A couple of years ago, I did a semi-controversial thing on my blog....I looked ahead.
It was the 2006 season, and Ohio State's schedule was much tougher in the first half of the season than it was in October and early November. After defeating #2 Texas and #13 Iowa (both on the road, both by 17 points), we stood at 5-0. Our next six games were against Bowling Green, Michigan State, Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois, and Northwestern. None of these opponents were particularly good, and so I asked the question "Are We 11-0 Already?"
Buckeye fans are taught from birth to NOT treat the game before Michigan Week lightly. Look past that team at your own risk. And here I was looking past a month-and-a-half of teams prior to Michigan Week? Yeah, it wasn't my brightest moment, but I ended up being right.
So let's do it again, shall we?
Which teams in the Big Ten have the best chance at being undefeated at the end of September? You might be shocked by the answers.....
Easiest path to October
Wisconsin - Their schedule is light, and if they're not 4-0 by this point, they will be the team most responsible for the "TEH BIG TEN SUCKS" catcalls from our southern friends. Their schedule;
8/30 - Akron
9/6 - Marshall
9/13 - @Fresno State
9/20 - bye
9/27 - @Michigan
Akron and Marshall are warm-up games at best, Fresno State doesn't have a defense to hold down Wisconsin's rushing attack, and Michigan lost 38 of their 22 starters on both sides of the ball.
Northwestern - Yeah, you heard me. They have a legitimate shot of being 5-0 (but 6-6 at the end of the year). Their schedule;
8/30 - Syracuse
9/6 - @ Duke
9/13 - Southern Illinois
9/20 - Ohio
9/27 - @ Iowa
Syracuse and Duke had a combined 3 wins last year (and trust me, Northwestern is drooling over the chance to redeem themselves at Duke). Southern Illinois lost their entire offense from last year. Ohio will be a challenge, but Northwestern's better suited in this game at home. Iowa will be the toughest game of the bunch and might be the thorn in my prognostication
Which brings me to....
Iowa - Another team that may find their season ending in the lower regions of the Big Ten standings, but only after plummeting there due to a rough stretch starting in October. Their early schedule;
8/30 - Maine
9/6 - Florida International
9/13 - Iowa State
9/20 - @ Pittsburgh
9/27 - Northwestern
Maine and FIU - riiiiight. Iowa State will be the big challenge, since the Cyclones are the bane of Hawkeye fans' existence every other year. Pitt shouldn't be tough this year (but that's what WVU thought last year), and that will bring us to Northwestern.
I'm thinking Iowa-Northwestern will have a pair of 4-0 squads facing off, and the winner will be ranked at the end of September.
Should be, might be, maybe
Ohio State - Four games that should be easy wins, and one beast of a road game. Their schedule;
8/30 - Youngstown State
9/6 - Ohio
9/13 - @ USC
9/20 - Troy
9/27 - Minnesota
There's not much debate on whether or not they'll win four of these games. YSU and Ohio are only on the schedule because Tressel likes in-state rivalries and wants to foster them. Troy and Minnesota will also not be enough to topple a Top 5 team in their home stadium. But USC....in Los Angeles....yeah, what more do you need to say?
Purdue - The only team without a conference game before October. Their schedule is not easy, but not too difficult either. Two potential traps, so it'll depend on how much pride the Boilers have. Their schedule;
8/30 - bye
9/6 - Northern Colorado
9/13 - Oregon
9/20 - Central Michigan
9/27 - @ Notre Dame
Northern Colorado, a 1-AA school that went 1-11 last year, is a joke. Oregon will be the biggest challenge here, but the question of a Dixon-less Ducks team still lingers. Central Michigan is another cupcake, and then it'll be the in-state rivalry that everyone forgets is an in-state game. It'll be Joe Tiller's final Notre Dame game at Purdue....will it be Charlie Weis' final Purdue game at Notre Dame?
