With so many words written about the recently released Big Ten football schedules for 2014, it seems only fitting to review the paths of each team for the season coming up.

Because it's June and it beats twiddling your thumbs, that's why.

In this 2013 schedule breakdown, you’ll see numbers based on the records of each team during conference play a season ago.

While these numbers certainly help in ranking the teams' schedules from easiest to hardest, they were not the sole determining factors.

Take Michigan State, for example. The Spartans went 3-5 in the Big Ten last year. If you go solely by their record from last season, they wouldn’t factor in as a very difficult opponent for the upcoming season.

But when you consider Michigan State lost all five of its conference games by four points or fewer last year, returns 17 starters, and is considered a potential top-20 squad by some preseason prognosticators, then it's fair to argue a game against the Spartans would be a much tougher test than it appears.

If you were to go strictly by last year’s win-loss totals, the combined league record of Nebraska’s opponents was 27-37, tying Michigan State for the easiest slate.

But we rank neither of those teams with the easiest league schedule. Both were in the running, mind you. But that spot was reserved for someone else.

Anyway, away we go, starting with the team with the hardest slate. It also happens to belong to the worst team.

1. ILLINOIS

Road games: Nebraska, Penn State, Indiana, Purdue (they were 18-14 in league play in 2012).

Home games: Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern (22-10 in 2012).

2012 combined league record of opponents: 40-24.

Synopsis: This isn’t the hardest schedule just because Illinois is seemingly a mess and everyone looks tough in comparison. No, this road would be legitimately rough for anybody.

Here's a team that went 0-8 in the Big Ten last year that gets to play Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern.

Not exactly comforting for second-year coach Tim Beckman, who is already on the hot seat. He couldn't even catch a break with potential winnable home games against Indiana and Purdue. The Illini play both on the road.

2. IOWA

Road games: Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Nebraska (20-12).

Home games: Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan (18-14).

2012 combined league record of opponents: 38-26.

Synopsis: Iowa gets the rough draw Nebraska had the previous two years, playing both Ohio State and Wisconsin out of the Leaders Division. It could spell bad news for a Hawkeye team that won just two games against an easier schedule a year ago.

On the flip side, from a football scheduling standpoint, maybe no one is more fortunate than the Hawkeyes to have Rutgers and Maryland joining the party next year.

Because of their addition and the schedule changes that come with them, the Hawkeyes avoid Michigan and Ohio State next year, getting Maryland and Indiana instead.

3. MINNESOTA

Road games: Michigan, Northwestern, Indiana, Michigan State (16-16).

Home games: Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin (19-13).

2012 combined league record of opponents: 35-29.

Synopsis: What’d Jerry Kill ever do to those Big Ten schedule-makers? Minnesota faces tough cross-division foes Penn State and Wisconsin. There's Indiana on the schedule, sure, but Minnesota will have to win that one on the road.

Hey, it could be worse. Like Minnesota’s 2014 schedule, in which the Gophers will get both Ohio State and Michigan out of the East Division. And, oh, yeah, that schedule next year includes road trips to Nebraska and Wisconsin.

4. PURDUE

Road games: Michigan State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Indiana (15-17).

Home games: Nebraska, Ohio State, Iowa, Illinois (17-15).

2012 combined league record of opponents: 32-32.

Synopsis: This schedule rates so difficult because of its layout. Here's how the Boilermakers open Big Ten play: Nebraska-Michigan State-Wisconsin-Ohio State. Yikes.

We'll grant you the second half of the schedule seems as favorable as the first half is unfavorable. But will Purdue have anything left in the tank by the time it gets to those last laps?

5. MICHIGAN

Road games: Penn State, Michigan State, Northwestern, Iowa (16-16).

Home games: Minnesota, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio State (19-13).

2012 combined league record of opponents: 35-29.

Synopsis: The good news is that the Ohio State and Nebraska games are at home. But key Legends Division games against Michigan State and Northwestern are on the road, along with a trip to Happy Valley.

To win their first division title since the Big Ten went to 12 teams, the Wolverines will need to have the answers from Nov. 2-16, when they play the Spartans, Wildcats and Huskers in consecutive weeks.

