Each week, Land of 10 will check some of the top story lines, matchups and players to watch in The Forecast. Big games, potential upsets, important questions: This is the place for all of that looking ahead to the weekend in the Big Ten.
Will moving some games to Friday night be the first step in the demise of the Big Ten Conference?
The Big Ten announced this week that it is expanding the number of prime-time games in its various television packages with partners ESPN and Fox. That sounds like a good idea, but the mechanics of doing so, namely putting six games on Friday night, has caused quite the uproar in Big Ten country.
There are some logistical issues with games on Friday nights, particularly at some of the massive stadiums in the conference. This is not a sign of the apocalypse, though.
Two of the games will be on Labor Day weekend, when college football is spread across every day from Thursday to Monday because the NFL season hasn’t started yet. Teams in the conference that want more exposure will get it as one of the only games on television those other four nights.
It will be fine, and won’t have nearly the negative impact that Big Ten fans, who cling too tightly to tradition sometimes, want to believe it will.
But it will cause all sorts of problems with recruiting, right?
Most players who are recruited by Big Ten programs start the process as juniors in high school. The elite kids get recruited earlier than that.
Is Urban Meyer and Ohio State going to miss out on a 5-star prospect because one time during that kid’s three-year recruiting process, the Buckeyes played a game on national television while said prospect was also playing a high school game somewhere?
Is a middle tier Big Ten school going to lose recruits because one of its six or so home games of the season is on a Friday night, even though some kids take official visits on bye weekends and some high schools do play games on Saturdays?
Between 2008 and 2013, Louisville played 13 games on Friday nights, and several more on Thursdays. Somehow, the Cardinals still managed to recruit some pretty good players, like quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the current quarterback who is a runaway favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, Lamar Jackson.
Which 2017 games might end up on Friday night?
Here’s what we know:
- Two of these games will be on the Friday of Labor Day weekend, while the other four will happen in September or October
- Michigan won’t be playing on Friday night.
- Ohio State agreed to one home game, if it is during fall break. So put the Buckeyes down for 2018 against Minnesota, basically.
- Penn State won’t play at home, but would play one road game per year.
- Nebraska has agreed to host one game in the next three years.
- Michigan State has played on Friday night of Labor Day weekend a bunch, and is fine with continuing to do so. The Spartans have that weekend open in 2017, which could be interesting if the Big Ten/ESPN wanted to schedule another marquee game. Arizona, Miami and Syracuse all have Labor Day weekend open, and all are short a non-conference game. The issue is Michigan State’s schedule is already full, and buying out a game against Bowling Green or Western Michigan would be costly, unless one of the networks helped out.
- Iowa would play a Friday home game (not counting Black Friday against Nebraska) if it’s on Labor Day weekend and not annually.
- Wisconsin said pretty much the same thing.
- Minnesota can’t host a Friday game on Labor Day weekend because of the State Fair, but there is a week in mid-October, when all of the high schools in the state play on Wednesday.
- Indiana agreed to one Friday game every three years.
- Illinois and Northwestern are cool with it
- Purdue is on board.
- Rutgers huffed and puffed a little, but the Scarlet Knights would play on a Tuesday morning as a thank you for the Big Ten welcoming them to Power Five Land. They’d also like their one game per year to be on Labor Day weekend.
Speaking of Louisville, having a potential returning Heisman Trophy winner (Jackson) playing against a new coach (Purdue) would be a fun Friday night game for opening weekend in 2017, but that game is at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Lafayette Journal & Courier story did not list it as a possibility to move to Friday.
So which games could end up on Friday night in 2017? Here are some educated guesses:
Wyoming at Iowa, Sept. 1
This could be a fun game, assuming Wyoming coach Craig Bohl does not take a job somewhere else this offseason. The Cowboys are 6-2, and Bohl helped build North Dakota State into an FCS powerhouse before moving to Wyoming. Iowa fans know a little about what Bohl built with the Bison.
Washington at Rutgers, Sept. 1
The Huskies could be coming off an appearance in the College Football Playoff. Nebraska and Wisconsin also have home games set for Labor Day weekend (and the Cornhuskers might have an intriguing matchup with Arkansas State), but picking this game allows the Big Ten some flexibility with start times and gives them a marquee opponent to help kick off its version of Friday Night Lights.
Ohio at Purdue, Sept. 8
The Bobcats are used to playing on weird nights of the week, and maybe the Big Ten can play off the MACtion theme a little with this matchup.
Nebraska at Illinois, Sept. 29
Illinois has a bye the week before, so that helps. Nebraska is at Rutgers, and playing twice on the road in six days isn’t great, but it might work out OK in this instance.
