Indiana, Purdue fans agree: B1G schedule release offers few favors
As they entered 2020, Purdue and Indiana had hoped for quick starts to the season.
The Hoosiers needed wins in their soft nonconference (following a challenging opener at Wisconsin) to gain momentum before the gauntlet of the B1G East and to try to build upon the 8-win breakthrough in 2019.
The Boilermakers wanted an early boost, albeit against tough competition — at Nebraska, then quality nonconference games vs. Memphis and Air Force in Ross-Ade Stadium — to prove it was a program headed in the right direction and back to a bowl.
But in that regard, the Big Ten’s re-release of its 10-game schedule Wednesday, a consequence of the COVID pandemic, does neither program any favors. It’s brutal right out of the gate for the Boilermakers and the Hoosiers.
The rivals still play to end the season — unlike Michigan State vs. Ohio State, now penciled in for mid-October — but how will they arrive in Bloomington on Nov. 21 for the Old Oaken Bucket?
An inside look.
One thing remains the same: The Hoosiers will open in Madison vs. the Badgers on Friday night, Sept. 4, the same as pre-COVID. Everything else, though, was thrown into a blender, much like the rest of the B1G schedule.
Had the pandemic never happened — and wouldn’t that be nice? — the Hoosiers would have followed the Wisconsin game with Western Kentucky and Ball State in Memorial Stadium before a trip to Connecticut.
Now? It’s IU vs. Wisconsin, but what follows is not a who’s who of Midwest mid-majors plus UConn, which Wednesday canceled its season, but Penn State and Illinois, then games at Ohio State and Minnesota — the representatives in the Big Ten Championship game a year ago. The Hoosiers then get Michigan in Bloomington on Oct. 17 (in a matchup originally scheduled for Ann Arbor).
The Gopher game is IU’s bonus this season, the 10th game added after the Big Ten decided to go with a 10-game league-only schedule.
Minnesota adds to that 6-game slate, with those opponents combining for a 60-15 record in 2019, with all qualifying for the postseason. Only Illinois, at 6-7, finished below .500.
The schedule eases somewhat in the final month, with home games vs. Maryland and Purdue sandwiched around back-to-back trips to Rutgers and Michigan State, the latter being in East Lansing after the original schedule called for it in Bloomington. The bye weeks are Oct. 3 and Nov. 14, an extra week to prepare for Minnesota and Purdue.
It’s not an easy look for Tom Allen and Co., not that it was expected to be once the Big Ten took away the Hoosiers’ soft nonconference. But adding Minnesota to the mix, arguably the favorite in the West, isn’t preferable. And then sticking the Golden Gophers right between a trip to Ohio State and a home game to Michigan?
Jeff Brohm’s 2020 schedule wasn’t easy to begin with, featuring a game full of intrigue at Nebraska to open the year, then home games vs. 2019 bowl qualifiers and double-digit game-winners Memphis and Air Force.
But if the old schedule — the only nonconference road game was at Boston College — was a bad dream, the new one might be a nightmare.
Purdue wants to avoid the slow starts that have plagued the Brohm program the past couple of years and prove that in Year 4 it’s ready to take a big step forward. It’s going to be difficult. The Boilermakers no longer open in Lincoln, but instead get to go to Ann Arbor to face Michigan.
After that, Purdue hosts Iowa and Ohio State — the Buckeyes are extra 10th opponent, a nice “gift” from the B1G — before road trips to Illinois and Wisconsin on either side of the Oct. 3 bye. The Wisconsin game was scheduled for West Lafayette, but is now in Madison.
The 2019 record of the first 3 opponents? A mere 32-8, including 21-6 in Big Ten play.
The Boilermakers didn’t start the way they wanted to last season, with a disheartening loss at Nevada in the opener, then defeats to Minnesota and Penn State to open league play. By the end of October, Purdue was just 2-6. The Boilermakers started slowly in 2018 too, with an 0-3 record, and were 3-5 at the start of November in 2017, Brohm’s first year. Yet in the first 2 years of the Brohm era, Purdue rallied to the postseason.
Not in 2019, when the Boilermakers finished 4-8.
This year was — and maybe still is — supposed to be different, with the now-canceled game at Nebraska, a team in a similar spot in rebuilding, slated to be a barometer for the next month. Now, though, Purdue isn’t facing a rebuilding program like Scott Frost’s Cornhuskers, but 3 of the most consistent and most proven B1G foes in Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State, right out of the gate.
Clearly, Ohio State, one of the best teams in the country, is a challenge as the 10th game, yet the Boilermakers have fared well against the Buckeyes in recent Ross-Ade Stadium history. Two seasons ago, in the Tyler Trent Game, Purdue mashed OSU, with Rondale Moore running all over the Buckeyes in a 49-20 route.
So, call it a surprise rematch.
Purdue gets its Oct. 3 and Nov. 7 bye weeks, and will host Nebraska in the 2nd-to-last weekend, rather than in Lincoln.
Maybe it’s easier in the second half of the season. The Boilermakers get 3 home games, with Rutgers, Northwestern and Nebraska in Ross-Ade. They’ll travel to Minnesota for a potentially big B1G West matchup before the game for the Old Oaken Bucket at Indiana.
Then, we’ll see where the Hoosiers and Boilermakers stand.