Toughest 2013 Big Ten non-conference football schedules

By Clayton Tinkle -

To some, non-conference schedules don’t mean much. To others, it means a lot. The others being referred to tend to have to rely on pivotal out of conference games to boost their resume versus those that play in tougher conferences.

This just adds fuel to the Big Ten vs. SEC debate, year in and year out. Last year, Michigan’s non-conference schedule stood out above the rest by playing the national champion (Alabama) and the runner-up (Notre Dame). Not one stands out as much this year.

Below is each Big Ten school’s 2013 non-conference slate, counting down from the weakest to the toughest in the league.

12. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Minnesota went undefeated last year out of conference, and it looks like they’re trying to keep that streak up this year with the weak slate they have put together. When your toughest game is possibly San Jose State, you know you’re in good shape. Adding D-1 FCS foe Western Illinois to the schedule doesn’t help matters much. Three less than stellar FBS teams topped off with an FCS cupcake is why Minnesota has the weakest out of conference schedule in the league.

11. Iowa Hawkeyes

The big game for Iowa every year is Iowa State, that’s no secret. It’s also usually the best non-conference game on the Hawkeyes’ schedule. The Hawkeyes lost that contest last year, 9-6, and also lost to Central Michigan. While Central Michigan isn’t the same animal as Western Michigan, they’re still no cupcake. Decent middle-tier opponents give this schedule merit, as we remember NIU’s march to the Orange Bowl last year. There’s no Goliath on this schedule, but there’s no one to overlook either.

10. Nebraska Cornhuskers

This schedule holds some merit because of the appearance of UCLA again. In the Rose Bowl last year, the Cornhuskers lost a thriller, and they didn’t exactly blow out Southern Miss in Lincoln either. Wyoming isn’t a great program, but they aren’t as bad as New Mexico State. South Dakota State’s appearance is warranted because of two decent games, but another FCS foe should be an easy win for the Cornhuskers who continue their trend of playing at least one current FCS opponent since 2010.

9. Indiana Hoosiers

This schedule might not look intimidating to many, but even though Indiana continues to get better it’s no cake walk. Besides the obvious visit from Missouri, Navy beat the Hoosiers last year 31-30. That’s not the only red flag though. Indiana State also only lost by seven in Bloomington. Look for the Sycamores and also the Falcons from Bowling Green to give this team fits.

8. Wisconsin Badgers

BYU is always a solid team and UMass is a new addition to the FBS which all adds up to a couple of okay contests. The big one here, however, is the visit to Tempe to face the Sun Devils. Tennessee Tech weakens this slate a lot or it would be a lot higher on this list. While one big game is great, it’s not enough to bring too much panic into Madison.

7. Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State’s big resume game this schedule is playing on the road against the California Golden Bears. Without the “on the road” part, this schedule could easily have dropped a spot or two on this list. It’s the first tough road game we’ve seen on this list and has a lot of weight when putting this list together. Buffalo and San Diego State should be two easy wins for the Buckeyes followed by a tune up against Florida A&M before conference play starts. This schedule should help Ohio State have a shot at another undefeated season.

6. Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State and Ohio State could have easily swapped spots on this list, but I think the Nittany Lions schedule is just a tad tougher, cumulatively. Penn State is only one of two B1G schools to not have a FCS opponent on their schedule. The visit to East Rutherford for the neutral site game is a test, but is followed up by the easiest game on the slate with a visit from Eastern Michigan. The combo of UCF and Kent State (who was one quarter away from the Orange Bowl last year) edges out OSU’s San Diego State and Buffalo tandem, but just barely.

5. Michigan State Spartans

Notre Dame is a staple of the Spartans schedule, and they get credit for that. USF is also no slouch and can easily upset a big program like Michigan State if the Spartans aren’t ready. The only reason the Spartans schedule isn’t listed higher is the inclusion of FCS opponent Youngstown State. The Penguins also visited East Lansing in 2011. First of all, no football team should be referred to as the Penguins. Second of all, USF and the Fighting Irish aren’t quite enough by themselves to put the “wow” label on this slate.