6. NORTHWESTERN

Road games: Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois (13-19).

Home games: Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State (19-13).

2012 combined league record of opponents: 32-32.

Synopsis: Northwestern wears the cleats Nebraska wore the past two years, with Ohio State and Wisconsin playing the Wildcats right off the bat in Big Ten play.

The road schedule might not be as easy as last year’s opponent records suggest, but it's manageable enough to keep the Wildcats in contention for the division title if they can win against either Wisconsin or Nebraska.

The question is what they do at home when a couple of blue-blood programs visit. And remember what we saw last year, when Nebraska fans took over Evanston. That home game against Ohio State might not be so homey.

7. PENN STATE

Road games: Indiana, Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin (16-16).

Home games: Michigan, Illinois, Purdue, Nebraska (16-16).

2012 combined league record of opponents: 32-32.

Synopsis: The schedule has its light patches, but the tough stuff is grouped together. Penn State plays Ohio State and Michigan in consecutive games in October, then Nebraska and Wisconsin back-to-back in November.

8. INDIANA

Road games: Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State (18-14).

Home games: Penn State, Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue (11-21).

2012 combined league record of opponents: 29-35.

Synopsis: You could make an argument that the Hoosiers belong higher up on the list given all the heavyweights on the road. But for a program in Indiana's position, you could also say there's a lot to like about this schedule.

For a program that could do some building by just winning three or four conference games, the opportunity is there based on the teams visiting Bloomington.

If I’m Kevin Wilson, I like the fact I get some of the less-established programs on my turf. Do well at home and the rest is house money. Shock any of those teams on the road and there’s a contract extension in it for you.

9. NEBRASKA

Road games: Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State (17-15).

Home games: Illinois, Northwestern, Michigan State, Iowa (10-22).

2012 combined league record of opponents: 27-37.

Synopsis: The road is clear of Buckeyes and Badgers -- at least in the regular season.

And Nebraska’s home slate sure seems a cushy one on paper, though maybe not as much as the numbers above suggest, if you think Michigan State is better than the record it put up last season.

It's also quite true Nebraska could be favored in its first eight games. On the other hand, don't lose sight of the challenging finish of Northwestern-Michigan-Michigan State-Penn State in consecutive weeks from Nov. 2-23.

10. OHIO STATE

Road games: Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan (14-18).

Home games: Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State, Indiana (14-18).

2012 combined league record of opponents: 28-36.

Synopsis: Two of the toughest tests come early, with Wisconsin and Northwestern leading off Ohio State’s Big Ten schedule.

After that, four of the next five games are against teams that didn’t crack .500 in league play last year. And Penn State comes to the Horseshoe.

Of course, Ohio State will have to finish the deal against bitter rival Michigan. At the Big House. The question is will the Buckeyes walk in there 11-0?

11. MICHIGAN STATE

Road games: Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Northwestern (14-18).

Home games: Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Minnesota (13-19).

2012 combined league record of opponents: 27-37.

Synopsis: It’s quite the favorable setup for Sparty, with cross-division games against Illinois, Indiana and Purdue. Not to mention, rival Michigan comes to East Lansing.

The challenge will come in winning key divisional games at Northwestern and Nebraska. But even in regard to that, Michigan State catches a break, with a bye week coming just before those two games.

12. WISCONSIN

Road games: Ohio State, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota (12-20).

Home games: Northwestern, Purdue, Indiana, Penn State (16-16).

2012 combined league record of opponents: 28-36.

Synopsis: The Badgers have an early road test against Ohio State, which might be bad news, considering that could be the tiebreaker in the division. But just look how the rest of the schedule opens up after the Buckeyes. Wisconsin's other seven foes combined for just 20 conference wins last year.

The cross-division games are pretty favorable: Minnesota, Iowa and Northwestern. And Northwestern is at home.

But it’s the road schedule that really causes us to rank this the easiest schedule. Aside from the Buckeyes, Wisconsin's three other road opponents had a combined four conference wins last year.

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.