As we slowly lurch toward the kickoff of the 2009 football season, it's time to take a first look at the Big Ten schedules, starting with this preview of the non-conference slate. While there are a couple inter-BCS conference matchups that should appeal to most football fans, the sum of the games can be described in one word: Yuck.
Illinois: (Missouri (in St. Louis), Illinois St., Fresno St. @ Cincinnati) The series with Mizzou has been a good one the last few years, but the Tigers are replacing pretty much everyone on offense. Illinois should go 4-0, but never assume anything when <NAME REDACTED> is roaming the sidelines as the head coach. Now that he got an extension today, it seems even more likely that they'll piss down their leg against Illinois St.
Indiana: (Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan, @Akron, @ Virginia) Eastern Kentucky was 7-1 in their conference last year, but lose their QB. If Indiana loses that game, they may go doughnut. Al Groh vs. Bill Lynch may be a matchup of two of the worst coaches in college football. 1-3.
Iowa: (Northern Iowa, @ Iowa St, Arizona, Arkansas St.) When you pay $3 million a year for a coach and have that schedule, you better go 4-0. Arizona is the most interesting game, but they're replacing a ton of starters. Iowa St. may be better without Chizik, but it'll take time to flush the system.
Michigan: (Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Delaware St.) Michigan's trying to pad their record and win the Michigan state title. Delaware St. is actually forfeiting a conference game to take a shot at the Wolverines, but I doubt they'll be as HOT! HOT! HOT! as Appalachian St. They'll be 3-1 and halfway to a bowl game with the whooping they'll take from Notre Dame.
Michigan St: (Montana St., Central Michigan, @ Notre Dame, Western Michigan) Playing at Notre Dame is the only one that could pose a problem. That should be another game to watch, if only to see if either Michigan St. or Notre Dame is for real. 4-0.
Minnesota: (@Syracuse, Air Force, Cal, South Dakota St.) This is the toughest one to break down objectively (obviously). The game against Cal is another of the intruiging Big Ten/Pac 10 match-ups, but no sane Gopher fan should walk into the stadium expecting a win. Air Force just screams trap game. The other two are soft, delicious cupcakes. 3-1* (astrict thrown in due to blatant homerism. Your prediction may vary)
Northwestern: (Miami (OH), Towson, @ Syracuse, Eastern Michigan) The only reason this isn't the worst Non-Conference schedule in the conference is because they actually go on the road to Syracuse. They'll go 4-0 pretty easily.
Ohio St.: (Navy, USC, @ Toledo, New Mexico St.) The USC game is one of the inter-conference match-ups everyone should be looking forward to. It's the best Non-Conference game of the year for the Big Ten. Navy could be sneaky because they're one of the few teams that run the option, but OSU's superior talent should take care of them. 3-1 seems reasonable.neaky because they're one of the few teams that run the option, but OSU's superior talent should take care of them. 3-1 seems reasonable.
Penn St.: (Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Eastern Illinois) Yawn. Without a doubt the worst Non-Conference schedule in the Big Ten. If they're not 4-0, something's horribly wrong.
Purdue: (Toledo, @ Oregon, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame) A respectable schedule for a team with a new coach. Unfortunately, they're going to take their lumps at Oregon and against Notre Dame. 2-2 should be a good start for them.
Wisconsin: (Northern Illinois, Fresno St., Wofford, @ Hawaii) If they didn't have this schedule, they wouldn't go to a bowl this year. They have no room to stumble, and shouldn't. The Hawaii game is more of a vacation for the boosters and players than an actual game. A Wisconsin fan I talk to says he's nervous about the Fresno St. game, but they're not the same giant-killers they were a few years under Pat Hill.
Best Game: USC at Ohio State. Like I said before, it's going to be one of the best games of the year. Even if OSU gets pummeled, it'll be better to watch than Penn St.-Temple. Runners-up include Cal-Minnesota, Missouri-Illinois, and Michigan St.-Notre Dame
Worst Game: Indiana at Akron. This game should not be televised, because of the irreparable harm it may do to the game of football, children everywhere who may accidentally tune into it on ESPN 17, and America as a whole. Not only that, but it would probably have Pam Ward calling it. There were no runners up becuase this game is so putrid it makes me sick to type about it.
So there you have my unprofessional opinion. Now digest it, comment and tell me where I'm wrong, play a few more games of NCAA 10, and patiently wait for the last 41 days to wash away before football comes back to let us bask in it's glow.