All non-conference games are not created equally. It’s actually strength of schedules, primetime matchups and cupcake opponents that fuels the offseason conversation. And since there’s still over a month until the season kicks off, why not add a little more gasoline to that fire.
With the B1G playing a nine-game conference schedule, each team in the conference will play three non-league opponents. I broke out that calculator and did a little math (scary, I know) but that adds up to 42 non-conference matchups. Some are really interesting. Others are, well, not.
Since we love college football rankings so much, why not rank all 42 non-conference games B1G teams will play for the 2019 season?
The non-conference schedule leaves something to be desired. On a positive note, there are only four FCS opponents on the slate this season. There are only nine Power Five opponents (10 counting Notre Dame) on the docket, though, which isn’t quite as appealing.
This really wasn’t much of a scientific process. Rankings are based on a few factors, basically boiling down to level of competitiveness between the two teams, potential implications, general interest and rivalries. Nothing too over-the-top.
So, without further ado, here’s a look at the rankings for all 42 non-conference games in the B1G this fall:
42. Liberty vs. Rutgers (Oct. 26)
41. Idaho vs. Penn State (Aug. 31)
40. Howard vs. Maryland (Aug. 31)
39. Eastern Illinois vs. Indiana (Sept. 7)
38. UConn vs. Indiana (Sept. 21)
37. Illinois vs. UConn (Sept. 7)
Since Illinois has to go on the road to play UConn, it makes the game a little more appealing. The fact that it’s an away game puts Illini slightly ahead of Indiana, even though both teams will take on the Huskies this season.
36. UMass vs. Northwestern (Nov. 16)
35. UMass vs. Rutgers (Aug. 30)
34. Miami (OH) vs. Ohio State (Sept. 21)
33. Kent State vs. Wisconsin (Oct. 5)
32. South Alabama vs. Nebraska (Aug. 31)
31. South Dakota State vs. Minnesota (Aug. 29)
You could say the opener is a little high for Minnesota considering it’s taking on an FCS opener. The Jackrabbits finished 10-3 last year and were one win away from the FCS title game. It could be an interesting game, even if it’s just one half.
30. Akron vs. Illinois (Aug. 31)
29. Tulsa vs. Michigan State (Aug. 30)
28. UNLV vs. Northwestern (Sept. 14)
27. Central Michigan vs. Wisconsin (Sept. 7)
26. Miami (OH) vs. Iowa (Aug. 31)
25. Middle Tennessee vs. Michigan (Aug. 31)
24. Middle Tennessee vs. Iowa (Sept. 28)
Every now and then Iowa drops a game to someone it shouldn’t. OK, so it happens almost every year. Middle Tennessee certainly doesn’t match the talent level, but this could be a sneaky matchup for the Hawkeyes if they’re not careful.
23. Eastern Michigan vs. Illinois (Sept. 14)
22. Florida Atlantic vs. Ohio State (Aug. 31)
The Lane Train is coming to Columbus. That’s something.
21. Northern Illinois vs. Nebraska (Sept. 14)
20. Ball State vs. Indiana (Aug. 31)
An in-state rivalry game on a neutral field (Lucas Oil Stadium). Indiana shouldn’t have much trouble with Ball State, but the Cardinals did win the last time the two teams played in Indianapolis in 2011.
19. Western Michigan vs. Michigan State (Sept. 7)
They’re not circled on the national calendar, but Mark Dantonio considers these games rivalry matchups. With so many Michigan and Midwest players on both teams, there’s usually a little extra juice when those MAC schools from Michigan head to East Lansing.
18. Georgia Southern vs. Minnesota (Sept. 14)
Last season, Georgia Southern finished with 10 wins, which included a victory over No. 25 Appalachian State. With a unique offensive look, Minnesota could have its hands full with the Eagles.
17. Boston College vs. Rutgers (Sept. 21)
At this point, every game on Rutgers’ schedule is a test. But the Scarlet Knights host Boston College following an off week. The Scarlet Knights need to prove they can be competitive against Power Five opponents, especially at home.
