Big Ten set to begin 2020 football season

FILE - In this Aug. 31, 2019 file photo, the Big Ten logo is displayed on the field before an...
FILE - In this Aug. 31, 2019 file photo, the Big Ten logo is displayed on the field before an NCAA college football game between Iowa and Miami of Ohio in Iowa City, Iowa.(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 8:01 AM CDT
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The Big Ten will start playing football at what normally would be mid-season. Don’t expect the teams to be in mid-season form. The coronavirus pandemic limited or eliminated most spring practices. Positive COVID-19 tests and precautions, along with uncertainty about whether there would even be a season, caused disruptions in summer workouts and preseason practices. As a result, conferences that started their seasons before the Big Ten saw a lot of early games filled with gaffes on special teams and poor tackling, among other problems.

The game of the week in the Big Ten has No. 18 Michigan at No. 21 Minnesota on Saturday. The Wolverines' last four seasons have ended with consecutive losses and fans are getting antsy as Jim Harbaugh enters his sixth year. Michigan is breaking in a new quarterback, presumably Joe Milton, in the Little Brown Jug game. Iowa will have a new quarterback for the first time in four years, with Spencer Petras making his starting debut on the road against Purdue. No. 5 Ohio State is a 26-point favorite for its home game against Nebraska.

Ohio State receiver Chris Olave and quarterback Justin Fields have been itching to get back on the football field since a blown route ended a comeback bid by the Buckeyes in last December’s national semifinal. No 5 Ohio State opens the pandemic-delayed Big Ten season Saturday against Nebraska and the atmosphere will be quite different. Cavernous Ohio Stadium will have about 1,600 people inside, mostly family and friends of the players and coaches. The Cornhuskers are struggling to return to relevance as coach Scott Frost begins his third season. Veteran quarterback Adrian Martinez will lead Nebraska.

Michigan hasn’t left Minnesota with a loss since 1977. This time, the only fans in the seats will be family members of the players due to virus protocols. Despite the reduced disadvantage for the visitors, this ought to be a difficult opener for the 18th-ranked Wolverines. The 21st-ranked Gophers won 11 games last season. Michigan hasn’t hit that mark since 2011. Minnesota welcomes star Rashod Bateman back for one of the country’s best passing duos with quarterback Tanner Morgan. This is the first time a ranked Gophers team opens against an opponent also appearing in the AP poll since 1968.

Last year, the Indiana Hoosiers won eight games for the first time since 1993 and ended the longest Top 25 drought by a power-five school. Now they’re trying to take another big step by upsetting a top-10 foe for the first time since 1987. The quest begins Saturday when No. 8 Penn State visits Indiana. The Nittany Lions have won six straight in the series and 22 of 23 overall though the last two meetings were decided by one possession. Penn State is expected to be without starting running back Journey Brown because of an undisclosed medical condition.

Illinois believes its upset of Wisconsin last year showed how far its program has come. The oddsmakers have reminded the Illini this week how far they still have to go. Illinois heads into Friday night’s rematch in Madison as a 19 1/2-point underdog even after beating a Wisconsin team that was favored by 30 1/2 points last year. Illinois earned its first bowl bid since 2014 last year but is searching for its first winning season since a 7-6 finish in 2011. Wisconsin is attempting to win the Big Ten West Division title for a fourth time in five seasons.

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