Iowa-Minnesota aside, traditional dates vital to college football

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IOWA CITY — For more than a generation, Floyd of Rosedale changed hands only in November.

From 1983 through 2010, either Iowa or Minnesota ended Big Ten play against one another, depending on the former 11-team Big Ten's awkward scheduling. But that changed this year.

For the first time since 1982, Iowa and Minnesota will meet in October. Next year, the teams will open the Big Ten season against one another in September, a first in the 105-game series, which renews Saturday.

Despite the recent history, nobody's shedding tears over Iowa-Minnesota shifting from November to October. It was a season-ending date that lived in irrelevance to Iowa's players and coaches. In fact, many Iowa players said they prefer playing the Gophers without the intense cold that gripped last year's season finale.

"I’m very glad we’re playing these guys now, and we don’t have to deal with the ice on the field because that was ridiculous," Iowa cornerback Shaun Prater said.

League officials had to scrap and re-evaluate future scheduling when Nebraska joined the Big Ten. The Big Ten put a premium on protecting most traditional rivalries through divisional realignment. Protecting traditional dates like Iowa-Minnesota was another story.

"I think the understanding with everybody was that preserving games was important, preserving the games on particular dates was important if you could do it, but it wasn’t a deal breaker," said Mark Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner for television administration.

Before Nebraska's arrival, four different Big Ten rivalries traditionally completed the league season: Ohio State-Michigan, Purdue-Indiana, Iowa-Minnesota and Penn State-Michigan State. The only season-ending rivalry that was heavily discussed during realignment was Ohio State-Michigan, now a non-divisional clash. Initially, it was considered for early November, but after heavy feedback league officials decided to keep it as the Big Ten finale.

Purdue-Indiana is the league's second-oldest rivalry — behind Minnesota-Wisconsin — and the schools had ended the Big Ten season against one another every year but once since 1920.

"If you look at the schedule, Ohio State Michigan was on the last weekend of the season but that’s a different type of game," Rudner said. "Indiana-Purdue was important for both of those programs, and it worked out for our scheduling to do it. I would probably envision that game at least trying to stay the last week of the season."

Penn State and Michigan State were diced into separate divisions, and the rivalry was not protected. Both Iowa and Minnesota were placed in the Legends Division, where it's guaranteed. As for the game dates, the Big Ten strategically maneuvered the league's top six schools over the last 20 years into three finale showdowns — Ohio State-Michigan, Wisconsin-Penn State and Iowa-Nebraska. Iowa and Nebraska, in particular, were interested in ending their seasons against one another.

But season-ending games weren't the only dates that once were preserved by the Big Ten and now are shuffled into the regular-season date rotation. Michigan and Michigan State played the second Saturday in October all but five times from 1955 through 1994. Rudner still fields requests to make that date permanent for those teams.

"We won’t able to preserve that, that game’s been … it was on the second Saturday in October (this year)," Rudner said with a laugh. "It’s been in November, been in September, it’s sort of been all over the map."

True to form, Michigan State and Michigan next year meet on Oct. 20, then Nov. 2, 2013 and Oct. 11, 2014.

While the Big Ten doesn't focus as much on the dates as the rivalries, other leagues hold dates nearly as sacred as the games. Missouri and Kansas will conclude their regular seasons against one another for the 100th time in their upcoming 120th meeting. Other rivalries such as Texas-Texas A&M, USC-UCLA and BYU-Utah usually concluded regular-season play, as did former rivalries like Pittsburgh-Penn State and Oklahoma-Nebraska.

Perhaps no league values traditional games and dates quite like the Southeastern Conference. Each school completes its season against a major rival, no matter if it's in SEC or non-conference play. The league also has three long-standing rivalries that have traditional dates.

Only once since 1921 have Auburn and Georgia — christened with the moniker "The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry" — not played in November. Florida and Georgia traditionally meet in Jacksonville, Fla., on the final weekend of October or the first weekend in November.

Perhaps no rivalry means more to a specific weekend than Alabama-Tennessee. The game is known as "The Third Saturday in October," which was when it was played every year from 1928 through 1994. It since has landed in mid-October, depending on where the weekend falls in relation to the SEC title game, SEC associate commissioner Mark Womack said.

"We looked at games that traditionally have been played and tried to protect some of the long-standing rivalry games that had been in place and tried to protect dates as much as we possibly could," Womack said. "That doesn’t mean you can do that for everybody in every game. But some of the more traditional, long-standing games we've tried to see work on the specific dates those games had traditionally been played on."

SEC expansion, which includes Texas A&M and possibly Missouri, will alter the league's overall schedules, Womack said, but it will affect neither the league's traditional rivalries nor the traditional dates.

Like the SEC, the Big Ten hoped to complete its regular season with key rivalries once it reached 12 members. Instead Rudner said the league schedule needed "symmetry" at season's end.

"When we first started we thought, 'Wouldn’t it be cool if we did that?'" Rudner said. "And then when we got down into the weeds, it just became apparent that it just wasn’t going to be able to happen. You had to be much more strategic about how you schedule.

"It would nice to have one week of nothing but trophy games played, but when you really get down to it, it’s a lot harder to do than it is to talk about it."

As for Iowa-Minnesota, it moves back into November in 2014. The series still generates excitement among players and fans, but the traditional date is, well, gone with the wind and a shrug.

"As long as we play them, that’s all the matters," Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt said. 

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