Last year, for the first time since the 2002 season, the Big Ten could claim bragging rights as the best conference in the nation. Could that happen again in 2015? Here are the three easiest & hardest schedules by NCAA rankings for Big Ten teams.
The Hawkeyes can claim the easiest in the conference as their schedule ranks 101st in the nation. Their opponents went a combined 65-75 last season for a winning percentage of 46.8 percent (2015 FCS opponents not included for any school if applicable). This year, Iowa will face four teams that finished with a winning record in 2014, six that were bowl eligible and two that finished in the Top 25. I wrote a story here at SBR that Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is on one of hottest seats in the nation. His team will win its opener at home against Illinois State, but if Iowa loses at rival Iowa State on Sept. 12, then Ferentz is a dead-man walking. The rest of the non-conference schedule is at home: Pitt and North Texas. So a 4-0 start is possible. The good news for Iowa is it has an easy cross-over schedule with the Big Ten East, avoiding Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State.
5Dimes Win total: 7, with 'under' a -125 favorite. If a 4-0 start, Iowa can win at home in the Big Ten vs. Illinois, Maryland and Purdue at a minimum, maybe Minnesota too. Go 'over.'
The Badgers, who must replace super-star running back Melvin Gordon, have the 96th-rated schedule in the country as their foes were a combined 74-79 last season (48.4 percent), with six finishing with winning records, seven who were bowl eligible and two in the Top 25. The Badgers are a lock to go 3-1 non-conference. They will lose their season opener on Sept. 5 vs. Alabama in Arlington, Texas (Tide -13) but then roll visiting Miami (Ohio), Troy and Hawaii. UW also gets it easy against the East Division, with no Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State or Michigan. Wisconsin should be favored in every Big Ten game other than maybe Oct. 10 at Nebraska.
5Dimes Win Total: 10, with 'under' a -195 favorite on the college football odds. If Wisconsin beats Alabama, it could win all 12 during the regular season. I see a push here, but if pressed go 'under.'
The Cornhuskers, now led by former Oregon State coach Mike Riley, have the No. 67 schedule in the country. Their opponents were a combined 82-72 last season (53.3 percent) with six finishing with winning records, nine bowl eligible and two in the Top 25. Nebraska will easily win two of its non-conference games, home to South Alabama and Southern Miss, but will be tested in the season opener against visiting BYU (Huskers -5) as well as Sept. 19 at Miami (Fla.). The Huskers do get Wisconsin and Iowa but unlike those two have to play Michigan State. That one is in Lincoln, however.
5Dimes Win Total: 8, with 'over' a -150 favorite. Go 'over.'
Bad news for embattled Boilers coach Darrell Hazell as his team has the toughest schedule in the Big Ten and ranks sixth-toughest overall in the nation. Purdue's opponents were a combined 97-61 last season (61.4 percent), with nine finishing with winning records, nine bowl eligible and four ranked. How bad is this program right now? Purdue is currently a 12.5-point dog for its season opener at Marshall. The other three non-conference games are all at home: Indiana State, Virginia Tech and Bowling Green. So that looks like 2-2 outside the Big Ten to me. From the East Division, Purdue does have to play Michigan State and in East Lansing.
5Dimes Win Total: 4, with 'over' a -145 favorite. Assuming those two non-conference wins, this looks to be a push. But I'll go 'under.'
The Spartans' schedule ranks as No. 9 in the country with their opponents a combined 95-62 last season (60.5 percent), with nine finishing with winning records, nine bowl eligible and three ranked. Sparty opens non-conference play at Western Michigan, which is a 21-point dog but will not be a pushover and could be the MAC's best team this season. The big one is Sept. 12 at home against Oregon, which broke away from Michigan State in the fourth quarter last season in Eugene. Win that, and MSU will start at least 5-0 as the next three games are home: Air Force, Central Michigan and Purdue (Big Ten opener). From the Big Ten West, Sparty avoids Iowa and Wisconsin but does have to visit Nebraska.
5Dimes Win Total: 9, with 'over' a -165 favorite. Also looks like a push, but go 'over' with your college football picks.
The Terps have the No. 13 schedule in the country with their opponents a combined 95-63 last season (60.1 percent), nine finishing with winning records, eight bowl eligible and three ranked teams. Maryland should have little trouble starting 3-0 as it welcomes Richmond, Bowling Green and South Florida to Byrd Stadium. Winning at West Virginia at Sept. 26 will be tough, however. Maryland also has to play both Iowa (on road) and Wisconsin from the West Division.
5Dimes Win Total: 4, with 'over' a -145 favorite. That's shockingly low. Terps likely only need two Big Ten wins to go over that and I say they do.