What a difference a couple of months may make for Purdue and Indiana’s chances in the 2020 Big Ten football race.
Remember back in August, when commissioner Kevin Warren released the revised, conference-only schedule due to COVID-19? Ten games, six against division competition plus four cross-division foes. Purdue was set to travel to Michigan and host Ohio State in addition to playing Rutgers at home and Indiana in Bloomington.
The Hoosiers were slated to open at Wisconsin, then come home to play Penn State and Illinois before traveling to Ohio State – all in September. The 10-game slate also brought Minnesota on to the IU schedule, an 11-win team in 2019 that the Hoosiers weren’t set to play before COVID-19.
I was prepared to declare the Big Ten had handed its two toughest schedules to our in-state teams.
Six days later, Warren and the Big Ten presidents announced the season would not be played. The Big Ten’s bluff was then called by the SEC, ACC and Big 12, which announced they would be playing – pandemic or no.
Adding to the damage to the Big Ten’s reputation was Warren’s mishandling of the cancellation announcement, dodging easy questions by friendly Big Ten Network anchor Dave Revsine while sitting in front of a wall of his press clippings.
A month later, thanks to developments in COVID-19 testing, Warren and the Big Ten presidents agreed that a nine-game schedule – starting Oct. 23 – was feasible.
Purdue is one of the winners of Big Ten schedule 3.0. Gone are Michigan and Ohio State but the home game with Rutgers was kept along with the protected Old Oaken Bucket Game in Bloomington. No Penn State on the schedule, either. Athlon Sports ranked the Boilermakers’ schedule as the second-easiest behind Ohio State.
I agree. The Buckeyes don’t play Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa – arguably the West Division’s three best teams.
I also think it’s no coincidence Purdue was given a relatively easy schedule because coach Jeff Brohm was openly supportive of the cancellation decision unlike Nebraska’s Scott Frost.
Speaking of Frost and Nebraska, there had to be some quiet chuckling at Big Ten headquarters when they heard the Cornhuskers’ reaction to the new schedule.
Nebraska not only goes to Ohio State for the opener but it also gets to host Wisconsin and Penn State in the first four weeks. The Big Ten even sent the Cornhuskers back to Purdue for a second year in a row after originally being set to host the Boilermakers in the season opener.
You wanted football Scott Frost, you got it.
“Good luck with that schedule,” Brady Quinn of Fox Sports said of Nebraska to the amusement of his on-set colleagues following the televised announcement on Sept. 12.
“Some teams were dealt serious body blows,” added former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. “When you look in the East and the West and the contenders, it’s very clear who has the easier schedules. Ohio State has two speed bumps, that’s it. Wisconsin has the easiest schedule in the West.”
One positive that each Big Ten school can agree upon: Fox did an excellent job and the schedule release should be an annual televised event, even if it is done on Big Ten Network. The NFL does it so why not the Big Ten?
With COVID-19 testing rules including a 21-day ban from playing with a confirmed positive test, it would be foolish for anyone to make Big Ten predictions. Since I’m nobody’s fool, let’s instead take a look at each week.
Oct. 23-24
Best game: Michigan at Minnesota. Will P.J. Fleck’s boat keep rowing in smooth waters with basically a new defense? Can Jim Harbaugh keep his critics quiet until Ohio State?
Purdue: The Boilermakers get to host Iowa, which will be breaking in a new quarterback and is coming off a summer of racial discontent. Getting Rondale Moore back alongside David Bell could be what Jeff Brohm needs to finally win a season opener at Purdue.
Indiana: The Hoosiers host Penn State, which will never be mistaken for Western Kentucky, Ball State or Connecticut. Those three schools are the easy wins IU lost to COVID-19. Some experts believe Penn State has the best chance to dethrone Ohio State. I’m not one of them but the Nittany Lions at full strength will be tough for the Hoosiers to handle.
Dog games of the week: Rutgers at Michigan State and Maryland at Northwestern. These four schools combined to win six Big Ten games in 2019 and four of those belonged to Michigan State.
Oct. 30-31
Best game: Ohio State at Penn State could decide which school is the favorite to earn a College Football Playoff berth from the Big Ten.
Purdue: Terrible weather conditions at Ross-Ade Stadium a year ago contributed to the Boilermakers’ loss against Illinois. It also didn’t help to be playing without Moore, quarterback Elijah Sindelar, defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal and linebacker Markus Bailey – all out with injuries. With the Illini facing revenge-minded Wisconsin to open the season, don’t be surprised if Purdue has the upper hand in Champaign.
Indiana: The Hoosiers travel to Rutgers, which is almost like playing Ball State. There are no such things as sure victories in 2020 but this might come the closest.
Dog game of the week: Minnesota at Maryland. The Terrapins seem to surprise one favored team every year but this doesn’t feel like an upset. The Gophers have enough offense to win a shootout.
Nov. 7
Game of the week: Indiana welcomes Michigan and Jim Harbaugh to Memorial Stadium in a game that may tell us if the Hoosiers are truly building a program under Tom Allen. Skeptics are quick to note that IU’s eight victories a year ago came against teams with losing records.
