With a 14-team league and an 18-game conference schedule, the path to a Big Ten regular season title is not equitable. A 26-game round robin is out of the question, so that means that by a simple luck of the draw, certain teams will end up with “easier” schedules than others. The easier comes with the tongue-in-cheek quotation marks because all we have right now are preseason projections. Last year, for example, a preseason review of a game in Lincoln would have seemed like a relatively easy projected win for a team like Wisconsin. So in crunching some numbers and considering how we at the microsite voted in our yet-to-be-released preseason poll, here’s a cursory look at three Big Ten teams that look like they will have the toughest slate of conference games, followed by two teams who appear to owe the scheduling gods a thank-you note.
- Northwestern. The Wildcats have the unenviable task of playing Wisconsin, Michigan State and Michigan twice. They also have to play at Nebraska in their only meeting against the Cornhuskers. The other two opponents they play twice are Illinois and Iowa, a pair of teams that have an excellent chance to make the NCAA Tournament if things go their way. After Northwestern travels to New Jersey to play Rutgers in its first league game, a slate that features Wisconsin, Michigan State, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio State awaits them next. Starting on February 3, they have a week of games that includes a trip to Nebraska, followed by another one to Wisconsin, and then Michigan State at home. This team could be much better than last year’s group, yet end up with a similar or worse record in conference play.