The Big Ten will start on October 24 with eight pre-set games and then a ninth game the week of the Big Ten Championship Game. That ninth game isn’t known yet, because it will pit second place versus second place, third versus third, and on down through seventh versus seventh in the two divisions, East and West. We’re going to look at matchups in seven of the first eight weeks, with 10 matchups total. These are the most interesting games on the adjusted Big Ten schedule.
October 24: Michigan at Minnesota
The Minnesota Golden Gophers were a very surprising second place in the Big Ten West last year. They very nearly made their first Rose Bowl in almost 60 years. They were fast on the perimeter at both wide receiver and in the secondary. They had more speed than most of their opponents and found offensive and defensive concepts which worked for them. They snuck up on most of the Big Ten and won the Outback Bowl against Auburn, something which would have been unthinkable at the start of the season.
The Michigan Wolverines have not been terrible, but they have not yet won a single division championship in the Big Ten since the conference went to a divisional structure in 2011. Coach Jim Harbaugh was hired to beat Ohio State and win Big Ten titles. He hasn’t done either yet. This opener against Minnesota is a huge pressure cooker for Michigan, since the Wolverines always carry big expectations. Minnesota has some pressure to back up last season with a strong 2020, but Michigan faces more pressure. The game feels like a toss-up, and it will set a tone for the rest of the Big Ten season.
October 31: Ohio State at Penn State
This is the Big Ten game of the year and we’re likely to see Ohio State as the college football odds favorite. It’s now become the Big Ten game of the year now that Michigan has fallen off the pace. Penn State and Wisconsin are the second and third best teams in the Big Ten most seasons, but Penn State is in Ohio State’s division (the East), while Wisconsin (in the West) is not. Penn State is therefore the team which most centrally stands in Ohio State’s path on the road to the Big Ten title and the College Football Playoff. However, Ohio State has beaten Penn State each of the past three years to win the Big Ten East and the Big Ten Conference championship. Penn State is trying to win the Big Ten title for the first time since 2016 and for the second time in the past 10 years. The Nittany Lions would normally have had over 100,000 fans in the stands for this home game against Ohio State, but due to COVID-19, the crowd size will be severely reduced. Ohio State has the clear edge, but Penn State has a legitimate shot at the upset. This is a showdown to be savored in the college football season, because one month ago, it didn’t seem this game would occur at all due to the Big Ten shutting down its season. Fortunately, the Big Ten reversed course.
November 7: Michigan at Indiana
The Indiana Hoosiers had a strong season last year. It’s not often that Indiana wins at least eight games, but the Hoosiers did that. They lost offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, who chose to take the open head coaching job at Fresno State, so people will wonder how well their offense will perform this year. This game against Michigan will be a good measuring stick for Indiana. It will show if the Hoosiers are still for real, or if they are going to take a few steps back in the Big Ten this year. Michigan, for its part, needs this game much as it needs the Minnesota game. Michigan has to be unbeaten heading into late-season clashes against Penn State and Ohio State.
November 14: Iowa at Minnesota
Minnesota was unbeaten last year until the Iowa Hawkeyes ruined the unbeaten season. Minnesota lost later in the year to Wisconsin, but had the Gophers not lost that first game to Iowa, they could have lost to Wisconsin and still won both their division and a berth to the Rose Bowl. Iowa really damaged what was still a great season for Minnesota. The Gophers will now try to get revenge. The winner of this game could become the main challenger to Wisconsin in the Big Ten West. The Badgers are the favorite, but the winner of this game is first in line to make a run at Wisconsin.
November 14: Wisconsin at Michigan
The favorite in the Big Ten West, Wisconsin will go to Michigan to try to make sure it can beat one of the tougher teams in the Big Ten East. The Badgers do not face Ohio State or Penn State, the top two teams in the Big Ten East, in their regular eight-game schedule, so if they win at Michigan, they will take a huge step to another West Division championship and another berth in the Big Ten Championship Game, which they have reached in three of the last four seasons and four of the last six. Michigan will try to win this game and stay in the hunt in the Big Ten East, with the Penn State and Ohio State games looming a few weeks later.
November 21: Iowa at Penn State
If Iowa beats Minnesota on Nov. 14, it will probably have a shot at the Big Ten West. This game at Penn State would enable Iowa to stay in the race. Penn State, if it is in first place in the East, would be attempting to maintain its spot in the face of a determined and tough opponent.
November 28: Penn State at Michigan
This is the likely battle for second place in the East, but Penn State will have already played Ohio State while Michigan will not have faced the Buckeyes at this time. If Penn State beats Ohio State on Oct. 31, this game might be the game which seals a division title. If Michigan is one game behind Ohio State heading into this game, winning here enables the Michigan-Ohio State season finale to be a division championship game.
November 28: Minnesota at Wisconsin
This was the game which decided the Big Ten West championship last year. It could easily decide the division this year as well. Wisconsin would be at home, but Minnesota will be out for revenge. If the Gophers are able to stay close in the division through the first five games of the season, this sixth game will be a huge one.
December 12: Wisconsin at Iowa
We will skip over December 5, which has a mediocre slate, and focus on December 12, which has two potentially huge matchups. This is the big one in the Big Ten West. If Iowa – not Minnesota – is Wisconsin’s main challenger in the West, this game could be for the division title.
December 12: Michigan at Ohio State
The Buckeyes have crushed Michigan the past few seasons, but this is still the greatest rivalry in the Big Ten and the most hyped game in the conference, because it always occurs at the end of the season. Penn State might beat Michigan and reduce the significance of this game, but even if that is the case, Michigan beating Ohio State could transform the Jim Harbaugh era at Michigan and give his program a new surge of confidence for the future. This game always matters, even if the standings don’t show it.