After by far the most dramatic decision-making process of any major college football conference, the Big Ten will begin their long-awaited season at 8 p.m. ET on Friday night when No. 14 Wisconsin hosts Illinois.
On August 5, the league announced its revised schedule (for the first time) with great enthusiasm. Six days later, it postponed its season indefinitely. But wait! Thanks to a unanimous vote by the 14 university presidents on September 15, it will be possible to play a conference season with eight games in eight weeks, which will be interrupted on December 19 by a Big Ten title game.
All of this must be done in time to be considered for the final College Football Playoff Ranking on December 20th.
"The whole struggle was to give them the chance to play the game they love, to train the game they love," said Ohio State sports director Gene Smith of his # 5 Buckeyes. "They worked so hard to have a chance to play but yeah, of course their chance to defend the Big Ten championship and ultimately maybe represent our conference in the CFP. There is no question that we have talent and they have that ability. " I fought hard. "
Nebraska too, which is why coach Scott Frost said he didn't think it was a coincidence that these two teams compete against each other on Saturday lunchtime in Columbus.
"You know, it's weird where you find allies in certain things, and I think we had an ally in Ohio who was trying to play the season," Frost said Monday. "I don't think that without Dr. (Jim) Borchers it would have worked there, without Ryan Day pushing it further, Eugene Smith pushing it further.
"We certainly fought for it because we thought it was the right thing to have football," he said. “Our kids wanted to play. We thought we could do it safely. We weren't happy with the decision not to play and kept trying to find ways to find a way to do it, and so did we are grateful to Ohio State for doing the same thing. "
Now is the time to see what to do with the opportunity.
Can Ohio State Crash the Alabama Clemson Party?
The Buckeyes play from behind, no question about it.
No. 1 Clemson is 5-0 with a top 25 win over No. 11 Miami. No. 2 Alabama is 4-0 with two top 25 wins against No. 7 Texas A&M and No. 4 Georgia. According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, Clemson (87%) and Alabama (82%) are prohibitive favorites to hit the CFP.
The Number Cruncher gives Ohio State the third best shot with 68%. As long as the state of Ohio wins the Big Ten with one or fewer losses, the Buckeyes should finish in the top four as Big Ten champions, but they don't want to leave any doubts that way in case they finish as a loss to second of the division. With the exception of Penn State and Michigan, the conference schedule for eight games in the state of Ohio isn't exactly daunting (and that assumes the state of Ohio will play all eight games during a pandemic). The final schedule would be compared to other Power 5 conference champions and their second best teams.
The ACC and SEC already had a few weeks to shake off the dust. The Buckeyes have about a quarter against the Huskers on Saturday.
"I said after last season that this was one of the best college football teams I was on the field with," said Nebraskas Frost. "I think they were one of the best teams in the country and could easily have won anything last year. Still, I thought we did a really good job of keeping the game close for about five minutes last year."
On paper it would be fair to expect the same thing again on Saturday, but the reality is that no one in the Big Ten has played a football game in almost a year. If the Buckeyes come out of the gate like national title contenders, it would surely make a statement and bolster their top-4 potential, but it would also be linked against an unannounced Nebraska team.
Can Justin Fields lead the state of Ohio to the CFP? (AP Photo / Jay LaPrete, File)
The state of Ohio is trying to become the first team in conference history to win four direct Big Ten titles, and ESPN's Football Power Index gives the Buckeyes a 55% chance of winning it again this season – well ahead of Wisconsin (30% ).
Ohio state coach Ryan Day told his team two weeks ago that there would be no national championship talks, but as the season progresses, and if the team wins, they may ask, "OK, where is this going? " Day knew how much talent there was on his squad and said it was important to give the players the opportunity to showcase it this year and fight for the national title.
"Boys come here to play for championships," he said. "It was a big deal for us. I can't tell you how excited our players were when they found out they had the opportunity."
Can the Big Ten win two teams?
Yes, and according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, no conference has a better chance of placing two teams in the semi-finals than the Big Ten, which has every third chance of sending multiple teams into the playoffs. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, Penn State – the last team outside of Ohio State to win the league – has the best chance of beating the Buckeyes this season (28%).
Penn State coach James Franklin said his players have a mature approach to this season, thanks in part to the upper-class appreciation that they can play this year.
"I think we are a talented team," he said. "I think we have considerable depth – more than a few years ago. We are in a very different situation from that point of view, but I also know that there are really talented teams in this league, including Indiana … This is a tough league. Our side of the league is really tough and you better be ready to play week after week. "
It's not just Ohio State and Penn State who could be in the mix for a semifinal spot – especially since both are in the East Division. What if Wisconsin beats Ohio State in the Big Ten title game and that's the Buckeyes' only loss? The committee would review both teams. Minnesota can fight for the West Division and has a similar chance. And of course, if that team's only loss and the winner wins the Big Ten, the committee could consider the loser of the Ohio State-Penn State game.
There are many scenarios, but the same goes for the ACC, which Clemson and Notre Dame could have, and the SEC, which Alabama and its runner-up at the conference could have.
Will the Big Ten really make eight games in eight weeks?
There is no flexibility in this schedule to account for possible disruption from the coronavirus pandemic. There are technically nine games in nine weeks, including the conference championship game weekend.
Even so, Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 last weekend and has symptoms, believes the league can find its way.
"We achieved good results," said Brohm. "We had a great success rate in daily testing our players. Unfortunately, it got me and it's something we have to deal with. A few things will flare up here and up." There, but I think as far as we test our boys on a daily basis and establish the best college football medical practices for our boys to play soccer, I think we're doing as well as everyone else right now, so I feel like me I am confident and applaud the Big Ten for the ability to get these daily tests going. "
Michigan manager Jim Harbaugh said the league is "virus strong".
