10 things I’ll miss most about B1G football this fall
The gut punch came Tuesday. Wednesday, we woke up sore, still stunned.
What’s next for the Big Ten after postponing fall sports, including football? More body blows could come in the next few days and weeks as conference leadership tries to figure that out.
But in the meantime, it’s going to be a weird, quiet, empty autumn from the plains of the Corn Belt to the ports on the East Coast. It’s hard to narrow it down, but here are 10 things we’ll miss about B1G football this fall.
1. Waking up, stepping outside, smelling the dew on the grass and feeling the hairs on the back of our necks stand up in anticipation of another fall Saturday.
There’s nothing quite like it. We base one-quarter of our calendars around it. It starts with College GameDay and comes to a crescendo at kickoff. Even if your team is floundering, the chance for the amazing is always there. Just ask Illinois fans after the Illini’s upset win over No. 6 Wisconsin last year.
2. Seeing the ceiling for Ohio State.
Justin Fields. The No. 1 defense in 2019. An offense capable of giving 2019 LSU a run for its money — maybe? Love ’em or hate ’em, the Buckeyes were poised to do special things again this fall.
3. Watching divisional races play out.
Even when a juggernaut like Ohio State is present, the B1G’s title game representation is rarely a foregone conclusion. How viable a contender was Penn State? Could Michigan finally overcome its rival? What about the West — is Minnesota a one-hit wonder or a real threat to Wisconsin? What kind of season was Iowa going to have after a tumultuous summer? We won’t know till at least spring, and even that feels like a long shot right now, doesn’t it?
4. Speaking of Minnesota …
P.J. Fleck and his Boat Rowers were one of the most surprising teams in the country last season. We would’ve learned a lot about how much staying power the Gophers have knowing they won’t surprise anyone, especially with Tanner Morgan coming back at quarterback. With as much anticipation as there was in the Twin Cities, it’s a shame to see that fire doused.
5. Opportunities for redemption.
Someone was going to bounce back this year. Maybe it was Nebraska, Adrian Martinez and coach Scott Frost in Year 3 under the coach who has yet to produce a winning season or a bowl trip. Maybe Northwestern, which went 3-9 a year after reaching the B1G title game. Or Purdue, with one of the most dynamic receiving corps in the country.
6. The buildup.
Our Saturday traditions don’t just revolve around Saturday. There’s a cadence to the week. By Sunday afternoon, we’ve processed what happened the day before. Monday, we look ahead to who’s next. Tuesday and Wednesday seem like the longest days of the year. By Thursday, we’re itching and by Friday night, we’re locked in. Then comes that feeling of anticipation when the alarm goes off Saturday morning. It’s the natural rhythm of the college football fan, and it’ll be thrown completely off-kilter when Labor Day weekend gets here and B1G stadiums sit empty.
7. The Game.
What would’ve brought more normalcy during a pandemic than possibly college football’s greatest rivalry — with conference and national implications, per the usual, on top of a salty exchange between coaches Jim Harbaugh and Ryan Day last week?
8. The College Football Playoff.
The B1G’s depth has made the sport’s latest attempt at crowning a champion tantalizing — and not just in December and January, either. Is this the year Ohio State breaks all the way through, giving the B1G it’s first champion since the Buckeyes won it all in 2014? What about Penn State or Wisconsin challenging for a spot? Or in some COVID-less world where all fall schedules went on as planned, would the B1G have eaten itself again and missed out entirely?
9. Trophy games.
The B1G’s jugs and buckets will go empty this fall. Its bells and axes will stay still. The pageantry and tradition that come with some of the game’s longest-running rivalries is taking a hiatus. The 2020 season marks the first time in 128 years Minnesota and Wisconsin won’t play for Paul Bunyan’s Axe and the first time since 1918 Michigan and Ohio State won’t square off.
10. Coming together.
The family tailgate. The group text with old buddies. Game-day Twitter. High-fiving and hugging strangers. Zombie Nation, Across the Field and Hail Varsity. Even fan-less games because of the pandemic brought about the opportunity for new ways to share in the cultural experience of B1G football. Zoom tailgate in the driveway, anybody?
Fans aren’t the only ones missing out. Players who have worked their entire lives for this have seen their season ripped away. Local businesses are going to suffer mightily with no games to drive foot traffic. The members of college football’s personnel infrastructure — trainers, video teams, stadium people, equipment managers, administrative staff, graduate assistants, interns, student workers and others we often overlook — lives for this, too. Now many of them might be looking for a job.
Anymore, few things bring individuals in a divided nation together under a common purpose. Don’t we need that right now more than ever?
In theory, it’s only one year. But it’s going to feel like a lot longer than that.