The waiting is almost over. The season is nigh. Are you ready for some basketball?
I mean, football. The Big Ten is coming out from the cold of the longest offseason and into the crispness of autumn. The season starts this week, and will actually begin in what is commonly called football weather.
Major League Baseball began its 2020 season in baseball weather for the first time in our lifetimes, so why not start a football season without sunscreen for a change?
For as much as Iowa Hawkeyes fans are happy to see their team playing instead of talking about playing (or talking about not playing), here’s a word of warning: It will be weird.
I was at Iowa State’s first game, when it wasn’t allowing fans other than family members of the players. As much as I enjoyed being able to drive right up to Jack Trice Stadium instead of sitting in traffic, and not having to walk a half-mile each way from my parking spot, the experience of being the stadium lost a lot of its allure without fans.
It was peculiar. It felt like watching a rehearsal, not the actual play. If the Cyclones could convince the poll-voters that their loss to Louisiana wasn’t a real game, they’d be in the top five when this week's new rankings are released.
The Big Ten will have no fans at games for the time being, other than family of players. It’s studio football. It’s strange.
It also means home-field advantage is reduced. That means something, for sure, especially at Kinnick Stadium.
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It makes the foolish practice of predicting how a season will go even less reliable. Which is great. We’ll get surprises, and we’ll get more points than usual scored in the Big Ten, especially in the early season.
Look at teams that are approaching midseason. Oklahoma lost two straight regular-season games for the first time this millennium. The two teams that beat the Sooners, Kansas State and Iowa State, lost Week 1 home games to teams from the Sun Belt Conference.
Defenses haven’t caught up to offenses. For most of its game at Ole Miss last week, Alabama couldn’t stop the Rebels. The Crimson Tide, Oklahoma, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M, Texas, Virginia Tech — they’re all allowing over 30 points per game.
Jumping right into conference play against premier offensive talent doesn’t help a defense start a season, as SEC defenses have painfully realized. You would think that also will happen in the Big Ten.
Iowa has to fend off two great wide receivers at Purdue Saturday in Rondale Moore and David Bell. However, the Hawkeyes’ top four wide receivers and tight end Sam LaPorta are back, and that corps equals Purdue’s. Plus, Tyler Goodson is a dynamic running back who has already shown he is a capable pass-catcher.
If quarterback Spencer Petras is merely competent, the Hawkeyes will have a potent offense. Kirk Ferentz’s teams have won a lot of games with quarterbacks who were first-year starters.
Oddsmakers say Iowa’s first game will be close, and who’s to disagree? Look at the Hawkeyes’ next seven contests, and I defy you to find a game it can’t lose. At the same time, you can see a path to the Big Ten West title that isn’t at all far-fetched.
With no one-week breaks built into the schedule, it could all come to breaks. Staying away from critical injuries, like Purdue suffered last year to Moore and to great defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal late in the 2018 season is always vital. So, this year, is avoiding COVID-19.
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Maybe teams that have already had the most players infected will have an advantage. Or maybe those players aren’t quite as strong as they could be and will be at a disadvantage. I’m no scientist, though I’ll bet on science and give the points every week.
As for how to bet on the Hawkeyes and the Big Ten West race, get your predictions elsewhere. Now, let’s roll out those basketballs. Er, footballs.
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