Ranking the Big Ten football 2024 strength of schedule: How tough is Penn State’s schedule

The Penn State Nittany Lions will be forced to navigate a loaded conference with four new teams in the Big Ten, but expansion has allowed James Franklin's team to sidestep a few juggernauts of the conference.
Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin
Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin / Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten will look quite a bit different in 2024. The addition of UCLA, USC, Oregon, and Washington from Pac-12 has stripped the conference of divisional alignments and leaves Penn State without Michigan or Michigan State on the schedule for next fall. 

The days of Iowa or Wisconsin waltzing into the Big Ten championship game from the Big Ten West are finally over. As the Big Ten and SEC level up from power conferences to super conferences, the schedules are only getting tougher, and a conference title is even more precious. 

While some traditional rivalries will be temporarily lost, Penn State does have a stretch of its season that will feel like back-to-back Rose Bowl games against UCLA at home and USC on the road. Penn State even plays national runner-up Washington late in the season in Happy Valley. The schedule is by no means easy, but James Franklin’s team will be happy to sidestep the Wolverines, even with Jim Harbaugh off in the NFL. 

Head Coach: Greg Schiano. . . . Last Year: 7-6. . 18. Rutgers. 452.

Rutgers 2024 schedule: vs. Akron, at Virginia Tech, vs. Washington, at Nebraska, vs. UCLA, at USC, vs. Minnesota, at Maryland, vs. Illinois, at Michigan State

With no Michigan, Ohio State, or Penn State on the schedule, Rutgers should build on its bowl game appearance last season. If Athan Kaliakmanis is an upgrade over Gavin Wimsatt at quarterback, Greg Schiano’s team could win eight or nine games. 

Indiana. . Last Year: 3-9. . Head Coach: Curt Cignetti. 482. 17. . .

Indiana 2024 schedule: vs. FIU, vs. Western Illinois, at UCLA, vs. Charlotte, vs. Maryland, at Northwestern, vs. Nebraska, vs. Washington, at East Lansing, vs. Michigan, at Ohio State, vs. Purdue

Curt Cignetti’s introduction to the Big Ten could be a rather pleasant one. Indiana isn’t laying a competitive non-conference schedule, so despite having Michigan and Ohio State late in the year, the schedule is favorable. 

nebraska. 488. Last Year: 5-7. 16. . Head Coach: Matt Rhule. . . .

Nebraska 2024 schedule: vs. UTEP, vs. Colorado, vs. Northern Iowa, vs. Illinois, at Purdue, vs. Rutgers, at Indiana, at Ohio State, vs. UCLA, at USC, vs. Wisconsin, at Iowa

The first road game for Matt Rhule’s team isn’t until September 28 and it’s possible that the Cornhuskers are 4-0 heading into that one, even with Coach Prime and Colorado on the schedule in Week 2. 

Dylan Raiola won’t be tested much early in his career as a true freshman starting quarterback, so by the time the Cornhuskers hit a late-season gauntlet he could be very comfortable. If Rhule can’t have a strong season with this schedule, then it will be a harsh indictment of his program in Year 2. 

. . . Last Year: 10-4. 483. . 15. Iowa. . Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz

Iowa 2024 schedule: vs. Illinois State, vs. Iowa State, vs. Troy, at Minnesota, at Ohio State, vs. Washington, at Michigan State, vs. Northwestern, vs. Wisconsin, at UCLA, at Maryland, vs. Nebraska

Ohio State is looming as a tough game for the Hawkeyes, and Iowa State is never easy in the non-conference. However, Iowa gets to avoid Michigan, Penn State, and USC with a schedule that still has a Big Ten West feel to it. 

. Maryland. . . 14. 439. . Head Coach: Mike Locksley. Last Year: 8-5.

Maryland 2024 schedule: vs. UConn, vs. Michigan State, at Virginia, vs. Villanova, at Indiana, vs. Northwestern, vs. USC, at Minnesota, at Oregon, vs. Rutgers, vs. Iowa, at Penn State

The Terrapins have a very Big East basketball feel to the start of their football schedule this season, which is good news. Maryland could get off to a hot start with Jonathan Smith still figuring things out at Michigan State, but the back half of the season won’t be pretty. No Ohio State feels like a gift to every team that avoids the Buckeyes, but the Oregon Ducks are the other favorite and a trip out to Eugene could be a travel nightmare from College Park. 

