1. The B1G Reality

They’ve already screwed this up beyond repair from the get. How bad could another abject failure look?

The gang that tried to sell “spring” football is roaming down a similar path this week, and for some reason (sarcasm font), it’s going largely ignored.

The irony is just so rich.

So while Michigan tries its best to get on the field and play this weekend at Ohio State, the Big Ten finds itself in a familiar spot of saving a season.

This time, Ohio State’s season.

The unbeaten Buckeyes have played 5 games, 1 shy of the Big Ten minimum of 6 to play in the league’s championship game. Michigan, meanwhile, is dealing with COVID, with positive tests and tracing issues preventing it from playing last week.

The Wolverines returned to practice Monday in a limited role, but that doesn’t mean they’re good to go for Saturday. This begs the question: What are the options if Michigan can’t play?

That man you see in a panic, high-stepping to the forefront of yet another Big Ten season “adjustment”? That would be Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, ceremonially dotting the i.

“I remember when we were told we’re not playing under any circumstance,” a Big Ten coach told me. “Now it’s, let’s see how we can get Ohio State into that darn Playoff.”

Before we wade further into this mess, let’s recap:

— Big Ten on Aug. 11 canceled the fall season and said the path is now spring football (I still can’t stop laughing at the absurdity of spring football). Warren said the decision “will not be revisited.”

— About 6 weeks later – and after the CFP says the Playoff will go as planned and not move – the Big Ten magically “revisits” the decision, and says because of improved testing and tracing, the show will go on with a 9-game season, stringent protocols and no bye weeks (see: train wreck waiting to happen).

— Games are canceled, the schedule is a mess, and with 2 weeks to play in the regular season, what everyone (other than B1G officials) saw coming, arrives: teams haven’t played the prerequisite 6 games to be eligible for the Big Ten Championship Game.

One of those teams is – you guessed it – big, bad Ohio State.

If the B1G followed its rules of return to football, Northwestern would play Indiana in the Big Ten Championship Game if No. 4-ranked Ohio State (5-0) doesn’t reach the mandated 6 games played.

This leaves us with our current conundrum: What to do about Ohio State, the only Big Ten team worthy of Playoff consideration.

There are 2 options: follow your rules as planned, or kowtow to all things Scarlet and Gray.

Where do you think the “spring football” folks are on this critical crossroads?

Don’t kid yourself, this decision has already been made. The conference will do whatever it takes to get Ohio State in the Playoff – even if it means once again coming off a red line in the sand (see: the decision “will not be revisited”).

Two Big Ten coaches I spoke to this weekend both said it’s only a matter of how it happens, not if it happens.

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The easiest way out of this mess is Michigan somehow getting healthy enough to play The Game. Short of that, the Big Ten will either change its 6-game mandate or find Ohio State another game this week.

Which path is taken depends on how quickly the league can get a read on the medical situation inside the Michigan program.

I think I can speak for all of us when I say, have no fear, Kevin Warren is on the job.

2. Pulling back the curtain

If there’s one positive about this B1G mess, it’s the unmasking of the shell game we’ve been sold for so long.

A distinct reveal that will lead to an expanded Playoff, the very thing fans (you know, your audience/consumers) have been clamoring about for years.

We’ve been told for decades (yes, decades) that university presidents want no part of second-semester football, and that an expanded Playoff would push the sport into the second (winter) semester.

Yet 14 Big Ten presidents decided in August that they were all for second-semester football, because when COVID threatened the ability to earn TV money and keep athletic departments afloat, well, that’s more important than some silly ideal of no football in the second semester.

No matter the decisions made this fall, COVID has irrevocably changed revenue streams for college sports, and specifically, FBS football.

Budgets are strapped, Olympic sports have been eliminated, opportunities for higher education for those who wouldn’t typically benefit are gone.

The revenue wave of the future is streaming rights, but Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, etc., aren’t paying top dollar for a 4-team Playoff.

So don’t feel too badly that the Big Ten will cross another line in the sand, that it will again acquiesce to Ohio State if it must. Because this laughably screwed up response to COVID has done so much more than highlight a lack of leadership at the highest levels of college sports.

It has unwittingly given us an expanded Playoff. There are 6 years (including 2020) remaining in the CFP contract, but there is an option within the deal to change the parameters.

