The Big Ten didn’t waste any time putting together a marquee matchup.
Penn State and Ohio State, two programs ranked among the top seven teams in the nation in the initial Associated Press poll, will meet in the second week of the revamped football season, according to the eight-game regular-season schedule released by the conference Saturday morning.
The game is slated for Oct. 31 and it will be the home opener for the Nittany Lions, who are scheduled to kick off the truncated campaign Oct. 24 against Indiana in Bloomington.
More than a month after initially deciding to postpone the football season along with all other fall sports, the Big Ten announced plans Wednesday to go ahead with a football season after adopting strict medical protocols that include daily rapid antigen testing for COVID-19 for all players, coaches and others on the field.
The schedule proved to be a mixed bag for several contenders.
For Ohio State, the path to a potential College Football Playoff berth is clear. The Buckeyes’ Halloween matchup against Penn State represents the only road game against a team expected to even compete for a division title on their slate. They host Nebraska and, in the Dec. 12 regular-season finale, Michigan.
Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers’ schedule raised some eyebrows. One of the most outspoken programs in the wake of the conference’s initial decision to postpone in August, Nebraska will open the season with a month-long gauntlet lined with contenders, including an Oct. 31 matchup with West favorite Wisconsin in Lincoln.
Each program will face the other six teams in its division once, then get two opponents from the opposite division. Nebraska’s two cross-division opponents: The season-opener against Ohio State on Oct. 24 and a home game against Penn State on Nov. 14.
Essentially, head coach James Franklin’s Nittany Lions will play the same schedule they were set to face, sans a home game against Northwestern. Penn State will make its first trip to Nebraska since 2012, travels to Michigan for a key division matchup on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and will end the regular season by hosting a traditional battle for the Land Grant Trophy against Michigan State on Dec. 12.
Each team will play eight regular season games, then prepare for a “Champions Week” game against an opponent from the other division the week leading into the Dec. 19 Big Ten Championship Game. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, chairman of the Big Ten’s scheduling subcommittee, said last week the second-place team from the East will play the second-place team from the West, the thirds will face the thirds, and so on, to give every team a “meaningful” nine-game schedule. He added that the Big Ten likely will work the matchups to avoid rematches from the first eight games.
Donnie Collins has been a member of The Times-Tribune sports staff for nearly 20 years and has been the Penn State football beat writer for Times-Shamrock Newspapers since 2004. The Penn State Football Blog covers Nittany Lions, Big Ten and big-time college football news from Beaver Stadium to the practice field, the bowl game to National Letter of Intent Signing Day. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5368; @DonnieCollinsTT