. . . 487. Minnesota. . . Last Year: 6-7. 13. Head Coach: PJ Fleck

Minnesota 2024 schedule: vs. North Carolina, vs. Rhode Island, vs. Nevada, vs. Iowa, at Michigan, vs. USC, at UCLA, vs. Maryland, at Illinois, at Rutgers, vs. Penn State, at Wisconsin

The Golden Gophers are still rowing the boat with PJ Fleck and to start the season they’ll be rowing downstream. The current of four straight home games could carry Minnesota into a matchup at the big house and a visit from USC. It certainly isn’t the easiest Big Ten slate, but with no Oregon and no Ohio State, Minnesota should be competitive. If not, Fleck’s job could be in question. 

. Last Year: 10-3. . . 12. Penn State. Head Coach: James Franklin. 491. .

Penn State 2024 schedule: at West Virginia, vs. Bowling Green, vs. Kent State, vs. Illinois, vs. UCLA, at USC, at Wisconsin, vs. Ohio State, vs. Washington, at Purdue, at Minnesota, vs. Maryland

Penn State will absolutely be tested in Week 1 by West Virginia and could start the year off with a loss, but the schedule eases up a bit from there. The trip to USC is looming as another possible loss for James Franklin’s team and of course, the matchup with Ohio State is circled on everyone’s calendar and could be the Whiteout Game. Avoiding Oregon and getting a year off from Michigan after last year’s embarrassment makes Penn State a team that should expect to make the 12-team College Football Playoff. 

. . . Head Coach: Ryan Day. Last Year: 11-2. . 490. Ohio State. 11.

Ohio State 2024 schedule: vs. Akron, vs. Western Michigan, vs. Marshall, at Michigan State, vs. Iowa, at Oregon, vs. Nebraska, at Penn State, vs. Purdue, at Northwestern, vs. Indiana, vs. Michigan

Ohio State vs. Michigan is always a marquee matchup, but Ohio State at Oregon will be the game of the year in college football. The Buckeyes loaded up so heavily in the transfer portal with Will Howard, Caleb Downs, and Quinshon Judkins that this season is championship or bust for Ryan Day and this schedule is easy enough that the Buckeyes should certainly be in the CFP to have a chance at a title. 

. . 10. 489. . . Northwestern. . Head Coach: David Braun. Last Year: 8-5

Northwestern 2024 schedule: vs. Miami (OH), vs. Duke, vs. Eastern Illinois, at Washington, vs. Indiana, at Maryland, vs. Wisconsin, at Iowa, at Purdue, vs. Ohio State, at Michigan, vs. Illinois

The schedule doesn’t shape up too poorly to start the year unless Manny Diaz is ahead of schedule at Duke. However, ending the year with Ohio State and Michigan in back-to-back weeks before a meeting at home with Illinois is brutal. 

msu. . 9. . . . . Head Coach: Jonathan Smith. Last Year: 4-8. 486

Michigan State 2024 schedule: vs. Florida Atlantic, at Maryland, vs. Prairie View A&M, at Boston College, vs. Ohio State, at Oregon, vs. Iowa, at Michigan, vs. Indiana, at Illinois, vs. Purdue, vs. Rutgers

Jonathan Smith brought Aidan Chiles from Oregon State as his starting quarterback and the roster has quite a bit of promise in Year 1, but the season is likely to be completely derailed by the stretch of games that begins with Ohio State and finishes with a trip to Ann Arbor. It’s one of the most brutal pockets any team will be faced with this year and even though the schedule appears easy to end the season, the team could be checked out and the Spartans could miss a bowl game. 

515. . Head Coach: Dan Lanning. Last Year: 12-2. . . . 8. Oregon.

Oregon 2024 schedule: vs. Idaho, vs. Boise State, at Oregon State, at UCLA, vs. Michigan State, vs. Ohio State, at Purdue, vs. Illinois, at Michigan, vs. Maryland, at Wisconsin, vs. Washington

The non-conference slate is not much of a challenge for the Ducks, even the Civil War with Oregon State. However, starting conference play with UCLA, Michigan State, and Ohio State in consecutive weeks will be tough. An important factor for the new teams to the conference is the ridiculous travel from the West Coast for games in the Midwest. 

washington. . Last Year: 14-1. . . . 7. Head Coach: Jedd Fisch. . 521

Washington 2024 schedule: vs. Weber State, vs. Eastern Michigan, at Washington State, vs. Northwestern, at Rutgers, vs. Michigan, at Iowa, at Indiana, vs. USC, at Penn State, vs. UCLA, at Oregon

Travel is going to be a real problem for the Washington Huskies, as is losing nearly the entire roster from last season and head coach Kalen DeBoer. Jedd Fisch in Year 1 will have his work cut out late in the season with USC, a trip to Happy Valley, UCLA, and a trip to Oregon to close out the year. The Huskies also host Michigan a week after traveling all the way to Rutgers. That will be a serious rest disadvantage. 

