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Big Ten nonconference schedule rankings: Harbaugh hits ground running at Michigan

The Big Ten showcases some huge games (Michigan State vs. Oregon, Wisconsin vs. Alabama and TCU vs. Minnesota) but there still are some mismatches against some FCS opponents.

The problem with making such a grand – and clearly not enforced – statement, is it overshadows what’s important.

Two years ago the Big Ten declared it would no longer play rent-a-win non-conference games against FCS schools, and conference athletic directors agreed that it might take two years for the games to filter out of future schedules.

NON-CON RANKINGS: NationalACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC

We’re in Year 3 since the statement, and there still are seven games against FCS schools on this year’s schedule. But here’s what else is there: games against national powers Oregon, Alabama, TCU and Stanford, and a few other appealing non-conference games against Power 5 teams.

The conference that still plays FCS schools also plays better non-conference games than anyone else in the game. But that reality – fair or not – will be overshadowed by the Norfolk States and Indiana States of the FCS.

  • 1. Michigan: at Utah, Oregon State, UNLV, BYU

    2. Northwestern: Stanford, Eastern Illinois, at Duke, Ball State

    3. Michigan State: at Western Michigan, Oregon, Air Force, Central Michigan

    4. Minnesota: TCU, at Colorado State, Kent State, Ohio

    5. Ohio State: at Virginia Tech, Hawaii, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan

    MORE: 12 teams with make-or-break September schedules

    6. Wisconsin: Alabama (Arlington, Texas), Miami (OH), Troy, Hawaii

    7. Nebraska: BYU, South Alabama, at Miami, Southern Miss

    8. Maryland: Richmond, Bowling Green, USF, at West Virginia

    9. Iowa: Illinois State, at Iowa State, Pittsburgh, North Texas

    10. Purdue: at Marshall, Indiana State, Virginia Tech, Bowling Green

    11. Rutgers: Norfolk State, Washington State, Kansas, at Army

    12. Illinois: Kent State, Western Illinois, at North Carolina, Middle Tennessee

    13. Penn State: at Temple, Buffalo, San Diego State, Army

    14. Indiana: Southern Illinois, FIU, Western Kentucky, at Wake Forest


    Games against Power 5 teams: 17 of 56 (30 percent).

    Games against Group of 5 teams: 32 of 56 (57 percent)

    Games against FCS teams: 7 of 56 (13 percent)

  • Breaking down the Power 5 conferences (two of five analyzed)

    Games against Power 5 teams: ACC (38 percent), Big Ten (30 percent)

    Games against Group of 5 teams: Big Ten (57 percent), ACC (36 percent)

    Games against FCS teams: ACC (26 percent), Big Ten (13 percent)

    2015 PREVIEW:Top 25 conference games | SN Top 25

  • 1. Oregon at Michigan State, Sept. 12

    2. Ohio State at Virginia Tech, Sept. 7

    3. Wisconsin vs. Alabama, Sept. 5

    4. TCU at Minnesota, Sept. 3

    5. Stanford at Northwestern, Sept. 5

    MORE: SN Preseason All-Americans

  • 1. Norfolk State at Rutgers, Sept. 5

    2. Western Illinois at Illinois, Sept. 12

    3. Indiana State at Purdue, Sept. 12

    4. Illinois State at Iowa, Sept. 5

    5. Eastern Illinois at Northwestern, Sept. 12

    MORE: SN's post-spring Top 50 players for 2015

  • -- Years ago, these were games between teams with like-minded philosophies on athletics and academics, and spunky Northwestern was doing things on the football field that no one could have imagined. That’s why at first glance, there’s nothing surprising or impressive about Northwestern’s non-conference schedule. Then you doubletake and realize the Wildcats will play Stanford, a legitimate national power, and Duke, an ACC heavyweight (that’s right, people, Duke) – two teams in the middle of the most successful runs in school history.

    MORE: Top 10 program rankings | SN Top 25 quarterbacks

    -- The best part of Jim Harbaugh seizing the college football offseason? All the nonsense (admit it, you love it) ends on the first Thursday of the season with a dicey trip West to Utah. A Utes team that won nine games last season (should have won 11), and returns 14 starters (including star TB Devontae Booker and underrated QB Travis Wilson). The non-con schedule also includes a home game against BYU, which might have its best team in a decade, and home games against Oregon State and UNLV. A 2-2 start in non-con games by the end of September is the bar; anything better is gravy.

    -- For those who can’t wait for the 50-plus days until the season begins again, consider this juicy nugget: about 30 minutes after the Harbaugh era begins at Utah, Minnesota will be playing host to the most underrated non-conference game of the season. White-hot TCU travels to Minneapolis in a game that will be significantly difficult for the Frogs to navigate. TCU is rebuilding on defense, and Minnesota controls tempo with a power run game. The atmosphere will be electric, and two of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the game (TCU’s Trevone Boykin; Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner) will be on display.

    -- Oregon is the headliner on the Michigan State non-conference schedule, but a testy game at Western Michigan might be more dangerous. It’s only natural for Michigan State to be pointing to Week 2 retribution against Oregon. The Spartans had control of last year’s game in Eugene and let it slip away in the second half. Yet here’s the problem: Western Michigan is surging under coach P.J. Fleck and has enough talent (hello, TB Jarvion Franklin, QB Zach Terrell, WR Corey Davis) to scare the life out of Michigan State in what looks like a lazy Friday night to begin the season. Don’t think WMU hasn’t been pointing to this game all offseason.

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