The Big Ten Conference released its new 2020 schedule on Wednesday morning. Minnesota will open the 2020 season at Michigan State on Sept. 5.
The 10-game conference-only slate provides flexibility in the event play must be halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each team has two bye weeks built in their schedule. A flexible scheduling period is also included from Nov. 28 – Dec. 19.
The Gophers kept their original nine Big Ten opponents, but added a home crossover game against Indiana on Oct. 10. Otherwise, opponents were simply shifted to different dates. Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren also announced teams are allowed to begin fall camp practices on Friday (Aug. 7).
I took a quick look through the Gophers’ 2020 schedule and shared a few thoughts:
“The Trophy Game Tour”
The Gophers will play three rivalry games in the first four weeks of the season. Minnesota’s “Trophy Game Tour” features a three-week battle for the Little Brown Jug, Floyd of Rosedale and Paul Bunyan’s Axe. These high leverage games will dictate the overall path of the Gophers’ season.
Entering 2020, Michigan ranks No. 125 in overall returning production (43%), according to ESPN. The Wolverines added a strong recruiting class, especially in the secondary, but it will take time for the entire team to gel. Michigan must overcome huge losses on the offensive line. Left tackle Jon Runyan Jr., left guard Ben Bredeson, center Cesar Ruiz and right guard Michael Onwenu all departed for the NFL. Not only that, but the Wolverines lost versatile defensive playmakers like linebackers Josh Uche and Khaleke Hudson. When considering all of the moving roster pieces, it is possibly beneficial to catch Michigan earlier in 2020.
Iowa is also another team with plenty of turnover at key positions. Quarterback Nate Stanley departed for the NFL, so sophomore Spencer Petras will be making his debut. Petras has a deep set of wide receivers to work with, but questions marks surround the interior of Iowa’s offensive line. For example, how quickly will redshirt freshman left guard Justin Britt respond to a possible starting role? The Hawkeyes rank No. 101 in returning production (53%), including a 50 percent offensive figure, per ESPN. Iowa’s defense also features several key departures, including defensive end A.J. Epenesa, linebacker Kristian Welch, safety Geno Stone and cornerback Michael Ojemudia.
Iowa and Michigan have more moving pieces than Wisconsin. The Badgers rank No. 17 in defensive returning production (81%) and bring back an experienced secondary. Redshirt senior Caesar Williams and redshirt junior Faion Hicks are leading the cornerback room. The safety position is also deep and features redshirt junior Scott Nelson and redshirt sophomore Reggie Pearson. Wisconsin has talent at every level of the defense and will provide challenges for every Big Ten opponent.
When looking at this three-game stretch closely, the Gophers may catch Iowa and Michigan at the right moment. It could take time for all of their moving pieces to come together. On the flip side, Minnesota has offensive continuity returning at every position except wide receiver. The biggest question: how quickly can the defense can come together? There is no doubt the first six games will provide a barometer for where the Gophers are at.
The Schedule Structure
The Gophers need to get off to a quick start in 2020. As I mentioned above, the first six games are going to be pivotal. It is clear the Big Ten strategically prioritized division games while building this schedule. Bye weeks across the West Division are structured to help get those games in. This type of scheduling style is going to make early-season Big Ten games extremely intriguing.
As a result, by the time Minnesota leaves Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, we will have a good idea of where things stand. If the Gophers start strong, the second half of the schedule is spaced out nicely. The final six weeks of the season feature just four games. Of course, this could change if the COVID-19 pandemic delays games. However, if the schedule remains intact, Minnesota would have valuable bye weeks to recover.
Here’s the Gophers’ new 2020 Big Ten schedule:
September 5th – @ Michigan State
September 12th – Michigan
September 19th – Iowa
September 26th – @ Wisconsin
October 3rd – @ Nebraska
October 10th – Indiana
October 17th – BYE
October 24th – Purdue
October 31st – @ Illinois
November 7th – BYE
November 14th – Northwestern
November 21st – @ Maryland