1. The B1G Story

Let’s play another round of protect Ohio State at all cost, shall we?

Since the Big Ten can’t protect the Buckeyes from Michigan anymore, the next best step is insulating them from nearly every other potential disaster — and a straight shot to the 2024 Playoff.

That’s the takeaway from last week’s Big Ten schedule release, which was only marginally less ridiculous than the SEC punting on a 9-game schedule because — and I still can’t believe this — they wanted to know from the Playoff executive committee if there would be special consideration for schools with 2 or 3 SEC losses.

I mean, how could we move forward in life if a 3-loss SEC team wasn’t selected to the new 12-team Playoff?

But enough of that nonsense, let’s turn our attention to Ohio State, which is about as SEC as SEC gets. If there’s 1 team in the Big Ten that would fit right in with the rival league down south, it’s Ohio State.

Great talent, fantastic coaching, huge brand, gigantic ego, football crazy fans. And annually given every benefit of the doubt by its conference and the Playoff.

So it should come as no surprise that when the Big Ten released its 2024-25 schedule — the 1st schedule connected to the new 12-team Playoff format — Ohio State was once again protected by the Big Ten. If you had been following the scheduling process at all, you could see this coming from a country mile.

The cleanest, least controversial way of scheduling a 16-team conference is the 3-6 format. Or, as the Big Ten liked to call it, Protect 3. In other words, the 3 permanent rivals for each school were “protected” each season, and the remaining 12 teams would rotate, 6 at a time, over the next 4 seasons to allow each team a home-and home series against every team in the Big Ten.

There was also a Protect 1 plan, where there was 1 permanent opponent, and the remaining 14 rotated home-and-home over 4 seasons.

Easy-peezy, right?

Never with this conference. I know this is going to shock you, but the Big Ten chose a different format that allowed the conference to — use your best Legends and Leaders voice here — “maintain control and flexibility as the college football postseason format evolves.”

The name of the format: Flex Protect. It even sounds fancy.

The object, though, is clear as can be.

“It’s ridiculous how (Ohio State) is protected, and we all know it,” a Big Ten coach told Saturday Tradition. “It’s the running joke.”

2. The set up

If the Big Ten had chose Protect 3, Ohio State — like every other Big Ten school — would be locked into 3 permanent opponents every year.

So would Michigan. So would USC, Penn State, Wisconsin and UCLA — the Big Ten’s elite 6 television properties. The Big Ten could then arrive at an equitable combination of permanent games between the teams (it’s not that difficult, people) so — and here’s the key point — fans would get the best games possible.

Because they’re filling your stadiums and buying your apparel and filling your NIL coffers. Throw ’em a bone.

While you’re at it, why not appease Fox, CBS and NBC with a rotation of the 6 elite television properties since they’re giving you more than a billion annually to televise the game. I’m not breaking news here when I state Fox would much rather show Ohio State vs. Wisconsin annually than Ohio State vs. Northwestern, for the love of Bucky.

But this isn’t about the best game, it’s about being forced to play the best games. It was that when Alabama coach Nick Saban complained that he was going to have to play Auburn, Tennessee and LSU — he has a 38-10 record against those 3 in 16 seasons in Tuscaloosa — as 3 permanent opponents instead of Vanderbilt or South Carolina or Furman.

And it wasn’t when the 2024 Big Ten schedule arrived, and — tada! — Ohio State and the Big Ten’s newest television darling (USC) weren’t playing. Sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Big Ten fan, you’re going to have to wait until 2025 for that.

And when 2025 happens, the Big Ten has decided that Penn State will then roll off the Ohio State schedule. Because heaven knows we can’t have Ohio State playing USC, Michigan and Penn State in the same season.

That would be downright unfair.

Sort of like the Big Ten gifting Ohio State the East Division title in the 2020 Covid season — after setting a return to play ground rule of a minimum of 6 regular season games played to qualify for the conference championship game, then changing it once it was obvious Ohio State wouldn’t play 6 games and Indiana would be the East Division champion.

Or like The Playoff gifting Ohio State a spot in 2016, after the Buckeyes lost to Penn State — and Penn State won the Big Ten. The Playoff was instituted for exactly this moment: when a 2-loss team was better than a 1-loss team and proved it on the field.

