Ranking the Hardest Big Ten Non-Conference Schedules

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Big Ten Non-Conference

The best way to measure one conference up against another is to look at non-conference. The 2022 Big Ten non-conference schedules are all over the place. I will be honest, I give the SEC flak for their weak non-conference schedules…the Big Ten is so much worse this year.

In this series, we will continue to look at each team’s out-of-conference slate and rank them based on difficulty. There are some teams who have serious gauntlets. Other teams have a cakewalk.

The Hardest Big Ten Non-Conference Schedules

Ohio State: vs Notre Dame, vs Arkansas State, vs Toledo

To say the Ohio State Buckeyes have the hardest Big Ten non-conference schedule sure is something but it’s not really saying much. Last year, Ohio State had an awful year, losing all of two games for the first time since 2017 and winning an instant classic in the Rose Bowl. Their non-conference slate last year was weaker but they still dropped one of them to Oregon at home. Fast-forward to this year. the trio of C.J. Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and TreVeyon Henderson is set to lead one of the best offenses in the nation.

The biggest question will be on the defensive side. Ohio State has talent and new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles will have to step up right away against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have CFP aspirations but have recently become dangerously thin at wide receiver. New quarterback Tyler Buchner comes into the game with 336 yards and three touchdowns in his career.

In Week 2, Sun Belt team Arkansas State comes to town. The Redwolves are not expected to challenge for the conference as they are coming off of a (2-10) season. Florida State transfer James Blackman is healthy and played pretty well, throwing for over 300 yards in three of his six appearances. Running back Brian Snead returns to Columbus after spending his freshman year at Ohio State, then three years at the JUCO and FCS levels.

Finally, Toledo. The Rockets were better than their (7-6) record indicated last year. DeQuan Finn is a dynamic quarterback for a run-heavy offense. Devin Maddox and Jerjuan Newton are a pair of solid receivers and it’ll be interesting to watch if Maryland transfer Peny Boone can take the running back job from Jaquez Stuart and Micah Kelly. The Buckeyes are 3-0 all-time against Toledo…and haven’t lost to an in-state school since 1921 in a 7-6 loss to Oberlin.

Penn State: vs Ohio, @ Auburn, vs Central Michigan

As with Ohio State, it’s not saying much to say Penn State has the second-hardest Big Ten non-conference schedule. Last year, the Nittany Lions swept their non-conference slate but faltered once B1G play started including the 9OT loss vs Illinois. Sean Clifford returns for his 10th year of eligibility but all eyes will be on the rushing attack. After Caziah Holmes and Noah Cain elect to transfer out, a pair of highly-touted true freshmen back up Keyvone Lee.

After a Week 1 trip to Purdue, PSU hosts the Ohio Bobcats. Unfortunately for OU, they are going to struggle again in the MAC East. Kurtis Rourke is coming into his own but the real threat will be containing O’Shaan Allison (assuming he remains healthy). The last time these two met? 2012 where the Bobcats won, 24-14.

One of those wins last year came against Auburn, 28-20. The Tigers finished their season (6-7) after dropping each of their final five games. Expectations are higher but they’ll have a new quarterback. Zach Calzada transferred in from Texas A&M and Robby Ashford comes in by way of Oregon and they’ll fight to replace Bo Nix.

Finally, Central Michigan will be more of a challenge than people would think. The Chippewas will be led by running back Lew Nichols III. Nichols led the entire country in rushing yards with 1,848 and was 10th in the nation with 16 touchdowns.

Nebraska: vs North Dakota (FCS), vs Georgia Southern, vs Oklahoma

If “close but no cigar” was a college football team, it would have been the 2021 Nebraska Cornhuskers. Of their nine losses, eight were by one score. One of those losses was out of conference and head coach Scott Frost’s seat is getting hot hot hot. All eyes will be on quarterback Casey Thompson who transferred in by way of Texas. He was not alone as Nebraska added a trio of receivers via the portal as well.

The turnaround has to get started early. In Week 0, the Huskers travel to Dublin, Ireland to battle Northwestern. After facing North Dakota (FCS), Georgia Southern comes to town. Last year, the Eagles struggled so former Buffalo quarterback, Kyle Vantrease, will be charged with turning it around.

The real test of this slate will be Oklahoma. On one hand, the Sooners lost a whole lot over the past offseason, none more important than its coach and quarterbacks. However, it’s still Oklahoma. Brent Venables comes in after dominating at Clemson and he gets UCF transfer, Dillon Gabriel. They’ll still be solid this year and Marvin Mims could be the next big Sooner receiver.

Indiana: vs Idaho (FCS), vs Western Kentucky, @ Cincinnati

Since having a near-miracle season in 2020, the Hoosiers took a massive step back in 2021, winning just two games. Now that Michael Penix, Jr. decided to take his talents to Washington, Jack Tuttle, the incumbent, will have to battle Connor Bazelak (transfer from Mizzou) to be QB1. They’ll have to improve an offense that scored more than 15 points just four times; only once in B1G play!

