Predicting all 7 B1G Championship Weekend matchups
Not only is the Big Ten back this fall, it’s coming back with a bit of creativity. I know, I know — the last time I praised the B1G for its creativity, it canceled the season 5 days later.
Knock on wood, the Big Ten is going to give this a real shot thanks to a variety of factors. And if all goes according to plan, it is setting up for a fun final weekend of the regular season.
Not only will the Big Ten host a conference championship game on Dec. 19 (the day before the final College Football Playoff rankings come out), but the teams that don’t win their division will also play a crossover game against a team from the other division. The standings will determine the matchups.
I love this idea for several reasons. With there only being time for 8 games before the championship, getting every team an extra game in any way possible is great. If a team gets a game canceled along the way, it’s another chance to play and reward all these players for battling through a ridiculous back-and-forth for the past few months.
It’s great for the fans, too, because it means every team will be represented on that final weekend. I love the normal conference championship Saturday, but sometimes, it can feel a little bare. After a full season, I don’t necessarily need to see Rutgers play another game, but in a weird season like this, I welcome it.
I also like the fact that teams are going to be matched up based on where they finish in the division, so theoretically, we should have some competitive games. And if we don’t have great games, who cares? If we make it this far, I think fans from all Big Ten teams will be thrilled.
Who knows, maybe some other leagues will try to steal this idea if they get a few games postponed along the way.
So who is going to be playing that weekend? Let’s take a guess at each matchup, keeping in mind that the Big Ten is going to avoid rematches from the regular season.
Rutgers vs. Purdue
I’m fairly confident Rutgers is going to finish 7th in the East, but the bigger question is who it will already have played in crossover games. Purdue and Illinois are the prime candidates for the basement of the West, and both were on Rutgers’ original 9-game schedule. This could depend on which team (Purdue, Illinois or Nebraska) gets eliminated for the 8-game schedule. For now, I’ll say Purdue, which will be without opt-out Rondale Moore.
Michigan State vs. Illinois
I would gladly take a repeat of Illinois’ thrilling comeback win in East Lansing last year that really vaulted the Illini into a legitimate bowl team. And it goes without saying, I don’t care who wins, I am just rooting for drama. I don’t think Illinois will be happy with a 6th-place finish in the West, but that division is going to be a grind. And Michigan State isn’t used to finishing this low in the East, but it will be a tough first year for Mel Tucker.
Maryland vs. Nebraska
This admittedly isn’t the sexiest matchup I can draw up, unless an 18-hour car ride to see teams with no history with one another is your cup of tea. But this is where the matchups line up, as they don’t play each other in the regular season. I don’t make the rules! In all seriousness, Nebraska won’t be happy if it is 5th in the West, nor should it be. And I’m probably underrating just how fired up that entire state will be to be playing, so maybe the Huskers will use that to fuel them above some more-talented teams. Maryland, meanwhile, would be thrilled with 5th in the East.
Indiana vs. Northwestern
Fourth place in the East is probably the floor for the Hoosiers, who will be expecting to build on an 8-5 season. Northwestern is looking to bounce back after an ugly 2019. This could be an interesting matchup in terms of bowl positioning.
Michigan vs. Iowa
Let’s hope it isn’t a repeat of that slog in Ann Arbor last season in which Michigan prevailed 10-3 and sacked Nate Stanley 8 times. That said, I don’t think anyone is picky about sports in 2020. If we get them, that’s great, and a close game is a bonus. And since the past 3 times these teams have played it’s been a 1-score game, I’ve talked myself into this one!
Penn State vs. Minnesota
This was a fun one last season, and I would love to see it again. While 2 of the league’s biggest stars in Penn State’s Micah Parsons and Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman have opted out, Sean Clifford and Tanner Morgan are still 2 of the league’s top quarterbacks. Seeing them go back and forth would be great.
Ohio State vs. Wisconsin
And finally, I think this is most experts’ pick on paper. Ohio State and Wisconsin have played in 2 of the past 6 Big Ten Championship Games and are the favorites in their respective divisions, as usual. With the news that Wyatt Davis and Shaun Wade are back for the Buckeyes, it is officially national title or bust, provided Justin Fields stays healthy. Even without those guys, Ohio State can win the Big Ten, which tells you a lot about the gap between it and the rest of the league.