Hickey: Ranking the 5 easiest B1G nonconference schedules in 2023
In conference scheduling, there is an attempt to be equitable.
This is impossible, of course. Especially in a conference like the Big Ten where there’s a pretty clear divide between both divisions. When you have to fit 14 teams into 9 games, nothing will be equal.
But there’s an attempt.
Nonconference scheduling, however, is anything goes. Every program decides how it wants to play it. Some choose a challenge. Others, knowing the scramble for bowl eligibility will be tough, take a more relaxed approach in an attempt to pick up 3 wins outside the league schedule.
On Monday, we graded the B1G’s 5 toughest nonconference schedules in 2023. Today, we look at the 5 easiest.
Week 2: Indiana State (2-9 in FCS)
Week 3: Louisville (8-5) at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Week 4: Akron (2-10)
Indiana State will be a welcome respite after the Hoosiers open the season against Ohio State. The Sycamores are coached by Curt Mallory, son of IU all-time winningest coach Bill Mallory, which will give the whole week a feel-good vibe.
Another familiar face awaits Indiana the following week when the Hoosiers play former Purdue coach Jeff Brohm in Indianapolis. It’ll be the 3rd different school at which Brohm has coached against the Hoosiers. He went 0-1 against Indiana while at Western Kentucky and 4-1 at Purdue.
Akron is a traditional MAC doormat, but the Zips played more competitively toward the end of their first season under former Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead. This should still be an Indiana win, but it probably won’t be a laugher.
The Hoosiers could run the table in their nonconference schedule, but it’s not without challenges — particularly the neutral site game against Louisville.
4. Penn State
Week 1: West Virginia (2022 record: 5-7)
Week 2: Delaware (8-5 in FCS)
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Week 7: UMass (1-11)
Penn State’s season-opener with West Virginia feels big. It was an annual rivalry game when both schools were independents from the 1940s-early 1990s. And it’s been given the distinction of being picked as the Big Ten’s first night game on NBC.
But the Mountaineers may well end up at the bottom of the Big 12 this season. This may turn out to be an opportunity for Drew Allar to work out the kinks in his first start.
Delaware is among the most respectable FCS programs on the East Coast, but Joe Flacco ain’t walking through that door.
And UMess, er, UMass, is an FBS program trapped in an FCS body. The Fightin’ Blue Hens will be a tougher test than the Minutemen. The Nittany Lions even have a bye week to prepare for what could be the greatest massacre of Minutemen since 1770.
Week 2: Temple (3-9)
Week 3: Virginia Tech (3-8)
Week 5: Wagner (1-10 in FCS)
The Scarlet Knights want to go bowling, and this schedule gives them a chance.
Rutgers won at Temple last season and will again be superior to the Owls.
Virginia Tech was shockingly bad in its first year under coach Brent Pry, though that’s an indictment of the shape previous coach Justin Fuente left the program in. The Hokies should be better, but fortunately this game isn’t in Blacksburg.
And it should straight-up be illegal for Rutgers to schedule Wagner.
Yes, Staten Island is New Jersey Lite, so it’s a local matchup. But whereas Delaware is a regular FCS playoff participant, Wagner is among the worst programs in the FCS. The Seahawks snapped a 29-game losing streak last season — but only after Rutgers helped extend the streak in a 66-7 defeat that could have been far worse.
Week 1: East Carolina (8-5)
Week 2: UNLV (5-7)
Week 3: Bowling Green (6-7)
I’ve given the Wolverines plenty of grief for being the only Big Ten team not to schedule a nonconference game against a Power 5 program for the second straight season. Michigan canceled a home-and-home against UCLA at a time when job security was still a concern for Jim Harbaugh, and this is what we get as a result.
There’s a strong likelihood that every Big Ten team would go 3-0 against this schedule. That should never happen for a program as prestigious as Michigan. (And with Texas and Oklahoma looming the next couple years for the Wolverines, it no longer will be.)
That said, somehow this isn’t the easiest nonconference schedule in the B1G this year.
Michigan at least saves some grace by not playing any FCS programs. And East Carolina is a better team than any on the B1G’s biggest nonconference cakewalk.
Week 1: Towson (6-5 in FCS)
Week 2: Charlotte (3-9)
Week 3: Virginia (3-7)
Towson made a coaching change after 12 years under Rob Ambrose, and the Terrapins will likely provide a rude awakening for new head coach Pete Shinnick in his debut. But the Tigers are the only team on Maryland’s nonconference schedule to finish with a winning record last season, albeit at the FCS level.
Maryland rolled over Charlotte 56-21 last season in an unusual road matchup. Like Towson, the 49ers are under a first-year coaching staff. Expect another blowout on tap.
Virginia had the nation’s 126th-ranked scoring offense before last season ended in unspeakable tragedy with 3 Cavaliers murdered by a former teammate.
It’s impossible to make any judgement on where this team will be in Tony Elliott’s second season. But the on-field results before the shooting were extremely discouraging, and it’ll take vast improvement for the Cavs to compete with the Terps.
Maryland has aspirations of its first 9-win season since 2010. The Terps should be one-third of the way there by the end of Week 3.