Big Ten Football: Future Non-Conference Strength of Schedule Grades


Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten college football fans, your wish is granted, the BCS is no more. Starting in 2014 the participants in the national championship game will be decided by a four team playoff and the four teams will be selected by a committee. Humans have a say in college football again. Goodbye wacky computer analysis and formulas that have notoriously screwed quality teams out of chances at the national championship and other high profile bowl games. Big Ten teams must, however, now dazzle the committee and sometimes humans can be hard to impress.

The best way to impress?

Beat high-profile teams, but before Big Ten teams can beat them they have to schedule the games. Some Big Ten football teams are scheduling with a purpose, hoping to be included in the playoffs in the coming years. The goal is to be invited to compete for the national championship because of the respect gained from beating quality, non-conference opponents. Others are clearly content with competing solely for the Big Ten championship. However, adding elite teams to your non-conference schedule is not an easy task. Elite teams around the country must also believe that they can benefit, in the eyes of the committee, from beating a Big Ten opponent. Their risk of a loss must be met with an equal or greater benefit toward their goal of being invited to the four-team playoff at the season’s end, if they are victorious.

Big Ten teams that are beefing up their schedules with powerhouse teams around the nation are clearly respected by these dominant programs. The Big Ten has lacked respect in recent years nationally but can change the tone quickly if they can win a reasonable amount of the exciting match-ups that have been scheduled in anticipation of the new playoff system.

The first four years with the new playoff system (2014-2017) holds numerous notable non-conference games for Big Ten teams. Here is a rundown of how the impending college football playoffs have impacted the non-conference scheduling of every Big Ten team, including 2014 newcomers Maryland and Rutgers, for the next four seasons.

The higher the assigned grade, the better chance that team has at being invited to the four-team playoff for a chance at the national championship. That is, if they are victorious in their scheduled games.

Here are the non-conference strength of schedule grades: (2014-2017)

Wisconsin (A) faces Alabama and LSU (Twice)

Michigan State (A-) faces Oregon (Twice) and Notre Dame (Twice).

Northwestern (A-) faces Stanford (Twice), Northern Illinois and California.

Ohio State (B+) faces Oklahoma (Twice), Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Northern Illinois.

Nebraska (B) faces Miami (FL) (Twice), Fresno State (Twice), Tennessee (Twice), and BYU.

Michigan (C+) faces Oregon State, Utah (Twice), Notre Dame, Colorado and BYU.

Maryland (C+) faces Texas and West Virginia (Four Times).

Rutgers (C+) faces UCLA (Twice) and Washington State (Twice).

Iowa (C) faces Pittsburgh (Twice) and Iowa State (Four Times).

Purdue (C) faces Notre Dame (Four Times) and Missouri.

Minnesota (C-) faces TCU (Twice) and Oregon State.

Illinois (C-) faces Washington and North Carolina (Twice).

Penn State (D) faces Pittsburgh (Twice).

Indiana (D) faces Missouri and Wake Forest (Twice).

The Wisconsin Badgers face the most daunting opponents, all at neutral sites, and new Badger head coach Gary Andersen has a chance to make a monumental impression over the next three years. Yet Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State and Nebraska all have scheduled some extremely high profile games as well.

In four years will the Big Ten be satisfied with its aggressiveness in scheduling or will numerous losses adversely affect the amount of respect the Big Ten receives nationally even more? No need to speculate, all that needs to be done is to sit back and watch it unfold. It should be mentioned that Michigan State had a two-game series with Alabama fall through that was set for the 2016-2017 seasons. If Alabama would not have cancelled, Michigan State would have easily topped the rankings with an A+ grade.

As previously noted, the risk of a loss must be beneficial to the powerhouses that agree to play Big Ten teams. Michigan State under-performed last season and has not impressed this year, has that resulted in Alabama cancelling on MSU? It is possible that Alabama believed that the prospective wins over the Spartans would not impress the committee enough to be worth the risk of a loss in East Lansing? Regardless, the Spartan’s schedule is still respectable.

To get the full picture of how the new playoff system has affected scheduling, the schedules must be examined further into the future. For the years 2018-2023 (just about as far as the Big Ten has scheduled) the same rules apply. The higher the grade, the better chance that team has of being invited to the four-team playoff with a chance at the national championship.

Here are the non-conference strength of schedule grades: (2018-2023)*

Ohio State (A) faces Oregon (Twice), Texas (Twice), TCU (Twice), Boston College (Twice) and North Carolina.

Michigan State (B+) faces Miami (FL) (Twice), Boise State (Twice) and Notre Dame (Four Times).

Wisconsin (B+) faces Washington (Twice), Virginia Tech (Twice), Washington State (Twice) and BYU (Twice).

Michigan (B+) faces Arkansas (Twice) and Virginia Tech (Twice).

Nebraska (B+) faces Oklahoma (Twice), Northern Illinois (Twice) and Colorado (Twice).

Northwestern (B+) faces Stanford (Four Times) and Notre Dame.

Penn State (B+) faces Pittsburgh (Twice), Virginia Tech (Twice) and West Virginia (Twice)

Here is the distinct drop-off in scheduled non-conference competition in the Big Ten for 2018 and beyond:

Minnesota (C) faces Oregon State and Colorado (Twice).

Rutgers (C) faces Miami (FL) (Twice).

Purdue (C) faces Notre Dame (Four Times) and Missouri.

Maryland (D+) faces Texas.

Iowa (D) faces Northern Iowa (Three Times).

Illinois (F) faces N/A

Indiana (F) faces N/A

*Many non-conference games will be added to these schedules in the coming months and years and grades are subject to change.

Compare these Big Ten non-conference schedules to those of the 1990s and 2000s and it is clear that implementing the committee-chosen playoff system has had a phenomenal impact in the amount of high-profile non-conference games Big Ten teams will play. This rise in national exposure could reinvigorate the Big Ten’s ability to bring in many of the top high school athletes around the country or it could simply reinforce that the Big Ten is not the juggernaut conference that it used to be. Time will tell and so will the scores of these thrilling non-conference games. It is safe to say that Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State and Northwestern are poised to make runs at being invited to the playoffs for years to come. Hopefully the Big Ten will hold up a few crystal balls over the next decade. Thankfully, college football is finally equipped with a playoff system which may allow the Big Ten to do so, and if they can…

Prepare to step aside SEC, the Big Ten will officially be back.