Big Ten sked: USC will open at U-M in ’24; UO-UW tops rivalry weekend

USC will visit Michigan in its first Big Ten conference game, while UCLA will make two cross-country trips and OregonWashington will be featured during rivalry weekend of the Big Ten’s 2024 football schedule, which the league unveiled Thursday.

The league’s first schedule with 18 members, each playing nine conference games, was shaped using the Flex Protect XVIII model, which includes 12 annual protected rivalries and a robust rotation to avoid the long gaps between pairings present in other conferences. The Big Ten also ensured that any team from the Eastern or Central time zone traveling to the West Coast, and any of the four West Coast additions — USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington — traveling east would have either a home game or an open week following the lengthy trips. Both the 2024 and 2025 seasons contain two open weeks per team, which made the scheduling process easier, Big Ten chief operating officer Kerry Kenny told ESPN.

“The two main components that we were asked to hit were the geographic and travel balance and then also the competitive balance,” Kenny said. “Obviously, in a schedule with teams that are this competitive and this deep there’s always going to be pockets of tough stretches and something that, on paper right now, based on the way teams look, it’s always going to make it seem a little bit more difficult or maybe a little easier than it may play out.

“But our job as schedulers are to put as much of the principles into the schedule that we’re asked to really manage, and I think we did that, especially on the travel side.”

Eight teams in the Eastern or Central time zones have open weeks after their only West Coast trips, and the other six have home games. The four West Coast teams will not play consecutive road games in 2024. UCLA, which opens its season Aug. 31 at Hawai’i, will travel to Penn State on Oct. 5 and to Rutgers on Oct. 19, but will host Minnesota on Oct. 12 and have an open week after the Rutgers game.

Two Pac-12 rivalry games fall into the protected category — Oregon-Washington and UCLA-USC — and USC and Washington also will meet Nov. 2 in Seattle. Oregon and USC will not play each other in 2024, a decision Kenny said was based on creating a rotation where new members would play existing members “more frequently and sooner.”

“We’ve really found that playing each other more, not less, and doing it as soon as you can, to get these new institutions to play in our historic venues and our current members to play in these new places, that’s what helps make a conference become a more cohesive conference right off the bat,” Kenny said.

USC will open Big Ten play with Michigan (road), Wisconsin (home), Minnesota (road) and Penn State (home), while Oregon will face both Ohio State (Oct. 12 at home) and Michigan (Nov. 2 on the road) in a four-week stretch. Washington’s first November schedule in the Big Ten includes each of three other West Coast additions plus a Nov. 9 trip to Penn State.

The USC-UCLA game will take place Nov. 23 so that USC can finish its regular season by hosting rival Notre Dame. Kenny said, “in a perfect world,” the Big Ten would love to have USC-UCLA on rivalry weekend, alongside Ohio State-Michigan, Purdue-Indiana, Wisconsin-Minnesota, Iowa-Nebraska and now Oregon-Washington. UCLA, which traditionally plays a Pac-12 opponent in years where USC finishes with Notre Dame, moved a nonleague game with Fresno State to Nov. 30, and will open Big Ten play in Week 3 when it hosts Indiana.

The 2024 schedule does not include a conference game during opening weekend and only one in Week 2 (Michigan State at Maryland) and Week 3 (Indiana at UCLA). Kenny said working around existing nonleague games was a challenge in crafting the schedule, along with sequencing games against projected Top 25 teams.

“We’re making assumptions based on teams on paper right now and brands, but that’s always a consideration,” Kenny said. “But that’s always a consideration, trying to spread the inventory throughout the season in a way that works for each individual program, but also for the conference as a whole.”

The Big Ten schedule includes only one confirmed Friday game in Iowa-Nebraska, which has traditionally taken place the day after Thanksgiving and will occur Nov. 29, 2024. But the Big Ten will fill additional Friday slots, despite some opposition from its coaches because of traditional high school games.

“Technically we can go to a game a week on Fridays,” Kenny said. “Whether or not that actually gets activated is all dependent on some of the conversations between us, and primarily Fox is our Friday partner. But the ability to have a game each week on a Friday would be there with this new schedule.”

Kenny said the Big Ten likely would announce its 2025 schedule during the 2024 season.

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