Who has the toughest road schedule in the Big Ten?

Remember that old line in the movie Airplane!, where tower supervisor Steve McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) says, ``Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking?’’

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If Jim Harbaugh had a nicotine urge—and we’re certain he doesn’t—he couldn’t be blamed if he picked this season to start smoking.

In a year where Harbaugh needs to move the chains after three false starts, Michigan faces one of the nation’s toughest schedules—and maybe the toughest on the road.

Meanwhile, in the Western Division, rising star Scott Frost faces a brutal return to his alma mater that could leave Cornhusker Nation saying, `Oh, shucks.''

Looking for a Big Ten school that could over-achieve, aided by a kind road schedule? Keep an eye on Iowa.

It’s the Western Division’s turn to play five conference games on the road in this, the third year of the nine-game league schedule.

The Eastern Division schools all are playing five games away from home, if you count Ohio State’s ``neutral-site’’ meeting with TCU at the Cowboys’ palatial estate in Dallas. And I most certainly do.

Disclaimer: The middle of these rankings is very subjective. The tough ones at the top, and the mild ones at the bottom, are easy to spot. In between? Don’t read too much into them.

But please, do read. . .

1, Michigan (5): at Notre Dame, at Northwestern, at Michigan State, at Rutgers, at Ohio State.

Talk about ristk-reward. In a year where Jim Harbaugh needs to prove a lot, this perilous schedule provides a lot of opportunity.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

2, Nebraska (5): at Michigan, at Wisconsin, at Northwestern, at Ohio State, at Iowa.

It’s a good thing Scott Frost can cop to a first-year rebuilding plea.

3, Ohio State (4): at Penn State, at Purdue, at Michigan State, at Maryland.

Buckeyes travel to two of three key division rivals before home finale vs. Michigan. And who knows where they’ll be by then? In addition, their neutral-site meeting with TCU in Dallas figures to have a bowl atmosphere in a hostile environment. Buckle up, Buckeyes.

4, Rutgers (5): at Ohio State, at Kansas, at Maryland, at Wisconsin, at Michigan State.

Except for that game in Lawrence, Scarlet Knights are going to have the feeling they’re no longer in Kansas.

5, Wisconsin (5): at Iowa, at Michigan, at Northwestern, at Penn State, at Purdue.

The Badgers will be dissed for their non-conference schedule. But there’s nothing shabby about their league road trips. The league opener in perilous Iowa City is especially ominous.

6, Minnesota (5): at Maryland, at Ohio State, at Nebraska, at Illinois, at Wisconsin.

If P.J. Fleck’s poor-mouthing about Gophers’ inexperience is accurate, those plane rides home won’t be fun.

7, Indiana (5): at Florida International, at Rutgers, at Ohio State, at Minnesota, at Michigan.

Hoosiers need to play their best when they’re not stepping up in weight class.

8, Michigan State (5): at Arizona State, at Indiana, at Penn State, at Maryland, at Nebraska.

Don’t mess around in the desert, Sparty, and things could fall into place.

9, Northwestern (5): at Purdue, at Michigan State, at Rutgers, at Iowa, at Minnesota.

With tough home schedule (including Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Notre Dame), Cats’ season may depend on toughing it out on the road.

10, Penn State (5): at Pitt, at Illinois, at Indiana, at Michigan, at Rutgers.

Trip to Ann Arbor looking like another monumental autumn Saturday.

11, Maryland (5): at Bowling Green, at Michigan, at Iowa, at Indiana, at Penn State.

This is life in the Big Ten East, where even the home schedule has its share of potholes for schools trying to earn their spurs.

12, Illinois (5): at Rutgers, at Wisconsin, at Maryland, at Nebraska, at Northwestern.

Illini will have chances to prove they’ve made progress. The question is, do they have the horses?

13, Purdue (5): at Nebraska, at Illinois, at Michigan State, at Minnesota, at Indiana.

If Boilers are going to make a second straight bowl trip under Jeff Brohm, they’ll need to bring their A-game on the road.

14, Iowa (5): at Minnesota, at Indiana, at Penn State, at Purdue, at Illinois.

If the under-the-radar Hawkeyes can surprise Wisconsin in their Big Ten home opener, they could be sitting pretty by the time they finish their Nile Kinnick business with Nebraska.[/membership]

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