Highlighting the Matchups That Will Shape the 2020 Big Ten Title Race

By David Regimbal on July 27, 2020 at 2:50 pm
Justin Fields

The start of the college football season is a little over a month away, and the Big Ten is still deciding how it wants to configure its conference-only football season.

Reports indicate the league is entertaining adding a game to each team's schedule, giving Ohio State and the other Big Ten members 10 total games for the 2020 season, in an effort to compensate the loss of three nonconference games.

But as of right now, the Buckeyes and the rest of the league are scheduled to take on the nine conference opponents they were originally set to play this fall.

Ohio State has won each of the last three Big Ten titles, beating Wisconsin in 2017 and 2019 and Northwestern in 2018. The Buckeyes are trying to win a conference title for the fourth consecutive year, a feat they accomplished via shared an outright titles between 2005-08.

Ryan Day and Ohio State have challengers, of course. Penn State should field another strong offense that averaged over 35 points a game last year, led by returning quarterback Sean Clifford and the league's best tight end in Pat Freiermuth. The defense should once again be stout with linebacker Micah Parsons anchoring the unit.

Michigan will have a new quarterback behind center after two-year starter Shea Patterson graduated. Dylan McCaffrey is expected to take over and lead an offense running second-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis' spread offense.

In the West Division, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa are expected to challenge for the spot in Indianapolis.

Here are the matchups that should shape the race to the Big Ten title game.

Ohio State vs. Penn State

The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions have played some classic games in recent years. During Ohio State's 2014 national title run, it won a double-overtime thriller in Happy Valley. Two years later, Penn State stunned the Buckeyes with a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter in a 24-21 upset.

Ohio State has taken control of the series, winning each of the last three matchups, although it took heroic comebacks to win the matchups in '17 and '18.

The winner of this game has gone on to the Big Ten Championship in each of the last four years.

Ohio State vs. Michigan

Since the Big Ten expanded and added a championship game in 2011, Michigan has yet to reach Indianapolis.

Ohio State is the biggest reason for that. The Wolverines were on the doorstep of the title game in 2016 and 2018, needing just a win in Columbus to advance. Ohio State won in double overtime over No. 3 Michigan in '16, then the Buckeyes obliterated the No. 4 Wolverines and their top-ranked defense 62-39 in '18.

This year's game, like those just mentioned, will take place in Columbus.

Wisconsin vs. Minnesota

Wisconsin has dominated the Big Ten West Division, advancing to the title game in four of the last six seasons.

The Badgers prime competition during that time has been Iowa, which got to the conference title game in 2015. Then there was the strange 2018 season in which an unranked 8-4 Northwestern team reached Indianapolis.

But this year's West Division title race looks like it could come down to the Wisconsin - Minnesota matchup.

The Gophers were 10-1 when they hosted Wisconsin for what turned out to be a play-in game for the conference championship last November. The Badgers prevailed 38-17, but Minnesota is poised to make another run with quarterback Tanner Morgan returning.

Morgan was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country running head coach P.J. Fleck's system. He threw for 3,253 yards and 30 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. He'll be facing off against a Wisconsin team trying to replace one of college football's most productive running backs in Jonathan Taylor.

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