Selecting the biggest game in each week of the B1G’s conference-only football schedule
The Big Ten’s 2020 football schedule released Wednesday features a Labor Day start, 2 bye weeks per team and a league-wide break the week before the proposed Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 5.
With the COVID-19 pandemic causing B1G leaders to cancel all nonconference competition, every week will feature games of significant consequence. We singled out the can’t-miss matchup in each week of the tentative schedule, assuming nothing changes between now and Nov. 21 (which, yes, it likely will).
Week 1: Ohio State at Illinois
A marquee matchup featuring this version of the Illini? You bet, because it means we made it to the start of an actual college football season. At this point, that’s anything but a given. Plus with this one taking place on Thursday, Sept. 3, it will be front-and-center in the national spotlight as major college football’s first game of 2020. Prepare the Justin Fields Heisman hype.
Week 2: Michigan at Minnesota
This one features 2 teams trying to upend the frontrunners in their division this season. Minnesota is a program on the rise while Michigan hopes to overcome the likes of Penn State and Ohio State en route to its first B1G title game. Plus one of the coolest rivalry trophies, the Little Brown Jug, is on the line. Not bad for the second week of the season.
Week 3: Penn State at Michigan
Can Jim Harbaugh’s team compete with archrival Ohio State in the East? That’ll probably be a moot point if the Wolverines can’t usurp Penn State. This should be a fun one, but honorable mentions go to Minnesota-Iowa and Wisconsin-Nebraska in a loaded Week 3.
Week 4: Minnesota at Wisconsin
College football’s most-played rivalry is usually reserved for the last weekend of the regular season. So seeing it in September will be weird. But the Badgers likely need to win this contest if they want another shot at a B1G title. Think P.J. Fleck’s bunch won’t be motivated? Wisconsin stepped over the border and muddied an otherwise-magical season with College GameDay and a snowstorm rolling through the Twin Cities last year.
Week 5: Michigan State at Michigan
There aren’t a ton of options as bye weeks start to kick in, but when the Paul Bunyan Trophy is up for grabs, there are usually some fireworks. Will the Spartans have found their footing under first-year coach Mel Tucker enough by now to give Michigan a game?
Week 6: Purdue at Wisconsin
If we make it to Oct. 10, we’re halfway home. What does Jeff Brohm’s recharged team look like against the cream of the crop in the West? Can Wisconsin avoid a hiccup like it had against Illinois last season? Scrappy Purdue and its aerial attack could be problem for the Badgers.
Week 7: Illinois at Northwestern
The Land of Lincoln trophy pits 2 teams trying to climb out of the B1G West basement. The Illini’s victory over Wisconsin last year gives them an apparent edge, but Northwestern should show a lot better than last year’s 3-9 showing. How far both teams are in their attempts to ascend the division standings will be on display Oct. 17.
Week 8: Michigan at Ohio State
For the first time since 1942, “The Game” won’t be played on the final weekend of the season. But this is 2020. So it happens a week before Halloween. Can Michigan end its 8-game losing streak against the Buckeyes?
Week 9: Wisconsin at Michigan
Besides Minnesota, this is the Badgers’ only other taxing test in a relatively cushy schedule. It’s a tough 2-game stretch for Michigan coming off its trip to Columbus, but this should be a more even matchup than the 35-14 shellacking the Badgers administered a year ago.
Week 10: Ohio State at Penn State
A de facto East Division championship game, and a pretty darn even matchup if both teams can stay healthy. Even if PSU linebacker Micah Parsons opts out as has been reported but not confirmed, the Lions’ defense against Justin Fields could be one of college football’s most entertaining duels of the season.
Week 11: Wisconsin at Iowa
The entire East Division is off this week, so the Badgers make another appearance. Iowa isn’t the same team that hung with Wisconsin for 3 quarters last year, but playing in Iowa City is never easy.
Week 12: Purdue at Indiana
We can all sip our favorite beverage an Old Oaken Bucket if we get to the final week of the regular season given the current global health crisis. The B1G frontloaded the schedule to give marquee games the most flexibility, but these in-state nemeses could be playing for bowl eligibility (yes, it’s maybe a pipe dream there’s a bowl schedule this season).