IOWA CITY, Iowa – Anytime you can avoid playing Ohio State and Michigan in football is a good thing, even during a global pandemic.
That was my initial thought after seeing Iowa’s third different schedule for the 2020 fall season.
Iowa was originally scheduled to face the Buckeyes on Oct. 10 in Columbus, followed by a road game at Penn State the next week.
A road game at Penn State still is on the new schedule, but it doesn’t seem nearly as daunting from a hostile atmosphere standpoint since massive Beaver Stadium is likely to be almost empty for the game.
The Nittany Lions are loaded with talent and considered by many a top-10 team heading into this now abbreviated season.
But it’s reasonable to think Penn State will lose a little bit of an edge without its tremendous fan support, just as Iowa will with Kinnick Stadium mostly being empty, and Ohio State without fans in Ohio Stadium.
If ever there ever was a season where the intangibles won’t be nearly as important, this season is it without fans in attendance.
“Well, on the road, that’s great, especially if we’re indoors. I’m all for it if we’re in one of those hundred-thousand seat stadiums,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “At home, I thought about that when they talked about the whole concept. I just kind of flashed right back to when we scrimmage in August or scrimmage in the spring without fans there. It feels kind of weird because you’re going live and you’re going full speed and all that, but it’s not the same as game day.
“It’s one of those things that I’ve never experienced, so we’re going to find out here shortly. Normally, you come out of that tunnel with that adrenaline rush of the fans anticipating the swarm, all those things that you’re accustom to. So it’s going to be very, very different and will probably be a little bit of an adjustment for all of us.”
Home-field advantage still will have some influence because there is no traveling involved, and the home teams get to stay in their own comfort zone.
Under normal circumstances, the biggest challenge with playing on the road, besides facing an opponent on its home turf, is overcoming, or withstanding, the distractions caused by the fans.
Hostile environments are as much a part of big-time college football as mascots, marching bands and tailgating.
Iowa still faces a monumental challenge in the fifth game at Penn State, but there won’t be any white out or standing-room only crowd yelling and screaming at the Iowa players.
It actually might look and sound more like a scrimmage that’s being televised to a national audience.
Iowa will face Purdue, Minnesota, Penn State and Illinois on the road, while hosting Northwestern, Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium.
The eight-game journey through uncharted territory starts with Purdue, and hopefully, ends with Wisconsin.
The Big Ten seems to be acknowledging the rivalry between Iowa and Wisconsin by having them meet in the eighth game, and maybe it’s not a coincidence that Iowa will face Nebraska over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
The Nebraska game could even be played on Friday, Nov. 27 if the big Ten really wanted to make things seems normal again.
The Big Ten is expected to announce the Friday games at a later date.
I skimmed through the schedule quickly and had Iowa finishing 5-3 with losses against Minnesota, Penn State and Wisconsin.
I probably could be talked into 6-2, but it’s so hard to develop a feel because of the unusual circumstances with no fans.
These games will be decided by talent and experience, and of course, luck, more than a typical game because of the circumstances.
My second thought after seeing all of the schedules is that the Big Ten seemed to be sending Nebraska a message to keep its mouth shut.
The same school in which its president said on a hot mic that the Big Ten was about to reinstate the fall season now gets to face Ohio State in the season opener in Columbus.
And while the stadium will mostly be empty, Ohio State’s roster is filled as always with future NFL players, including star quarterback Justin Fields, who was so determined to play for the Buckeyes this season that he launched a petition in the summer.
Nebraska will host Wisconsin and Penn State in games two and four with a road game at Northwestern in between those two games.
It wouldn’t be out of the question for Nebraska to be 0-4 midway through the season.
However, the question is will the season last to the midway point and beyond?
Just because the schedules have been finalized doesn’t mean the situation is no longer fluid.
The Big Ten has implemented stringent safety guidelines to help combat the virus, including having the players tested on a daily basis.
The availability of daily testing and contact tracing was described as a game-changer, along with more having awareness and information about the possible long-terms effects that the coronavirus has on the heart.
The teams now have about a month to prepare for the season opener, which isn’t ideal, but something is better than nothing.
Iowa’s 2020 schedule
Oct. 24, at Purdue
Oct. 31, vs. Northwestern
Nov. 7, vs. Michigan State
Nov. 14, at Minnesota
Nov. 21, at Penn State
Nov. 28, vs. Nebraska
Dec. 5, at Illinois
Dec. 12, vs. Wisconsin