Penn State beat Ohio State, won the Big Ten, and still didn’t advance to the Playoff over the Buckeyes.

So yeah, I’m a little skeptical.

3. Everyone is covered

The Big Ten’s argument is that Ohio State — like every other team in the conference — will play all 15 teams in the Big Ten at least twice over the next 4 years.

Well lad-de-freaking-da.

I bet fans of Ohio State (and Michigan and the rest of the league’s elite 6 television properties) can’t wait for those 2-fers against Rutgers and Indiana and Maryland and Illinois and Northwestern and Purdue.

You know, to be fair to everyone.

Look, I get it. It’s next to impossible to make everyone happy. And I know the folks at the Big Ten office — and the SEC — grind for months on the schedule to make it as fair as possible. They’re good people doing their best.

But at the very least, the league could eliminate the idea of favoritism by having a 3-6 model that sets 3 permanent opponents and allows all 6 elite television properties to play each other permanently.

Again, it’s not that difficult.

  • Ohio State: Michigan, Penn State, UCLA
  • Michigan: Ohio State, USC, Wisconsin
  • Penn State: Wisconsin, Ohio State, UCLA
  • Wisconsin: Penn State, Michigan, USC
  • USC: UCLA, Michigan, Wisconsin
  • UCLA: USC, Ohio State, Penn State

How can Wisconsin not play Iowa and Minnesota every season, you ask? Listen, tradition went out the window when the NCAA created defacto free agency with the combination of NIL and free player movement. And when the Playoff was expanded to 12 teams.

By focusing on the 6 elite television properties, the Big Ten has 9 games annually of blue blood vs. blue blood every season. Those who don’t play each other every season will rotate every 2 seasons.

For example: in the aforementioned scenario, Ohio State doesn’t have USC and Wisconsin as permanent opponents. USC would rotate the first 2 years of the 4-season rotation, and Wisconsin the final 2 years.

That means each of the 6 elite television properties would play 4 games against each other every season, and 5 games rotating over 4 years against the remaining 10 Big Ten teams.

That’s a total of 12 games annually between television blue bloods. Goodness gracious, the glory of it all.

Imagine if the SEC did the same thing with its top 6 television properties: Georgia, Alabama, LSU, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma.

That’s 24 games of television blue bloods playing each other over a 12-game season. But we have to be fair and watch Ohio State play Northwestern and Indiana, and Alabama play Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.

4. The future of the deal

You’ll hear a lot about the Flex format and how it gives the Big Ten the ability to move into a more permanent schedule if/when the Big Ten further expands.

It’s not if, it’s when. The travel logistics in all sports will become too unwieldy and costly for all 16 teams. Eventually, the Big Ten will add Oregon and Washington (and maybe Stanford and Cal).

But the Flex format has absolutely zero to do with that move. If the Big Ten moves to 18 teams, you go to a 10-game schedule with 3 permanent opponents. Or you stay at 9 games, and figure out a rotation of 6 with 18 or 20 teams.

At that point, Oregon and Washington can be added to the elite 6 television properties, and the round robin scheduling is used with 8 teams.

5. The Weekly 5

The top 5 games to stress the Illinois win total (6.5):

1. Sept. 8, at Kansas: A sleepy Friday night game with an offense that can throw it against Illinois’ revamped secondary.

2. Nov. 4, at Minnesota: The core of a wildly underrated defense (13.8 ppg in 2022) is back, with a potentially dangerous offense supporting it.

3. Sept. 16, Penn State: Illini can’t match up athletically, and will have problems blocking Penn State’s front 7.

4. Nov. 18, at Iowa: An ugly rock fight, but 2 transfer quarterbacks (Luke Altmyer and Cade McNamara) who should be comfortable in their respective offenses.

5. Oct. 21, Wisconsin: Badgers will be 7 games into a new coach/system — with bad memories from last year’s loss that ignited a tumultuous 2022 season.

6. Your tape is your resume

An NFL scout analyzes a draft eligible Big Ten player. This week: Iowa TE Erick All.

“Really liked him a couple of years ago at Michigan. How does he respond to missing a season (because of injury), and how does he do it with a new team? He has a ton of skills. A solid, smart blocker, and a good route runner with good hands who can go get the ball. He hasn’t shown deep speed, or the ability to consistently catch those difficult 2nd and 3rd level throws.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: the best quarterback rooms in the Big Ten.

