Predicting the first loss for each B1G team in 2020
MINNEAPOLIS — The beautiful, technicolor matrix released by the Big Ten on Wednesday was a needed respite from the doom-and-gloom scenarios facing the United States and collegiate football therein. Of course, it could look a lot different by Nov. 21 when the league’s COVID-19-altered, all-conference slate is scheduled to conclude.
But it at least provides the opportunity to prognosticate about real, actual football being played on a 100-yard field with a pair of goalposts and a college team’s primary logo at the 50-yard line. And with no nonconference tune-ups, it’ll be a gauntlet for every B1G squad.
It won’t be easy to make it through unscathed. With that in mind, we attempted to predict each team’s first loss of a 2020 campaign that, no matter what happens, will be like no other in the B1G’s 124-year history.
(Disclaimer: This assumes the schedule plays out exactly as it was laid out this week. That’s unlikely at this point, and it’s why the B1G is … 1.) building in a pair of bye weeks for each team that coincide with those of other recent opponents, 2.) starting Labor Day Weekend and preparing to conclude before Thanksgiving, providing ultimate flexibility and 3) establishing a set of detailed health protocols that all teams must follow. We’re also assuming little to no fan attendance for the purposes of this exercise.)
Illinois: Week 1 vs. Ohio State, Sept. 3
Sorry, Lovie. Someone had to play the defending B1G champs in Week 1. It’s the Illini, who shocked the world with a win over Wisconsin last year but still are predicted to finish in the bottom portion of the B1G West in 2020.
Iowa: Week 3 at Minnesota, Sept. 19
This is a tough one to pick as the Floyd of Rosedale seems to bring out these teams’ best — along with some chicanery in the form of a weird bounce, questionable call or some other variable. But Minnesota has more back than the Hawkeyes, particularly on offense, even without Rashod Bateman. However, If embattled coach Kirk Ferentz and his new starting quarterback find a way past the Golden Gophers, they could very well be 6-0 heading into Happy Valley on Oct. 24.
Minnesota: Week 2 vs. Michigan, Sept. 12
The battle for the Little Brown Jug comes in Week 2, and the Wolverines will be on a mission this season to prove they can overcome their demons. P.J. Fleck’s team, for all its success, has been slow out of the season gate at times. You can do that against UNLV and South Dakota State, but not the Maize and Blue.
Nebraska: Week 3 vs. Wisconsin, Sept. 19
If the Huskers are ever to regain the national prominence the B1G hoped it was adding when Nebraska joined the conference a decade ago, that journey goes through Madison. And while the Big Red should be better in 2020, it still hasn’t proven itself on par with the Badgers, especially in the trenches.
Northwestern: Week 1 at Penn State, Sept. 5
Expect a bounceback year from Pat Fitzgerald’s group. After going 3-9 last year, there’s not really anywhere else to go. Just don’t expect it in Week 1 against a Nittany Lions team with an eye for the Playoff. But also don’t expect the Wildcats to roll over quietly. This is the type of game Fitzgerald teams thrive on — season opener, big opponent, lots of unpredictable factors (especially if fans aren’t allowed inside Beaver Stadium).
Purdue: Week 1 at Michigan, Sept. 5
This should be a fun one, especially if the Boilermakers can find a way to get their passing game going. But Michigan is a talented, deeper team than Purdue at this point. If they met later in the season, it might be a different story.
Wisconsin: Ohio State, Dec. 5, Big Ten Championship
The B1G did Bucky a big ole favor by scheduling Rutgers as Wisconsin’s added crossover opponent. Wisconsin’s toughest tests come Sept. 26 against Minnesota and on Halloween against Michigan. And while Paul Chryst’s group lost NFL-caliber talent at both running back and linebacker, the Badgers’ overall makeup has the potential to undefeated heading into Indianapolis.
Indiana: Week 1 at Wisconsin, Sept. 4
The Hoosiers will be one of those teams that gives a power a scare this season. That could even come in the form of an upset. But Indiana doesn’t have quite the firepower to hang with the Badgers this season.
Maryland: Week 1 at Iowa, Sept. 5
There might not be a program in the nation that would appreciate a season-opening “W” more than Iowa. Every single one has had to deal with COVID, sure, but the Hawkeyes have endured allegations of a racist culture that led to the firing of strength coach Chris Doyle and independent review of Ferentz and his operations. A win in their return to action could be a big step in the healing process that’s already begun in Iowa City.
Michigan: Week 3 vs. Penn State, Sept. 19
This one’s a toss-up and probably the toughest choice on this list. We’re giving the Nittany Lions a slight edge based on Sean Clifford’s presence at quarterback and a stingy defense that should give Jim Harbaugh fits.
Michigan State: Week 1 vs. Minnesota, Sept. 5
If Mel Tucker can put together a couple of recruiting classes while Fleck stays on the same trajectory, this could turn into a tasty matchup when the rotation brings these teams together. But with Tanner Morgan at quarterback and its entire offensive line back, Minnesota is several steps ahead of Sparty at this point.
Ohio State: TBD, TBD, College Football Playoff championship game
Let’s be honest. We’re just optimistic that we’ll have a CFP this year. But with Justin Fields and 4- and 5-star talent up and down the lineup, the Buckeyes once again represent the B1G’s best chance at making college football’s final four. They won’t be the best team in the country, but they’ll come dang close.
Penn State: Week 10 vs. Ohio State, Nov. 7
In another move by B1G Commissioner Kevin Warren and his staff that lightened the load for the conference’s top contenders, both Penn State and Ohio State avoid Wisconsin and Minnesota in crossover play. That sets up Lions-Buckeyes as a de facto East Division championship if all goes according to plan, and Ohio State has the slight edge this time around, even on the road.
Rutgers: Week 1 vs. Nebraska, Sept. 5
There are those who follow B1G football closely who wouldn’t be surprised if Rutgers, currently in a teamwide quarantine with 28 positive COVID-19 tests, pulls the plug on its season entirely. But if it somehow starts on time, a matchup featuring former Nebraska quarterback Noah Vedral under center for Rutgers ends with the Huskers flying back to Lincoln 1-0.