4. Illinois Fighting Illini

Illinois is playing, maybe, the highest profile game in the league when Washington comes to Chicago to take on the Illini. The neutral field (if you can call it that) always adds a bit of uncertainty. As always, Cincinnati is no cup cake and they have Munchie Legaux at the helm. Once again, FCS opponent Southern Illinois weakens the slate, but hopefully college football fans don’t have to deal with that too much longer. Barry Alvarez gave us a sneak peak of the future regarding FCS schools and their relationship with the Big Ten.

3. Michigan Wolverines

Michigan slid up on this list not because of who they scheduled, but rather who they didn’t schedule: an FCS school. Notre Dame once again makes it’s normal appearance. Central Michigan is a pretty solid program and the Big Ten knows that. Connecticut should be a victory, but facing them on the road adds a little bit of difficulty. Ultimately, an overall decent slate holds more merit than a good slate with an FCS school.

2. Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern checks in at number two. Another Big Ten team visits California, and yet another team puts together a solid non-conference schedule. Maine being the lone weak spot, Northwestern could come out of this four game stretch with just one loss and be very, very satisfied. Syracuse is a trap game, especially if the Wildcats are high off of emotion after returning from California.

1. Purdue Boilermakers

I never thought Purdue would end up at the top of this list, but here they are. Purdue put together a solid set of games here, but that could spell trouble for the Boilermakers if they aren’t prepared for each one. While each game is very winnable if Purdue plays well, they are also not easy at all.

Cincinnati, Munchie Legaux, and company should give the defense fits on the road and, of course, Everett Golson and 2012 national runner-up Notre Dame will be a huge test. Once again Northern Illinois makes an appearance on a Big Ten schedule looking to make a splash after the Orange Bowl. As Purdue will learn, stopping Jordan Lynch and the Huskies’ offense is no fun at all. If Purdue can run the table in the non-conference, they will have tons of momentum headed into the meat of their conference schedule.

Clayton Tinkle is a contributor to

Comments (27)

Agreed that no B1G noncon schedule really stands out this year. Purdue will likely go 1-3 against that slate (and that 1 win should be a contest). Illinois would do well to go 2-2 as would Indiana. But it would be below expectation for any other B1G team to do worse than 3-1. While NW has 2 good opponents, they should beat a Nassib-less Syracuse team.

Minnesota playing at New Mexico State in Las Cruces could be tougher than expected. The Aggies beat the Gophers in Minneapolis last year or 2011. New coach Doug Martin, formerly HC at Kent State will have his team ready.

Just a little info for the Illini and Boiler fans….the Cincinnati starting QB is Kay, Legaux is now 3rd string.

That’s what I thought. Legaux became an interception machine and I don’t believe he played in the bowl game at all vs. Duke.

Thanks for the read, Tim! I think Purdue could go 2-2, but 3-1 is very, very ambitious. Also agree with Illinois Indiana, though I wouldnt be surprised to see a healthy Indiana teams surprise with a 3-1 record, either.

Yes – thanks for the article Clayton. One of my favorite things about CFB is looking ahead to see the nonconference opponents. I like unique matchups (Minnesota/ N. Carolina would have been a neat 1-1, but not to be).

I’d add to my original post that Iowa would also be fortunate to do better than 2-2 because N. Illinois and W. Michigan won’t be easy (in addition to the road game @ Iowa St.).

NMSU should be ready, but I still expect Minnesota to be able to handle them. You were right, 2011 was the previous contest.

Thanks for the info. Kay took over late because of Munchie’s strugles. LeGaux should still see the field and impact the game.

Welcome aboard clayton. I look forward to more columns from you. I would love to see a similar column for each of the major conferences; but I gotta disagree with you here. I don’t see how Michigan should get credit for not scheduling a FCS team! While Akron has an FBS label; they were #167 in the Sagarin ratings last year. That’s worse than 7 of the 10 FCS teams listed here.

Thanks for the welcome, Bill. I’m working on a similar format for each of the conferences right now, actually! To each their own, I suppose. I believe that and FCS team can’t be compared to any FBS team strictly do to week in and week out competition. Those FCS teams can be the cream of the crop in their division, but even the bottom feeders of the FBS are better than their week in and week out competition.

