September 25, 2023

Big Ten football will not come with planned success for USC, UCLA in debut season

LOS ANGELES, CA.  - September.  17, 2022. USC head coach Lincoln Riley leads pre-game warmups.

USC coach Lincoln Riley leads pregame warmups for a win over Fresno State on September 17. USC and UCLA will face numerous challenges during their first season in the Big Ten. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

USC and UCLA won’t be able to make their way into the Big Ten easily.

The football schedules for their debut 2024 season, announced by the conference Thursday, feature a heavy sprinkling of traditional powers.

USC will face Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin at a time when it will presumably no longer have Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams set to try his luck in the NFL.

UCLA gets Michigan And Ohio State during a season where it will also play Louisiana State, ending any jokes about the convenience of the Bruins’ recent schedules with Football Championship Subdivision opponents.

Match dates and order of opponents have not been announced. UCLA’s first Big Ten schedule includes Ohio State, Northwestern, Nebraska, Minnesota and USC in the Rose Bowl, in addition to road games against Michigan, Indiana, Iowa and Rutgers.

“The football program is very focused on the 2023 season and making it a great season,” said UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond. “That said, it’s exciting to see the future conference matchups fans will 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 one more common opponent – LSU – in 2024. While UCLA will travel to Baton Rouge to face the Tigers, USC will play them in a neutral venue game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

It’s a good thing the College Football Playoff is expanding to 12 teams starting in the 2024 season, because even the best Big Ten teams are likely to lose at least a handful of games given these demanding schedules. The upside is that the strength of the schedule could potentially help the conference get three or more teams into the CFP.

As expected, the Trojans and Bruins will be logging a lot of frequent flyer miles. Excluding the trip to the Rose Bowl, USC’s four other road games in 2024 will require trips in excess of 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 be towing about 2,751 miles to meet Rutgers after flying to Hawaii for a non-conference game. Maybe they want to budget for a jet lag specialist.

No Big Ten team is required 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 that are important to Big Ten fans, conference commissioner Tony Petitti said during an interview on the Big Ten Network. With the addition of the LA schools, Petitti said, he wanted teams to rotate through more opponents more often; every Big Ten team is guaranteed to play against each other at least once every two years.

The Big Ten divisions will be eliminated starting in 2024 and teams will have a maximum of three protected rivals each season, although 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 planning model, teams will play three home and away games in 2024 and 2025. In addition to UCLA, USC plays against Penn State and Wisconsin each season, and the Bruins against Nebraska and Rutgers.

The Trojans are not taking any breaks as part of their 2025 conference schedule as they play Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State. UCLA will play Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State as part of the 2025 Big Ten schedule. Also on the Bruins’ schedule in 2025 is a home game against two-time defending champion Georgia.

By then, UCLA and USC will have to beat a parade of heavyweights as part of their new conference alignment for major success.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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