Return of Big Ten Adds to an Entertaining College Football Season

After over two months of speculation and waiting, Big Ten football is finally returning to play this weekend. To bring everyone up to date on how the Big Ten got to their October 24 start, here were the events that got us here: 

On Aug. 11, the Big Ten was the first Power Five conference to cancel its college football season due to COVID-19. The decision, which was initially voted on by every Big Ten President with the exception of Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio State, led many of the top NFL prospects in the Big Ten to opt-out of the season and prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

As a reaction to the decision to initially postpone the season, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields started a petition that had over 300,000 signatures to support a movement for the Big Ten to have a fall season. Fields, along with other players, parents, coaches and even politicians lobbied for a fall season, and the Big Ten eventually reversed its initial decision on Sept. 16, voting for an eight-game regular season beginning on Oct. 24.

While the Big Ten is starting this week, many other top programs have already played multiple games, and there have certainly been more surprises than prior seasons due to the shortened offseason. In the Southeastern Conference (SEC), traditionally known as the conference with dominant defenses, the offenses have been dominant, while defenses have struggled mightily.

Louisiana State University (LSU), the defending national champions, have already lost twice. Against Mississippi State, they allowed an SEC record 623 passing yards and then allowed 45 points against an otherwise pedestrian Missouri offense. Florida has an elite offense, led by quarterback Kyle Trask and tight end Kyle Pitts, but they allowed 543 yards in a loss to Texas A&M. Even Nick Saban’s Alabama allowed 647 yards against Ole Miss. Fortunately for Alabama, they had 723 yards of their own in a 63-48 shootout win.

Alabama, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss all rank in the bottom 20 of total defense by yards per game in college football this season, with Ole Miss allowing 579 yards per game, more than any other FBS team other than Memphis. The only team in the SEC that has been consistent on defense is Georgia, who allowed 237 yards per game, but that was before their loss against Alabama on Saturday, where they struggled to slow down the hottest offense in all of college football.

The Big 12 has struggled mightily to start the season. In the first weekend of the season, they went 0-3 against the Sun Belt, with Iowa State losing to Louisiana, Kansas State losing to Arkansas State and Kansas losing to Coastal Carolina. 

Oklahoma and Texas have not fared much better either. Oklahoma has already lost to Kansas State and Iowa State, while Texas is a comeback against Texas Tech away from starting Big 12 play 0-3, with losses to TCU and Oklahoma. The only chance the Big 12 has at making the College Football Playoff is undefeated Oklahoma State, and they need to remain undefeated to have any chance of doing so.

The ACC appears to have more talent at the top of the conference, but all roads still run through Clemson. Miami, led by former Houston quarterback and transfer D’Eriq King, has a versatile offense while maintaining a strong defense. North Carolina, led by the return of Mack Brown as head coach and sophomore quarterback Sam Howell, appeared to be a threat, but they just lost against a bad Florida State team. Notre Dame, normally independent in football, is joining the ACC for the season, but struggled in a 12-7 win against Louisville.

There is still a noticeable gap between Clemson and the rest of the ACC. In what was supposed to be an exciting matchup against Miami, Clemson dominated, winning 42-17. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been incredible this season, and many fans of bad NFL teams are dreaming of the opportunity to draft him first overall. Additionally, Travis Etienne returned for his senior year and is the best running back in college football. He is capable of scoring any time he touches the ball.

With the Big Ten starting next week, many of the players that opted out to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft have decided to return to their programs, including Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman, Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore, Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis and cornerback Shaun Wade. Ohio State is the favorite to win the Big Ten for the fourth consecutive year led by Fields, Davis, Wade and a talented group of wide receivers.

Penn State is Ohio State’s biggest challenger, but they are without their best player in linebacker Micah Parsons, who decided to prepare for the 2021 Draft instead of playing in the abridged season. They will play each other in Happy Valley on Halloween, and the winner of that game will have an inside track to win the Big Ten.