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On Saturday morning, the Big Ten released its third version of the 2020 football schedule. Everyone's eyes seem to be open this time and now the league has a map to march into the COVID-19 pandemic.
It's OK to preface everything with 'If this actually happens ...'
When the Big Ten announced its return to play this week, following a postponement that lasted five weeks, it did so knowing a lot of the slack it had in the first pandemic schedule had been cut out. This is nine games in nine weeks, so probably prepare for some COVID-19 disruption.
Along those lines, if a team is unable to play due to coronavirus safety concerns, it won't be a forfeit, but instead just won't count as a game. If a team is unable to play all nine games, there is not yet a plan in place to figure out how to adjust the standings.
The Big Ten will have to figure out what happens if one team plays seven games and another plays nine.
Games begin Oct. 24 plus a ninth game for all 14 Big Ten teams during a newly created Big Ten Champions Week the weekend of Dec. 19.
Special dates for games weren't announced Saturday. Iowa sports information tweeted out that Friday dates will be announced at a later date. The Hawkeyes do face Nebraska on Thanksgiving week and could end up playing on Black Friday, maintaining a relationship that started when the Huskers joined the league in 2011.
Let's walk through the Hawkeyes' 2020 schedule.
Oct. 24 — At Purdue
Each Big Ten team will have four games at home and four road games. Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm started his run vs. Iowa with consecutive victories before Iowa clipped the Boilermakers, 26-20, at Kinnick Stadium last season.
Purdue had one of the bigger opt-outs of the limbo season. Wide receiver Rondale Moore actually made his decision to leave for the NFL on Aug. 6, five days before the league temporarily postponed the season. According to the West Lafayette Courier & Journal, Moore hasn't signed with an agent and remains enrolled in school.
Brohm said this week that the school will investigate a return for Moore.
Oct. 31 — Northwestern
The Wildcats struggled mightily at quarterback last season. Iowa sacked quarterback Aidan Smith five times in a 20-0 victory at Evanston, Ill.
It's going to look a lot different this year. Indiana transfer Peyton Ramsey, who passed for 2,454 yards, 13 touchdowns and 5 interceptions in 2019, should win the job. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald also hired offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian from Boston College, which leaned heavily on running back A.J. Dillon the last few years.
Nov. 7 — Michigan State
In early February, Mark Dantonio surprised college football with an abrupt retirement. He left as the school's winningest coach in 13 seasons.
Michigan State hired Mel Tucker, who spent one season at Colorado with a 5-7 record. Tucker is a defensive coach. Michigan State had been a defensive powerhouse under Dantonio. Spartans 2020 will probably look a lot like that.
Nov. 14 — At Minnesota
The stakes have been raised in the Floyd of Rosedale game. The Gophers were the ranked team last fall at Kinnick Stadium. Hawkeye fans rushed the field after A.J. Epenesa shut the door with a late sack and pressure.
Minnesota is considered the biggest threat to Wisconsin going into Big Ten West 2020. Wide receiver Rashod Batemen, who had opted out, has re-enrolled and is hoping for a waiver to play. He was the No. 2 wide receiver in the Big Ten last year with 1,219 yards and 11 TDs.
Nov. 21 — At Penn State
Things have gotten good between these two programs after James Franklin's Nittany Lions delivered a 41-14 blow in 2016. The three meetings since have been decided by one score.
The Hawkeyes haven't beaten Penn State since a 24-3 victory in 2010. Iowa has yet to beat a Franklin-coached Penn State, standing 0-4 going into this year's matchup. This also concludes Iowa's 2020 crossover schedule, with Michigan State being the other game against a Big Ten East Division opponent.
Nov. 28 — Nebraska
This could still be a Black Friday matchup. The schedule came out Saturday with Nov. 28 listed, but that could change and it would make a lot of sense if it did.
Iowa and Nebraska picked up some football street cred when the programs lined up with Ohio State on voting for football in 2020. Let's see who spends that wisely. If you had to gauge the heat from Iowa's rivals, you know Nebraska and head coach Scott Frost would love this one. The Gophers haven't held the pig trophy for a while, either, and probably takes Iowa State's 'Hate Week' mantle this year.
Dec. 5 — At Illinois
Whatever creature Han Solo stuffed Luke Skywalker inside to keep from freezing to death in one of the "Star Wars," bring one of those to Memorial Stadium.
After a four-game winning streak with victories over Wisconsin and Michigan State, the Fighting Illini became bowl eligible. They promptly fell back to sleep, losing three straight beginning the next week with a 19-10 loss to Iowa.
Dec. 12 — Wisconsin
Let's all be safe and smart so we can get to this one.
Iowa is falling down the mountain and needs to throw in a spike to stop. It's been four straight and seven of the last eight.
Minnesota and Nebraska are chasing Iowa in the West. Don't forget about Northwestern, either. Iowa is chasing Wisconsin. Iowa has beaten Ohio State more recently than it's beaten Wisconsin.
Dec. 19 — Big Ten Champions Week: East vs. West
The league might really be on to something here.
First, how cool does 'Big Ten Champions Week: East vs. West' sound? And think if this idea carries. Instead of a preset ninth game against blah blah blah, you get a seeded matchup. Yes, this does set up a 'battle of the worst,' but you know you'd watch Illinois-Rutgers before Clemson's demolition of whomever in the ACC (wait, that could be Notre Dame this year, so maybe scratch that) and who knows what's going on in the Pac-12.
This year, you'd watch Illinois-Rutgers fight for last place in the Big Ten and it would bring you great joy.
For this, probably Michigan for the Hawkeyes. Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez, who was in charge of the Big Ten subcommittee for scheduling during the pandemic-shortened season, said the league will try to avoid repeats. Minnesota will already have played Michigan.
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