"We stick together and try to do as much as possible to protect ourselves and others," he said. "This has been a high priority for us since March and it continues to be. I'm proud of our boys. With daily tests, that's every day. You have to test negative to practice that day, you have to negative on match day test to be able to play that day, so this is a daily thing we are going through now and keep going positive and testing negative so you can play. "
The five Big Ten games that will shape the playoff race
1. Ohio State, Penn State, October 31: What feels like the biggest Big Tens game of the year comes early – and on Halloween – in an eerily empty Beaver Stadium. The loser of this game will not be eliminated from the playoff discussion immediately, but with limited opportunities elsewhere on the schedule to really excite the committee against high-ranking opponents, it will be much more difficult to get into the top four.
2. Wisconsin, Michigan, November 14th: Wisconsin won't face Ohio State or Penn State from the East Division in this shortened schedule, but their toughest game will be the road trip to Ann Arbor. ESPN's FPI gives the Badgers a 77.5% chance of winning. If the Badgers get a shot at the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game, anything is possible – if they can benefit from it this time. Wisconsin has won the West, playing for the Big Ten title for four of the last six years, but has lost to the East Champion every time.
3. Penn State, Michigan, November 28th: Every road trip is tough, but the CFP stakes will go up dramatically when the Nittany Lions enter this game after losing to the Buckeyes. Currently, ESPN's FPI gives the PSU a greater than 50% chance of winning every game except Ohio state.
4. Minnesota, Wisconsin, November 28th: This game will be crucial in determining the West Division winner. ESPN's FPI gives the Badgers an 86.4% chance of winning, but an empty stadium will redefine home advantage.
5. Michigan, Ohio, December 12th: Brrr. It's getting cold in Columbus as these rivals end the regular season and maintain at least part of the Big Ten tradition. If the state of Ohio loses to PSU it is a must and it could be the only other adversary it faces. Harbaugh is 0-5 against the Buckeyes.
Jim Harbaugh enters the final year of his contract in Michigan, still without a win against the state of Ohio. Gregory Shamus / Getty Images
Five Big Ten names that will shape the playoff race
1. Ohio State QB Justin Fields: Perhaps no player was more in favor of returning to the game than Fields as the Heisman hopefully launched a petition called #WeWantToPlay that garnered more than 300,000 signatures (and people are still signing). Can he be so influential in leading the Buckeyes to the CFP?
2. Penn State QB Sean Clifford: With the news that Journey Brown is out due to illness, a successful passing game could be even more critical. Clifford is in his second season as a starter and for the Nittany Lions to take the next step, Clifford needs a giant leap.
3. Wisconsin RB Nakia Watson: Someone has to try to fill the gap in the game without Jonathan Taylor. Watson was listed as a co-starter along with Garrett Groshek on the Week 1 Depth Map, but many outside the program wonder if Watson can emerge as a reliable starter to continue the Badgers' strong running history.
4. Minnesota OC Mike Sanford Jr .: The Golden Gophers hired Sanford to replace Kirk Ciarrocca, whom Penn State hired for the same position. Can Sanford go over seamlessly and build on the historic season with eleven wins last year? He has the talent needed in QB Tanner Morgan.
5. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh: He is entering his sixth season and leads the Wolverines. He didn't get to the CFP, won the Big Ten, or won the Big Ten East. Or beaten Ohio State. And he's in the last year of his contract. Is this the year he silences his critics?
Can Big Ten coaches like Nick Saban get a positive result?
No. The Big Ten protocol requires any trainer who tests positive to self-isolate for 10 days according to CDC guidelines. In the SEC, if a player or coach tests positive but then takes three direct negative PCR tests every 24 hours, that person can return to team activities. So far, the SEC is the only Power 5 conference to have this policy.
The Big Ten have been using daily antigen testing on every campus since September 30th. Each positive test is then confirmed with a PCR test.
"We are very confident about the system and the protocol and believe that we are getting the right results with it," said Mike Bobinski, Purdue Sporting Director. "Ultimately, we don't want to get anyone out there who is positive. To ventilate on the safety side at this point is the way to go."
According to Darryl Conway, Michigan's Senior Associate Athletic Director and Chief Health and Welfare Officer, the Big Ten football teams had nearly 43,000 daily tests (over 3,000 tests per team) performed on Tuesday and the rate of false positive antigen tests was less than. 5%. Conway said the Big Ten had no false negative results on Tuesday, and the conference ran confirmatory PCR tests on 25% of daily antigen tests.
Why are Big Ten coaches who tested positive for 10 days and players who took 21 days off?
Any Big Ten trainer who tests positive for COVID-19, such as B. Purdues Brohm is required to self-isolate for 10 days per CDC guidelines. A player can return no earlier than 21 days, although they are also self-isolating for the CDC recommended 10 days. Days 14 through 21 are spent on cardiac tests – the Big Ten require a university-appointed cardiologist to clear any student-athlete who tests positive – and in a return to game where, in most cases, the athletes can drive Ride a bike, jog, use an elliptical trainer or StairMaster.
"The only reason it's easy exercise at this point is that we didn't get the heart test back," Conway said. "Once the heart test is back … Day 14-21 is a return to the game, which means that you gradually increase the activity each day. This means that you can practice, but your exercise may be limited. Because you were absent and haven't done anything in 10 days. We won't just go from zero to 100. "
Players and coaches who test positive will not need a negative PCR test before returning to the team after the 10-day isolation period.