Ranking the crossover schedules: Legends

By now, you should know the Big Ten division alignments. Yes, they were confusing at first and remain so for some, but c'mon, you're Big Ten fans. You should get it. Whether you use the M's/N's/Iowa trick or another method, you should know which teams go where.

Since that's settled, let's take a closer look at the crossover schedules for 2012 and rank them. As a reminder, these include one protected crossover for each team and two cross-division games that rotate every two years.

The rankings are based mostly on difficulty of games but also on which games have intrigue throughout the conference and potentially on a national level.

Let's get started with the Legends Division (that's the M's/N's/Iowa group, for those not paying attention). The Leaders Division rankings will come your way Tuesday.

1. Nebraska

Crossover games: Sept. 29 vs. Wisconsin, Oct. 6 at Ohio State, Nov. 10 vs. Penn State (protected)

The Big Ten did Nebraska no favors with the crossover slates for the Huskers' first two years in the league. Although the Huskers get two of these games at home, they'll need to be sharp. The upside for us is three potentially huge games, leading off with a rematch against Wisconsin, which thumped Big Red last year in Madison.

2. Michigan State

Crossover games: Sept. 29 vs. Ohio State, Oct. 6 at Indiana (protected), Oct. 27 at Wisconsin

Like Nebraska, the Spartans open Big Ten play with a bang as they try to beat Ohio State in East Lansing for the first time since 1999. The Indiana game doesn't move the needle, but if the Wisconsin contest comes close to resembling the teams' two meetings in 2011, it'll be a must watch.

3. Michigan

Crossover games: Oct. 6 at Purdue, Oct. 13 vs. Illinois, Nov. 24 at Ohio State (protected)

Although Michigan plays the toughest overall schedule of any Big Ten team, the Wolverines' crossover schedule doesn't appear too taxing. Then again, if Purdue takes a step in Year 4 of the Danny Hope era, Michigan's trip to West Lafayette could be tricky. Ohio State will consider The Game as its bowl game because of the postseason ban. There's nothing the Buckeyes would like more than to keep Michigan from a trip to Indianapolis.

4. Minnesota

Crossover games: Oct. 20 at Wisconsin (protected), Oct. 27 vs. Purdue, Nov. 10 at Illinois

The Gophers hit the road twice for crossover games, including a trip to Madison, where they haven't won since 1994. Minnesota's last road victory of any kind came at Illinois on Nov. 13, 2010.

5. Northwestern

Crossover games: Sept. 29 vs. Indiana, Oct. 6 at Penn State, Nov. 24 vs. Illinois (protected)

There's not much separating Northwestern's crossover slate from Iowa's, but a trip to State College ups the Wildcats' degree of difficulty. Penn State will be playing its Big Ten home opener under new coach Bill O'Brien. If Northwestern wants to continue its streak of reaching bowl games, it needs to handle both Indiana and Illinois in Evanston.

6. Iowa

Crossover games: Oct. 20 vs. Penn State, Nov. 3 at Indiana, Nov. 10 vs. Purdue (protected)

The Penn State and Purdue games could be interesting depending on how the division races look, but Iowa likely will be favored in all three of its cross-division contests. If Iowa had Wisconsin as its protected crossover -- as many Hawkeyes fans would prefer -- the overall crossover schedule would have more pizzazz.