The Big Ten season promises to be a fun one in 2022 but before we can get to the main course, we must get through the non-conference schedule. Each of the 14 member schools (current) of the Big Ten have different ideas of what their non-conference schedule should look like.
Only three of 14 Big Ten teams will not face a Power Five opponent this upcoming season in their out of conference schedule and Indiana should get a pass by taking on one of the most difficult Group of Five teams with Cincinnati (who will be joining the Big 12 shortly). That leaves Maryland and Michigan as the only two teams that don’t have much to show for their non-conference schedule, but sure, games against Buffalo, Charlotte, SMU, Colorado State, Hawaii, and UConn will totally move the needle.
Even with 11 teams making sure that they are playing at least one P5 opponent, not all schedules are quite the same. Then again, with no margin for error under the four-team College Football Playoff system, you want a challenge, but not too much of one and certainly not too many when you have a nine-game Big Ten schedule still to play.
There are six non-conference games of note that really stand out among Big Ten participants, and they take place over the first three weeks of the season.
Notre Dame at Ohio State – September 3rd
Series Record: Ohio State leads 4-2-0
Last Meeting: 1/1/2016 Ohio State def. Notre Dame 44-28 (Fiesta Bowl)
Everyone is keenly aware of this game. It is week one and may be one of the biggest non-con games in the nation over the course of the year. Ohio State is preseason ranked No. 2 (coaches) while Notre Dame is No. 5 (coaches).
The Buckeyes have run off the last four wins in this series and you must go back to the FDR administration for the last Fighting Irish win.
Ryan Day’s squad brings in a largely veteran team into this game, but they are still searching for answers on defense, something that new DC Jim Knowles hopes to address as the Buckeye defense was atypical in 2021 and failed them in the biggest of games.
The games don’t get much bigger than this, how will first-year head coach and Ohio State alumni Marcus Freeman handle his first trip back to Ohio Stadium in a different color polo? Who will lead the Irish at quarterback and how will the Notre Dame defense try and slow down the high-powered Ohio State offense?
Washington State at Wisconsin – September 10th
Series Record: Michigan State leads 2-0-0
Last Meeting: 9/1/2007 Wisconsin def. Washington State 42-21
These two teams don’t play each other often and when they do, it ends up in Wisconsin’s favor.
The Badgers are considered the favorites to win the Big Ten West and can’t afford to get off to a slow start as there is not a lot of margin for error, even in the non-conference.
Wisconsin will of course be looking to run the ball with Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi, while Washington State will have transfer quarterback Cameron Ward learning that there is a major step-up from playing at Incarnate Word to playing at Camp Randall Stadium.
Early oddsmakers have this as a 17-point line in Wisconsin’s favor but we have seen the Badgers come out flat in September before. This would have to be considered a monumental upset if the Badgers were to fall, but we are still going to keep an eye on things.
Iowa State at Iowa – September 10th
Series Record: Iowa leads 46-22-0
Last Meeting: 9/11/2021 Iowa def. Iowa State 27-17
It’s the annual CyHawk game and this game dates back to 1894, though has not been played annually (obviously).
Iowa has won the last six matchups in this game and last year’s 10-point margin has been the largest since 2015 when Iowa started the six-game streak with a 14-point win.
Iowa State is pretty much down everyone. No Brock Purdy, Breece Hall or Charlie Kolar. Couple that with the fact that the Cyclones were not all that great with those three players last year.
Iowa was a marginal offensive team last season and, on the surface, is there any reason to think that the Hawkeyes will be much better this year? One thing that we do know is that Iowa can play defense and this game is in Iowa City.
This game won’t set off any fireworks but will still be an entertaining watch of a future Ohio State opponent.
Oklahoma at Nebraska – September 17th
Series Record: Oklahoma leads 46-38-3
Last Meeting: 9/18/2021 Oklahoma def. Nebraska 23-16
This game used to mean a lot back in the days of the old Big Eight, but those days are gone, and Oklahoma is biding its time to join the SEC while Nebraska has been in the Big Ten for several years now.
The Sooners looked very vulnerable last year against Nebraska, but everyone remembers that the Huskers were the little team that could almost do it last year, to the tune of 3-9.
The Huskers have moved on from Adrian Martinez at quarterback and this year will be interesting to see if it was Martinez holding back the Huskers or the other way around. Nebraska will have some stout players on defense but how will they put up points.
The Sooners on the other hand will have a new head coach as well as quarterback as Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley both went off to USC while quarterback Spencer Rattler is now at South Carolina.
Scott Frost made some major changes in the offseason, will the addition of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple (previously of Pittsburgh) make a difference as the Huskers desperately try to find more offense?
Penn State at Auburn – September 17th
Series Record: Penn State leads 2-1-0
Last Meeting: 9/18/2021 Penn State def. Auburn 28-20
Last season marked the first time these two teams played in a regular season game with the Nittany Lions edging things out. The two teams had previous played in bowl games with each team capturing a win apiece.
Sean Clifford is back at quarterback for Penn State, but you know there is a huge part of the fanbase that is wanting to know what is behind door number one with freshman Drew Allar.
Penn State’s 7-6 finish last year was not nearly enough for Nittany Lion fans who are ready to compete with Ohio State and Michigan at the top of the conference. For all the gains that Penn State had made in recent history, it feels as if some of that has been given back.
Auburn has made changes with the departure of Mike Bobo as offensive coordinator and Eric Kiesau is elevated from his role to try and figure out how to right the ship. Bo Nix is out the door too at quarterback and the belief is that LSU transfer TJ Finley should assume the starting role.
Michigan State at Washington – September 17th
Series Record: Washington leads 2-1-0
Last Meeting: 12/25/1997 Washington def Michigan State 51-23 (Aloha Bowl)
It has been 25 years since these two teams have played and you often don’t think about great games between Michigan State and Washington, largely because there have only been three games in series history.
We know all about the Spartans, they really made an impact last year and head coach Mel Tucker was rewarded in-season for what he has done in replacing Mark Dantonio.
The knock on Michigan State (there are a few) is that they have not been able to do it without taking large swings at the transfer portal and because of that, there is no continuity with a lot of one-year players taking center stage in 2021 and are now off to their next chapters.
The other knock is that Michigan State was bad, like really bad, against the pass last season. That is going to have to be addressed in a major way.
For Washington, Jimmy Lake is out as head coach and Kalen DeBoer is in. What is that going to look like as he tries to take on a team that finished 4-8 last season and a team that did not make a lot of noise when it came to on-the-field, including dropping its last four games of the season.