Think the Buckeyes are a TV draw? Well, they are ... but there's plenty more to enjoy the screen in 2020.
Best in show
No need to try and deny the feeling — the Buckeyes are the team to watch each Saturday this fall. Maybe it's the future NFL Draft picks on both sides of the ball, or maybe it's the national implications Ohio State carries, but Ryan Day's group deserves your eyes (when the Huskers aren't playing, of course). Justin Fields is a Heisman contender at QB, and on the other side of the ball, cornerback Shaun Wade is drawing first-round projections.
It's time for some fresh blood mixing it up at the top of the two Big Ten races. Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin have each established themselves as stalwarts in their respective divisions, but there is reason to believe the Illini could make at least a modest move in the West behind a senior-laden cast, including QB Brandon Peters.
There's a certain intrigue surrounding a team constantly knocking on the door of national lore before falling a step short each time. The Badgers have lost conference title games in 2016, ’17 and ’19 and are 0-4 in Rose Bowl games in the past decade. Debuting a new running back to follow in the shoes of Jonathan Taylor, and a young, exciting quarterback likely to step into the starting QB role, Wisconsin is a team to monitor this fall.
Nebraska at Ohio State, Oct. 24
The Huskers found themselves at the center of national discussions for being adamant about their aspirations to play a fall schedule. Through a dramatic, soap opera-like sequence of events, Nebraska gets its wish — and it's rewarded with a trip to Columbus, Ohio. If NU can turn in a solid performance, it would certainly turn some heads.
Ohio State at Penn State, Oct. 31
I mean, right? This game is circled on calendars every year, and it typically shifts the college football spotlight from the SEC to the Big Ten for a week. The Nittany Lions would have College Football Playoff appearance(s) under their belt if not for the Buckeyes, and don't think for a second James Franklin's group doesn't know that. This is one of those matchups where you can feel a heightened sense of importance — even from living rooms 1,000 miles away from State College, Pennsylvania.
Minnesota at Wisconsin, Nov. 28
The teams' near-annual battle for Paul Bunyan's ax has taken on more significant meaning given the Gophers' recent ascension. This year's installment of the game should be no different. There's likely a reason this game is scheduled later in the season (Week 6), because it could dictate the winner of the division, which could represent the East in a potential showdown with the likes of Ohio State or Penn State.
Michigan at Ohio State, Dec. 12
One would be hard-pressed to find someone more competitive than Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. He hears the critics, hanging his 0-5 career record against the Buckeyes over his head virtually anytime his tenure at the university is discussed. The Wolverines have their work cut out to find a drought-ending triumph this fall, capping an inevitably physical conference season with a trip to the Horseshoe.
Nebraska at Iowa, Nov. 27
The clash between these two teams, often played on Black Friday, is one of the matchups that makes the Big Ten special. Who can forget Iowa kicker Keith Duncan blowing the Husker sideline kisses after his 48-yard kick with 1 second left lifted the Hawkeyes over NU 27-24 at Memorial Stadium last season? The Hawkeyes are undoubtedly the team Nebraska fans like the least, and a win for the Huskers could go a long way to putting NU in the right direction.
The main cast
Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State: The transfer from Georgia is one of the top quarterbacks in the country, proving his game is multi-faceted and meaning he can be pesky on the run but also deliver the ball in the passing game at an elite level.
Kwity Paye, edge, Michigan: Defensive linemen, particularly on the edge, are evolving to prioritize a combination of size, strength and athleticism — and the likely first-round NFL Draft pick fits the bill.
Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State: The latest top-notch Buckeye defensive back, Wade raises eyebrows with the brute physicality that emerges from his 6-foot-1, 194-pound frame.
Jayson Oweh, edge, Penn State: Micah Parsons gets the bulk of the attention on the Nittany Lions' defense — and for good reason — but there are whispers that "freak" athlete Oweh could bull-rush the NFL Draft board like it was an unsuspecting Big Ten quarterback.
Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue: Standing 5-foot-9, the speedster draws comparisons to Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill for his ability to turn on the jets to make plays as a receiver and on special teams.
