Michigan heads to Iowa, Michigan State visits Maryland in 'Champions Week' games
So much for the plan to have seeded teams from the Big Ten East and West divisions face each other in the “Champions Week” crossover game. Then again, nothing was ever written in stone for this modified Big Ten football season, so maybe nothing should be surprising.
Late last week, after all, Big Ten athletic directors were widely applauded for revisiting the six-game minimum requirement for the conference championship game and voted to send unbeaten Ohio State to the title game to face Northwestern. Ohio State finished the regular season with five games after Michigan canceled its final two, including last Saturday against the Buckeyes, because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
As this plan was laid out in September when the Big Ten announced the season was reinstated, this ninth-week would be based on seeded teams from each division playing each other. That’s not how things have shaken on out based on the Big Ten’s release Sunday of the ninth-game match-ups.
Michigan, 2-4 and at the bottom of the Big Ten East, will play at No. 18 Iowa, the second best team in the West behind Northwestern, on Saturday at 7 p.m. (ESPN). The Hawkeyes, who have won six straight, are arguably the hottest team now in the conference, while Michigan, who will be playing its fourth night game this season, has slumped this season and missed the last two games.
These final Big Ten games to be played Friday and Saturday look different than expected in large part because two West division schools, Wisconsin and Minnesota, were interested in getting in their rivalry game in. They were scheduled to play Nov. 28, but a COVID issue led to Minnesota canceling. With that game rescheduled, that forced a pairing of two East division teams, so Michigan State must travel to Maryland for a night game Saturday, as well.
Based on the standings, had these crossover games played out as expected, Michigan were projected to play Illinois or Nebraska and Michigan State (2-5) could have played one of those two as well. Instead, MSU is playing Maryland, which had canceled their regular-season meeting because of COVID. With this new lineup of games, in-state rivals Indiana and Purdue are scheduled to play Friday night since the teams canceled their regular-season meeting last Saturday because of COVID issues.
It’s essentially a championship weekend for the Big Ten with its crown jewel, the title game between Ohio State and Northwestern, scheduled for Saturday at noon. Nebraska is at Rutgers at 4 Friday and Purdue and Indiana will meet at 7:30 Friday.
Besides the Saturday night games for Michigan and Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin play at 4 p.m.
The Wolverines have not played since Nov. 28, a 27-17 loss to Penn State at Michigan Stadium. They were winless in three games at home this season.
This will be the 62nd time Michigan and Iowa have played. The Wolverines won, 10-3, last season at Michigan Stadium, and before that game, the last meeting was in 2016 at Kinnick Stadium when the Hawkeyes upset then-No. 3 Michigan, 14-13, on a last-second field goal.
Last week, when Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh spoke during a news conference about the Wolverines’ decision to cancel the Ohio State game, he said the team wanted to play the game but doctors did not clear the players. He sounded like a guy who expected to play this week.
“All our energies have been focused on this season, health and safety and football,” Harbaugh said last week. “Getting the guys the training they need and preparing each week for the opponent that we’re playing. and we still consider ourselves in that season. When you’re in that, that’s where you focus all your energies."
Champions Week schedule
►Championship: Ohio State vs. Northwestern, at Indianapolis, noon Saturday, Fox
►Nebraska at Rutgers, 4 Friday, BTN
►Purdue at Indiana, 7:30 Friday, BTN
►Minnesota at Wisconsin, 4 Saturday, BTN
►Illinois at Penn State, 5:30 Saturday, FS1
►Michigan at Iowa, 7 Saturday, ESPN
►Michigan State at Maryland, 7:30 Saturday, BTN