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A Look At Future Football Non-Conference Schedules For Rutgers & B1G East

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

With less than three months to the start of the college football season, the summer is the time to analyze and over analyze the upcoming season's schedule. The Big Ten has made two key changes to non-conference scheduling for football moving forward. The 2016 season will be the first with nine conference games on the schedule, thus eliminating one non-conference game moving forward. In addition, the Big Ten decided that schools can no longer schedule FCS opponents. The deadline for this change is the 2018 season, as several schools already had games scheduled. These changes will alter the way in which non-conference scheduling is done moving forward.

For example, Rutgers has played an FCS school every season since 2004, winning all but one game, the very first one 12 years ago against New Hampshire. This was one week after Rutgers stunned Michigan State at home, an upset victory that marked the beginning of the modern era for the program. Rutgers has now won 11 games in a row against FCS opponents.  They already had an FCS opponent scheduled for the following two seasons, with games against Howard in 2016 and Morgan State in 2017.

Tom Dienhart from BTN ranked the Big Ten East's non-conference schedules for the 2016 season and he pinned Rutgers in the middle at #4. Starting the season against Washington on the road will make for an extremely difficult debut for new Rutgers head coach Chris Ash.  In addition, Rutgers hosts New Mexico in week 3, a team that played in a bowl game last season. Ohio State was ranked with the toughest schedule due to a road game at fellow national championship contender Oklahoma.  Maryland was ranked as having the easiest schedule with a home game against Howard, followed by road games at FIU and UCF.

Non-conference basketball schedules change often and contracts aren't usually made too far in advance, with sometimes just one game agreed upon. Other than the Gavitt Games and Big Ten-ACC Challenge, no other non-conference basketball games have been announced yet for Rutgers next season. Football non-conference scheduling is far different, with schools coming to home and home agreements years in advance.

Let's take a look at a grid detailing each Big Ten East school's non-conference schedule for the next 10 years. All of the information was sourced from Believe it or not, I could have extended it past the 10 year mark, because Maryland has a 4 year home and home deal with Virginia Tech between 2026-2029. They aren't the only Big Ten East team that has scheduled that far in advance. Michigan will play Oklahoma and Texas one game each during the 2026 and 2027 seasons. Michigan State has Notre Dame scheduled for 2026 and 2027. Still, there are multiple schools with open dates as early as 2018, so let's focus on the next decade. Here are the current non-conference schedules for each team for the next 10 seasons.

B1G East Team 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024 2025
Wake Forest Virginia Virginia UCONN UCONN Cincinnati Cincinnati Louisville Louisville Louisville
FIU FIU FIU Ball State Ball State Idaho Idaho UMASS
Ball State GA Southern Ball State WKU WKU WKU Charlotte Charlotte
Ohio State
Oklahoma Oklahoma TCU TCU Oregon Oregon Notre Dame Notre Dame BC
Bowl Green UNLV Oregon St Cincinnati Texas Texas
Tulsa Army Tulane Fla Atlantic BC
UCF Texas Texas Syracuse WVU WVU Charlotte Charlotte VT
FIU UCF Temple Temple No Illinois No Illinois
Howard Towson Bowl Green Bowl Green Towson
Colorado Florida Arkansas Arkansas Washington Washington UCLA UCLA Texas Oklahoma
UCF Cincinnati SMU Army VT VT
Hawaii Air Force Ball State
Michigan State
Notre Dame Notre Dame ASU ASU Miami Miami Boise State Boise State
Furman WMU
Penn State
Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Pittsburgh VT WVU WVU VT
Temple Akron Kent State Idaho
Kent State GA State App State
Washington Washington Kansas Miami UCLA UCLA Temple VT VT
New Mexico EMU Buffalo Temple Temple Temple
Howard Morgan State

Here are a few interesting notes regarding the schedules:

