The Big Ten East, at least at the top, is one of the best divisions in college football. Ohio State and Penn State are expected to be Playoff contenders, with Michigan not far behind. Michigan State imploded last year, but is still one of the top programs in the country this decade. Maryland and Indiana have never found their ways over the hump, but both schools have potential. And Rutgers, well, is Rutgers.
Grading teams’ schedules is always a bit of a subjective art. After all, it would be foolish to expect Kansas to schedule the same teams as Alabama. A team expecting to be in the Playoff picture has to schedule better than a team who can’t even expect to make a bowl game. Also, I try to take into account when the game was scheduled as much as possible.
Just to review my format, I will grade each non-conference game that each team plays, with an explanation for that grade. Then I will grade the entirety of the non-conference schedule overall.
Big Ten East Non-conference Schedule Grades
Sept. 9, @Virginia
This is the type of game that I love. Power 5 schools should always play Power 5 schools out of conference, especially when those P5 schools are of relatively equal stature. Both of these teams are decent-to-poor P5 teams that sometimes have the potential to break out but never seem to. Let’s see more games like this.
Sept. 16, Florida International
Indiana follows up its game against the Cavaliers with a likely cupcake game against FIU. The Panthers had potential when Mario Cristobal had them heading in the right direction, but his surprise firing sent FIU in the wrong direction. Butch Davis has a lot of work to do in his first season.
Sept. 23, Georgia Southern
The Eagles recently moved up from FCS, but aren’t an awful Sun Belt program. Indiana should win this game, but it’s not a given.
The Hoosiers play one good P5 game and two games against Sun Belt teams that the school should win. One of those should be a guaranteed win, but I’m okay with a program like Indiana scheduling one guaranteed win per year.
Sept. 2, @Texas
This is a great game. Texas clearly has more talent than the Terrapins, and probably the better coach with Tom Herman coming to town, but Maryland has surprising talent and an offense that makes for fun games against Big 12 schools. Still, props to Maryland for scheduling up.
Sept. 9, Towson
I’m okay with one in-state FCS game, especially when there are no other true cupcakes on the schedule.
Sept. 23, Central Florida
UCF might have struggled in recent years, but this is still a program that won a BCS bowl less than five years ago. Scheduling UCF isn’t meant to be a cupcake, even if that’s how it turns out.
Maryland plays one great P5 game, one decent Group of 5, and one in-state FCS school. This is a solid schedule, but not a great one.
Sept. 2, vs Florida (in Arlington, TX)
A neutral-site nonconference games between two P5 contenders? Yes please. And honestly, Michigan gets an A+ for drawing Florida out of the state for a nonconference game for the first time in over a quarter century.
Sept. 9, Cincinnati
The Bearcats struggled last year, but are usually a pretty strong Group of 5 program. This is certainly never a total cupcake game.
Sept. 16, Air Force
The Falcons will be one of college football’s most inexperienced teams next year, but have won ten games in two of the past three seasons. This is a solid Group of 5 program that can’t be overlooked.
This has a great game against a P5 team and two decent Group of 5 teams on it. This isn’t a perfect schedule for a potential Playoff contender, but it’s pretty close.
Michigan State Spartans
Sept. 2, Bowling Green
The Falcons are a pretty consistent MAC school. Michigan State should win this, but this isn’t an awful game for a team that really struggled last year.
Sept. 9, Western Michigan
The Broncos probably aren’t up to their New Years Six level of last year, but this should still be a very good Group of 5 program.
Sept. 23, Notre Dame
A classic rivalry between two historic Midwest powers? Yes please, especially with Michigan State’s resurgence under Dantonio.
It’s impossible to know what to expect from a team that made the Playoff two years ago but only won three games last year. Still, this schedule is pretty good for a program on either end of the spectrum.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Sept. 9, Oklahoma
The second meeting in this home-and-home is, without question, one of the top two nonconference games this whole season (with Alabama vs Florida State being the other). An almost-guaranteed Top 5 meeting in Week 2 should have us salivating.
Sept. 16, Army
Army isn’t as bad as it’s been for a long time, but this still should be an easy win for Ohio State.
Sept. 23, UNLV
The Rebels have been one of the biggest cupcakes in FBS for many years now. This may as well be an FCS game.
The Buckeyes are a Playoff contender in a tough division, so it’s not fair to expect too much, especially once they play another Playoff contender in the nonconference. I’d have liked for one of the other two games to be a little tougher, but this is a Playoff-worthy schedule.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Sept. 2, Akron
The Zips are no longer the total cupcake they were for a long time, and Terry Bowden has done an incredible job. Still, this should be an easy win for Penn State.
Sept. 9, Pittsburgh
The Panthers were the only team to beat the national champions last year. That makes them a pretty good nonconference game for a Playoff contender this year.
Sept. 16, Georgia State
Georgia State reached a bowl game in 2015, but this is still a very not-established FBS program that any decent team should run over.
Like Ohio State, this has a strong P5 nonconference game. And like Ohio State, the other games could use a bit of work.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Sept. 1, Washington
The Huskies made the Playoff last year and are a legitimate contender this year also. They’re a bit out of Rutgers’ league, even if this was pretty even when the game was scheduled.
Sept. 9, Eastern Michigan
The Eagles are one of the worst FBS programs of the last decade, but made an incredible turnaround last year. This could be an incredibly embarrassing loss for Rutgers. Rutgers needs wins, and while this is a likely one it’s far from definite.
Sept. 16, Morgan State
Rutgers needs to face an FCS team. The Scarlet Knights need at least one guaranteed win, probably two.
This is solid for Rutgers. It’s one game that’s way out of the program’s league, and two should-wins that the program desperately needs.