Conference media days start on July 15. That means conversations about the importance of scheduling in league races as well as the national championship hunt are less than three weeks away.
How critical is scheduling?
Put it this way: Would Ohio State have been in the College Football Playoff last season if it hadn’t lost 49-20 at Purdue? Would the Buckeyes have been in the 2017 playoff if they hadn’t lost 55-24 at Iowa?
If the Big Ten only played eight conference games, those tough road trips easily could have been traded for games against, oh, The Citadel and Mercer.
Of course, Ohio State needs to play better. And of course, a ninth conference game ramps up the difficulty of a schedule immeasurably.
What if Alabama had played at Kentucky last fall instead of staying home for The Citadel, Louisiana or Arkansas State?
How about if the Tide had played at Florida two years ago instead of welcoming Fresno State, Colorado State or Mercer to Tuscaloosa?
Or, what if—whoa, Nellie!—Alabama turned in a marshmallow for a trip to Georgia?
That, boys and girls, is the difference between playing eight conference games and nine conference games.
But I’m not here to talk about could-should-would today. You’ll hear plenty of that soon enough at conference media days.
What I would like to point out is how that ninth game could impact what shape up to be very tight races in both Big Ten divisions this fall.
No question, nine-game conference schedules are awkward. This year, the West has five home games and the East has four.
What really is interesting, though, are the crossover games. That’s where teams put seasons at risk. That’s where Ohio State’s disasters occurred the last two years.
So who has the toughest draws?
Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Here are the Big Ten’s crossover games this fall. What I have done is taken the four most dangerous opponents from each opposite division.
Wisconsin—which plays Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State—has the most perilous West schedule. By contrast, Nebraska, Purdue and Minnesota—who face only one Eastern power—have the more favorable schedules.
In the East, Ohio State—which plays Nebraska and Northwestern as well as Wisconsin—faces three Western contenders. Penn State and Michigan State see only one from the likely best in the West.
Of course, these things are subject to change once people actually start playing games.
But you don’t need to be a mathematician to know that one more conference game is a lot more hazardous to your championship health than one more cupcake.
B1G TEN CROSSOVER GAMES
Ranked by crossover games vs. East’s four traditional powers (Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State).
Wisconsin (3): Michigan, Michigan State, at Ohio State
Iowa (2): at Michigan, Penn State, Rutgers
Northwestern (2): at Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State
Illinois (2): Michigan, at Michigan State, Rutgers
Nebraska (1): Indiana, at Maryland, Ohio State
Purdue (1): Indiana, Maryland, at Penn State
Minnesota (1): Maryland, Penn State, at Rutgers
Ranked by crossover games vs. West’s four top contenders (Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin).
Ohio State (3): at Nebraska, at Northwestern, Wisconsin
Michigan (2): at Illinois, Iowa, at Wisconsin
Michigan State (2): Illinois, at Northwestern, at Wisconsin
Indiana (2): at Nebraska, Northwestern, at Purdue.
Penn State (1): at Iowa, at Minnesota, Purdue
Maryland (1): at Purdue, at Minnesota, Nebraska.
Rutgers (1): at Iowa, Minnesota, at Illinois.