Penn State Football

Walt Moody | Weak schedules hurting Big Ten

Last weekend was a pretty good one for the Big Ten.

Indiana, bouncing back from a disappointing loss to Bowling Green, knocked off No. 18 Missouri, 31-27.

Nebraska literally outfought Miami, knocking off the Hurricanes 41-31 in a game that featured two brawls.

Iowa rebounded from an embarrassing loss to Iowa State to bounce Pittsburgh 24-20 (something that never disappoints Penn State fans).

Maryland (formerly of the ACC) bounced Syracuse (now of the ACC) 34-20.

Even Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois, Rutgers and Minnesota won on the same weekend.

Wisconsin put up 68 points and Michigan State rang up 73. Two more teams, including Penn State, cracked 40.

For a league that had been taking it on the chin since Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State fell on Week 2, it was a pretty solid weekend.

Only Michigan lost, a 26-10 meltdown against Utah. If real estate is hot in Ann Arbor right now, Brady Hoke better sell because he’s going to be out of a job. Apparently, he needs Rich Rodriguez’s players to win.

But even with the fine weekend, the Big Ten is still hurting. And that’s not just from bashing in print, talk radio and TV.

Bias has nothing to do with it.

The numbers back it up.

Indiana’s win is the conference’s only triumph against a ranked team so far.

Think about that. Through four weeks, one win against a ranked team (of course only five Big Ten teams have played a ranked opponent).

That mark won’t get any better this weekend since no Big Ten teams are playing a ranked opponent. Maybe the closest is No. 22 Ohio State against Cincinnati (2-0).

Barring upset, the league won’t record its second triumph against a ranked foe until No. 21 Nebraska and No. 9 Michigan State face off on Week 6.

And that shows when the computers spit out their numbers.

According to RealTime RPI, the Big Ten is ranked at the bottom of the so-called Power 5 conferences. The Southeastern, Pac-12 and Big 12 currently hold substantial leads over the Big Ten in its index. The ACC has a slim lead over the Big Ten, but thanks to unbeaten Notre Dame and Brigham Young, the independents are rated higher than both of those conferences.

And while Penn State is unbeaten heading into this afternoon’s homecoming clash against struggling Northwestern, the Nittany Lions are part of why those numbers are so low.

Penn State has littered its schedule with some of the biggest patsies in Division I. Non-conference foes Akron (110), UMass (152) and Temple (103) are all currently ranked among the nation’s worst. Only Central Florida (40) is ranked inside the Top 50.

It’s no wonder that the Nittany Lions have a strength of schedule that’s currently ranked 157.

Was that intentional because of sanctions or just intentional?

The future doesn’t look much brighter for tougher schedules with the Big Ten going to a nine-game conference slate in 2016.

Temple, Buffalo (now No. 86), Army (126) and San Diego State (85) are the non-conference foes next season. Kent State (158) and Temple are on in 2016, Akron and Georgia State (129) in 2017 and Kent State is back again in 2018. Pitt (42) is the only Big 5 opponent on the schedule for the next four seasons, with some TBAs starting in 2018.

Now that the sanctions have been lifted, Penn State wants to be a major player in the four-team playoff format. Given the way James Franklin is recruiting, the Nittany Lions just may have the talent to do that in the future.

Their schedule needs to reflect that talent.

Or Penn State will not be taken seriously.

Think not?

Imagine any other season where Penn State starts 4-0 and still is not be ranked in the Top 25.

With a very good defense and a strong-armed quarterback with a penchant for dramatic finishes, it’s not unthinkable that the Nittany Lions could make a run toward the Big Ten title game.

But even if the Nittany Lions pull off a miracle run to a Big Ten title, could they get in the playoffs?

And that’s the goal now — be one of the four teams that have a shot at the national title.

Well, you know the SEC champ is going in. It’s likely the Big 12 and Pac-12 teams are going in, too, especially if Oklahoma and Oregon or UCLA hold to form. And if defending national champion Florida State wins the ACC, how can you keep the Seminoles out? Then there’s always a chance you take two from a strong conference.

While 12 regular-season games will be the determining factor, just the possibilities should serve notice to those who schedule poorly.

Right now, the SEC has four teams in the Top 10 and six in the Top 17 of the AP Top 25. The Big 12 has two Top 10 teams.

Michigan State is the top-rated Big Ten team at No. 9, then you have to drop 10 spots to find the next Big Ten squad, Wisconsin. Both of those teams have losses, but they also have something else in common — those defeats came against ranked teams.

Penn State really needs to think long and hard about future schedules. Those TBA’s better include some traditional powers, or else Franklin and his four-star recruits are going to be facing an uphill climb to the playoffs.