Big Ten nonconference scheduling on the rise?

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Much has been written in this blog and other places about the Big Ten's weak scheduling.

The league ties for the national lead with five 3-0 teams and six unbeaten squads overall, and only one of the 11 members (Michigan) sits below .500. But aside from Wisconsin's big road win against Fresno State, the league lacks signature victories and hasn't boosted its national reputation. Then again, even if Purdue had upset Oregon on Saturday, both the Boilers and Badgers would have been overshadowed by Ohio State's collapse against USC.

It's important to note that scheduling is extremely tricky and it's hard to knock teams like Penn State and Northwestern for scheduling Oregon State and Syracuse. When those contracts were done, the matchups looked solid. But Oregon State has struggled this season and Syracuse is a complete disaster, so the games don't help.

Fortunately for the Big Ten and those of us who love Big Ten football, the weak schedules could soon be a thing of the past. Illinois' announcement of a two-game contract with Fresno State is an important step in beefing up the nonleague slates. The Illini also showed some flexibility, agreeing to play at Fresno State on Dec. 5, 2010. The introduction of a bye week means that the Big Ten schedule normally will stretch past Thanksgiving, which will upset the traditionalists but puts the league on par with the other BCS conferences. If more teams are willing to take risks and think outside the box, the league could benefit down the line.

Other reasons for optimism:

  • Minnesota, which historically feasts on cupcakes more than any other BCS program, plays Cal next year and Colorado in 2012. Washington State also should be better by the time the Gophers face the Cougars in 2010 and 2011.

  • Penn State faces Alabama in 2010 and 2011 before traveling to Virginia in 2012.

  • Iowa takes on Arizona the next two years and consistently averages two BCS opponents per season, which should be the standard for Big Ten teams.

  • Illinois will continue to open against rival Missouri and begins a series with Arizona State in 2011.

  • Wisconsin will play several Pac-10 opponents beginning in 2010, when Arizona State visits Madison.

  • Northwestern faces a Syracuse team that should improve the next three seasons and adds Boston College to the mix in 2011 and 2012. Stanford and Vanderbilt aren't powerhouses but are similar programs to Northwestern that will provide good matchups down the line.