTH CAROLINA
Cross division schedule: (11) Texas A&M, at (8) LSU
South Carolina adds a visit to Baton Rouge to play the defending national champs to its standing date with permanent cross-division rival (11) Texas A&M. It beat a top-ranked SEC opponent as recently as last season when it strolled into Athens and knocked off (3) Georgia 20-17.
Compare the Gamecocks’ slate with that of fellow SEC-East member Missouri, which draws a game at Mississippi State to go along with its annual clash with Arkansas.
Cross division schedule: at (3) Alabama, (14) Auburn
Georgia adds a road trip to Tuscaloosa to its regularly scheduled meeting with permanent cross-division rival (14) Auburn. The Bulldogs were a perfect 4-0 vs. ranked opponents during the regular season last year – taking down (7) Notre Dame, (6) Florida, (13) Auburn and (24) Texas A&M.
Compare Georgia’s schedule vs. the SEC-West with Florida, which adds a game at Ole Miss to its regular date with LSU.
Cross division schedule: at Rutgers, at (2) Ohio State, (5) Penn State
Nebraska not only gets two of the three ranked members of the Big Ten East – it gets the two ranked in the Top 5. It hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent since nipping (22) Oregon early in the 2016 season. It hasn’t won vs. a ranked Big Ten foe since Nov. 7, 2015 – a 39-38 victory over (6) Michigan State. It’s 0-12 vs. ranked conference opponents since.
Compare the Cornhuskers’ cross-division schedule with that of fellow Big Ten West member Minnesota, which has dates at Maryland, vs. (15) Michigan and at Michigan State.
Cross division schedule: Michigan State, at (2) Ohio State, at (5) Penn State
Like Nebraska, Iowa draws the two top ranked teams from the Big Ten East in cross-division action. The Hawkeyes trump the Huskers in difficulty by playing both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions on the road in back-to-back weekends (Oct. 10 and Oct. 17). It also gets a visit from Michigan State in place of Nebraska’s road trip to Rutgers.
Iowa went 1-3 vs. ranked Big Ten foes last season, losing at (19) Michigan, vs. (10) Penn State and at (16) Wisconsin. The sole victory was the 23-10 triumph vs. (7) Minnesota.
Compare it’s Big Ten East slate with that of Wisconsin’s. The Badgers are set to play vs. Indiana, at (15) Michigan and at Maryland.
Historical data courtesy of Sports Reference-College Football.