Big Ten Presented With Opportunity to Win Non-Conference Schedule Battle

By Kyle Rowland on May 28, 2014 at 8:30a

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Non-conference schedules provide year-round discussion and debate for college football wonks. The SEC only plays Sun Belt and FCS schools, Big Ten fans shout. Notre Dame annually plays the toughest schedule in the nation, Irish supporters claim. The arguments rise in decibel level and end with one fan base asserting their team – or conference – has the toughest August and September slate.

The Big Ten came to an agreement last season that member schools would deviate from a previous scheduling philosophy that saw FCS teams collect guarantee checks for a 50-point loss. With the College Football Playoff selection committee rewarding teams for difficult schedules, beefing up the non-conference portion became vital for the Big Ten.

“We don’t have any penalties for those that [play FCS schools],” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said last season. “It’s not like a violation of our rules. But everybody agreed when every game is televised, every game matters and the fans matter. Interest in those games is less. They’re from another division. They have 20 less scholarships. It’s like a junior college team playing against a high school team or a high school team playing against a JV team.”

Of course, one of those so-called JV teams beat the varsity in 2007 – Appalachian State over Michigan. But Delany’s point is understood and applauded by most. Last season, every Big Ten school except Michigan and Penn State played a lower division school. In 2014, it’s the same number: two – Ohio State and Penn State.

Beyond 2014, Big Ten-FCS matchups are sparse. Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson thinks games against FCS teams from the Midwest serve a purpose. The Hoosiers host Indiana State on a semi-annual basis. Delany countered by saying Indiana doesn’t have to play USC, “but maybe you can go play Kentucky.”

In fact, the two uneasy neighbors used to play every season. But the series was discontinued following the 2005 game. A sense of irony came over Delany’s comments earlier this spring when the SEC agreed to play more FBS schools. Jokes immediately surfaced about the SEC loading up with games against the Hoosiers, to which the athletic department’s official Twitter account responded with their phone number.

The Big Ten might be mocked for its inability to win big games in recent years, but the conference doesn’t back down from playing big-time schools. Alabama, USC, Texas, Oregon, Oklahoma, LSU, Florida and Missouri have all been recent regular-season opponents or will be in the near future.  

The first weeks of the college football season are fraught with anticipation. Big games are hit and miss. In 2014, the Big Ten could be a hit. Wisconsin plays LSU in Houston, Michigan State travels to Oregon, Ohio State hosts Virginia Tech, Nebraska welcomes Miami to Lincoln, and Notre Dame plays Michigan.

Before the calendar flips to October, the Big Ten’s national reputation could either be in shambles or boosted significantly. The Badgers can set the tone on the opening Saturday night against LSU. Michigan State’s trip to Autzen Stadium is another monumental game when it comes to perception.

The Spartans lost a portion of its all-world defense, which makes a date with Oregon’s do-it-all quarterback, Marcus Mariota, that much more difficult. Still, it’s an early season game between two playoff contenders. The winner will be the toast of college football – at least for the month of September.

The game already has Michigan State’s full attention. It will have an entire summer to develop a game plan for Mariota and the Ducks’ high-flying offense. What the Spartans do possess is Oregon’s kryptonite: a tough, physical defense. But Michigan State has struggled against mobile quarterbacks in recent years. Something has to give.

Even games that may be off the grid – UCF vs. Penn State in Ireland, Rutgers at Washington State and Maryland at South Florida – carry value when one views a conference from top to bottom. The Big Ten has been presented with an opportunity to close the gap on the hated SEC.

The 2014 season marks a new era for the Big Ten, and turning excitement and energy into positive publicity early in the season could create a wave of momentum. 


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Bucksfan's picture

The SEC is the only conference where each team plays 2 conference games in the first 4 weeks, making it a self-perpetuating excuse as to why the majority of them don't schedule big name opponents: so they can cash in on TV slots.  I don't see the rest of the college football sport suddenly changing the way they schedule conference opponents just for the chance to play an SEC team during one of their open dates in November.  Even then, it is a preposterous thought of seeing Michigan or Ohio State battle an SEC team the week before The Game.  It would taint everyone's conference race to play a big name out of conference team during November.  And let's be honest here...Alabama, LSU, Florida are never going to try to schedule Michigan or Ohio State in November.

The SEC needs to move their conference schedules to look like everyone else's.  Their excu$e is a tired one.

+7 HS
blocko330's picture

So true BucksFan - I was talking about this last year (not on here)... If you'll look at most of the SEC schedules they tend to have a cake-walk game in the last 2-4 games of the season.  Since so many people think the SEC is the NFC West they tend to overlook these non-conf games since they're played in the middle of a grueling SEC schedule.  Where most of the B1G will play these games early on which obviously everyone is so excited and focused on the start of college football we (B1G) tend to be under the microscope.

You hear so often about non-conf games against the likes of MAC schools and other pathetic conferences (which I don't condone btw) but you look at who Alabama and Auburn play this year non-conference (WV, FL Atl., Southern Miss, W Carolina, San Jose St., Kansas St., LA Tech, and Samford) and EsecPN won't EVER make mention of this.  Also, Alabama conveniently plays W Carolina prior to Iron Bowl and Auburn plays Samford LOL!

