Hot Reads: Vanilla Big Ten Football Schedules Could Offer an Edge
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Hot Reads: Vanilla Big Ten Football Schedules Could Offer an Edge

May 15, 2020

For now, TCU will open the season at Cal and Alabama and USC will kick things off at AT&T Stadium. That's long been the plan but ESPN broadcast Paul Finebaum muddied the waters this week when he said Alabama and TCU officials were already discussing the possibility of playing each other under the assumption that the California schools might not have an all-clear to play.

Finebaum's assertion prompted the ADs at TCU and Alabama to issue statements, both effectively saying "we're planning to play the team that's on the schedule," but that's not denying that there's probably some broad contingency planning going on. In this case, it would be more surprising if those schools weren't casually having that conversation. If USC can't get to Texas or TCU can't go to California based on state or local restrictions, having the Horned Frogs go across town to play Alabama makes a lot of sense.

No matter how far any such discussions have gotten, if they've happened at all, the mere rumors offered a glimpse at what the fall could be like. The California State University system announced this week that its 23 schools would not be holding in-person classes this fall, something NCAA President Mark Emmert has said is basically required for sports in the fall. That could impact three universities with FBS programs: San Jose State, San Diego State and Fresno State.

Dennis Dodd of CBSSports wrote this week that the conferences on the West Coast, home to states with some of the largest Covid-19 outbreaks and strictest restrictions at this point, could be in a particularly tough spot as it pertains to football.

The Pac-12 alone is on alert. The immediate prospects for major-college football in the state of California do not look good. Gov. Gavin Newsom has already said large gatherings are doubtful for the rest of the calendar year. The Los Angeles County stay-at-home order "with all certainty" will be extended for three months, according to L.A.'s public health director.

What that means for USC and UCLA football isn't clear.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown recommended last week any large gatherings would have to be canceled or significantly modified through at least September. What that means for Oregon and Oregon State isn't clear.

Yes, nothing's clear at this point, but in a hypothetical world where the Pac-12 and Mountain West were essentially off limits, the Big Ten wouldn't have to scramble much to rebuild football schedules. (That's all, of course, assuming the Big Ten itself is ready to go.)

There are two big ones here: Michigan's trip to Washington in Week 1 and Ohio State's Week 2 trip to Oregon. Unlike TCU-Alabama, there's no easy swap for these games. (Aside: Oregon, which might be a preseason top-10 team, has one of the more interesting openings to a season in recent memory. The Ducks open at home against North Dakota State and then host Ohio State the following week. Those are games I want to see.) Michigan State also travels to BYU in Week 2. As an independent, the Cougars might have a little more flexibility than most though it still could come down to local regulations. BYU is also schedule to play at Minnesota in Week 4.

Beyond those four games, the Big Ten's only other dalliance with the West Coast is San Jose State at Penn State in Week 3. If the Nittany Lions need to find a replacement in the northeast to play at State College, I don't anticipate that being much of a problem.

While the Big Ten has a large geographic footprint, from a football schedule perspective it is fairly contained to that footprint in 2020. Most schools play a nearby MAC school. Maryland plays West Virginia. Florida Atlantic and Miami have road games in the Big Ten, but I'm guessing if there's a chance to play this fall, Florida's going to be playing. If you're trying to picture it, think of Nebraska's schedule.

While Central Michigan and Cincinnati aren't exactly close to Lincoln, they're Midwest. South Dakota State is close. The Huskers also have this potential advantage when we think of what trying to play amid a pandemic might look like: Nebraska doesn't have to leave Lincoln until the first week of October. Teams would still have to come to Nebraska to play, of course, but just being able to say "that team hasn't left the state" offers some flexibility for conferences trying to constantly monitor the safety of playing.

Minnesota also spends its first month of the season at home. Should Ohio State not be able to play at Oregon in Week 2 and instead replaces that with a home game against a G5 or FCS opponent, the Buckeyes wouldn't have to leave Columbus until Oct. 10. If Michigan replaces its opener against Washington with a home game, the Wolverines would also be home through October.

In normal times, the Big Ten's approach to scheduling comes across as pretty vanilla. In these times, it might end up being a slight help.

Assuming there's football, of course. Even talking about hypothetical contingency planning feels like something of a luxury, though it did scratch the football itch a bit.

The Grab Bag

  • Good breakdown by Derek Peterson of when and where Dedrick Mills got his carries in 2019. (Premium)
  • Kelly Hunter has been put in charge of bringing Nebraska volleyball’s freshmen on board and it’s just about the strangest time to get such a task.
  • Matt Farniok is in at No. 5 on our Most Intriguing Huskers countdown. (Premium)
  • Greg Smith looks at the impact of extending recruiting’s dead period. 

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