10 things we still don't know about B1G football
Wednesday’s news that the COVID-impacted 2020 Big Ten football season is back certainly was cause for celebration, from Lincoln to Piscataway.
OK, maybe not Piscataway.
But even with the B1G’s aggressive protocols and return-to-play plan, plenty of questions remain. Fans around the conference won’t soon forget how the league canceled the season 6 days after its first conference-only schedule came out.
So anything is still possible. Here are 10 things we’re still wondering ahead of the conference’s Oct. 23-24 re-restart.
1. What will the schedule look like?
We know the formula: 8 games in 8 weeks, followed by a “Champions Week” in which the division champions will square off for the B1G title. Each team in the league will get a 9th contest, too, with the West Division’s No. 2 team playing the East’s No. 2 finisher, 3 vs. 3 and so on. But who gets who, when? What’s Ohio State’s path to the College Football Playoff look like this time? Will the conference “punish” Nebraska for its pushback against the original cancellation with a taxing schedule? Reports indicated the league will stick with its current permanent crossover matchups, but the official slate is expected to be released later this week.
2. Speaking of Ohio State, can it really make the Playoff if the B1G plays fewer games than the SEC, ACC and Big 12?
Absolutely. If Ohio State mauls every opponent, including Wisconsin and Penn State, it’s hard to keep a squad like that out of the playoff. But that’s a big if. Because …
3. Will players who opted out come back?
For Ohio State, that’s Shaun Wade and Wyatt Davis. Purdue is reportedly working on phenom wideout Rondale Moore. The ship has sailed on Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman, who already signed with an agent. Who knows what Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons is thinking after tweeting his apparent excitement Wednesday? Game breakers like that could shape the fortunes of teams for the worse or the better.
4. What will games with no fan attendance be like?
We’ve all been mulling this one for a while — an empty Big House, a reduced-capacity Horseshoe. But now it’s official: The conference isn’t allowing ticket sales in 2020. Just family. But will there be bands? Mascots? Cheerleaders? The things that make college football college football? Put our money on some of the bigger schools, with heavy investments into their creative and digital media teams, to pull off some slick virtual ways of connecting with fellow fans during games. But nothing beats the real thing.
At least all those B1G parents who fought for their kids’ seasons will get rewarded.
5. How will players and programs handle medical protocols that are stricter than any other conference’s rules?
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where games aren’t shuffled around. But how many? And if 1 or 2 teams have to shut it down for a week, could 2 “clean” opponents tweak their schedules to get a game in? How fluid is this? The B1G didn’t do itself any favors by waiting so long to play, giving it a razor-thin margin for error.
In any case, we’ll find out how bad these guys really wanted to play. Like the rest of society this year, they’ll be asked to go above and beyond, avoiding parties and bars in order to keep their seasons afloat.
6. Who’s the best in the West?
To even be publishing that question again is rather refreshing. Will Wisconsin roll again? Can Minnesota build on its best season in almost eight decades? How’s Iowa after an offseason rocked not only by COVID-19 but alleged social injustices throughout the program? What do Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue have to say about it? Buckle up, assuming we get the car out of the garage.
7. Who’s this year’s surprise team?
Indiana has talent and experience. Northwestern should be much improved after going 3-9 a year ago. Can Nebraska and Scott Frost break through? Or will it be someone else? There’s always at least one squad that shakes up the preseason projections.
8. How prepared will teams be?
While the B1G spent 5 weeks reversing course on postponing fall sports, teams have been allowed up to 12 hours of non-padded practice. How quickly will they be allowed to ramp back up? We’ve already seen what unprepared teams look like after an offseason like no other — sorry Navy, Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas.
9. Will Justin Fields win the Heisman?
Kind of the same storyline as the Ohio State quarterback’s team aspirations. Have the kind of season he’s capable of having, and he’ll be right in the mix. But like the rest of the league, the Buckeyes and their leader don’t have much wiggle room for missteps.
10. What else will change between now and Oct. 23 that no one’s talking about?
It’s hard to make any concrete plans or get 100% jacked up about much outside of family and friends during COVID-19. Every piece of good news is couched by “this is a fluid situation.” Our prediction: the season will get off the ground, and teams will get close to 8-9 games in. But the journey will be far from smooth from here on out.