Big Ten football is dead.
For a little while longer, anyway.
Someday, we’ll look back and laugh at the self-righteous fuss that was made — from Lincoln, Nebraska, to the Deep South; from Columbus, Ohio, to the White House — over the Big Ten’s “break” from college football during a pandemic. Or we’ll look back and cry. Either way, the SEC, ACC and Big 12 won’t have waited for the Big Ten and Pac-12 to arrive at the table before digging into the 2020 season.
Indeed, the fractured state of college football is storyline No. 1 this season.
Meanwhile, first-year commissioner Kevin Warren is under heavy fire as presidents and chancellors around the Big Ten prepare to vote on a new proposed plan for when games could start. Ohio State coach Ryan Day complained that communication from the league has been “disappointing and often unclear.” Penn State coach James Franklin publicly questioned Warren’s leadership.
So much — for now — for the league’s preseason rankings in the AP Top 25: Ohio State 2, Penn State 7, Wisconsin 12, Michigan 16, Minnesota 19 and Iowa 24.
But the show goes on without the Big Ten. And as national storylines go, here’s the rest of the big 10 (where 10 actually means 10):
2. Staggered starts: Six ranked teams, including Nos. 1 Clemson, 5 Oklahoma and 10 Notre Dame, open their seasons Saturday. The ACC is basically off and running with its conference schedule. Several Big 12 teams are sneaking in nonconference games Saturday before taking next week off and not starting league play until Sept. 26. The SEC won’t play at all until Sept. 26.
3. Irish in the ACC: Starting with Saturday’s home date with Duke, Brian Kelly’s team will play a full-fledged ACC schedule — or what counts as one in 2020. That means 10 league games for everybody, with no divisions. The Irish also get Florida State, Louisville, Syracuse and the biggie — Clemson — at home.
4. The team to beat: Clemson is the consensus No. 1 in large part because of Trevor Lawrence, who — despite having been outplayed in 2019 by LSU’s Joe Burrow — heads into the season as one of the top NFL prospects ever at quarterback. The Tigers’ only loss over the last two seasons was to Burrow and company in the national title game.
5. Team 1A: Right behind Clemson is Alabama, which always bounces back. Nick Saban’s first title at the school, in 2009, came after a two-loss season. The 2011 title came after a three-loss 2010, and the 2015 title after a two-loss 2014. The 2019 Crimson Tide lost twice and missed the playoff for the first time.
6. Fans in the stands: Some schools aren’t allowing any, at least not to start the season. Many others — like the entire SEC, save one (Vanderbilt) — are going with partial attendance, generally in the range of 20-25% capacity. To a large extent, the issue breaks along red-state or blue-state lines. Then again, what doesn’t?
7. Skippable September: There isn’t a game all month that would be worth an ABC prime-time showcase under normal circumstances.
8. Must-see TV: Put Clemson at Notre Dame (Nov. 7) right at the top of the list of 2020 matchups. Or Alabama at LSU (Nov. 14), Georgia at Alabama (Oct. 17) or — one man’s favorite in-person rivalry — Oklahoma vs. Texas (Oct. 10).
9. Player opt-outs: Standouts from every league have pulled out, focusing on staying healthy before the 2021 NFL Draft. The Big Ten’s list includes Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman, Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater and Rondale Moore, Purdue’s electrifying gamebreaker.
10. Shots at the champ: LSU has a new QB, Myles Brennan, who won’t have any of last year’s star receivers to throw to now that Ja’Marr Chase, the best wideout in the land in 2019, has opted out. And it hurts just to think about the Tigers’ schedule, which includes Florida, Auburn, Alabama and Texas A&M — in other words, every serious challenger in the SEC save Georgia — in a span of 32 days. A repeat? Not a chance.