The COVID-19 pandemic changed Thanksgiving plans for a number of people. The Big Ten is no different, but that doesn’t mean the conference and all those with a seat at the head table acted out of character. So it’s with no surprise that after conference commissioner Kevin Warren canceled the (hypothetical) dinner as early as Columbus Day, he reversed course and hastily put together a (hypothetical) Thanksgiving dinner for every football program in the conference. 

Each program scurried and planned in short order. Think of it as Mike Leach’s offense in party form but with far less routine-based actions and more manic tendencies. We want to (hypothetically) spend the holiday together but who’s supposed to bring what? Does everyone like Coke? Who’s a Tab fan? After much discussion where both Ohio State and Nebraska clamored for a gathering and Iowa got the hang of the peskiness of Google Forms, we know what each program plans to bring to dinner. 

Author’s note: Notre Dame was supposed to handle the stuffing but they chose to spend the holiday on the east coast. 

Illinois: Black olives

Not a necessity, more of a side dish. Enjoyed by a select few and something to distract from the entirety of the meal. Nice on occasion but to be fully appreciated it needs to be paired with something else, typically a food item produced in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Indiana: Green bean casserole

Expect a fully-formed and complete recipe this year. No skimping on presentation either. Unlike years past when the Hoosiers promised such deft expertise on a traditional dish and typically showed up with a can of cream of mushroom soup, some partially defrosted green beans and shavings from a Funyuns bag, we know they’ll nail it this year.  

Iowa: Dinner rolls

Nothing fancy, a quick stop at the store on the way over after working a double on Thanksgiving. A food item best described as a foundational piece of the meal.  

Maryland: Crab cakes

Wonderful taste. Much improvement in the recipe from previous years. Doesn’t necessarily go with the rest of the other dishes but seems to be growing in demand from people around the table. 

Michigan: Prime rib

Great look from the moment of purchase at the upper scale butcher shop. Recipe followed to the exact measurements and timing as stated in the cookbook, obviously Jacques Pepin, but comes out lacking flavor. Not made with any love or care. 

Michigan State: Canned cranberry sauce

A downgrade in recipe where previously prepared with items like lemon zest, orange peel, salt and pepper paired with the best cranberries grown and picked from the Midwest. There’s been talk amongst the other attendees the cans will be dented and the tubular cranberry will need to be forked out of them. 

Minnesota: Compliment cards

Short on time or tangible value, willing to say nice things about all the fellow dinner guests without contributing any sort of nourishment to their fellow diners. Also willing to bring oars as nontraditional serving mechanisms.  

Nebraska: Dinner plates

Wanted to provide the sort of base and functionality for everyone to eat and get fat and full.

Northwestern: Cloth napkins

Durable, willing to sustain mess after mess. A necessity for any meal but especially one with eaters prone to spill on themselves. 

Ohio State: Turkey

Prepared anyway imaginable. Brined, deep friend, braised. Or seasoned with anything you can think of, meaning beer, mole, or pumpkin spice for the seasonal enthusiasts. The main course will outshine the rest of the dishes and serve as the meal’s centerpiece. 

Penn State: Broccoli and cheese casserole

Hold on. Nope, creamed corn. Wait a second, croutons. Ah crap, let’s just hope they show up. 

Purdue: Jalapeno-infused IPA

A very specific item appreciated by a very specific sort of consumer that creates a cacophony of flavors and plays to a non-traditional drinker. 

Rutgers: Brussel sprouts

Not a big hit with the children at the table or those whose taste buds have not advanced past a life of ranch and ketchup as their primary condiment, but a very niche dish complete with artful wrinkles like pancetta, walnuts, or bacon. Certain nice little tweaks and additions that will leave plenty of leftovers, but appreciated by those taking a sandwich bag home with them. 

Wisconsin: Mashed potatoes

An endearing dish, typically one that ties the whole operation together. Liberties taken this year to extend the spices and seasonings and additions to include chives, shredded cheddar cheese and bits of pan-fried bacon.