Big Ten schedule rankings (cont.)
Posted: Thursday June 21, 2007 1:32PM; Updated: Thursday June 21, 2007 4:17PM
Behind the ranking: Wisconsin won't face a team that had a winning season last year until its Oct. 13 trip to Penn State. Things get much tougher in the second half of the season, as the Badgers have to face Ohio State and Michigan on back-to-back weeks.
Toughest game: Nov. 3 at Ohio State. Last year, Wisconsin's critics pointed out that the Badgers benefited from a schedule that didn't include Ohio State. That won't be the case this year. Wisconsin has won each of its last three games at Ohio State.
Cakewalk: Sept. 15 vs. The Citadel. This Division I-AA team's 5-6 season last year included a 35-3 loss to Texas A&M and a 51-6 setback to Pittsburgh.
Trap game: Nov. 17 at Minnesota. After playing two huge games against Ohio State and Michigan in back-to-back weeks, the Badgers close the regular season with this road game. You have to wonder how much Wisconsin will have left for the Gophers.
Changes from last season: All four of Wisconsin's non-conference games last year were at home against non-BCS teams. This season the Badgers play host to Washington State and travel to UNLV in the first two weeks. Ohio State and Michigan State replace Purdue and Northwestern on Wisconsin's Big Ten schedule.
6. Ohio State
Behind the ranking: You can make a pretty convincing argument that Ohio State might be favored by at least 10 points in every game it plays until its Oct. 27 trip to Penn State. The Buckeyes have clear sailing until they face Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan in the final four weeks of the season.
Toughest game: Nov. 17 at Michigan. Ohio State has beaten its rival three consecutive times, but this could be the year the Wolverines end the streak. Michigan has much more experience on offense as well as the home-field advantage. The Buckeyes will have to hope their own young offense has matured by that point in the season.
Cakewalk: Sept. 1 vs. Youngstown State. Jim Tressel might not coach at Youngstown State anymore, but his current team should provide quite a clinic to this Division I-AA foe in the season opener for both schools.
Trap game: Sept. 15 at Washington. Washington lost its final three home games last year, so perhaps the Huskies' home-field advantage isn't as strong as it was in the program's glory days. But after the Buckeyes open the season with one-sided victories over Youngstown State and Akron, this road trip should provide the first indication of whether this young offense can meet OSU fans' lofty standards.
Changes from last season: Ohio State opened its 2006 schedule with non-conference games against three teams that went on to play in bowls, including a road game with 2005 national champion Texas. Youngstown State, Akron and Washington probably won't provide nearly as much of a test. Wisconsin and Purdue replace Indiana and Iowa on Ohio State's Big Ten schedule.
7. Penn State
Behind the ranking: Notre Dame comes to Happy Valley on Sept. 8, but Penn State's other three non-conference games (Florida International, Buffalo and Temple) are likely blowouts. Penn State does have to face the "big three" of Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin, but two of those games are at home.
Toughest game: Sept. 22 at Michigan. Penn State has lost to Michigan eight consecutive times. The last time Penn State visited the Big House, Mario Manningham caught a touchdown pass as time expired to hand the Nittany Lions their only loss of the 2005 season.
Cakewalk: Nov. 10 at Temple. Frankly, every non-conference game other than the matchup with Notre Dame belongs in this category. Florida International, Buffalo and Temple went a combined 3-33 last season. Florida International at least stayed competitive in most of its early season games last year, and Buffalo beat Temple in overtime in 2006. Because of that, we'll mark the Temple game down as the easiest of them all.
Trap game: Oct. 20 at Indiana. This is a classic sandwich game. The Nittany Lions head to Bloomington one week after a home game with Wisconsin and one week before hosting Ohio State. Penn State can't afford to get caught looking back or ahead to the Buckeyes.
Changes from last season: Having Notre Dame at home instead of on the road makes the nonconference schedule easier. Iowa and Indiana replace Minnesota and Northwestern on Penn State's Big Ten schedule.
Behind the ranking: Minnesota doesn't have a non-conference game against a team from a BCS conference. The Gophers' three Division I-A non-conference foes posted a combined record of 11-25 last year. Nearly all the Gophers' toughest opponents are at home.
Toughest game: Oct. 27 at Michigan. This game marks the only time all season that Minnesota will go on the road to face a team that had a winning record last year.
Cakewalk: Sept. 8 vs. Miami (Ohio). We can't call the Oct. 20 game against North Dakota State a cakewalk when Minnesota beat that Division I-AA team 10-9 last year. Miami only went 2-10 last season and lost 21-3 at home to Northwestern, but we may be a bit presumptuous calling this a cakewalk. Five of Miami's losses last year were decided by seven points or fewer.
Trap game: Sept. 15 at Florida Atlantic. We don't think Minnesota is in any real danger of losing this game, but it is the only time the Gophers will go on the road in the first five weeks of the season. That factor alone could make this game surprisingly close.
Changes from last season: Minnesota doesn't have any nonconference opponents anywhere near as tough as California, which handed the Gophers a 42-17 drubbing last year. Illinois and Northwestern replace Michigan State and Penn State on Minnesota's Big Ten schedule.
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