Purdue: It’s back to Wisconsin for a second year in a row, but this time there will be no rowdy fans in the stands due in part to an uptick of COVID-19 cases in the Badger state. If ever was a chance for the Boilermakers to earn their first win over the Badgers since 2003, this might be it.
Dog games of the week: Take your pick – Maryland at Penn State or Rutgers at Ohio State. Don’t be surprised if both the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes crack the 60-point mark.
Nov. 13-14
Games of the week: Wisconsin at Michigan and Iowa at Minnesota. These two contests will likely establish a favorite to win the Big Ten’s West Division.
Purdue: Northwestern comes to Ross-Ade Stadium but this probably won’t be the same Wildcats team that struggled to score in 2019. If former Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey wins the starting job, he will present a challenge to a revamped Purdue defense.
Indiana: The Hoosiers travel to Michigan State, which is a mystery team under first-year coach Mel Tucker. The Spartans have struggled mightily on offense in recent seasons and that could mean a favorable matchup for Indiana.
Dog of the week: Illinois at Rutgers. The Fighting Illini probably have the least amount of fleas in this one.
Nov. 20-21
Game of the week: A second nod here to Indiana, which can make a statement by playing well at Ohio State. It will help the Hoosiers’ chances if quarterback Michael Penix can avoid a third season-ending injury by this point in the schedule.
Purdue: The Boilermakers’ lone Friday night game is at Minnesota, which caused nightmares a year ago when Rondale Moore and quarterback Elijah Sindelar were injured on the same play. Even though freshman All-American David Bell stepped up in Moore’s place, Purdue was never the same team afterward. Minnesota will have six new defensive starters, giving Purdue a chance to win an offensive shootout.
Dog game of the week: Remember Michigan’s 78-0 victory over Rutgers in 2016? Since this year’s matchup will be in New Jersey, let’s say the Wolverines fall under their five-year average margin of 51 to 7.
Nov. 27-28
Games of the week: The weekend kicks off with the Big Ten’s newest rivalry, Nebraska at Iowa. This game will have to do for the Hawkeyes, whose annual grudge match with Iowa State went with the COVID-19 wind. Who knows what the Cornhuskers’ mental state will be by this time?
Then there’s Minnesota at Wisconsin, one of the oldest rivalries in college football. It’s being played earlier in the schedule than usual but still so much will be on the line here. The winner is probably going to be Ohio State’s opponent in the Big Ten championship game.
Purdue: No jokes about Rutgers here. The Scarlet Knights beat Purdue in Jeff Brohm’s first season, in New Jersey. Still, with the game in Ross-Ade Stadium and assuming no devastating injuries or COVID illnesses, this is a game the Boilermakers must win.
Dog of the week: Ohio State at Illinois. Fighting Illini coach Lovie Smith may wish he was back coaching the Chicago Bears against Aaron Rodgers after this one.
Dec. 5
Game of the week: The best of a mediocre slate is probably Nebraska at Purdue. There’s no love lost between the two schools, especially after Scott Frost’s remarks about Purdue being a “winnable game” in 2018. It wasn’t that season nor in 2019 when a trick play led to the Boilermakers winning in the final moments at Ross-Ade Stadium.
Indiana: Normally a trip to Wisconsin is not good news for the Hoosiers or any Big Ten school not named Ohio State. But, the Badgers’ usual home field advantage is gone thanks to COVID so anything is possible. Whoever wins the line of scrimmage battle has the advantage.
Dog of the week: Penn State at Rutgers. I’m not picking on the Scarlet Knights but being the seventh-best school in one of college football’s toughest divisions can be depressing.
Dec. 12
Game of the week: Like it has been since 1969, the Big Ten game of the year always comes down to Michigan and Ohio State. This year’s game is in Columbus, not that it’s made much difference to the Wolverines since 2000.
The Old Oaken Bucket: This one may come down to the team which has the ball last in Memorial Stadium. If healthy, both Purdue and Indiana will score lots of points. Unlike 2017 and 2018, this may not decide which school gets a bowl berth since the NCAA has lifted the .500 record or better rule for bowl eligibility in 2020.
Dog of the week: Rutgers at Maryland. The conference’s youngest members battle for sixth place in the Big Ten East.
Dec. 19
Big Ten Champions Week: In addition to the title game, the other 12 schools get a ninth game comprised of East vs. West matchups. Ideally, it would be East No. 2 vs. West No. 2 but conference officials are hoping to avoid rematches like a Purdue-Indiana game for the second consecutive week.
How would this slate of games appeal to Big Ten fans?: Ohio State-Wisconsin (title game), Penn State-Minnesota, Michigan-Purdue, Indiana-Iowa, Michigan State-Nebraska, Rutgers-Northwestern, Maryland-Illinois.
This would avoid any regular season rematches and, played at neutral sites, could lead to some surprising outcomes.

Kenny Thompson is an award winning journalist who writes a weekly column for Sagamore News Media