By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Hard to believe the 2020 COVID-19-shortened Big Ten football season is already one-third complete for most of the teams, including Iowa.
The three exceptions are Wisconsin, Purdue, and Nebraska, all of which have had at least one game cancelled due to health concerns with the coronavirus.
Wisconsin had its last two games cancelled, and it’s uncertain if the Badgers will return to action this coming Saturday against a struggling Michigan team that fell to 1-2 with this past Saturday’s 38-21 loss at Indiana.
Jim Harbaugh was considered the perfect hire when Michigan convinced him to leave the NFL in order to make his alma mater elite again.
But now in his sixth season, Harbaugh has failed to meet that challenge, and now he’s failing miserably by Michigan’s standards.
Harbaugh was a rookie quarterback in the NFL, Kirk Ferentz was in his seventh season coaching the Iowa offensive line and Duke had yet to win a national title in men’s basketball under Mike Krzyzewski the last time Michigan lost to Indiana in football in 1987.
Harbaugh’s biggest flaw prior to this season was his inability to beat rivals Ohio State and Michigan State.
That flaw, or weakness, or whatever you want to call it, has continued this season with the Wolverines having lost to Michigan State 27-24 on Oct. 31 in Ann Arbor, Mich.
That is the same Michigan State squad that lost to Iowa 49-7 this past Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, and that lost to Rutgers 38-27 in the season opener at home.
But it’s also the same Michigan team that crushed Minnesota 49-24 in the season opener in Minneapolis.
So what does that say about 1-2 Minnesota?
Well, the Gophers, who host 1-2 Iowa this coming Friday night, still are very potent and talented on offense, but also with serious flaws on defense.
It’ll likely take at least three or four touchdowns to defeat Minnesota, but that seems well within reach for a lot of Big Ten teams, including Iowa.
I’m not guaranteeing an Iowa victory on Friday, but the Gophers had better be prepared to score at least 30 points to avoid losing.
Iowa’s next two games are on the road with a matchup against 0-3 Penn State coming a week after the Minnesota game.
The matchup with Penn State figured to be one of Iowa’s toughest challenges, and it still could prove to be a challenge, although, Penn State’s season is spiraling in the wrong direction as evidenced by this past Saturday’s stunning 35-19 loss to Maryland.
Yes, that’s right, Maryland, a team that Penn State had combined to outscore 163-6 in the previous three games.
If there is any fan base more frustrated and upset than Michigan’s fan base, it would be Penn State fans.
It was reasonable to think that the impact from COVID-19 would cause some strange and unpredictable things to happen, but nobody could have expected this level of strangeness and unpredictability.
I was reminded of that while doing my Big Ten power rankings for the first time this season.
The only thing that felt normal was putting 3-0 Ohio State in the top spot as usual.
The global pandemic has created a new normal, except for in the case of Ohio State’s dominance in the Big Ten.
The gap between Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten appears to be as wide as ever, and that’s not good for the conference.
- Ohio State, 3-0 – The Buckeyes almost always have the best talent in the conference, but now in addition to that, they have arguably the best quarterback in college football in junior Justin Fields.
2. Indiana, 3-0 – Archie Miller needs to make Indiana a contender again in men’s basketball or Indiana will soon be known as a football school, even with Steve Alford having played basketball there.
3. Northwestern, 3-0 – One player doesn’t make a football team, but the addition of Indiana graduate transfer Peyton Ramsey at quarterback is about as close as it gets. Northwestern’s resurgence following a 3-9 season has been stunning, and much of the credit goes to Ramsey’s leadership and moxie.
4. Purdue, 2-0 – The only reason David Bell didn’t have at least 10 catches this past Saturday against Wisconsin is because the game was cancelled.
5. Wisconsin, 1-0 – The Badgers are the best 1-0 team in college football.
6. Maryland, 2-1 – The Terrapins winning two of their first three games is as big a surprise as Michigan losing two of its first three games.
7. Iowa, 1-2 – This ranking is based on the assumption that Iowa will never have Spencer Petras attempt 50 passes in a game again. Or, maybe I’m just a homer ranking Iowa the highest amongst the five Big Ten teams with a 1-2 record.
8. Michigan, 1-2 – Michigan’s version of Mr. Optimist would point out that being ranked eighth in the conference is also being ranked first among the teams in the lower half of the conference.
9. Minnesota, 1-2 – The Minnesota players should be even more diligent about washing their hands after listening to P.J. Fleck’s pre-game poop talk from this past Friday.
10. Rutgers, 1-2 – The Scarlet Knights might actually be the best college football team from the state of New Jersey for a change.
11. Michigan State, 1-2 – It now looks more like Mark Dantonio bailed from a sinking ship than retired.
12. Nebraska, 0-2 – If Scott Frost doesn’t start winning by the 2025 season, Cornhusker fans might start wondering if he truly is their savior.
13. Penn State, 0-3 – Penn State is clearly a women’s volleyball school at this point.
14. Illinois, 0-3 – Lovie Smith is proof that nice guys do actually finish last.