PICKIN' ON THE BIG TEN WORLDWIDE HEADQUARTERS
Deep in the heart of Baja Illinois
About three weeks ago
MARK (sleeping): Sksksksknnnxxxx ... skxskxskxskxskxsssss ...
(A bright light flashes and a buzzer goes off. MARK snaps awake.)
MARK: Is ... is that the Barta-signal?
(MARK looks at his phone and sees that Fearless Leader has pinged the Slack channel. He stares in disbelief.)
MARK: They're PLAYING? But what about ...?
(A giant dollar sign appears on MARK's phone screen.)
MARK: Oh. Right. Better dust off the Magic 8-Ball.
(MARK puts on his facemask and grabs a Magic 8-Ball from his desk. He shakes it and waits. Suddenly the phrase LOL HUSKERS appears in the Magic 8-Ball.)
MARK: ... my people need me.
... and so we're back, ready to pick what promises to be the most and least predictable Big Ten season since the 1970s. Nobody knows, not even the coaches, not even Dave Revsine, if all these games are going to be played, or who will actually be on the field. So I'll spare you the suspense: This season will be a massive Random Events Generator that will reward depth more than it rewards any other attribute of a team.
All Big Ten roster depth battles are inevitably won by Ohio State. Sorry to have to say that, but where's the lie? Their next guy in would be a starter at almost any other school not coached by a diminutive West Virginian or some dude still holding on to a childhood nickname. Some teams go weeks in the Top 25 with rosters thinner than the peanut butter on a school lunch sandwich. If you've never known who those teams are, this year you'll find out.
But that's for later. We're all starving tomcats for football right now, having been reduced to consuming garbage like multiple Texas Longhorns games. Let's dive in to the real action in The Only Conference That Matters (To Us), shall we?
ILLINOIS AT WISCONSIN (Friday, 7 pm CDT, Big Ten Network)
"You've been on lockdown longer than Ted Kaczynski down there in Illini-land!"
"At least we didn't give Foxconn a couple billion dollars for like thirty-eight jobs!"
"That's only because your state doesn't have a couple billion dollars! 'Cause you on welll-fare, you can't af-FORRRRD it ...!"
"It's cool, none of y'all can keep it under 60 on the Tri-State, we can raise $2 bil in like a week."
"Deep-dish pizza is a casserole!"
"It's for the tourists anyways! And squeaky cheese curds are just weird!"
"MMMMOOOMMMMMM! Illinois just blasphemed our cheese!"
I know I said this season was a Random Events Generator, but can you see Illinois winning this game? I can't.
Superspreaders 34, Supercomputers 13.
RUTGERS AT MICHIGAN STATE (11 am CDT Saturday, BTN)
"Alexa, who coaches these teams, and does it actually matter?"
"Hmmm ... I'm not sure. Would you like to hear a joke?"
"... why not?"
"Rutgers still plays football."
Dantoni-NO 38, You Tawkin' Ta Me? 0.
NEBRASKA AT OHIO STATE (11 am CDT Saturday, FOX)
Nebraska: "So ... about that lawsuit and the threat to leave the conference. You know we were just kidding, right? We're still bros, right bruh?"
Just Another Day At Work 63, We're Sorry Coach Solich So Please Remove the Curse 6.
PENN STATE AT INDIANA (2:30 pm CDT Saturday, FS1)
Penn State is a popular dark-horse candidate to upend Ohio State this season, and I don't know why. I am impressed with the job James Franklin has done to make PSU the solid second-best team in the East but I haven't seen anything to suggest he can take them any higher, and he's been there long enough now for me to believe that maybe he just can't. Indiana is and always has been Team Chaos, capable of winning or losing any game it plays, and yet somehow always winding up in about the same place every season. I don't think the Hoosiers can find enough traction to stay with the Nits, even at home, even this year. Nits, but like all Indiana games, it'll be weird.
Nittany Flyin' 40, Basketball School 33.
MICHIGAN AT MINNESOTA (6:30 pm CDT Saturday, ABC)
Speaking of teams who will struggle if COVID strikes them, that's ... well, it's both these teams, really. I didn't used to have to say this about Michigan but who can deny the last ten to twelve years of evidence? They're just another Big Ten team now, really Iowa with a longer history, except Iowa sometimes beats Ohio State.
As for Minnesota, I'm actually happy P.J. Fleck has made them more competitive. Much as I love seeing our traditional rivals getting carpet-bombed (see two picks above), it's really better for Iowa if those rivals are good. Competition creates competitors. I think of all the Big Ten games this week, this one will be the best. And I like the Gophers.
Row the Snowmobile 31, Have You Foiled A Domestic Terror Plot Lately? 24.
MARYLAND AT NORTHWESTERN (6:30 pm CDT Saturday, BTN)
Games like this are one reason why I have to talk myself back into writing this column every year. Life is too short to spend very much time thinking about Maryland football, and I have to save a few brain cells for Rutgers too.
I have been informed that I do not, in fact, have to save any brain cells for Rutgers. That's good. Wildcats gonna roll.
Fitz 28, The Tantrums 20.
And, of course:
IOWA AT OUR MOST HATED RIVAL PURDUE, A CURSE BE ON THEIR NAME FOREVER (2:30 pm CDT Saturday, BTN)
Can I just admit that thinking about the Hawkeyes this season turns me into a nervous wreck? I mean, COVID was enough of an off-field issue, and it mostly affects all the schools equally. But how is Iowa supposed to cope with that and the racial tension that surfaced over the summer and still play football? What effect will losing Chris Doyle (who had to go, don't get me wrong) have on Iowa and its ability to develop its talent? Is Spencer Petras ready to lead this team?
Is Kirk Ferentz ready to lead this team? I've never questioned that before. But it's clear he has to change his preferred way of doing things, and "accepts change well" is not a trait often associated with successful college football coaches in their 60s.
Then again, Purdue's usually a hot mess, but at least under Jeff Brohm they're a hot mess that's fun to watch.
I like Iowa here but wow, am I not sure about that.
Flux Capacity 24, We Get The Job Done 21.