In a most unusual year, the Big Ten is aiming for an on-time start to its college football slate.
The conference on Wednesday morning unveiled a 10-game, league-only schedule set to begin the first week of September. The Huskers? They’re slated to open on the road against Rutgers on Sept. 5, a Saturday, instead of hosting Purdue like it was originally planned.
"What went into the decision (to start on time) was to afford us the best possible opportunity to be as flexible as we possibly can," Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said Wednesday morning on BTN.
The Big Ten is working to play 10 games in 12 weeks and then will have the week of Nov. 28 off before attempting to keep the Big Ten title game on Dec. 5. However, Warren and the schedule's design make it clear that the weeks of Dec. 12 and Dec. 19 are open, leading to the possibility of the title game moving back if teams need more flexibility than two bye weeks and the week of Nov. 28.
“This will not be a straight line this year," Warren said. "We’ve released the schedule, but we’ve done it in the context of we have to plan ahead.”
“This is huge what we just did today,” Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos told the Journal Star. “I know that there are variables and audibles that are going to have to be looked at, unquestionably, but we now know who to prepare for. We have a good feel for the strength of our schedule and when we can rest and have byes and all of that. And at the same time, really good flexibility in regards to if we need to postpone games or cancel games or whatever.”
One interesting note about the Huskers' schedule right off the bat is that Rutgers is currently shut down because of an outbreak. NJ.com reported that at least 28 players have tested positive. It's unclear when the Scarlet Knights will be back up and running.
“I’m hopeful for that (game) and I’m hopeful that all of our schools are going to be healthy and this can all work out,” Moos said. “The original schedule had us playing at Rutgers and we’re looking forward to that game. I wish it was normal circumstances because we would have had thousands upon thousands of fans going to New York. …
“If there are problems, because of the nature of the schedule, we would be able to move it back into one of those byes and play them at another time.”
Indeed, the Big Ten has built in two bye weeks for each team in addition to the week at the end of November that every team is off before the title game. Nebraska's bye weeks are Oct. 17 and Nov. 7.
In addition to the extra weeks, the Big Ten schedule-makers attempted to build it in a way in which some games could be rescheduled easily. For example, four of the six Big Ten West teams are off Oct. 17 and five are off on Nov. 7, meaning if a division game along the way has to get moved, it's likely it can be rescheduled for one of those weeks.
Nebraska and Rutgers don’t share a bye week, so it would have to be moved to either Nov. 28 or one of the first two weeks of December. But Moos applauded the essentially five weeks of flexibility overall.
“I think we’ve got all the bases covered to make it work with whatever we can control, but the virus itself, it’s got a will of its own,” Moos said. “We’ve just got to make sure that our testing is accurate — it will be — that the protocols are followed to a T and then just see how it plays out.”
Moos reiterated that NU has had none of the major types of issues that some other schools have had in terms of having to shut down or pause workouts.
It has been almost a month since the Big Ten became the first of the Power Five leagues in college football to announce it was eliminating nonconference play for the 2020 season. Since then, the Pac-12 and SEC did the same, while the Big 12 and ACC will attempt to play at least one nonconference game.
All four of the other Power Five leagues have already outlined their plans for the season and they look like this:
SEC: 10-game conference schedule beginning Sept. 26.
Pac-12: 10-game conference schedule beginning Sept. 26.
ACC: 10-game conference schedule plus one nonconference game beginning the week of Sept. 7.
Big 12: Nine-game conference schedule plus one nonconference game beginning "mid- to late-September."
The Big Ten arrived at its model after weeks of back-and-forth and deliberating over different possibilities and combinations.
“At the end of the day, there was some degree of resistance from some of the schools, but it was a unified decision that we go forward,” Moos said of the league’s 100-plus meetings since mid-March. “We don’t know when spikes are going to hit. You look at Rutgers and Michigan State and their entire teams went into 14-day quarantines and we had to have the conversation of, if that happened in October, it doesn’t affect just those programs, but it impacts the opponents. When are those games going to be played? … Can a football team cross a border into New Jersey and not have to quarantine for two weeks? All those things had to be put on the table and dissected and sorted out.”
The on-time date also means that Nebraska will transition from its two-week minicamp-style workouts to full-on preseason camp on Friday as scheduled.
As for Moos, he thinks the Huskers will be ready to go.
“They’re ready to play, they’re eager to play,” Moos said. “I think it was important — this is a little side rail here — for their morale and their psyche. There’s a schedule and we’re going to play Rutgers on the fifth of September and I can start watching film on them and all of that.”
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