1. Michigan: JJ McCarthy is the best in the Big Ten, and a legit Heisman Trophy candidate. Indiana transfer Jack Tuttle is a solid backup.

2. Maryland: Is this the year Taulia Tagovailoa responds with a special season, and Maryland gets a signature win for coach Mike Locksley?

3. Ohio State: If we’re going on track record alone for OSU QBs, Kyle McCord will be No. 1 or 2 in this ranking by the end of the season. Devin Brown, a strong backup, could still win the job in fall camp.

4. Penn State: Drew Allar has everything you want in an elite player at the most important position. Does it play out? A lot of inexperience after Allar.

5. Wisconsin: Tanner Mordecai was elite the last 2 seasons at SMU, but struggled late this spring as the projected starter. Maybe it’s nothing — or maybe Mississippi State transfer Braedyn Locke wins the job in fall camp.

6. Iowa: Can Michigan transfer Cade McNamara pull the Iowa offense from the hole it dug the past 2 years?

7. Minnesota: Athan Kaliakmanis looked strong in the last month of last season. If he stays healthy, he’ll have a big season.

8. Purdue: A chance at redemption for Texas transfer Hudson Card. A good producer who needs to stay healthy — because there’s plenty of unknown behind him.

9. Northwestern: Pat Fitzgerald waited until late in the spring portal to add Cincinnati transfer Ben Bryant — who had 37 career TD passes with the Bearcats.

10. Nebraska: Just how good was Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims this spring? Casey Thompson, who played well at times last year for the Huskers, transferred to FAU after spring practice.

11. Illinois: The Illini made an early move in the portal, grabbing Luke Altmyer, Lane Kiffin’s first QB recruit at Ole Miss.

12. Michigan State: 2-year starter Payton Thorne transferred to Auburn after it was obvious Noah Kim had closed the gap.

13. Indiana: Tennessee transfer Tayven Jackson or redshirt freshman Brendan Sorsby? A combined 10 career pass attempts between them.

14. Rutgers: Gavin Wimsatt probably did enough to earn the starting job. But both he and Evan Simon have a long way to go.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: I don’t understand why the Big Ten wouldn’t consider Utah. If you’re looking at football playing schools, wouldn’t Utah be the best fit of the remaining Pac-12 schools? — Lynne Pogi, Los Angeles.


Utah fits academically as a member of the American Association of Universities. And clearly the Utes can argue they’ve been the most consistent Pac-12 program of the last decade.

Previously under former commissioner Kevin Warren, the idea was Oregon and Washington for their football history and the Northwest markets (Seattle and Portland/Eugene). That may change with new commissioner Tony Petitti.

Warren’s 1st move to protect USC and UCLA (and the rest of the Big Ten) from the logistical nightmare of coast to coast travel was Oregon and Washington. The 2nd was Stanford and Cal, to secure the mega Northern California television market.

There are varying opinions. There are industry executives who believe television market isn’t as important as it used to be, especially with the boom of streaming. There are others who still believe in the power of numbers: more people in a market, better chance to gaining subscribers.

Petitti will be driving — or at the very least, advising the Big Ten presidents on — any further expansion.

9. Numbers

91.23. Michigan is finally converting on the recruiting trail after 2 straight Playoff appearances. The Wolverines currently are No.2 in the nation, according to the 247Sports composite, and as important, coach Jim Harbaugh is in the process of landing his most talented class.

Michigan’s current 19 commits have an average value of 91.23 per 247Sports, which would be Harbaugh’s highest valued team in his time at Michigan. The next highest was the 2017 class that was ranked 5th, and had a value of 91.20.

The top 10 players in that class were all ranked in the top 125 of the 247Sports national rankings. Only 3 were developed and drafted (one 1st rounder, IOL Cesar Ruiz), and 7 transferred to another school.

The current Michigan class has 7 in the top 200.

10. Quote to note

Purdue coach Ryan Walters: “We’re really happy with the type of guys we’ve got in the locker room. No egos. Guys are really working hard, and have good chemistry and they’re rooting for each other and taking care of each other.”