The supporting cast
David Bell, WR, Purdue: The reigning Big Ten freshman of the year is poised to become a household name in the Midwest for his ability to shred defenders as teams key in on teammate Rondale Moore.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette, WR, Iowa: Recruited by some schools as a cornerback in high school, Smith-Marsette's dynamic ability to make a difference on special teams (Husker fans will remember his backbreaking TD return last season) in addition to his receiving duties could add a welcome wrinkle to the Hawkeye system.
Graham Mertz, QB, Wisconsin: Fans in Madison have been clamoring for Mertz, an exciting redshirt freshman, for a while now. Sound familiar? He will likely have an opportunity in the wake of starter Jack Coan's injury, which will sideline him for several weeks.
Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State: There was serious talk about the talented Freiermuth opting out this season to focus on the NFL Draft, but look for him to try and raise his stock even further as a reliable option in midrange passing and red zone situations.
Journey Brown, RB, Penn State: The Nittany Lions clearly have a type at running back, and Brown fits the bill as a hard-nosed runner who is timely in hitting holes at the line of scrimmage and running through would-be tacklers when necessary.
The plot twists
Penn State wins the Week 2 showdown
There's reason to believe the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions will go undefeated in the games that are, well, not against each other. In that case, if Penn State can finally put all of the pieces together that are required to beat Ohio State on the road on Oct. 31, it would place itself in the driver's seat to take the East crown, and beat whoever emerges from the other side.
The West makes itself heard
In recent years, the winner of the East is essentially crowned the league champion at the same time. Wisconsin and Minnesota are the popular choices in the West, but can either squad hang with the Buckeyes or Nittany Lions? Like many battles in the Big Ten, it hinges squarely on physicality and who can be downright nasty in the trenches.
Ohio State runs into personnel problems
An issue likely lost in the excitement of a season coming to fruition is the fact that a player who tests positive for COVID-19 must be sidelined for a minimum of 21 days. That's a really long time in an eight-plus-one scheduling format. Hopefully, the Buckeyes (or any other team) won't have to deal with significant blowback related to the pandemic, but in the case that the virus does rear its ugly head, does Ryan Day's group have the depth in key positions to hold off competitors?
The Big Ten TV guide
* Sleep in | ** Good background noise | *** Watch the second half (maybe)
**** Settle in front of a TV | ***** Cancel the plans
Nebraska at Ohio State *****
Michigan at Minnesota ****
Illinois at Wisconsin ***
Iowa at Purdue ***
Penn State at Indiana **
Rutgers at Michigan State *
Maryland at Northwestern *
Ohio State at Penn State *****
Michigan State at Michigan ****
Wisconsin at Nebraska ****
Northwestern at Iowa ***
Minnesota at Maryland **
Purdue at Illinois *
Indiana at Rutgers *
Minnesota at Illinois ***
Purdue at Wisconsin ***
Michigan State at Iowa **
Nebraska at Northwestern **
Michigan at Indiana *
Rutgers at Ohio State *
Maryland at Penn State *
Wisconsin at Michigan ****
Iowa at Minnesota ****
Penn State at Nebraska ***
Ohio State at Maryland **
Indiana at Michigan State **
Northwestern at Purdue *
Illinois at Rutgers *
Iowa at Penn State ****
Purdue at Minnesota ***
Wisconsin at Northwestern ***
Illinois at Nebraska ***
Indiana at Ohio State **
Michigan State at Maryland **
Rutgers at Michigan *
Minnesota at Wisconsin ****
Penn State at Michigan ****
Nebraska at Iowa ****
Ohio State at Illinois ***
Northwestern at Michigan State **
Maryland at Indiana *
Rutgers at Purdue *
Ohio State at Michigan State ****
Iowa at Illinois ***
Northwestern at Minnesota ***
Nebraska at Purdue ***
Indiana at Wisconsin **
Maryland at Michigan **
Penn State at Rutgers *
Michigan at Ohio State *****
Wisconsin at Iowa ****
Michigan State at Penn State ****
Minnesota at Nebraska ****
Illinois at Northwestern ***
Purdue at Indiana ***
Rutgers at Maryland *