Oddly enough, Indiana’s non-conference schedule is the exact same as it was last year. They host Idaho again, host Western Kentucky after traveling to Bowling Green, KY last year, and travel to Cincinnati after hosting last year. Even if the Hoosiers have another down year, Idaho should not be an issue. Even last year, they won, 56-14.

Last year, Indiana beat WKU, 33-31, beating out the second-most prolific offense in the nation. This year, they lose Bailey Zappe and Jerreth Sterns, so it’s up to Austin Reed (since Jarret Doege, who transferred in this offseason, transferred out) and Daewood Davis to pick up the slack. They’ll still have an exciting offense, so IU can’t afford to sleep.

Speaking of exciting teams who lost a lot this offseason, Cincinnati gets to prove that it wasn’t a one-hit-wonder. Nine former Bearcats were drafted, good for third-most in the nation. They’ve recruited at a high level, so don’t be surprised if some young guys break through and contribute. Keep an eye on Corey Kiner at running back. He transfers home from LSU and is a dynamic playmaker.

Illinois: vs Wyoming, vs Virginia, vs Chattanooga (FCS)

Year number one under Bret Bielema was not great, but it was the second time the Fighting Illini won five games since 2015. Of those five wins, just one came out of conference. Incumbent quarterback Art Sitkowski is in a battle with incoming Syracuse transfer, Tommy DeVito to be the leader of an offense that struggled all year.

In Week 0, Wyoming comes to town. The Cowboys finished (7-6) in the MWC but they had a mass exodus of talent. Leading rusher Xazavian Valladay left for Arizona State, Isaiah Neyor left for Texas (and will miss 2022 with a knee injury), and quarterbacks Sean Chambers AND Levi Williams left.

The biggest non-conference challenge for the Illini will be Virginia. Last year, the Cavaliers had their way with Illinois to the tune of 42-14. Both teams will be better and Brennan Armstrong has NFL aspirations. Virginia looks like they are a popular upset pick in the ACC.

Maryland: vs Buffalo, @ Charlotte, vs SMU

The hype is sky-high for the Terrapins of Maryland. Between Taulia Tagovailoa, Rakim Jarrett, Dontay Demus, Jr., and incoming Florida transfer, Jacob Copeland, the Maryland offense could be the best it has been in years. Last year, however, the Terps swept their non-conference slate but faltered in B1G play. They don’t have the most difficult Big Ten non-conference slates, but they’ll have to earn it this year.

A couple of years ago, this Buffalo matchup would have been really intriguing. Now, not as much. Leading receiver Quian Williams returns, but that’s about it. Kyle Vantrease transferred to Georgia Southern, Kevin Marks graduated, and Dylan McDuffie transferred to Georgia Tech. Look for Ron Cook, Jr. to pick up the slack running the ball.

At (5-7) last year, the Charlotte 49ers will be a decent litmus test to show whether or not this Maryland team will compete for better than fourth place in the B1G East. They had an offense that could move the ball and score. Redshirt senior quarterback Chris Reynolds returns and is going to look to go out on top.

Finally, SMU has been one of the best teams in the AAC for a few years now. Tanner Mordecai is going to cement his status as the top quarterback in the conference for an offense that averaged 38.4 points per game, tenth-best in the nation. If there are any questions around the Terps secondary, Mordecai will exploit them.

Iowa: vs South Dakota State (FCS), vs Iowa State, vs Nevada

Finally, the “easiest” “hard” Big Ten non-conference schedule, the Hawkeyes of Iowa. Iowa has been either solid or good each of the last 15 or so years. In 2021, the Hawkeyes won 10 games and swept their non-conference schedule. Spencer Petras returns yet again but running back Tyler Goodson is not. Gavin Williams has massive shoes to fill this fall.

South Dakota State (FCS) isn’t going to be a pushover and Iowa would do well to not overlook an FCS team at home…again. Then in Week 2, the battle for the Cy-Hawk goes down. Despite the fact that Iowa State has been experiencing an unprecedented amount of success, Iowa owns its rival. It’ll be the 69th matchup between the two and the Hawkeyes own a 46-22 record and have won each of the last six.

Lastly, Nevada comes to town for the first time in history. The Wolfpack had a bit of success in 2021 as winners of eight. However, they will have to replace both Carson Strong and Romeo Doubs.

B1G Moments, B1G Teams

To say any of these Big Ten non-conference schedules are difficult at all is a bit of a stretch, but here we are. Football is just around the corner! the Big Ten looks like it could be the strongest it has been in years with at least one CFP contender.

And that’s it! 10 conferences, 20 articles!

For More:

Mid-American: EasiestHardest
Conference-USA: EasiestHardest
Mountain West: EasiestHardest
Sun Belt: EasiestHardest
American Athletic: EasiestHardest
Pac-12: EasiestHardest
Big 12: EasiestHardest
ACC: EasiestHardest
SEC: EasiestHardest
Big Ten: Easiest; Hardest

 

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