For once, the B1G bows to its top contenders with new schedule
Last month, when the Big Ten announced that it was moving to a conference-only schedule due to COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote about the games I wanted to see added to the schedule.
In a 2020 college football season that still may not happen, I wanted the juiciest matchups possible because that was what I thought was best for us, the viewers. Since we are missing out on all these marquee nonconference games like Ohio State vs. Oregon, Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame and more, why not jam as much talent on the field at once?
How about Ohio State vs. Minnesota, with 2 potential Heisman contenders at quarterback and 2 1st-round wide receivers? Nope.
Or, Penn State vs. Wisconsin — 2 of the league’s premier programs that have met just once in the regular season since 2013? Nah.
OK, let’s line up Michigan and Nebraska against each other for a fun battle of 2 programs with proud tradition. Uh-uh.
Instead, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren went a much smarter route with the new schedule released Wednesday and did what was best for the conference, AKA the College Football Playoff contenders. If you look at the games added to the schedule for each of the league’s top programs, they are playing the bottom-feeders from the other side.
Ohio State added Purdue, Penn State got Illinois, Wisconsin will play Rutgers, Michigan added Northwestern and Iowa added Maryland. That’s kinda boring, huh? (Aside from Rondale Moore getting another game against Ohio State, of course.)
But that’s the point. Why make it any harder on your top teams to make a run and go to the CFP? In a 4-team CFP, 1 of the Power 5 leagues is always going to left out (and 2 leagues will be left out if Notre Dame makes a run or a league grabs 2 spots, like the SEC did in 2017). The goal of the regular season is to not be that 1 conference on the outside looking in, which means it’s important to have as few spoilers as possible, if you can manage it. Mission accomplished on that front.
The football schedule starts as early as the weekend of Sept. 5 with final games slated for Nov. 21 to align with academic calendars. The Big Ten Football Championship Game remains scheduled for Dec. 5 at Lucas Oil Stadium, though it could be moved as late as Dec. 19. pic.twitter.com/vWp3OSifBc
— Big Ten Conference (@bigten) August 5, 2020
The Big Ten has been criticized in the past for making it too difficult for its members. For one, moving from 8 conference games to 9 in 2016 is great for us, the viewer, but not as great for the league. A conference with 8 games has never missed the CFP, and many programs in the SEC and ACC will schedule 3 non-Power 5 programs instead of 2. That’s a huge advantage.
I took this unveiling as a tip of the cap to the contenders. Warren might as well have said, “I’m not going to stand in your way.” After all, he couldn’t stick Ohio State with Purdue and let Penn State battle Wisconsin. The schedules are always going to be a little unfair for someone during the normal rotation, but that’s OK because it evens out the next year. Since this is a special circumstance and won’t be evened out next year, he had to treat his contenders equally. It’s smart for business.
I also found it noteworthy that the schedules weren’t front-loaded with juicy matchups. When almost all of spring ball, offseason workouts and preseason practice have been wiped out, the top teams in the Big Ten aren’t squaring off with rivals in the opener, as many had clamored for, or other top-tier programs. Instead, the most intriguing game is probably Indiana at Wisconsin. It’s a solid matchup, but the schedule isn’t exactly starting off with a bang. And that’s OK. It’s smart. We don’t need Ohio State and Michigan to play right away (that’s slated for Oct. 24), or Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Remember last season when Ohio State played No. 9 Penn State, No. 10 Michigan and No. 9 Wisconsin in a 15-day span to close the regular season? By the time the Buckeyes played the Badgers in the Big Ten Championship Game, they looked a little worn down in sputtering to a 14-point halftime deficit. Fortunately for the Big Ten, they regrouped to score 27 unanswered points and reach the Playoff.
There are no such gauntlets on this year’s schedule. Ohio State has at least 1 week between its 3 toughest games of Michigan, Penn State and Iowa. Penn State’s toughest back-to-back is Indiana and Michigan. Wisconsin’s 4 toughest games (Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa) are all spaced out nicely. Granted, this could all change as soon as COVID-19 makes its way through the locker room, but on paper, it looks great.
Warren is acknowledging that this schedule release doesn’t mean there will be a season, and if there is, “It won’t be a straight line,” as he said on Big Ten Network on Wednesday morning. He has provided all of these schools maximum flexibility by matching up bye weeks and starting the season as originally planned on Labor Day Weekend, while others like the SEC, have opted to wait until late September.
Combined with the health guidelines he released Wednesday featuring two mandated COVID-19 tests per week, Warren is doing just about all he can to ensure the Big Ten is in the best possible position given the circumstances. This schedule reflects that.