16. Buffalo vs. Penn State (Sept. 7)
The Bulls won 10 games last season and Penn State nearly dropped a game to Appalachian State last year. Anything is possible, especially considering the amount of turnover the Nittany Lions saw in the offseason.
15. Purdue vs. Nevada (Aug. 30)
Go ahead and hit the upset alert button. A trip to Reno for a 9:30 p.m. ET kickoff against a bowl opponent could be really troublesome for Purdue. This is a good early test for Jeff Brohm’s squad.
14. Maryland vs. Temple (Sept. 14)
Temple has shifted from a doormat in college football to a tough out each season. The Owls are under new leadership, but they’ve also defeated two B1G schools in the last four years under different coaches, including a win over the Terps last season.
13. Syracuse vs. Maryland (Sept. 7)
From Howard in Week 1 to Syracuse in Week 2. That’s a pretty big jump to start the Mike Locksley era. At least the game is in College Park.
12. Vanderbilt vs. Purdue (Sept. 7)
It’s the only B1G-SEC matchup in the regular season. The winning conference gets bragging rights. So, that’s pretty significant.
11. Pitt vs. Penn State (Sept. 14)
Penn State has dominated this game the last two years, outscoring Pitt 84-20. But this is the last time the in-state rivals will go head-to-head in the regular season for the foreseeable future. There’s a little extra on the line this time in Happy Valley.
10. Wisconsin vs. USF (Aug. 30)
Another potential early upset with the game being played on a Friday night in South Florida. Both teams are undergoing significant changes on both sides of the football. Jonathan Taylor will probably be the difference for the Badgers.
9. Army vs. Michigan (Sept. 7)
It’s hard not to have this game higher in the rankings with Army coming off an 11-win season and nearly defeating Oklahoma last year. How Michigan’s defense responds to the option will be interesting, but the Wolverines have the athletes and the scheme to shut down the Black Knights.
8. Cincinnati vs. Ohio State (Sept. 7)
Luke Fickell is back in Columbus to take on his old program. Usually this would be a guaranteed victory for Ohio State. A win may not come so easy for the Buckeyes this year.
7. Minnesota vs. Fresno State (Sept. 7)
The Golden Gophers needed a late-game interception to beat Fresno State in Minneapolis a year ago. Minnesota’s experience and talent is an advantage, but this is another late night kickoff on the West Coast that could make things interesting.
6. Nebraska vs. Colorado (Sept. 7)
New head coach Mel Tucker has already given the Huskers bulletin board material with over a month until kickoff. Last year’s contest in Lincoln was a thriller. This should be another fun game featuring old Big XII rivals.
5. TCU vs. Purdue (Sept. 14)
If you enjoy offense and seeing a lot of points on the scoreboard, this game shouldn’t disappoint. Yardage totals could exceed 1,000 and total points could be in the 100s. Probably shouldn’t watch if you love defense.
4. Arizona State vs. Michigan State (Sept. 14)
This game came down to a last-second field goal that lifted ASU over MSU. The B1G-Pac-12 matchup gives the Spartans an opportunity to notch a marquee win early in the year. It should also give us an idea of whether or not Michigan State is a legitimate contender in 2019.
3. Northwestern vs. Stanford (Aug. 31)
Since the game is at Stanford, you won’t hear anyone making the “body clock” argument about this year’s matchup. Two solid programs meeting in the season opener is always fun. And when you look at the rest of the B1G’s Week 1 matchups, this one is really the only “must watch” contest.
2. Iowa vs. Iowa State (Sept. 14)
Yes, Iowa has dominated the in-state rivalry recently, but both programs are relevant on the national stage, giving this game a little more significance. What was once a bit of a “ho-hum” rivalry game outside the state of Iowa has become must-see TV.
1. Notre Dame vs. Michigan (Oct. 26)
There’s really no other non-conference game that even comes close to matching the significance, importance and intrigue of Notre Dame-Michigan this year. A rivalry game with College Football Playoff implications in late October. It just doesn’t get any better than this.