Let’s be real.
If there ends up being a 2020 college football season, few will be left still yearning for September non-conference contests against Western Kentucky, Ball State and Connecticut.
In an effort to save the 2020 season, the Big Ten announced last week that all non-conference games were canceled.
And if that was the necessary cost to have college football this fall, so be it.
Indiana does what it needs to do when it comes to its schedule. For a program trying establish momentum and develop a winning culture, the caliber of opponents on the Hoosiers’ non-conference slate is appropriate, if not particularly exciting.
But whatever advantages IU gains from its non-conference schedule are now gone.
Instead of the traditional nine conference game and three non-conference game schedule, the league is looking at adding a tenth Big Ten game in 2020.
In a typical nine game Big Ten season, the East and West divisions rotate who gets five home games each year.
IU’s current nine-game 2020 league schedule includes five home games, a game against each of the other six teams in the East, and three games against teams from the West. The West opponents are Wisconsin, Illinois and Purdue.
Logically, if a tenth game is simply added to the current schedule, Indiana would travel to one of Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota or Nebraska.
While logic or norms don’t necessarily apply in 2020, that is how IU head coach Tom Allen sees the lay of the land right now too.
“This cycle it’s time for the east to have five home games in the conference schedule that we already had set up, so that won’t change, Allen said to reporters this week.
“Then it makes sense if we do have a 10-game schedule, with all these things that are in play right now what’s being discussed, to make it equal if we have that 10th game it would go, the west division would be host for that 10th game. We’d play somebody from that side.
“Don’t know who that would be yet. Don’t know how they would make that decision or who that 10th opponent would be. Those are all things that our conference leadership is discussing right now.”
Indiana traveled to Nebraska in 2019 and Minnesota in 2018. If one were to continue to apply logic, which gets more and more dangerous the more layers you peel back, you might speculate that road trips to Iowa City or Evanston were more likely.
Indiana hosted Iowa in 2018 and hasn’t traveled to Iowa City since 2015.
The Hoosiers hosted Northwestern in 2019 and haven’t traveled to Evanston since 2016.
There are too many moving parts to this whole thing to make it this simple, but Iowa and Northwestern seem like the tenth opponents that make the most sense.
Funny thing about Iowa and Northwestern — both schools have IU co-captains from the 2019 season on their roster.
While it isn’t clear how much it impacted their decisions, tackle Coy Cronk and quarterback Peyton Ramsey transferred within the conference with the comfort of knowing that they wouldn’t have to face IU for their respective fifth seasons at Iowa and Northwestern.
Now, a game against one of the two seems more likely than anything else.
Allen was asked about the potential of facing Ramsey this fall.
“It wasn’t on the schedule initially and the only way for that to happen in the previous schedule was for both of us to win our division and play in the Big Ten championship game,” Allen said. So right now, another variable could come into play based on the new scheduling format. We’ll take whatever comes our way. We really don’t have any control over that.”
Of course there is another alternative.
With athletic department budgets under stress and concerns about mitigating COVID-19 risk, the Big Ten could completely scrap the current schedule and replace it with a more regional alternative. In the current environment, games like Nebraska’s Oct. 24 road trip to Rutgers, or Minnesota’s Oct. 3 trip to Maryland are less than desirable.
Could the Big Ten abandon the division model for a year and focus to the extent possible on games that can be played via a bus trip rather than a much more expensive chartered flight?
The league’s geographical model won’t make that easy, and such an approach might require something novel like an in-season home-and-home series.
While Indiana and Purdue fans don’t agree on much, most would welcome a schedule that included the rivalry game in both Bloomington and West Lafayette this year. In a series that goes back to 1891, that scenario has never happened.
But 2020 is the poster child for things that have never happened before.
Two Old Oaken Bucket games in the same year, and one last battle between Michael Penix and Peyton Ramsey would make IU’s former 2020 non-conference fodder a distant memory.
Of course right now, most fans would be happy with pretty much anything.
As long as there is a season.
And on that, Allen is staying positive.
“I’m optimistic about us starting our season. I am. I know that there’s a lot of question marks still out there, but I believe that we will start our season,” Allen said.
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