The Big Ten released the 2018-2019 football schedule Thursday. To almost everyone's surprise, the Black Friday game with Nebraska remains on Iowa's schedule.
The 2018 schedule:
|October 6||@ Minnesota|
|October 13||@ Indiana|
|October 27||@ Penn State|
|November 3||@ Purdue|
The 2019 schedule:
|October 5||@ Michigan|
|October 12||Penn State|
|October 26||@ Northwestern|
|November 9||@ Wisconsin|
|November 29||@ Nebraska|
As you likely recall, the Big Ten goes to a nine-game conference schedule starting in 2016. The new Big Ten divisional alignment goes into place next season with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the conference.
The big question, of course, was whether Iowa would stay in the Black Friday game with Nebraska. The Huskers had hinted at dropping Iowa for Wisconsin, the Badgers had quietly expressed interest, and Jim Delany even mentioned that it was a possibility. At this time, it looks like the Friday game will (a) remain between Iowa and Nebraska, and (b) remain on Black Friday. We can retire that storyline until next July.
Aside from the five conference road games, the 2018 schedule looks extremely favorable for the Hawkeyes. Iowa misses Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State out of the east, drawing Indiana, Maryland, and Penn State instead. Meanwhile, typical Western doormats Minnesota, Illinois, and Purdue are on the road while Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Nebraska all come to Iowa City. That's as good a schedule as Iowa can expect.
Iowa has already worked out an agreement with Iowa State to stagger its Cy-Hawk home dates in conjunction with the years in which it plays five Big Ten road games, so you can pencil in Iowa State at Kinnick for September 8, 2018 and a trip to Jack Trice on September 14, 2019. That will make the 2019 schedule, which opens with a visit from Rutgers on September 7, extremely interesting. Kirk Ferentz's modus operandi has always been to structure the non-conference schedule like the NFL Preseason: a cupcake or two, Iowa State, a BCS-level opponent as a true trial run, then usually one more overmatched opponent before Big Ten play starts. That entire strategy goes out the window when Iowa plays a conference game in Week 2, followed by a trip to Ames. Expect a game on August 31, then at least one bye week in late September before that trip to Michigan. (Of course, that discussion is moot by that point if Ferentz has already left; by 2019, it will be time for either a contract extension or a retirement party).
The 2019 conference schedule itself again looks manageable. Iowa's crossover opponents -- Rutgers, Michigan, and Penn State -- aren't as favorable as we saw in 2018, but could certainly be worse. The divisional portion of the schedule flips from 2018, meaning road trips to Lincoln and Madison.
A couple of other stray observations:
- There is some strange circumstance surrounding Rutgers' schedule. In both 2018 and 2019, the Scarlet Knights will open Big Ten play on the road in the season's second week. I'm sure there's a good explanation for this, but I have no idea what it is
- Purdue hosts Northwestern in a season opener on September 1, 2018, which is both completely out of character for the conference and the best thing to happen to Purdue since the moon landing.
- The seasons with five road games truly show up on the schedule. Iowa will play just one home game in October of 2018, for instance, with road trips to Minnesota, Indiana, and Penn State the remaining three weeks. The same goes for Illinois that year.
- The teams playing conference games in Week 4 are going to have to scramble like mad to get in all their non-conference games. For instance, Indiana plays Michigan State on September 22, 2018. The Hoosiers only have one off-week in the middle of conference play, November 3. Finding an opponent to play then, when almost every other team will be in the middle of conference play, could be difficult. That means three straight non-conference games in September, or a five-game month for the Hoosiers. Good luck with that.
- On the same token, Notre Dame might need the Big Ten after all. The Fighting Irish have been cutting ties with their Big Ten rivals due to their new scheduling agreement with the ACC and longstanding commitments to USC, Stanford, Navy, etc. But the Big Ten is going to have openings in October and November to fill, and Notre Dame might be just the team to fill them. I wouldn't be shocked to see BYU show up in the Rust Belt in coming seasons, too.