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Players and fans look forward to big early-season games like Ohio State's trip to Miami this weekend. Southeast Missouri State's visit to Purdue doesn't have the same cachet.

Big Ten teams are often criticized for playing so many lower-tier opponents in September, but nonconference scheduling in college football is much more complicated than that. Mid-level programs and smaller schools rely heavily on payouts from big-time teams to balance their athletic department budgets.

Satisfying ticket buyers, attracting recruits and toughening up their players for the conference-game grind requires a balancing act for Big Ten coaches and administrators. They also must consider the number of home games, overall records for bowl bids and the importance of helping out schools in their area who relish playing on a bigger stage.

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