While the ACC, SEC and Big 12 have been playing Power 5 football for more than a month, the Big Ten finally gets going this weekend. To recap, back in August, the conference announced a 10-game schedule, but days later, voted 11-3 to move the season to the spring.
A player petition, parent rallies, and a few coaches and athletic directors kept the pressure on the school presidents to re-evaluate. Lawsuits were filed, school started, and eventually, with advancements in COVID testing, the presidents met again. On Sept. 16, they voted again and elected to start an eight-game, eight-week schedule on the weekend of Oct. 23-24.
The challenge will be getting through eight weeks without any COVID-related postponements. So far, college football has seen more than 30 games postponed due to team and campus outbreaks. If the Big Ten is to compete in the College Football Playoff, it needs to stay on track for a conference championship game on Dec. 19.
Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm has already tested positive and won't coach the Boilermakers' opener this weekend against Iowa. The University of Michigan is on a two-week stay-in-place order that doesn't impact athletics. Also, some of the stadiums won't allow fans this season, and none will be at full capacity.
Without a doubt, the favorite in the Big Ten is perennial powerhouse Ohio State. The Buckeyes were ranked No. 2 in the AP preseason poll and are currently ranked No. 5 as they open the season against Nebraska. The Buckeyes, led by quarterback Justin Fields, are -300 to win the Big Ten.
The oddsmakers believe the Wisconsin Badgers will win the Big Ten West and face Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. The No. 14 Badgers are expected to be without starting quarterback Jack Coan (foot) to start the season but are +600 to win the conference. The Badgers get the Big Ten schedule underway Friday night at home against Illinois.
Ohio State's biggest competition in the East will come from Penn State and Michigan. The Buckeyes travel to Penn State on Oct. 31 for an early-season test.
James Franklin's Nittany Lions are ranked No. 8 in the AP poll and are +650 to win the conference. They open the season at Indiana on Saturday.
Jim Harbaugh's Michigan Wolverines are ranked No. 16 and are +2000 to win the Big Ten. We will find out a lot about Michigan in week one as the Wolverines travel to No. 21 Minnesota on Saturday.
The Golden Gophers have the second-best odds to win the West at +2000. The only other team with better than 5000/1 odds are the Iowa Hawkeyes at +2500 in the West Division.
Players to Watch
As the starting quarterback with the Buckeyes, Fields is the favorite to win Big Ten Player of the Year, and he enters the season with the best Heisman odds in the conference. At +500, he is third in all of college football behind Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (+150) and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (+350).
Other players on the Heisman board heading into week one include Ohio State running back Troy Sermon (+5000), Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (+6000), Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan (+9000), and Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez at +15000.
In addition, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, Ohio State offensive lineman Wyatt Davis, Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade, Michigan defensive lineman Kwity Paye, Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater, Penn State tight end Pat Friermuth, Penn State defensive end Jayson Oweh, Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore and Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman are among the potential NFL first-round picks looking to up their stock over the next two months.