Northwestern at Maryland, Oct. 13
A home game against Central Florida on Sept. 22 could also be a possibility for the Terps, but the league wouldn’t need to ask another conference/team for permission to play on Friday night here. These could be two pretty intriguing teams next year as well.
Illinois at Minnesota, Oct. 20
This is the week where Minnesota state high schools play games on Wednesday instead of Friday, so it seems like a pretty easy and obvious fit. This would mean two Friday games for the Illini, but Lovie Smith’s program could use the extra exposure.
The B1G One
No. 10 Nebraska at No. 6 Ohio State
Nebraska went to Madison last week and lost to Wisconsin in overtime, but the Cornhuskers’ resume received a nice boost when Wyoming knocked off previously undefeated Boise State. The Cowboys (6-2) are the only team with a winning record that Nebraska has beaten this season.
Given that fact, it was a little surprising to see the Cornhuskers at No. 10 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. The CFP committee clearly doesn’t think much of the Big 12, with one-loss Baylor and one-loss West Virginia further down the rankings, and Florida’s wins are less impressive than Nebraska’s.
This is the Cornhuskers’ second big chance to prove they are an elite team. Win this game, and it shakes up the top of the Big Ten in a stark way. It would catapult Nebraska into the national championship discussion while removing Ohio State from it.
The Cornhuskers would become the favorites to reach the conference title game from the West Division. Pundits would stop talking about who Nebraska has or hasn’t beaten. Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s legacy will look a lot different.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes haven’t looked like a playoff-bound machine for a while now. The past three games have all been decided by a touchdown or less, and one was a three-point loss at Penn State.
Beating Wisconsin on the road in overtime was acceptable. Losing in Happy Valley, given the circumstances, was shocking. But narrowly avoiding another upset at home last week against Northwestern was alarming.
Maybe the Buckeyes just needed an extra week to shake off the disappointment after everything seemed to be going so well. Urban Meyer’s teams have seemed to find another level of play near the end of the season often in Columbus. Now would be a good time to make that happen.
Ohio State will still make the playoff if it wins out, but the Buckeyes aren’t going to beat Michigan if they don’t play better, particularly on offense. Nebraska’s passing game is very erratic, but the defense is pretty good and the Terrell Newby/Armstrong combo could cause some problems.
Wisconsin (-7) at Northwestern
The Wildcats have the best wide receiver in the Big Ten, Austin Carr, who is a legitimate candidate for offensive Player of the Year. Clayton Thorson might be the best quarterback. He’s certainly played like it the past month or so. Justin Jackson is second in the league in rushing yards.
This is going to be yet another great test for Wisconsin’s great defense. It’s also a test of the entire team’s mettle, considering the grueling schedule it has faced.
There have been 10 games played between teams in the top 13 of the CFP rankings. The Badgers have played in four of them. No one else has played in more than two. The Badgers have won two of them, which only Clemson can also say.
Make or Break
Indiana at Rutgers
The Cornhuskers could land here, but truthfully this has already been a very successful season after going 5-7 in the regular season a year ago. This is pretty much a must-win game for Indiana to get to six victories, which still has games against Michigan and Penn State on the schedule.
It’s also an interesting spot for the Scarlet Knights, who this past week against Minnesota looked like a competent Big Ten team for the first time since losing to Iowa by a touchdown in late September. While there are trips to Michigan State and Maryland to come, this might be Chris Ash’s best chance to nab a conference win in his first season at Rutgers.
Best Individual Matchup
Penn State WR Chris Godwin vs. Iowa CB Desmond King
Chris Godwin is Penn State’s leading receiver with 30 catches, 422 yards and five touchdowns. The Nittany Lions have spread the ball around more in Joe Moorhead’s offense than they have the past couple of seasons, but Godwin is the team’s most versatile threat in the passing game.
Penn State coach James Franklin is wary of Desmond King’s impact on special teams, but he also remains one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. Iowa needs to limit Penn State’s big-play passing attack as much as it needs to contain Saquon Barkley. The Nittany Lions have become one of the more balanced attacks in the Big Ten.
Next Man Up
Minnesota WR Rashad Still
Second-leading receiver Brian Smith was dismissed from the team earlier this week for a violation of team rules. Still, a sophomore with five catches this season, is slated to start in his place.
Minnesota is also without top tight end Brandon Lingen. Drew Wolitarsky has 40 catches, and no one else on the active roster has more than 13. It probably won’t be a problem against Purdue, but someone else needs to catch the ball or the Golden Gophers probably aren’t going to stay in the Big Ten West race much longer.