On the other hand, we play Indiana and scUM plays Maryland - not the greatest teams granted but hell, it's still conference play.

I don't know where I was going with all this I just really get fired up when talking about the over-hyped SEC and all their shenanigans.

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

- TruthTeller

+2 HS
Bucksfan's picture

I hope Samford can play "Stanford football."

+5 HS
Ethos's picture

Really don't think Alabama deserves to be in the conversation as the rest of the SEC, mostly because they have shown the willingness to travel TO northern stadiums and schedule games with the big 10 and other conferences.  They are kind of an outlier for that conference.  Now it appears LSU is starting to do the same thing, but really Alabama set the trend.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

-1 HS
Jabba the Hoke's picture

When did Alabama travel north other than Penn State a few years back? You can't say Kentucky either. Isn't the whole reason they bailed on MSU because MSU refused to play a "neutral" site game?

Jpfbuck's picture

not that  totally agree here but both Bama and LSU have at least been willing to travel away from home to play a solid OOC team the last few years

Bama has played Clemson in Atlanta in '08, Va Tech in ATL in '09, PSU in State College in 11, UM in Arlington in 12 and Va Tech in ATL in 13, besides playing at home vs PSU. That's 5 games against good teams in the last 8 years with another solid home game against PSU

LSU has played Arizona St in Tempe in 05, Washington in Seattle in 09, UNC in ATL in 10, Oregon in Arlington in 11, WVU in Morgantown in 11, and TCU in Arlington in 13, plus Arizona at home in '06, WVU at home in 10, Wash at home in 12, Va Tech at home in 07, so that's 7 games away from Baton Rouge vs decent OOC opponents in 10 years

heck even UGA who never used to travel has started playing a couple real road games, ASU in Tempe in 08, Okie St in Stillwater in 09, Colorado in Boulder in '10, and at Clemson last year and technical the Boise St game in 11 was not in their home stadium ie in ATL, ie 5 games away from Athens against a reasonable OOC team in 6 years

so at least a couple of them have been willing to play away from home even if some times it is a neutral field

seafus26's picture

Agreed, LSU played Washington, Oregon, TCU, west Virginia's in recent non-conference. And won all of them. I'd like the scheduling process to some how not be made so far in the future. I think we've tried to schedule some similar national match ups. The Texas and USC ones worked out well with both of them being national powers at time of game. Cal, Miami, and v-tech haven't worked out and Espn unfairly bashes us for this under the current schedule making process.

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

BoFuquel's picture

I don't care who plays who or when. Just win'em all. Nothing less will satisfy. Anything less is failure. GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

+1 HS
BroJim's picture

I believe in the Big Ten!

I season my simple food with hunger

kholmes's picture

One minor correction to the comment that only two B1G teams dont play an FCS team this year. Applachian St is now an FBS team playing in the Sun Belt conference starting this year (it was an FCS team in 2007) there are 3 that dont play FCS team this year (OSU, PSU, and Michigan).

Yeah I understand the point is weak since App St is just FBS starting this year but just wanted to clarify.

+6 HS
cplunk's picture

If the B1G teams lose those big profile games there is a good chance the B1G champ doesn't get sufficient respect and gets left out of the four team playoff. The LSU/Oregon/Miami matchups are critical to the perception of the conference this year.


TheTeam16's picture

App. State is FBS in Sun Belt now...

+1 HS
TheTeam16's picture

Why am i being DV for the truth lol?

+2 HS
kholmes's picture

Probably because I had already wrote the same thing above.

+3 HS
TheTeam16's picture

Oh damn lol...oops

+3 HS
hetuck's picture

I've posted this idea before, but it bears repeating. It is a takeoff on the SEC scheduling, but with a playoff twist. The B1G buys thirteen home games from the MAC and plays them the week before the rivalry game. The B1G teams know they have a home game and plan accordingly to include hotel for visiting team. Here's the twist: you don't schedule the matches until two weeks before the date. Match the highest-ranked B1G team with the highest-rated MAC team. Last year that would have meant Northern Illinois vs. OSU. The first tier TV provider gets a decent game,  BTN gets lots of games, MAC gets a pay day, and it's one less OOC opponent for Indiana and the other lesser-lights to schedule. Because the MAc is short a team for now, one B1G team gets a bye on a rotating schedule. Keep the matches below the top match regional & you shouldn't have difficulty with buses. MAC team gets 3k tickets.    

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

+1 HS
ScarletNGrey01's picture

Of course, one of those so-called JV teams beat the varsity in 2007 – Appalachian State over Michigan.

Good article plus the quote of the day ... thanks for that Kyle!

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

SaudiBuckeye's picture


I think you meant biennial when referring to Indiana scheduling Indiana State.

+1 HS
DC-town's picture

It would be nice to see Wisconsin, Michigan st and osu win...those are the big ones, I still agree that Maryland and Rutgers games mean something, but Oregon and Lsu have been dominant the last several years.  Beating them would be big for recruiting as well

'Piss excellence' -RB