Just a few more weeks before the games kick off. Until then, we're looking forward and analyzing every Big Ten team's 2014 schedule.
Up next: the Purdue Boilermakers.
Nonconference schedule (with 2013 records)
Aug. 30: Western Michigan (1-11)
Sept. 6: Central Michigan (6-6)
Sept. 13: Notre Dame* (9-4)
Sept. 20: Southern Illinois (7-5)
* -- at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis
West Division games
Sept. 27: Iowa
Oct. 4: at Illinois
Oct. 18: at Minnesota
Nov. 1: at Nebraska
Nov. 8: Wisconsin
Nov. 22: Northwestern
Oct. 11: Michigan State
Nov. 29: at Indiana
Gut-check game: The truth is that all Big Ten games qualify for gut-check status right now for Purdue, which went 0-8 in the league last year. But at least some of the toughest opponents must come to Ross-Ade Stadium. That's not the case with Nebraska, which hosts Darrell Hazell's team on Nov. 1. The Huskers blew out Purdue 44-7 last year, and it wasn't even that close. The Boilermakers must find some way to make it competitive this time around, or else November could get off to a rough start.
Trap game: It's hard to call anything a trap, since Purdue's margin of error is likely minuscule each week. But one to watch out for is the Southern Illinois game. The FCS Salukis threw a scare into Illinois last year in the season opener, and the Boilermakers will be coming off what likely will be an emotional and physical game against Notre Dame a week earlier. If they're fatigued from that one, or peeking ahead to the Big Ten opener vs. Iowa, then potential trouble looms.
Snoozer: Nothing outside the Notre Dame game gets one's blood pumping on that nonconference schedule. While openers always contain a certain amount of curiosity, the Week 1 matchup against Central Michigan features teams that combined for two wins in 2013. That's not exactly going to lead "SportsCenter."
Nonconference challenge: Perhaps you've heard of a certain Catholic school from South Bend. Hazell told me last week that the Notre Dame game is "huge" for his program. The two schools are taking a break from their annual series because of the new ACC affiliation for the Irish, and the last installment for several years occurs on a supposedly neutral field in Indianapolis. If the Boilermakers want to show they're truly an improved team to be reckoned with, they need to turn in a good performance here.
Analysis: Purdue scheduled a bit too aggressively in 2013 and paid the price in Hazell's first year. The good news is that major opportunity exists to double or even triple last year's win total in September alone. While nothing can be considered a guarantee, the Boilers should be favored to beat both directional Michigan schools and Southern Illinois. The Big Ten schedule offers few breathers, but Purdue should at least be able to compete against Illinois and Indiana on the road and take its shot at a home upset. The bar was set so low last year that even something like a 4-8 season would represent considerable progress in 2014. Hazell and his team can't blame the schedule if that doesn't happen.