2010 Big Ten Strength of Schedule

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Phil Steele released is ranking of 2010's toughest schedules on his blog the other day. He uses his power rankings and looks at the number of home and away games each team is playing. Iowa comes in with the 35th toughest schedules, which seems about right to me. They have a number of quality opponents, but get them all at home. The thing that really jumped out at me though, was that Steele ranks Iowa State's schedule as the toughest in the nation. They do have a tough schedule this year...Iowa and Utah in non-conference games, plus they play at Texas and at Oklahoma.

Here's how the whole Big Ten ranked:

94. Northwestern
85. Wisconsin
74. Purdue
71. Indiana
61. Ohio State
58. Michigan State
37. Michigan
35. Iowa
21. Illinois
16. Penn State
5. Minnesota

Steele's rankings are pretty good for the Big Ten. The order is pretty close, but I would swap a few things. He doesn't take into consideration what game are played at home versus on the road, just the number of each. So, here are my rankings...I'm mostly going on a gut feel type of thing.

11. Northwestern

Schedule: at Vanderbilt, Illinois State, at Rice, Central Michigan, at Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan State, at Indiana, at Penn State, Iowa, at Illinois, at Wisconsin
Toughest Non-Conference: at Vanderbilt
Toughest Conference: at Wisconsin
Don't Play: Ohio State, Michigan

Typically when the two teams you dodge in the Big Ten are Ohio State and Michigan, you have a pretty easy schedule (even if Michigan is a little down). Northwestern also has a light non-conference schedule playing an FCS team, 2 non-BCS teams, and the worst team in the SEC. The toughest stretch of their schedule, though, will be the last 4 games of the season (at PSU, Iowa, at Illinois, at Wisconsin). I wouldn't be surprised if they lost all 4.

10. Purdue

Schedule: at Notre Dame, Western Illinois, Ball State, Toledo, @Northwestern, Minnesota, at Ohio State, at Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, at Michigan State, Indiana
Toughest Non-Conference: at Notre Dame
Toughest Conference: at Ohio State
Don't Play: Iowa, Penn State

Purdue also misses 2 of the better teams in the conference. They have enough easy games at home (including 3 of the non-conference games) that they should get to 6 wins. In the middle of the Big Ten season they have at OSU, at Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan. That will be a tough stretch, and they could even lose the game on either side against Minnesota or Michigan State.

9. Indiana

Schedule: Towson, at Western Kentucky, Akron, Michigan, at Ohio State, Arkansas State, at Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa, at Wisconsin, Penn State, at Purdue
Toughest Non-Conference: Arkansas State
Toughest Conference: at Ohio State
Don't Play: Michigan State, Minnesota

Indiana has the easiest non-conference schedule in the Big Ten. The only reason they aren't in 11th place is that they play at Ohio State and at Wisconsin.

8. Wisconsin

Schedule: at UNLV, San Jose State, Arizona State, Austin Peay, at Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, at Iowa, at Purdue, Indiana, at Michigan, Northwestern
Toughest Non-Conference: Arizona State
Toughest Conference: at Iowa
Don't Play: Illinois, Penn State

Wisconsin seems to pull out a team that I've never heard of each year...last year was Wofford, this year is Austin Peay. The non-conference otherwise looks decent, though Arizona State could be one of the easier BCS schools this year.

7. Michigan State

Schedule: Western Michigan, at Florida Atlantic, Notre Dame, Northern Colorado, Wisconsin, at Michigan, Illinois, at Northwestern, at Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue, at Penn State
Toughest Non-Conference: Notre Dame
Toughest Conference: at Iowa
Don't Play: Ohio State, Indiana

Michigan State's schedule is generally easy. They miss Ohio State and have only one difficult non-conference game, Notre Dame, though it is at least at home. The road schedule in the Big Ten, however, is more difficult with Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa, and Penn State.

6. Illinois

Schedule: Missouri, Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois, Ohio State, at Penn State, at Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, at Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, at Fresno State
Toughest Non-Conference: Missouri
Toughest Conference: Ohio State
Don't Play: Iowa, Wisconsin

Illinois catches a lucky break that they don't play Iowa or Wisconsin this year and the rest of their conference schedule is pretty balanced with tough games home and away. They will start and end the 2010 season with non-conference games and both should be a challenge for the Illini, though Missouri and Fresno State are both just decent.

5. Ohio State

Schedule: Marshall, Miami, Ohio, Eastern Michigan, at Illinois, Indiana, at Wisconsin, Purdue, at Minnesota, Penn State, at Iowa, Michigan
Toughest Non-Conference: Miami
Toughest Conference: at Iowa
Don't Play: Northwestern, Michigan State

Playing Miami makes up for the other teams on Ohio State's non-conference schedule. Then in conference, the Buckeyes have to play their two likeliest challengers for the Big Ten crown (Iowa and Wisconsin) on the road. Plus ending the season with Penn State, Iowa, and Michigan is never easy.

4. Iowa

Schedule: Eastern Illinois, Iowa State, at Arizona, Ball State, Penn State, at Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, at Indiana, at Northwestern, Ohio State, at Minnesota
Toughest Non-Conference: at Arizona
Toughest Conference: Ohio State
Don't Play: Illinois, Purdue

Iowa's list of opponents could compete with almost any team in terms of toughness, but Iowa should benefit greatly from having almost every difficult game inside Kinnick. If Iowa can protect its home field, then the toughest games will likely be at Arizona and at Northwestern.

3. Michigan

Schedule: Connecticut, at Notre Dame, Massachusetts, Bowling Green, at Indiana, Michigan State, Iowa, at Penn State, Illinois, at Purdue, Wisconsin, at Ohio State
Toughest Non-Conference: at Notre Dame
Toughest Conference: at Ohio State
Don't Play: Northwestern, Minnesota

Michigan misses out on two of the easier teams in the conference and has one of the more balanced out of conference schedules with 2 tough games right off the bat. The end of the season also has two tough games with Wisconsin then at Ohio State. But the most important stretch of games for the Wolverines will be Michigan State, Iowa, then at Penn State.

2. Minnesota

Schedule: Middle Tennessee State, South Dakota, USC, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, at Wisconsin, at Purdue, Penn State, Ohio State, at Michigan State, at Illinois, Iowa
Toughest Non-Conference: USC
Toughest Conference: at Wisconsin
Don't Play: Michigan, Indiana

Minnesota's home schedule is about as tough as it gets: USC, Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa are the toughest. But at least those games are at home which keeps the Gophers out of the top spot for toughest schedule. Minnesota will have work to do on the road too, especially at Wisconsin and at Michigan State. This schedule sets up so poorly for Minnesota I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't win a conference game.

1. Penn State

Schedule: Youngstown State, at Alabama, Kent State, Temple, at Iowa, Illinois, at Minnesota, Michigan, Northwestern, at Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan State
Toughest Non-Conference: at Alabama
Toughest Conference: at Ohio State
Don't Play: Purdue, Wisconsin

Penn State misses Wisconsin and has 3/4 of the non-conference schedule is against cupcakes. However, they will be the first team in history to play 3 teams (Alabama, Ohio State, and Iowa) that not only played in BCS games the previous year, but won them...and to top that off all 3 game are on the road. Ridiculous.
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