The Big Ten has released its conference schedule for the 2014 season, when new members Maryland and Rutgers join the league and play in the East and West divisions begins. The league hopes to release the 2015 schedule, which will flip the game sites of the 2014 slate, by June 1. There are still some dates of games to be worked out for 2015, as the Big Ten is working out several previously scheduled nonconference contests.
Remember, the Big Ten will play an eight-game league schedule in 2014 and 2015 before going to nine games in 2016. As is the case this fall, the 2014 season features an extra week, so each team has two open dates.
OK, let's dive in ...
Indiana: Purdue (home, protected game), Iowa (road)
Maryland: Iowa (home), Wisconsin (road)
Michigan: Minnesota (home), Northwestern (road)
Michigan State: Nebraska (home), Purdue (road)
Ohio State: Illinois (home), Minnesota (road)
Penn State: Northwestern (home), Illinois (road)
Rutgers: Nebraska (road), Wisconsin (home)
Illinois: Ohio State (road), Penn State (home)
Iowa: Indiana (home), Maryland (road)
Minnesota: Michigan (road), Ohio State (home)
Nebraska: Michigan State (road), Rutgers (home)
Northwestern: Penn State (road), Michigan (home)
Purdue: Indiana (road, protected), Michigan State (home)
Wisconsin: Maryland (home), Rutgers (road)
Well, Nebraska can't say the Big Ten was picking on Big Red with its initial crossovers in 2011 and 2012. The league has Rutgers hosting the Huskers and visiting Wisconsin. Maryland also must visit Madison, Wis., in its initial Big Ten go-round. How about Rutgers' opening stretch: Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin. Yikes.
Minnesota gets the toughest 2014 crossover with Michigan and Ohio State, and Northwestern and Illinois also both will be challenged with their crossover games. Wisconsin is the only West Division team to play both new members, a pretty favorable draw for Gary Andersen's crew. Iowa also has a seemingly easier path than others with Indiana and Maryland.
Here's who each Big Ten team skips on its 2014 schedule ...
Illinois: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Rutgers
Indiana: Illinois, Minnesota Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Iowa: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers
Maryland: Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue
Michigan: Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin
Michigan State: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Minnesota: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Penn State, Rutgers
Nebraska: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State
Northwestern: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State, Rutgers
Ohio State: Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin
Penn State: Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin
Purdue: Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers
Rutgers: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue
Wisconsin: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State
Parity-based scheduling doesn't start until 2016, and it's pretty obvious here as the Big Ten is losing most of its exciting crossover games. We won't see Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State playing Nebraska or Wisconsin in 2014 and 2015. Wisconsin and Michigan State, the pairing in the inaugural Big Ten title game, also won't play. That's too bad. I understand the need to build the brand in new markets with the new members, but those are a lot of good games to give up.
Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota don't play either of the new members in 2014 (and 2015).
As expected, the final weekend of the regular season will feature rivalries like Ohio State-Michigan and Indiana-Purdue, the only protected crossover game. The Wisconsin-Minnesota game moves back to this date, which I like a lot (battle for the frozen Axe), and Illinois will visit Northwestern on Nov. 29. The Heroes Game between Iowa and Nebraska will remain on its traditional Friday spot at Kinnick Stadium.
The only question here was what to do with East Division teams Michigan State, Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers. The Big Ten opted to pair the two new members with a Nov. 29 game at Maryland's Byrd Stadium. That means ... drum roll, please ... the Land Grant series is back. Michigan State at Penn State, Nov. 29, with this on the line, in all its glory. Fired up.
The Big Ten season will kick off much earlier than normal as Rutgers makes its league debut against Penn State on Sept. 13. The game had been previously scheduled between the teams, and the league decided not to move it. The Scarlet Knights and Nittany Lions will kick off league play a full two weeks before any other squads. Three Big Ten teams -- Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin -- won't kick off league play until Oct. 4. Blame the double bye.
The Little Brown Jug rivalry between Michigan and Minnesota won't be an annual thing as the teams are in opposite divisions without a protected crossover, but the Wolverines and Gophers will kick off Big Ten play on Sept. 27 at the Big House. The Illibuck rivalry also resumes in 2014 as Ohio State hosts Illinois on Nov. 1.
Not surprisingly, the Big Ten is splitting the Ohio State-Michigan trips to Maryland and Rutgers. Maryland hosts Ohio State on Oct. 4 in its Big Ten home debut, while Rutgers hosts Michigan the same day. The Big Ten wants to get its most visible members into the new markets.
Wisconsin's and Iowa's overall schedules are very favorable. The Badgers miss the East Division powers and host Nebraska on Nov. 15 (night game, perhaps?). Iowa hosts Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern and makes road trips to Purdue, Maryland, Minnesota and Illinois.
Nebraska fans likely won't be thrilled with the schedule. Not only do they miss Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, but the Huskers' Big Ten home schedule -- Illinois, Rutgers, Purdue and Minnesota -- isn't too appealing.
While Nebraska's home schedule is a dud, Michigan State won't have trouble selling tickets to a Spartan Stadium slate that features Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio State. The Spartans must travel to all three venues in 2015.
One plus of the schedule is that most November games will take place in the division. The current setup had way too many crossovers down the stretch. Five teams -- Maryland, Michigan State, Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern -- will play only division games in November. Ohio State and Illinois have two crossovers, while all other teams have one crossover in November.
Michigan will play its three biggest rivals -- Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State -- all on the road in 2014. The Wolverines no longer will have a home/road split with Michigan State and Ohio State. Michigan also will make consecutive trips to East Lansing the next two seasons.
Illinois and Iowa are back in the same division and will play their first game since 2008 on Nov. 15, when the Hawkeyes visit Champaign.
That's enough for now, but we'll have more on the schedule in the coming days.