COVID played hell with the 2020 Big Ten football schedule, forcing the league to scrap not one but two planned schedules in favor of the 8-game* set we ultimately got in the fall. The 2020 schedule wasn't the only schedule impacted by the tinkering necessitated by COVID, though -- there are trickle-down effects on future schedules. So even though the Big Ten has league scheduled set several years out, expect some changes to those slates as they try to get things back on track after the enormous monkey wrench that 2020 threw into future plans.
* Well, the 8-game slate played by some teams, at least...
Which brings us to 2021, the football season rapidly approaching in, er, seven months? The Big Ten unveiled the full schedule for all 14 league teams, including conference and non-conference games. It looks like this:
The odds of that Nebraska-Illinois game that's meant to kick off the season actually being played in Ireland are... uh, let's go with "not great, Bob!" Also, sending Nebraska football overseas seems like a poor form of diplomacy to me, but hey.
Iowa is set to open the season against a Big Ten opponent from the state of Indiana for the second straight season. Last year it was against Purdue in West Lafayette; this year it will be hosting Indiana. Iowa has traditionally been a team that starts slow out of the blocks under Kirk Ferentz, so that game would have "trap game" surrounding it in blinking red lights even if it wasn't against one of the Big Ten's biggest surprise teams (in a good way) of 2020. After that Iowa plays three straight non-conference games, away at Iowa State, and then home to Kent State and Colorado State. That part of the schedule is actually unchanged from the original 2021 plans.
October and November, though, look quite a bit different -- not in terms of who Iowa is playing (their scheduled league opponents in 2021 are unchanged) or where those games will be played, but in terms of when they'll be played. Here's the original 2021 schedule:
And here's the updated version:
Instead of starting October at Northwestern, Iowa will start the month at Maryland. The October 9 home game against Penn State remains unchanged. October 16 goes from a bye week to a home game against Purdue. October 23 shifts from a road trip to Maryland to the new bye week. October 30 flips from a home game against Purdue to a road game at Wisconsin. That's definitely putting the "trick" in trick-or-treat that Halloween weekend...
November was supposed to begin with a game at Nebraska; now it will kick off with a game at Northwestern. November 13 and 20 remain are unchanged -- those were home games against Minnesota and Illinois and they're still home games against Minnesota and Illinois. Finally, Iowa was scheduled to end the season the Saturday after Thanksgiving at Wisconsin; instead they'll now end the season on Black Friday against Nebraska. Everything old is new again!
2020 and 2021 were originally scheduled to be a pause in the practice of Iowa and Nebraska ending the season against one another and playing on Black Friday. The previous Nebraska AD had pushed for that and the Big Ten had obliged. But that was only ever a blip on the schedule -- when the Big Ten released the 2022-25 schedules, Iowa and Nebraska were back in that familiar Black Friday slot. Now that brief planned blip is never going to happen at all -- Iowa and Nebraska played on Black Friday in the re-arranged 2020 schedule and they're set to do so again in the new 2021 schedule. It's important not to mess with certain hallowed Black Friday traditions: Christmas shopping, leftover turkey, and Iowa making Nebraska fans sad (or mad, or both).
In terms of difficulty, the new 2021 schedule doesn't look overwhelming (the perks of not playing Ohio State and getting Penn State in Kinnick Stadium), but it will pose some clear challenges.The hardest part of this schedule for Iowa might be avoiding an early hole. Iowa ended up having a good team in 2020 -- perhaps even a very good team in some regards -- but their 0-2 start pretty much crushed any Big Ten championship aspirations they had. Iowa doesn't start off with two conference games in 2021, but they the possibility for an 0-2 start is quite real. As noted before, the Indiana game looks very troublesome as Iowa's season opener, given Iowa's track record of sluggish starts and the quality of the Hoosiers in 2020. And while Iowa has won five straight against Iowa State (a glorious stat, to be sure), this year's Iowa State game could be one of the toughest ever, given that it's in Ames and ISU will be returning basically everyone of note from their Fiesta Bowl-winning 2020 team.
Iowa ended long losing skids to Penn State and Wisconsin in 2020, but their recent struggles with Purdue persisted. Iowa will likely need to protect home field against Penn State and Purdue and find a way to win in Madison to keep Big Ten West title aspirations alive. In fact, those back-to-back road games against Wisconsin and Northwestern at the end of October and the start of November figure to be make or break of Iowa's Big Ten West hopes (that is, if they've been able to navigate the earlier games against Indiana, Penn State, Maryland, and Purdue with minimal damage). The rest of November brings games against Minnesota, Illinois, and Nebraska, three teams Iowa is a combined 18-0 against since the start of the 2015 season. (Now there's a stat that never gets old...)
So that's what Iowa's schedule looks like for the 2021 season -- at least as of now. If we've learned anything over the last 12 months, it's that schedules are very much subject to change. But assuming this is the slate when Iowa suits up next fall -- yay? Nay? Hit up the comment and let us know.