That will happen sooner rather than later, especially when athletic departments around the nation begin diving into accounting sheets for the 2020-21 school year.

3. The story of stories

Lost amid the scramble to take care of Ohio State is the wonderfully impactful story the Big Ten should be pushing with all its might.

The story of Indiana football.

What Tom Allen has accomplished in Bloomington is nothing short of a minor miracle. It’s not that Indiana isn’t a football school, it’s that over the last 4 decades, Indiana is high in the running for the worst major college football program.

Allen won 8 games last season, the first time IU had won 8 since 1993. It was the 7th time in school history an IU team has won 8 games, and only 2 seasons in school history were better (9-win seasons in 1967 and 1945).

Had COVID not sidetracked the 2020 season, the Hoosiers would have already tied or set the record for wins in a season.

Allen’s program mantra of “Love Each Other” is perfect for a sport dealing with unthinkable obstacles, and is a microcosm of a team mentality that has overcome bad history, bad breaks (QB Michael Penix Jr. knee injury) and just plain bad luck (the 7-point Ohio State loss) in a season of turmoil.

“We just keep checking off historical wins and opportunities for this program,” Allen said.

With a win over Purdue, IU can reach 7 wins and earn a New Year’s 6 Bowl. The Hoosiers have played in 1 major bowl in program history, a 14-3 loss to USC in the 1968 Rose Bowl.

Beat Purdue, and IU will likely play in the Fiesta Bowl against the Pac-12 champion.

4. Powered Up

This week’s Big Ten power poll – and one big thing.

1. Ohio State: A CFP source told me the committee is concerned about the optics of Ohio State in the Playoff if it’s only 5-0 and doesn’t have a conference title.

2. Indiana: That was backup Jack Tuttle completing 67% of his passes and leading the Hoosiers to their 6th Big Ten win – for only the 3rd time in school history (1967, 1987).

3. Northwestern: A dangerous spot for the Wildcats. Last week’s game was canceled, this week is a desperate team/coach. And Northwestern already has clinched a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game.

4. Iowa: If only the Hawkeyes had played Northwestern later in the season, instead of Week 2. This is a different Iowa team. QB Spencer Petras has 6 TDs and 2 INTs since throwing 3 INTs vs. Northwestern.

5. Wisconsin: The Badgers’ season has never recovered from the league’s first significant COVID case. A lost season that shouldn’t have been.

6. Maryland: This season could have been a significant step for the Maryland program. Bright side: Taulia Tagovailoa got repetitions as a starter, and the Terps will be better for it in 2021.

7. Penn State: How to save a season that began with 5 losses: 4 straight wins to finish the regular season, and a bowl win to reach .500.

8. Minnesota: No Big Ten player has been impacted more by COVID and the collateral impact of games lost and teammates in protocol than Gophers QB Tanner Morgan. 2019: 30 TDs, 7 INTs, 66% completion. 2020: 4 TDs, 4 INTs, 59% completion.

9. Michigan State: A win over West Division champion Northwestern by 9, a loss to likely East Division winner Ohio State by 40. Mel Tucker better find a quarterback or there will be more of the same in 2021.

10. Michigan: We should know something this week in regards to Jim Harbaugh’s future at Michigan. It’s difficult to recruit on an expiring contract, and the Early Signing Period starts next Wednesday.

11. Nebraska: Stop with the nonsense that Huskers coach Scott Frost is on the hot seat. It’s not even remotely realistic. But he better start landing impact speed/skill players from Texas and Florida, or the heat will get worse in 2021.

12. Purdue: The most confounding season in years at Purdue. The Boilers could easily be leading the West Division, but instead have lost 4 in a row by a combined 27 points.

13. Rutgers: It’s not that wins aren’t important (they are), it’s that the losses in Greg Schiano’s first season on the second go-around are competitive – and in one case, winnable (Illinois).

14. Illinois: Lovie Smith probably needs to win out to save his job. That means an upset of Northwestern this week, and a TBD game division crossover opponent during championship weekend.

The Weekly Five

Five picks against the spread.

  • Wisconsin at Iowa (-1)
  • Purdue at Indiana (-9.5)
  • Michigan State (+15) at Penn State
  • Minnesota (+11) at Nebraska
  • Illinois (+14.5) at Northwestern

Last week: 2-2 (1 cancellation)
Season: 14-15.