Just days ago, the Big Ten released its new modified schedule for the 2020 season, with adjustments made in light of complications regarding COVID-19. Generally speaking, this new schedule is essentially the same as before, albeit with fewer scheduled games, but one interesting quirk is each team will play a ninth game against an opponent not yet known.
The teams that finish in equal positions in each division will face off in a modified B1G Championship Week. So instead of the winners of the East and West squaring off, the runners up, the third place teams (and so on) will face each other as well. This begs the question: what if this had been done before? What cross-division matchups could have emerged in prior years?
Here are five matchups that are particularly interesting.
2019- East 7th Place Rutgers vs. West 7th Place Northwestern
What happens when a stoppable force meets a movable object? This game was your answer. It would have been a terrible matchup with which to end the regular season. The movable force would be Rutgers, who would enter such a contest without a conference win, on a four game losing streak during which the team averaged fewer than 10 points per game. But if a B1G team existed for them to beat in 2019, it would be Northwestern, who were the consensus worst team in the West at just 3-9. A historically anemic Wildcat offense, under the tutelage of the innovative Mick McCall (Editor’s note: fact check needed), made for a very stoppable force, even by a Rutgers team that was just plain historically bad. It would be an utterly putrid affair that I just can’t help but wish was a thing.
2017- East 2nd Place Michigan State vs. West 2nd Place Northwestern
This was a hypothetical that was easy to identify as a fun one simply because a great contest had already occurred between these two teams earlier in the year. The 2017 edition of Spartans vs. Wildcats was entirely crazy.
From a touchdown with just 20 seconds left in regulation by Michigan State to tie the game, to the three ensuing overtime periods it took for Northwestern to emerge with an upset in front of home fans, this matchup had everything needed to be marked as an instant classic on NCAA 14. I don’t think there are many fans out there who would refuse a second viewing of such a game.
2017- East 3rd Place Penn State vs West 3rd Place Iowa
In another rematch of one of the B1G games of the year, the 2017 Bronze Medal game, if it was anything like the first contest between these two teams, would have been an absolute thriller. Featuring a dangerous Iowa Hawkeyes team, who had dropped 55 points on Ohio State in one of the most surprising blowouts of the year, and a Penn State Nittany Lions team that had been receiving early season College Football Playoff hype, this game was always a fun matchup on paper.
It didn’t let down on the field either when the two teams met in late September. It took only a touchdown on the last play of the game by Penn State to survive. Needless to say I wouldn’t mind a second battle between an explosive Nittany Lions’ offense, headlined by Heisman contender Saquon Barkley, and a stingy Iowa defense that was among the best in the country in 2017.
2015- East 3rd Place Michigan vs. West 3rd Place Wisconsin
In 2015, Michigan and Wisconsin each endured campaigns that were painfully similar. Both teams entered the season with high hopes, the Wolverines were in the first season of new coach Jim Harbaugh, and the Badgers were facing one of their easiest conference schedules in years. Both teams dropped their opening game of the season- Michigan an away tilt to Utah, Wisconsin a prime time loss in Texas to eventual national champion Alabama.
But far more brutal was the subsequent conference slate, where both teams suffered two heartbreaking losses- Michigan conceded perhaps the most bizarre final play in college football history to in-state nemesis Michigan State, and then was humiliated at home by arch rival Ohio State, while Wisconsin watched the chance for a second straight B1G West title fall away as they mustered up a combined 13 points against top competitors Iowa and Northwestern. Each team did end up winning a bowl game, and one could imagine a game between such similar foes would have been full of intrigue.
2014- East 2nd Place Michigan State vs. West 2nd Place Minnesota
This is going on the list simply because of how massive the disparity between these two divisional second place finishers was. Michigan State, who came up as runners up in the East, finished 11-2 and were a consensus top-15 team all year. Their only defeats came at the hands of national champions Ohio State, and the team Ohio State beat in said national championship, Oregon. They would go on to lift the Cotton Bowl trophy on New Year’s Day, and finish No. 6 in national rankings.
Minnesota, who finished second in the West, was a solid team, but boasted a considerably less impressive resume. They finished a respectable 8-5, with losses to a mediocre Illinois team, as well as, per tradition, Wisconsin. They played on New Year’s Day as well, and lost to Missouri. I’m not saying Minnesota wouldn’t have a chance against the Spartans, but I am saying that if this hypothetical game was on the schedule Michigan State finishes 12-2.