Upper eschelon poised to pull away in conference-only Big Ten slate
Jeff Griffith (@Jeff_Griffith21)
August 7, 2020
Let’s get something straight. This year’s Big Ten schedule is an absolute gauntlet.
There’s just no break. 10 times in the span of 12 weeks, each team will play another Big Ten opponent. And the league doesn’t have amazing teams from top to bottom, but no one’s really bad, other than a standout or two.
Here’s a quick look at how teams should fair.
BIG TEN EAST
OHIO STATE (10-0): I think OSU is the best team in the country, and has a clear advantage over the rest of the Big Ten. A loss at Penn State (Week 10) is feasible, but the Buckeyes avoid both Minnesota and Wisconsin, so that’s a plus.
PENN STATE (9-1): Penn State’s in a similar boat; I think the Nittany Lions and Wisconsin are the clear cut contenders for the league’s No. 2. I see PSU winning every game except Ohio State, but a trip-up loss could come at Michigan.
MICHIGAN (7-3): Michigan. Ah, Michigan. This is one of those teams where, for me, I’ll believe it when I see it. So, I’m predicting another above-average year. Losses to Ohio State, Minnesota and Penn State. I could also see the Wolverines picking up a fourth loss at home to Wisconsin in Week 9.
INDIANA (4-6): Indiana has a very winnable home slate, including Illinois, Maryland, and a rival Purdue team that just lost by far its best piece with Rondale Moore’s opt-out. It’s tough to see the Hoosiers compete with the Big Ten’s upper-tier, but anywhere close to .500 is a win.
MICHIGAN STATE (4-6): Michigan State is in a similar boat. The Spartans are good, but definitely worse than the Big Ten’s clear tier one. I see Sparty earning home wins over Indiana, Rutgers, Northwestern, and a surprise in Week 1 over Minnesota. A road win at Maryland is feasible, but that’s a toss-up I’ll give to the home team.
MARYLAND (3-7): The Terrapins have some new talent, and I expected them to get it done at home against Michigan State, Rutgers and Minnesota — which, to me, is the league’s biggest wild card — but road wins in this league are tough to combine, so I’m stopping at those three.
RUTGERS (0-10): There’s not much to be said here. The Scarlet Knights could pick off Indiana or Illinos at home, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
BIG TEN WEST
WISCONSIN (9-1): Wisconsin is definitively the best team in the West. And, the Badgers avoid Ohio State and Penn State, but I see them picking up a lone loss when they visit Michigan. That’s a winnible game for sure for UW, so a 10-0 season is absolutely in the cards.
MINNESOTA (7-3): Minnesota intrigues me. I have a hard time buying into the “new on the block” team after one strong year. I’ll give them some sneaky wins — like Michigan and Iowa, both at home — but a couple of surprise road losses as well at Maryland and Michigan State.
IOWA (6-4): I like Iowa. I like Iowa about as much as I like Minnesota. But the Hawkeyes have to go on the road to Penn State, Ohio State, and Minnesota. I see a fourth loss coming at home against Wisconsin, but that game and the Minnesota game are flippable. Otherwise, I feel pretty good about Iowa’s other six wins.
NORTHWESTERN (3-7): The rest of this division has it tought; they’re definitely worse than the West’s top three, so that’s three losses right there, and then they all have toss-ups against each other, too. I see the Wildcats picking up home wins over Maryland, Illinois and Nebraska, but a win at Purdue also seems plausible. The Wildcats like to pick off an upset now and then, so if they’re going to, I’ll peg Northwestern’s Week 2 home game against Wisconsin.
NEBRASKA (3-7): Nebraska’s first two games should be wins — at Rugers and at home against Illinoiis. Five of the next six should definitely be losses — Wisconsin, at Iowa, Minnesota, at Ohio State, Penn State. But mixed in there are toss-ups, which I currently have pegged as losses, at Purdue and Northwestern. Nebraska’s best chance to flip its record is in those two games, as well as a possibly home upset over Minnesota in Week 5.
PURDUE (3-7): This team could have broken .500 with a weapon like Rondale Moore. He’s the kind of guy that turns toss-ups into wins. But now, I see the Boilermakers’ only wins coming against Rutgers, Northwestern and Nerbaska, all at home. A rivalry game is never set in stone, so a win at Indiana could happen, as could a home upset of Iowa, but I’ll stick at 3-7 for now.
ILLINOIS (2-8): Illinois had a lot of promise this year after showing flashes in 2019. But all but one of the Illini’s home games are against top-tier Big Ten teams. Maybe that means there’s an upset brewing, but it’s tought to say. The road slate is manageable, with opportunities at Indiana, Nebraska and Northwestern, but given the relatively even talent in those matchups, I tend to side with the home team.