The Big Ten on Monday released the league schedules for the 2015 and 2016 football seasons. These schedules were approved last Tuesday by the league's athletic directors at the spring meetings. Unlike the 2013 and 2014 seasons, which have two separate start dates to league play, the 2015 and 2016 slates both have all 12 teams kicking off conference games on the first Saturday of October.
Check out the full schedules here.
Let's start breaking this down.
Here are the three cross-division foes each Big Ten squad won't face in 2015 or 2016.
Illinois: Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska
Indiana: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota
Iowa: Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Michigan: Indiana, Penn State, Purdue
Michigan State: Illinois, Purdue, Wisconsin
Minnesota: Illinois, Indiana, Penn State
Nebraska: Illinois, Ohio State, Purdue
Northwestern: Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin
Ohio State: Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern
Penn State: Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern
Purdue: Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska
Wisconsin: Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern
Without a doubt, Northwestern (Legends division) and Purdue (Leaders division) benefit the most from the no-plays. Northwestern avoids what many consider the three top teams in the Leaders division, while Purdue avoids three of the top Legends division squads. If there's ever a time for the Wildcats or the Boilermakers to make a surprise push for the Big Ten title, these seasons provide the opportunity.
Iowa also has favorable no-plays, although most Hawkeyes fans won't be pleased about another two-year hiatus with rival Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes and Badgers didn't play last fall and will miss one another this fall. They will face one another in both 2013 and 2014. Although Iowa finally gets Illinois back on the schedule in 2015, the gaps in the Wisconsin series are one of the more unfortunate elements of the divisional setup. The Iowa-Wisconsin series is one of the more balanced rivalries in all of college football.
While it's hard to say a team got jobbed because of the opponents it doesn't play, three teams -- Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State -- miss some likely wins.
FOUR-YEAR BREAKS/SERIES RESUMING
The big downside to division play and the eight-game league schedule is that each squad will go four years without playing a Big Ten opponent.
Here are the six pairings that won't face off between 2013-16 (these teams will play in 2012):
The two big downsides here are Michigan State-Wisconsin and Nebraska-Ohio State. The Spartans and Badgers provided two unforgettable matchups in 2011, including Wisconsin's dramatic win in the inaugural Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. A rivalry is beginning to build between both programs, but unless they reunite in the title game, they won't see one another for four years. Ohio State and Nebraska also provided some drama last October in Lincoln, as Nebraska completed the biggest comeback in team history. These are two of the Big Ten's top brands, and it's a shame they won't play each other during the regular season.
The good news is that all six pairings of teams that didn't play one another between 2011-14 will meet in 2015 and 2016. Iowa and Illinois, which haven't played since 2008, renew their series on Halloween (Oct. 31) 2015 at Iowa's Kinnick Stadium. The other series that will resume are: Indiana-Nebraska, Michigan-Wisconsin, Michigan State-Penn State, Minnesota-Ohio State and Northwestern-Purdue.
Here are the nonprotected division crossover games for each Big Ten team in 2015 and 2016.
Illinois: Michigan, Iowa
Indiana: Nebraska, Northwestern
Iowa: Illinois, Penn State
Michigan: Illinois, Wisconsin
Michigan State: Ohio State, Penn State
Minnesota: Ohio State, Purdue
Nebraska: Indiana, Wisconsin
Northwestern: Indiana, Purdue
Ohio State: Michigan State, Minnesota
Penn State: Iowa, Michigan State
Purdue: Minnesota, Northwestern
Wisconsin: Michigan, Nebraska
Wisconsin and Michigan State get the toughest tests here, followed by Penn State and Illinois. Northwestern and Purdue should thank the schedule gods.
All six games that end the seasons in 2012, 2013 and 2014 will remain for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. These include traditional rivalries (Michigan-Ohio State, Indiana-Purdue, Illinois-Northwestern), one new rivalry game (Iowa-Nebraska) and two division games (Penn State-Wisconsin and Michigan State-Minnesota).
The Iowa-Nebraska game, which took place on the Friday after Thanksgiving last fall and will do so again this fall, is scheduled for Saturdays in 2015 and 2016 (as well as 2013 and 2014). The games could be moved to Fridays later (and hopefully will).
The 2015 Big Ten championship game will take place Dec. 5 at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium. The site for the 2016 title game has not been selected (the game will take place Dec. 3).
The Michigan schools will take center stage for the Big Ten openers in both 2015 and 2016. While it's nice to see the Spartans and Wolverines meet later in the season, they could be setting the course for the Legends division race with their league openers.
That's a lot to digest. What are your thoughts on the schedules?