In case you missed it, Ohio State's 2014 football schedule is out, and while it's probably going to be tougher than this year's schedule, it certainly isn't as difficult as it could have been. You could do a lot worse with Illinois and Minnesota as the two cross-divisional games, and Michigan is at home. The Buckeyes do have road trips to Michigan State and Penn State, as well as home dates with Cincinnati and Virginia Tech, but all things considered, it isn't too bad.
The rest of the Big Ten now has their schedule set as well. Who are the big winners and losers?
You would probably expect that as the new members of the conference, Rutgers and Maryland might draw a bit of the short straw in the early scheduling department. If you did, you'd be exactly right. Rutgers hosts Penn State and Michigan in early season games, but follows their bye after the Michigan game with back-to-back road trips to Ohio State and Nebraska, followed by hosting Wisconsin. They've drawn essentially the most difficult Big Ten schedule possible. One potential silver lining for Rutgers fans is that their 2014 non-league schedule is spectacularly easy, with games scheduled with Navy, Tulane, and FCS side Howard. They'll need every one of those wins if they want to make a bowl in 2014.
Maryland's slate isn't a whole lot better. They're currently scheduled to play both USF and Temple on the road, and drew a road trip to Wisconsin as one of their cross league games. The other, Iowa, isn't a gimme win either. The Terps do host Ohio State and Michigan State, but travel to Indiana and Michigan and Penn State. Not a lot of easy W's on that schedule.
The big winner was Wisconsin, who somehow, manages to escape Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State AND Penn State, AND gets Nebraska at home. Road trips to Northwestern and Iowa are the only hiccups (on paper) on the Big Ten schedule, unless Rutgers joins the league much better than advertised. The current non-league schedule is also full of meh (Western Illinois, BGSU, USF), although the school is furiously trying to schedule LSU. With their schedule, they'll certainly want another heavy hitter.
What about Ohio State's challengers in the East Division? Michigan has a road trip to suddenly dangerous Northwestern, along with a home date with Minnesota out of the West, and has to play Ohio State and Michigan State on the road. Their out of conference schedule is intriguing, with a road game against Notre Dame, a home date against potentially feisty Utah, and the rematch we've all been praying for, an opening day bout with every Buckeye fan's favorite FCS squad, Appalachian State. Michigan's road is hardly clear.
Michigan State gets a favorable home slate, with Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska all making the trip to East Lansing. Penn State and Maryland are the only potentially interesting road games, but it's hard to get *too* excited about the schedule when you remember Michigan State will also have to travel to play Oregon.
Penn State's out of conference slate is embarrassingly bad (Temple, Akron, UMass), and get Northwestern at home and a trip to Illinois for their crossover games. They will also host Ohio State and Michigan State, leaving Michigan as the only formidable road game. Penn State's schedule certainly lines up nicely.
Nebraska may have a tougher road. Rutgers and a road trip to Michigan State isn't the worst possible crossover combination, but the Cornhuskers will have to travel to Northwestern, Iowa and Wisconsin, creating a brutal road schedule. The non-league slate has potential for slip ups as well, with a road trip to Fresno State and a home date with Miami. If Nebraska is going to make serious postseason noise in 2014, they'll really have to earn it.
Prognosticating for games two years away is probably a fool's errand, but if historical trends continue, it isn't hard to see an Ohio State/Wisconsin battle for the 2014 Big Ten championship. Of course, it wasn't too hard to imagine that even if we hadn't seen the schedules yet. How multiple schools respond to coaching changes and new league additions could muddle the picture though.
At the very least, Buckeye fans should breathe a little easier. Their road to the title game could be a whole lot harder. Just ask Rutgers.