East vs. West: Predicting every B1G team's crossover record
Let’s try this again.
Someday, far from now, when we look back on college football’s place in the COVID-19 chapter of history, we’ll recall the Big Ten had (at least) 3 iterations of its schedule. The most recent attempt was revealed Saturday; each team has a pair of “crossover” contests against programs from the opposite division.
Every game counts in the standings of this conference-only schedule. So crossover matchups are a key determinant in strength — or weakness — of schedule.
Just ask Nebraska, which drew Ohio State and Penn State in the season’s first month, or Northwestern, whose ventures outside the Big Ten West include middling Maryland and rebuilding Michigan State.
After the B1G originally postponed fall sports last month, it’s beyond refreshing to have yet another schedule to parse through. Here, we took a stab at predicting each team’s exploits outside the division — which could go a long way in determining who plays in the B1G championship game during “Champions Week” on Dec. 19.
B1G West Division
Games: Nov. 14 at Rutgers (W), Nov. 28 vs. Ohio State (L)
Lovie Smith’s bunch, which turned heads last season topping Wisconsin and reaching a bowl game, gets the best and possibly the worst of the East. The physical Illini should be able to handle a trip to Piscataway, but a home date with national champion hopeful Ohio State on Thanksgiving weekend will be a different story.
Games: Nov. 7 vs. Michigan State (W), Nov. 21 at Penn State (L)
With Purdue and Northwestern before hosting the revamped Spartans, a 3-0 start looks very likely for Iowa. And Penn State best be wary when the Hawkeyes come to an empty Beaver Stadium; it’s the type of game Kirk Ferentz’s group could keep close. But we give the Nittany Lions a slight edge here.
Games: Oct. 24 vs. Michigan (W), Oct. 31 at Maryland (W)
The Battle for the Little Brown Jug will be a tasty matchup to open the season. If receiver Rashod Bateman can regain eligibility, look out for the Gophers ahead of a Halloween trip that shouldn’t prove too taxing for P.J. Fleck’s opportunistic brood.
Games: Oct. 24 at Ohio State (L), Nov. 14 vs. Penn State (L)
Did the B1G schedule makers have it out for Nebraska, whose vocal pushback against the postponement to spring was a central storyline in the conference’s eventual reversal? Quite possibly. Two silver linings: The Huskers have a better chance of finishing the year strong, and they avoid the trip to Rutgers that would’ve opened the season under Version 2 of the schedule. Given how much COVID-19 has impacted New Jersey, and Rutgers’ general lack of enthusiasm toward playing this season, the Scarlet Knights look like a leading candidate to have games canceled or moved this fall.
Games: Oct. 24 vs. Maryland (W), Nov. 28 at Michigan State (W)
What should be a much-improved Wildcats team got another boost when the latest schedule was released. Pat Fitzgerald’s squad has the easiest crossover slate in the West.
Games: Nov. 28 vs. Rutgers (W), Dec. 12 at Indiana (L)
The Old Oaken Bucket remains on Rivalry Weekend, even during a pandemic. But Indiana is scary this season. Rutgers earlier in the campaign shouldn’t be as tough.
Games: Nov. 14 at Michigan (L), Dec. 5 vs. Indiana (W)
Wisconsin and Minnesota avoid Ohio State and Penn State, which could render the Nov. 28 Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe a de facto West championship game. We’re giving Michigan the edge at home — because of routines, obviously not fan impact — but believe Minnesota will stumble at some point, too.
B1G East Division
Games: Dec. 5 at Wisconsin (L), Dec. 12 vs. Purdue (W)
The Hoosiers are definitely capable of hanging with Wisconsin, but the Badgers have more bullies in the trenches. Indiana closes out the regular-season schedule with a pair crossover games before Champions Week.
Games: Oct. 24 at Northwestern (L), Oct. 31 vs. Minnesota (L)
Maryland gets a tough draw with both crossovers out of the gate — an on-the-rise Northwestern squad and a Minnesota team aiming to finish the job in the West this time. Mike Locksley has Maryland going in the right direction, especially in terms of recruiting, but it’ll be at least a couple of years before the payoff presents itself.
Games: Oct. 24 at Minnesota (L), Nov. 14 vs. Wisconsin (W)
Harbaugh’s clock seems to be perpetually ticking in Ann Arbor, but a season-opening loss in a campaign unlike any other shouldn’t be overreacted to. The Wolverines still have a chance at a good, albeit shortened season with some new personnel, and a win against Wisconsin would avenge a 35-14 embarrassment last season.
Michigan State (0-2)
Games: Nov. 7 at Iowa (L), Nov. 28 vs. Northwestern (L)
No one’s expecting much from the Spartans in their first season under Mel Tucker. Michigan State’s overhaul will take a lot longer than one year, and having to play an all-conference slate probably only sets the timetable back further.
Ohio State (2-0)
Games: Oct. 24 vs. Nebraska (W), Nov. 28 at Illinois (W)
The B1G wasn’t about to give its best national title contender a more difficult road than necessary. The Buckeyes will need to make sure there are no season-opening cobwebs in Lincoln, but avoiding Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Purdue — especially if Buckeye Killer Rondale Moore comes back — makes Justin Fields and Friends’ path that much easier.
Penn State (2-0)
Games: Nov. 14 at Nebraska (W), Nov. 21 vs. Iowa (W)
Neither will be a cakewalk for the Nittany Lions. Their much bigger issue is taking on the Buckeyes in Week 2.
Games: Nov. 14 vs. Illinois (L), Nov. 28 at Purdue (L)
Jokes about its general apathy toward getting in a season aside, Rutgers could make both games interesting. But we’re betting Greg Schiano 2.0 gets off to a rough start, including a winless showing against the West n 2020.