From the defending National Champions to FCS teams, there is a lot of variety to the non-conference opponents of Big Ten teams in 2012. From the toughest to the cupcakiest, here is the rundown on what the September schedules look like in the Big Ten.
12. Indiana – None of the Hoosier non-conference opponents made a bowl game in 2011. They also have essentially two FCS games with Indiana State and UMass, the Minutemen are in the transition period of moving to the FBS.
11. Minnesota – Two of the Gophers opponents (UNLV & Syracuse) tied for last in their conference in 2011 and another is an FCS opponent.
10. Iowa – The first two games could provide a challenge but Northern Illinois needs to replace the prolific QB Chandler Harnish and in-state rival Iowa State has not won in Iowa City since 2002.
9. Wisconsin – The toughest opponent may be Utah State who graduated star RB Robert Turbin and 700 yard back Michael Smith from last season. The west coast hasn’t been favorable for Big Ten teams but Wisconsin shouldn’t have a problem with Oregon State.
8. Purdue – Purdue has two easy directional schools but will have a tough test at Notre Dame and will be challenged by Marshall.
7. Northwestern – The Wildcats have three BCS schools on the non-conference slate but all three had losing records in 2011. With that said Vanderbilt is far from being a team to overlook.
6. Ohio State – Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes have some challenging games with Central Florida and Cal, but being at home will make them easier.
5. Illinois – Illinois will have their hands full with the defending WAC champions in Louisiana Tech and a road trip out west against Arizona State.
4. Nebraska – The Huskers start the season with three potentially tough games including C-USA champs Southern Miss and a road trip to the Rose Bowl against UCLA and new coach Jim Mora.
3. Penn State – The troubled Nittany Lions will face tough opponents in all four non-conference games. They aren’t big named teams but all have the capability of beating Penn State, this includes new Big East member Temple who almost accomplished the feat last season.
2. Michigan State – The Spartans open the season against the second toughest Big Ten non-conference opponent in Boise State. They also have the annual matchup with Notre Dame but the rest of the non-conference schedule will be much easier.
1. Michigan – The Sugar Bowl winners take on the defending National Champions Alabama to open the season. After that they have the rushing attack of Air Force to prepare for followed by rival Notre Dame, who will be ultra motivated for this game based on the outcome of the last few matchups between the two.
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