And people complain about the SEC’s non-conference schedule? These non-cons are no different than the SEC’s, one decent opponent and three mid-majors. Makes me think those who complain about the SEC’s non-con schedule is really just SEC bashing.

Please notice trips to cal, Arizona New Mexico, Connecticut before comparing sec teams, they rarely travel to other bcs schools out of state or out of their own time zones.

Forget all four games for a minute. Most teams schedule 2 GOOD teams, 1 OK team and 1 FCS. It is too tough to rank the last 2, because they are all about the same. So in order of difficulty, which 2 games would you not want your favorite team to play? I say Wisconsin has the toughest task in this group.

1) WISCONSIN @ ASU & Home to BYU

2) PURDUE @ Cincinnati & Home to Notre Dame

3) MICHIGAN STATE @ Notre Dame & Home to USF

4) NORTHWESTERN @ Cal & Home to Syracuse

5) OHIO STATE @ Cal & Home to SDSU

Legends&Leaders you must be on something and high to say Wisconsin has the toughest non-conference schedule in the Big Ten. When you look at the whole body work from last year they have one of the easiest only behind Minnesota and Nebraska. Minnesota’s schedule is far-n-away the weakest and Purdue’s is far-n-away the strongest. The Minnesota schedule looks as those they took the play book from how Wisconsin use to put together their schedule when Barry Az coached them. Why isn’t Minnesota scheduling the USC’s Syracuse’s, and Cal’s they played in recent years?

In order from weakest to hardest: Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, Indiana, Penn State, and Purdue. You can say how good a team is going to be this year until they play, so all you have to go on is last year’s performance at this point.

The toughest “pairing” of games

2) HOME vs South Florida and AWAY at NOTRE DAME (SPARTANS)
3) HOME vs NOTRE DAME and AWAY at Cincy (PURDUE)

Great opinions guys, and I agree with both of you on the pairing of games. I just think that as whole slates, those teams fell a little bit short.

I have to agree with Wisconsin since I think both BYU and ASU will finish in the top 25.
I think ND will finish in the top 20 and while I see USF, SDSU, Syracuse and Cincy being .500 or better, I don’t see any of them being ranked.

All of these schedules make one want to puke compared to a few years ago when cupcakes did not appear on the schedule.

I’d be happy with an Indiana State and one other NC win for Coach Hazell’s first year. Anything less will make for a long year; anything more spells a successful first season.

But we’re not talking only about pairings, look at all four NC games. UMass and Tennessee Tech are easier than Indiana State and Northern Illinois. Purdue’s only “cupcake” Indiana State went 7-4 last year.

As usual Ohio State has a weak schedule, and Is highly over rated this year! #2 seriously?
Overtime wins against horrible teams last year, and beat Indiana barely by 3. It will all come
out In the wash this year!

achilles…ALL college teams have WEAK non-conference schedules. I am so sick of hearing OSU haters and Big Ten haters talk about our Non-Conference schedules. NOBODY schedules HARD non-conference schedules. Sometimes…some teams will schedule 2 BCS schools. All thru the 90s and early to mid 2000s, OSU was scheduling 2 BCS teams for their non-conference schedules. While Alabama consistently scheduled 1 BCS team (not hating on Alabama, just stating a fact and making a point). Look up the schedules. OSU has played South Cal, Texas, Miami (FL) ALL FORMER NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS!!! Along with Washington, Colorado, Cincy, Wash State, Texas Tech. Bring an argument if you want to make blanket, useless, hater arguments.

Tony, looks like Achilles was right! OSU is garbage. You’re also right about teams playing weaker non-con games, but those teams play in respectable conferences. The B1G might as well be the MAC or MW right now. Sad, but true. Look what happened to OSU against Mich State, it’s first top ten opponent under Meyer.

Achilles u obviously dont watch much college ball. Ohio State will be in the 2nd season under Meyer and they have a lot more reps with the spread all returning receivers. Nothin will come out in the wash and I expect an even better defense bc im sure Urban has straitened Fickel out because he needed it. Needless to say Ohio State will be alot better than they were last year and they were undefeated so…