Big Ten football won’t come with scheduled success for USC, UCLA in debut season
The football schedules for their debut 2024 season, announced by the conference Thursday, include a heavy sprinkling of traditional powers.
USC will face Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin at a time when it presumably will no longer have Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams, gone to try his luck in the NFL.
UCLA gets Michigan and Ohio State during a season in which it will also play at Louisiana State, ending all jokes about the ease of the Bruins’ recent schedules that included Football Championship Subdivision opponents.
Game dates and order of opponents were not announced. UCLA’s first Big Ten schedule will include Ohio State, Northwestern, Nebraska, Minnesota and USC at the Rose Bowl in addition to road games against Michigan, Indiana, Iowa and Rutgers.
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“The football program is very much focused on the 2023 season and making it a great one,” UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said. “That said, it’s exciting to see the future conference matchups fans will get to experience at the Rose Bowl.”
USC’s 2024 conference schedule includes Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois at the Coliseum plus road games against Penn State, Purdue, Maryland, Northwestern and UCLA.
The Trojans and Bruins have another common opponent — LSU — in 2024. Though UCLA will travel to Baton Rouge to face the Tigers, USC will play them in a neutral-site game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
It’s a good thing the College Football Playoff will expand to 12 teams starting with the 2024 season because even top Big Ten teams are likely to lose at least a handful of games given these demanding schedules. The upside is that the strength-of-schedule factor could conceivably help the conference land three or more teams in the CFP.
As expected, the Trojans and Bruins will log plenty of frequent flier miles. Excluding its trip to the Rose Bowl, USC’s four other conference road games in 2024 will require trips of more than 2,000 miles. UCLA’s closest road conference game that season will be in Iowa City, Iowa, some 1,796 miles from Los Angeles. The Bruins will also schlep roughly 2,751 miles to face Rutgers after having flown to Hawaii for a nonconference game. They might want to budget for a jet lag specialist.
No Big Ten team will have to make two trips to Los Angeles in a season as part of the schedules released for the 2024 and 2025 seasons.
The idea of the scheduling model was to preserve matchups important to Big Ten fans, conference commissioner Tony Petitti said during an interview on the Big Ten Network. With the additions of the L.A. schools, Petitti said, he wanted teams to rotate through more opponents with increased frequency; each Big Ten team is guaranteed to play one another at least once every two years.
The Holiday Bowl is seeking at least $3 million after UCLA backed out of the 2021 game because of COVID-19 cases, triggering cancellation of the contest.
The Big Ten’s divisions will be eliminated starting in 2024 and teams will have up to three protected rivals they play each season, though Penn State will have none. Not surprisingly, USC and UCLA will be each other’s only protected rivals.
As part of a so-called flex protect-plus scheduling model, teams will play three opponents home and away in 2024 and 2025. In addition to UCLA, USC will play Penn State and Wisconsin each of those seasons, and the Bruins play Nebraska and Rutgers.
The Trojans don’t catch any breaks as part of their 2025 conference schedule given they play Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State. UCLA will play Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State as part of its 2025 Big Ten schedule. Also on the Bruins’ schedule in 2025: a home game against two-time defending national champion Georgia.
By then, big-time success will require UCLA and USC to knock off a parade of heavyweights as part of their new conference alignment.
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