Friday, October 23, 2020

Your 2020 Big Ten football primer

Photo Credit: Geno Green

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen
With all the uncertainty in the non-sports world, some bit of normalcy returns with Big Ten football on Oct. 23 with a Friday night game between Illinois and Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. 
In what will likely be a season unlike any other, let’s take a look at some key storylines to watch for in Big Ten play capped off by conference championship and crossover predictions from yours truly, Bill Bender from Sporting News, and CSO writer Jeremy Rosenberg.

1) Conference-only schedule for all 14 teams:
One of the few positives to come out of rescheduling are the elimination of non-conference cupcake games and an immediate dive right into an eight-game regular season schedule within the league and a ninth contest on championship Saturday reserved for Dec. 19.
The first three weeks will tell a lot about the state of the Big Ten with premier matchups, such as Michigan/Minnesota (Oct. 24), Ohio State/Penn State and Michigan St./Michigan (Oct. 31).

2) Ohio State’s quest for its fourth straight Big Ten title and maybe more:
The Ohio State Buckeyes have not only been the class of the Big Ten conference over the last four seasons, but among the elite of college football and are light years ahead of the rest of the league when it comes to recruiting. Quarterback Justin Fields returns for his junior season and looks to lead the Buckeyes beyond greener pastures beyond winning a conference championship.
The achilles heel of Ohio State in recent years has been its inability to win in the College Football Playoff semifinal with losses to Clemson in 2016 and 2019. With a conference-only schedule this season, the pressure to go undefeated is not there, but going without a loss in a slate highlighted by Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan would go a long way to securing another birth into the College Football Playoff.

3) Could this be the season the Big Ten finally gets two CFP teams in?
The Big Ten, along with the Pac-12 find themselves in an advantage over the other Power Five leagues— a crossover game to go along with the conference title game on Dec. 19, which could be used as an additional tool by the College Football Playoff committee to determining the field.
This could benefit teams like Minnesota, Penn State and Wisconsin if they end up on the other side of the conference title game. Only time will tell to see if the Big Ten can even position two teams that could make a case for the final four come New Year’s Day in Pasadena and New Orleans.

4) Lack of flexibility in rescheduling games:
With the Big Ten starting so late into the season after pulling the plug once on its conference schedule back in August has backed itself into a corner— lack of flexibility in making up postponed games.
In an eight-game, eight-week schedule, it is inevitable that games will be canceled due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Every conference has experienced some teams dealing with outbreaks leading to postponed and even canceled games.
As of Thursday afternoon, the canceled games would be declared a no contest, but if 2020 has taught us, it can always evolve into a fluid situation.

5) Conference championship and crossover predictions:
With the addition off Big Ten crossover games to championship Saturday on Dec. 19, I called upon some of my sports media friends for their predictions on who will play on the final day before the College Football Playoff selection show on Dec. 20.

Geno Green, CSO founder:
(E1) Ohio State vs (W1) Minnesota (Indianapolis)
(E2) Penn State vs (W2) Wisconsin
(E3) Michigan vs (W3) Illinois
(E4) Indiana vs (W4) Nebraska
(E5) Michigan State vs (W5) Iowa
(E6) Maryland vs (W6) Northwestern
(E7) Rutgers vs (W7) Purdue

Bill Bender, Sporting News college football writer:
(E1) Ohio State vs (W1) Wisconsin (Indianapolis)
(E2) Michigan vs (W2) Minnesota
(E3) Penn State vs (W3) Iowa
(E4) Indiana vs (W4) Northwestern
(E5) Michigan State vs (W5) Nebraska
(E6) Maryland vs (W6) Purdue
(E7) Rutgers vs (W7) Illinois

Jeremy Rosenberg, CSO writer:
(E1) Ohio State vs (W1) Minnesota (Indianapolis)
(E2) Michigan vs (W2) Wisconsin
(E3) Penn State vs (W3) Illinois
(E4) Indiana vs (W4) Iowa
(E5) Maryland vs (W5) Northwestern
(E6) Michigan State vs (W6) Nebraska
(E7) Rutgers vs (W7) Purdue