Interesting Trends as B1G Releases 2020-21 Football Schedules

Posted by on in Big Ten Conference Blog

The years 2020 and 2021 may seem like a long ways off, but Tuesday the Big Ten conference put the beginning of the next decade front and center with the release of the conference football schedule.

Click on the following links to see the team-by-team breakdown:

2020 Schedule

2021 Schedule

At first glance the conference is still protecting rivalry games, and, as of now, there are no scheduled Friday night games. It could be conference officials are still working out the details of which teams are playing those games, or they got the message these games are awful.

Good news if you liked Ohio State and Indiana squaring off in-conference week one – there will be six teams starting their seasons with a conference opponent in 2020: Indiana at Wisconsin, Purdue at Nebraska, and Northwestern at Michigan State. Going into 2021 that number goes up to *four* conference games in week one: Indiana at Iowa, Ohio State at Minnesota, Michigan State at Northwestern, and Penn State at Wisconsin.

This is not what Big Ten teams are used to; no MAC teams coming to town or some “Group of 5” team on the schedule to start the year and pad the stats. This is “be ready or get in an early hole” scheduling. And it doesn’t seem particularly fair that not every team is starting that way. Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Northwestern have week one conference games in both seasons. In 2021 you have what could be a battle of giants with Penn State taking on Wisconsin. Maybe this is the B1G’s way of pushing its way into the spotlight of these superstar matchups we’re starting to see pop up around the college football landscape.

The start of the conference season gets moved up a little for other teams as well. Minnesota and Iowa will tangle in week three in 2020, which is a key divisional matchup for so early in the season. Then in 2021, Illinois plays B1G games in weeks three and four. I haven’t taken a deep dive into non-conference scheduling, but on its face this scheduling seems peculiar if these Big Ten teams haven’t already penciled in non-conference opponents for these years. Illinois has, by scheduling Charlotte in October, which seems like more of an SEC move.

There are four teams, and more specifically fans of those teams, that are not going to be very happy with these schedules: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. In both 2020 and 2021, the final game of the season will be Nebraska vs. Minnesota and Iowa vs. Wisconsin. This means no more battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe at the end of the regular season. That hasn’t been a hard and fast rule in this feud, but it’s been the last game on each team’s schedule since the B1G expanded to 14 teams.

This also may very well mean the end of a long-standing tradition - Nebraska playing on Black Friday. The Huskers have been part of the post-Thanksgiving festivities since 1990. Back then it was the Big 8 and battles versus Oklahoma. With the advent of the Big 12, Nebraska played Colorado for 15 years. When NU came to the B1G, conference officials protected that tradition and paired the Huskers up against Iowa on Black Friday. They said back then, however, it wouldn’t necessarily be permanent. It appears they’ve have driven home that point, and early reaction from Nebraska fans on social media is that of anger and disappointment. This is a slap in the face to Nebraska; a program, while having fallen on hard times, is still a household name and should not be treated as just another cog in the B1G machine. I thought the conference cared about tradition…

Looking further at the schedules there are a few items of interest to point out: in 2020 Ohio State plays at Oregon and at Penn State as well as Michigan. In 2021 Nebraska will play Michigan and Ohio State at home, but go to Norman, Oklahoma, to face the Sooners. In 2020 Wisconsin plays at Michigan and then a week later takes on Notre Dame at Lambeau Field. There are other fascinating strings of games sprinkled throughout the conference, but those are three that jump off the page.

It’s nearly impossible to tell where some of these programs will be in three years, so it’s a fool’s errand to break down who has the “toughest” and “easiest” schedules. That said, there will be a lot of talk around the B1G about how the conference laid out its plans for the next several years.