Projecting the 2017 B1G non-conference schedules from weakest to toughest

I can’t predict the future.

If you would’ve told me before 2016 that Penn State would win the B1G and Michigan State would win three games, I would’ve laughed you out of the room. That’s my way of saying that I don’t know which teams will surpass or fail to meet expectations.

Nobody knows those answers. With that in mind, I combined a point system that takes the previous season and the upcoming season into account to project non-conference schedule strength.

Here’s the scoring system:

  • 10 for non-bowl, non-P5 team
  • 20 for non-bowl, P5 team (BYU, Cincinnati, Notre Dame count)
  • 30 for bowl team
  • 40 for preseason 11-25 (ESPN)
  • 50 for preseason 1-10 (ESPN)
  • +5 for neutral site
  • +10 for road game

It’s not a full-proof method, but in terms of projections, it’s better than a completely subjective process.

Here’s where each B1G team ranked:

T13. INDIANA (50)

  • at Virginia 30
  • vs. FIU 10
  • vs. Georgia Southern 10

Worth noting — Indiana gets credit for having a road game against a Power Five opponent, which only about half the conference has. But it’s a non-bowl Power Five foe and FIU and Georgia Southern should be cupcakes.

T13. NORTHWESTERN (50)

  • vs. Nevada 10
  • at Duke 30
  • vs. Bowling Green 10

Worth noting — Northwestern shouldn’t take any games for granted after falling at home to Illinois State. But any non-conference schedule without a bowl team isn’t exactly pushing the limits.

NonConferenceMichiganState

T10. MICHIGAN STATE (60)

  • vs. Bowling Green 10
  • vs. Western Michigan 30
  • vs. Notre Dame 20

Worth noting — No, Western Michigan probably shouldn’t be worth more than Notre Dame. Flip them around and the result is still the same. Michigan State isn’t leaving East Lansing and it faces one bowl team. That team  just lost its coach of the year candidate and its best player in school history. That’s a favorable draw.

T10. PENN STATE (60)

  • vs. Akron 10
  • vs. Pitt 40
  • vs. Georgia State 10

Worth noting — That Pitt game is the obvious outlier of the bunch. Both teams will likely be in the top 25 for that showdown, with the Lions eager to get revenge after last year’s loss at Heinz Field. That Pitt game could serve as the quality win Penn State needs early on to potentially maintain a top-five ranking.

T10. WISCONSIN (60)

  • vs. Utah State 10
  • vs. Florida Atlantic 10
  • at BYU 40

Worth noting — The last two years, BYU went into Michigan State and Nebraska and won. Traveling to BYU will be no picnic for a Wisconsin team that’ll start the season with two cupcakes. But who knows? Maybe new FAU coach Lane Kiffin will draw up some crazy game-plan that stumps Wisconsin’s new defensive coordinator.

NonConferenceIowa

T7. IOWA (70)

  • vs. Wyoming 30
  • at Iowa State 30
  • vs. North Texas 10

Worth noting — Everyone always gives Iowa flack for its easy non-conference scheduling. Most years, this slate would be considered weak. But Iowa does travel for a true Power Five road game, which only half the conference will do. And Wyoming has a real offense, especially with Josh Allen coming back. After last year’s North Dakota State debacle, Iowa shouldn’t have any excuse to come out flat in non-conference play.

T7. MINNESOTA (70)

  • vs. Buffalo 10
  • at Oregon State 30
  • vs. Middle Tennessee 30

Worth noting — For anyone questioning the 30 for Middle Tennessee, remember that the Blue Raiders won at Mizzou last year. That, plus a trip to Corvallis, Ore. to see former Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen won’t make for a walk-in-the-park start for PJ Fleck.

NonConferenceNebraska

T7. NEBRASKA (70)

  • vs. Arkansas State 30
  • at Oregon 30
  • vs. Northern Illinois 10

Worth noting — The Arkansas State game might be viewed as a cupcake start for Nebraska, but the Red Wolves went 8-1 down the stretch and they return plenty of talent from the No. 19 scoring defense in the country. And as Mike Riley knows all too well, road games in Eugene, Ore. aren’t fun.

T3. ILLINOIS (90)

  • vs. Ball State 10
  • vs. Western Kentucky 30
  • at USF 50

Worth noting — I know what you’re thinking. How is Illinois tied for second without a game vs. a Power Five team? The WKU matchup might not be a true 30 with basically the entire coaching staff from last year’s 11-win squad now at Purdue. But Lovie Smith’s return to Tampa for the USF matchup will be a major challenge. The Bulls hired former Texas coach Charlie Strong and will likely start in the preseason top 25.

RankingNonConferenceMaryland

T3. MARYLAND (90)

  • at Texas 50
  • vs. Towson 10
  • vs. UCF 30

Worth noting — Maryland will travel to Texas for Tom Herman’s debut. In other words, that game will have even more juice than a normal showdown in Austin. That, and a tricky game against an improving UCF squad with Scott Frost, won’t make a 2-1 start easy for DJ Durkin.

T3. OHIO STATE (90)

  • vs. Oklahoma 50
  • vs. Army 30
  • vs. UNLV 10

Worth noting — Facing a national title contender led by a Heisman Trophy candidate usually bolsters that non-conference schedule strength. The Buckeyes get the Sooners at home for what figures to be a primetime game at The Shoe. They’ll then have to turn around the next week and face Army’s completely opposite triple-option offense. Sure it’s at home, but OSU’s start will be more battle-tested than most title contenders.

NonConferenceSchedulesRutgers

T3. RUTGERS (90)

  • vs. Washington 50
  • vs. Eastern Michigan 30
  • vs. Morgan State 10

Worth noting — Like the Buckeyes, Rutgers will also host a Heisman candidate quarterback leading a national title contender. Washington will be heavily favored in the opener, but that’s a game Rutgers should push to start at noon. In case you forgot, #BodyClock.

2. MICHIGAN (95)

  • vs. Florida (in Arlington, Tex.) 45
  • vs. Cincinnati 20
  • vs. Air Force 30

Worth noting — With all due respect to Utah, the Florida game at Jerry World will be Jim Harbaugh’s first real non-conference headliner at Michigan. That’ll be quite the test for a new-look offense against one of the country’s top defenses. The Cincinnati game is a little sneaky with longtime Ohio State assistant Luke Fickell now leading the Bearcats. There’s also the non-conference finale against a 10-win Air Force team. This will easily be Michigan’s toughest non-conference slate of the Harbaugh era.

1. PURDUE (105)

  • vs. Louisville (Indianapolis) 45
  • vs. Ohio 30
  • at Mizzou 30

Welcome to the B1G, Jeff Brohm! Well, before that, you get a gauntlet non-conference slate. Brohm will debut against Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson on turf at Lucas Oil Stadium. Then he gets to host an Ohio squad that nearly won the MAC in 2016. And just in case that wasn’t fun enough, Purdue will travel to SEC country to face Mizzou. Purdue could easily be the underdog in all three non-conference games. Nobody in the B1G will have a more battle-tested start to 2017 than the Boilermakers.

REFERENCES

Photo Credit: H/T USA Today

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