Last Year: 5-7. 6. Head Coach: Bret Bielema. . . . . Illinois. . 481

Illinois 2024 schedule: vs. Eastern Illinois, vs. Kansas, vs. Central Michigan, at Nebraska, at Penn State, vs. Purdue, vs. Michigan, at Oregon, vs. Minnesota, vs. Michigan State, at Rutgers, at Northwestern 

Typically seeing Kansas on the football schedule is good news, but Lance Leipold has built up the program to the point where the Jayhawks will likely be favored against Bret Bielema’s Fighting Illini. Then, starting Big Ten play with a trip to Lincoln and a trip to Happy Valley could leave Illinois at 2-3 through five weeks with matchups against Michigan and Oregon looming. A 3-5 start looks like a real possibility. 

Head Coach: Sherrone Moore. Last Year: 15-0. . . Michigan. . 485. . . 5

Michigan 2024 schedule: vs. Fresno State, vs. Texas, vs. Arkansas State, vs. USC, vs. Minnesota, at Washington, at Illinois, vs. Michigan State, vs. Oregon, at Indiana, vs. Northwestern, at Ohio State

The defending champs didn’t just lose 13 players to the NFL draft this offseason, but they also lost Jim Harbaugh and much of his staff to the Los Angeles Chargers. Sherrone Moore will be forced to navigate a gauntlet that features an early-season bout with Texas, then late-season contests with Oregon and at Ohio State. Having three legitimate national title contenders on the slate could spell disaster. 

4. 493. . . . . . wisconsin. Head Coach: Luke Fickell. Last Year: 7-6

Wisconsin 2024 schedule: vs. Western Michigan, vs. South Dakota, vs. Alabama, at USC, vs. Purdue, at Rutgers, at Northwestern, vs. Penn State, at Iowa, vs. Oregon, at Nebraska, vs. Minnesota

It’s no longer Nick Saban’s Alabama, but it’s still an incredibly difficult non-conference matchup for Luke Fickell’s Badgers. If Wisconsin can start the year 4-0 with wins over Bama and USC, then the Badgers could be poised to make the College Football Playoff in Fickell’s second season. However, with Tyler Van Dyke at quarterback, that seems quite unlikely. 

518. . . . . ucla. Head Coach: DeShaun Foster. Last Year: 8-5. . 3

UCLA 2024 schedule: at Hawai’i, vs. Indiana, at LSU, vs. Oregon, at Penn State, vs. Minnesota, at Rutgers, at Nebraska, vs. Iowa, at Washington, vs. USC, vs. Fresno State

Things are going to get ugly very early on in DeShaun Foster’s tenure at UCLA. There is a reason that Chip Kelly left to take the offensive coordinator position at Ohio State. Trips to Tiger Stadium and Beaver Stadium with a game against Oregon sandwiched between is a recipe for disaster. The Bruins were counting on Dante Moore as the QB of the future, so with Kelly gone and Moore at Oregon, a seven-loss season could be in the cards. 

Last Year: 4-8. . . . 492. Purdue. Head Coach: Ryan Walters. . 2.

Purdue 2024 schedule: vs. Indiana State, vs. Notre Dame, at Oregon State, vs. Nebraska, at Wisconsin, at Illinois, vs. Oregon, vs. Northwestern, at Ohio State, vs. Penn State, at Michigan State, at Indiana

Other than Indiana State, which may not be easy for a Purdue program that seems to be on shaky ground entering the second season of the Ryan Walter era, the Boilermakers don’t have any cupcakes on this schedule. Purdue lost some big-time playmakers through the transfer portal this offseason and didn’t make the type of additions to hang with a team like Notre Dame early in the season. 

1. Head Coach: Lincoln Riley. . . Last Year: 8-5. team. usc. . . 519

USC 2024 schedule: vs. LSU, vs. Utah State, at Michigan, vs. Wisconsin, at Minnesota, vs. Penn State, at Maryland, vs. Rutgers, at Washington, vs. Nebraska, at UCLA, vs. Notre Dame

UCLA has LSU on its non-conference schedule and Purdue has a matchup with Notre Dame, well USC has both. Lincoln Riley’s team will be battle tested by the time Big Ten play comes around, then after the conference gauntlet with have a late-season test against Notre Dame. The College Football Playoff will be the expectation for the Trojans, but looking at the schedule, it probably shouldn’t be.

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