Penn State - The Lions have two potentially tough games, but both are at home. Their schedule;
8/30 - Coastal Carolina
9/6 - Oregon State
9/13 - @ Syracuse
9/20 - Temple
9/27 - Illinois
CC, Syracuse, and Temple are cupcakes. Oregon State thinks they will knock off Penn State and are coming in with an attitude. That could be a tough game, but Happy Valley is not easy to capture. Which is why the Lions should be very happy they face Illinois there to open the Big Ten season. One key statistic that Lion fans will HATE to be reminded of....the Lions have lost five of their last six Big Ten openers.
Michigan State - I might take this one back after one game, but they could do it. Their schedule;
8/30 - @ Cal
9/6 - Eastern Michigan
9/13 - Florida Atlantic
9/20 - Notre Dame
9/27 - @ Indiana
That opening game on the road against Cal is ABC's game of the week, and it should be. Get past the Golden Bears, and it should be smooth sailing for Spartytown. EMU, FAU, and ND are not going to impress anyone on the road. Indiana is experiencing a resurgence and could be tough, but so is Michigan State. That game will actually be a damn good one.
Which brings me to.....
Indiana - the Hoosiers lost their coach Terry Hoeppner prior to the 2007 season. Hoeppner fought like hell to bring honor and tradition to Indiana football, and his death may have actually bonded his team with the one element it was missing - a purpose. Their schedule;
8/30 - Western Kentucky
9/6 - Murray State
9/13 - bye
9/20 - Ball State
9/27 - Michigan State
Western Kentucky, Murray State, and Ball State shouldn't be too difficult, but Indiana will use them to gel as a team. Kellen Lewis should pick them all apart with ease. If they do knock off Michigan State, it'll be their ticket.
Illinois - Two of the toughest road games you can play will be on the early schedule for the Illini. How they handle the first one might determine their whole season. Their schedule;
8/30 - @ Missouri
9/6 - Eastern Illinois
9/13 - Louisiana Lafayette
9/20 - bye
9/27 - @ Penn State
Mizzou not only has a Heisman candidate at QB in Chase Daniel*, but they also have an energized fan base again. Granted, so does Illinois. Eastern Illinois and Louisiana Laugh (followed by a bye week) will provide enough rest for the huge conference opener against PSU. I'll be surprised if the Illini are unbeaten at this point, but if they are, they're on track for a second straight BCS bowl game.
Miracles do happen. Yeah, but probably not here.
Michigan - Having lost more than half their starters (38 out of 22 was a joke, if you drifted here from MGoBlog), Michigan will spend the first half of the season trying to find out who they are. Even having a semi-cupcake schedule will not be enough to give these guys a 4-0 trimester. Their schedule;
8/30 - Utah
9/6 - Miami (OH)
9/13 - @ Notre Dame
9/20 - bye
9/27 - Wisconsin
In years past, I'd write off Utah and Miami as easy wins for the Wolverines. I still will for Miami, but the Utes are coming off a 9-4 season and want this to be the year they return to glory. Is their defense tough enough to shock the nation with a win in the Big House? If not, then there's no way they'll beat Wisconsin. And the Michigan-Notre Dame game? Might be the worst version of this rivalry ever.
Minnesota - You've gotta feel bad for the Gophers. They fired Glen Mason, and it might take five years to get over it. There's no end in sight for Minnesota misery. Their schedule;
8/30 - Northern Illinois
9/6 - @ Bowling Green
9/13 - Montana State
9/20 - Florida Atlantic
9/27 - @ Ohio State
Four games that would be cupcakes on any other Big Ten schedule to open the season. Yeah, they could be 4-0 after those, but we doubt it. FAU and BGSU both won these games last year. But even if they are 4-0, Ohio State at The Shoe lingers. There's no way they escape September without a loss, and they might have five of them.
My actual prediction - five Big Ten teams will be undefeated going into October.
* corrected for stupid math - Chase Daniel is still at Missouri, despite what I thought.