  • Indiana's non-conference schedule is confirmed for the next 8 seasons, Maryland is confirmed for the next 5 seasons, Ohio State for the next 4, and Penn State for the next 3. Michigan, Michigan State, and Rutgers are still looking for an opponent to add for 2018 and beyond.
  • Games scheduled against power conference opponents: Ohio State (13); Michigan (12); Rutgers (8); Penn State (8); Maryland (6); Indiana (6); Michigan State (6)
  • Big Ten East team's with games scheduled against Power Five conference opponents: ACC (24); PAC 12 (14); Big 12 (13); SEC (3)
  • Big Ten East team's with games scheduled against non-power conference opponents:  AAC (19); MAC (17); Conference USA (12)
  • A reminder that Notre Dame is now considered an ACC opponent in football.  They are scheduled to play Ohio State and Michigan State twice.  BYU is counted as an independent for now, but that could change with the constant threat of conference realignment.  The Cougars are scheduled to play Michigan State in 2016 & 2020.
  • Regarding the service academy's, Army will play Michigan and Ohio State once each. Air Force is also scheduled to play Michigan once. Navy does not have any games scheduled against the division.
  • Conference that each Big Ten East has the most games scheduled against: Indiana - Con USA (8); Ohio State - Big 12 (6); Maryland - MAC/Big 12/AAC (4 each); Michigan - PAC 12 (5); Michigan State - ACC (4); Penn State - ACC (5); Rutgers - PAC 12/AAC (4 each)
So what does this all mean? For the top teams in the East, which I'll count as Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State, it means they have scheduled games against top teams in other power five conferences. And in some future seasons, they have scheduled multiple games against power five conference opponents. Ohio State even scheduled three power five opponents in 2023, with Texas, Notre Dame, and Boston College. WOW! These schools need a big non-conference game scheduled every year to help their cause in making the college football playoff each season. Granted it's a risk playing a top opponent in addition to the Big Ten schedule, which has become a legitimate annual gauntlet for every school that plays in the East division. However, it helps ensure that if they can win, they will have a better chance of making the coveted college football playoff each year.

As for schools fighting to move up the food chain within the East, an entirely different strategy is playing out. Indiana has scheduled 8 games against opponents from Conference USA and just 6 games against power five schools, all from the ACC.  That number is more telling when factoring in that Indiana has more non-conference games scheduled than any other Big Ten East school so far, and by a margin of 6 games. You can't blame them for wanting to pave an easier road to bowl eligibility and that is certainly their intention. While Maryland has 4 games scheduled against the Big 12, they also have that many games scheduled against the MAC and AAC. Rutgers has 4 games scheduled against the PAC12, as well as the AAC. Of course, none of this is a perfect science as it's impossible to predict how strong a program certain schools will have 5+ years from now.

Conference affiliation also does not necessarily equal the strength of each opponent. Rutgers might have four games scheduled against the AAC, but they are all against Temple, who currently has a chance to win that conference every season. The fact that in three of those scheduled seasons Rutgers will also play a power five team (UCLA twice, Virginia Tech once) demonstrates that head coach Chris Ash is counting on the program playing at a higher level 5 years from now. While those P5 games were scheduled before Ash was hired, his willingness to add Temple on top of that shows his moxie.  It will be interesting to see how he scheduled in the future.

It is also interesting that the Big Ten East has scheduled the most games against two east coast based conferences in the ACC and the AAC. While midwestern based conferences like the Big 12 and the MAC have a lot of games scheduled as well, I would have that thought there would have been more.

As for the future scheduling practices for Rutgers, there has been a lot of discussion about who they should pursue. Our own Griffin Whitmer pondered if Rutgers should add a rivalry game to the non-conference schedule moving forward. Temple actually garnered 36% of the votes and as we know now, playing them will become a reality starting in 2020. In terms of the future, it will be interesting to see if Rutgers considers playing old conference foes Syracuse, Boston College and UConn.  Those matchups would add some allure to the schedule for obvious reasons.

It also would not be surprising if Ash dips into his past relationships. His longtime friend and former college teammate at Drake, Dave Doeren, coaches at N.C. State.  That could be an intriguing matchup against a power five opponent.  It would be a solid opponent, but not a daunting one. Ash could also reach out to his former boss Bret Bielema and agree to another series against Arkansas. Although, who knows if Bielema would be interested, considering Rutgers won both games in the series between 2012-2013.

As the college football landscape continues to change, tracking how Big Ten East teams schedule their non-conference games in the future will be interesting to follow. There is a big divide in the division, with Penn State more or less in the middle between the division's upper class and those programs, like Rutgers, aspiring to be near the top one day. Playing in arguably the toughest division in college football, all the East schools need to maximize their non-conference opportunities to stack up wins heading into the conference season. At the same time, how the Big Ten performs overall against non-conference competition, specifically other power five opponents, is hugely important in determining the strength and reputation of the conference. It will be a balancing act for all Big Ten East schools moving forward to schedule winnable but attractive games in the years to come, while also preparing to succeed in their own brutal division.