Rating the Big Ten non-conference slates
Who booked the headliners? Who wanted to make sure it’s schedule would help, not hurt them? Who loaded up before the Big Ten season kicked off?
All of these questions will truly be answered at the start of October. For now, all we can do is speculate. Let’s do just that.
The voting criteria was based on an even scale, with rankings provided by the coaches poll:
-30 per team receiving votes
-40 for ranked 10-25
-50 for ranked top 10
-add +10 for road
Michigan State: 80
Ohio State: 40
Penn State: 0
Who has the toughest non-conference schedule?
The case for Northwestern:
The academic bowl against Stanford kicks off the Wildcats’ season in demanding fashion. Stanford, the nation’s 21st-ranked team, will begin 2015 in Evanston. All the Cardinal did last year was hold offenses to 16.4 points per game, which was good for second in the country. Now Stanford does have major holes to fill on the offensive line and in the secondary. But fifth-year coach David Shaw knows how to coach up a defense. For a Northwestern team that doesn’t even have a starting quarterback yet — and might not for another few weeks — the Cardinal defense will present a significant challenge. Speaking of talented defensive units, traveling to Durham, NC to take on Duke two weeks later won’t be much easier. Keep in mind, these aren’t your parents’ Blue Devils. This is a group racked up 19 wins over the last two years under David Cutcliffe. Most of last year’s team is back, including the entire secondary. Northwestern has the blessing of playing in the Big Ten West, but a pair of tough non-conference matchups could determine whether or not the Wildcats can end a two-year bowl streak.
The case for Michigan State:
Some would say the toughest non-conference game for any Big Ten team will be Michigan State’s Week 2 showdown against Oregon. Wisconsin fans could easily argue for their opener against Alabama in Dallas. Minnesota fans could do the same with No. 2 TCU rolling into the Twin Cities in Week 1. For argument’s sake, let’s say all three games are equal. Sparty will face a tall task in the second week of the season against the defending national runner-ups. Heisman Trophy winning quarterback or not, Oregon is as high-powered as it gets. Royce Freeman and the Ducks will give an inexperienced Sparty defense all it can handle with a new coordinator at the helm. Michigan State better figure out how to slow down the run because Air Force, which had the nation’s seventh ranked rushing attack last year, comes to East Lansing a week later. That’ll be a sleeper game, especially coming off the hype of the Oregon rematch. If Sparty isn’t clicking early, it has a pair of opponents that can make its playoff dreams vanish before Big Ten play even starts.