The Big Ten is the latest college football conference to release its 2021 schedule. After an unusual 2020 season, the Big Ten recently released its complete slate for next fall, which features a full nine-game schedule in conference play for all 14 teams. The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on every team and conference in college football, but the Big Ten (like all leagues) is hoping for normalcy in 2021.
What are the big takeaways, tidbits and things to know for the 2021 Big Ten season?
Here’s what you need to know about the 2021 Big Ten schedule:
Big Ten Football: What to Know About the 2021 Schedule
Season Starts on Aug. 28 in Ireland... For Now
As of early February, the Big Ten hopes its 2021 slate kicks off on Aug. 28 with Nebraska playing Illinois in Ireland. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic and state of virus containment will have a lot to say about whether or not that game is actually played overseas. It’s uncertain what the fallback plan is if this game doesn’t take place in Ireland.
Nine Conference Games
The Big Ten was originally slated to play nine conference games before the pandemic hit in 2020. The league later released a 10-game slate, only to cancel the season shortly after. The Big Ten ultimately decided to play in ’20 using an abbreviated eight-game slate (plus an extra crossover game on the last weekend). However, COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the schedule and just two teams completed nine games. The 2021 slate returns to the normal nine conference games.
The Big Ten made some scheduling tweaks last year, including location flips to Indiana-Michigan, Indiana-Michigan State, Michigan-Michigan State, Nebraska-Purdue, Nebraska-Wisconsin and Purdue-Wisconsin. As a result of those 2020 changes, the ’21 slate follows suit and was updated to reflect last year’s locations.
The Order of Opponents Shifted for Some Teams
If you printed out the 2021 Big Ten schedules in January, you will need to put that version in the trash can and get the one released in early February. The order of opponents for some teams shifted. Maryland-Rutgers, Penn State-Michigan State, Iowa-Nebraska, and Wisconsin-Minnesota are all back on the final weekend after having an earlier date this offseason.
Return of Non-Conference Games
Every conference is planning for a return to normalcy in 2021. That means the return of non-conference games on the ’21 slate. The Big Ten has a handful of huge showdowns in its non-conference schedule, including Oregon-Ohio State, Iowa-Iowa State, Wisconsin-Notre Dame, and Auburn-Penn State.
Rivalries are Back
COVID-19 prevented a handful of non-conference and intra-conference rivalries from being played in 2021. The Big Ten was among the conferences that had key rivalries canceled, including Ohio State-Michigan and Indiana-Purdue. However, those two (and others) are back on the ’21 slate.
Games Outside of Saturday
As of early February, only two games scheduled to take place on a Thursday or Friday. Ohio State at Minnesota is on Thursday, Sept. 2, while Nebraska hosts Iowa on Black Friday (Nov. 26).
Twelve of the Big Ten’s 14 teams will have one bye week. With Nebraska and Illinois slated to play in Week 0, both teams will have two bye weeks during the 2021 college football season.
Big Ten Championship is Dec. 4
The Big Ten’s 2021 conference championship is slated for Dec. 4 in Indianapolis. Lucas Oil Stadium also is set to host the 2021-22 College Football National Championship Game.
Here are some other tidbits by team to know about the 2021 schedule:
Indiana – The Hoosiers hope to build off a strong 2020 season next fall, but the schedule features three potential top 25 teams in the first five weeks. The opener at Iowa is tough, along with a non-conference game against Cincinnati on Sept. 18. Key games against Ohio State and Michigan take place in the second half of the ’21 schedule, and the annual battle versus Purdue is set for Nov. 27.
Maryland – Mike Locksley’s team gets four of its first six games at home, including a non-conference battle against West Virginia and an Oct. 2 date versus Iowa. The matchup versus the Hawkeyes starts a key five-game stretch. Maryland plays at Ohio State the following week, with a road trip to Minnesota and back-to-back home dates against Indiana and Penn State before Nov. 7.
Michigan – A Sept. 11 contest against Washington is a good barometer for coach Jim Harbaugh’s team in 2021. The Wolverines get both Wisconsin and Nebraska on the road before the midway point of next year’s slate. The second half of the schedule isn’t easy. Michigan hosts defending West Division champ Northwestern on Oct. 23, followed by games against Michigan State (road), Indiana (home), and Penn State (road). COVID-19 forced the annual battle with Ohio State to be canceled in 2020. Needless to say, the anticipation (as always) will be high for the Nov. 27 meeting in Ann Arbor.
Michigan State – A September schedule featuring road trips to Northwestern and Miami, along with a home date against Nebraska should provide good insight into just how far coach Mel Tucker’s team has developed in 2021. The Spartans get Ohio State and Penn State in back-to-back games to close out the slate but miss Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota in crossover play.
Ohio State –Replacing Justin Fields is the biggest personnel storyline going into 2021 for coach Ryan Day’s team. And the Buckeyes won’t get much of a break on the scheduling front as a trip to Minnesota is on tap for Sept. 2, followed by a home game against Oregon on Sept. 11. Ohio State misses Wisconsin and Iowa in crossover play but gets three key road matchups – Indiana, Nebraska and Michigan – in the second half of the ’21 slate.
Penn State – The Nittany Lions will be tested right out of the gate. A road trip to Wisconsin is on tap for Sept 4, along with games at home versus Auburn (Sept. 18) and Indiana (Oct. 2) in the first five weeks of 2021. The road slate features matchups at Iowa, Ohio State, Maryland and Michigan State next fall. The November slate – at Maryland, Michigan, Rutgers, at Michigan State – is relatively favorable.
Rutgers – A non-conference slate of Temple, Syracuse (road) and FCS Delaware give the Scarlet Knights a chance to start 3-0. However, the schedule gets significantly tougher with the next four games. Rutgers plays Michigan (road) and Ohio State back-to-back, followed by Michigan State and a road trip to Northwestern. Three out of the last five games are on the road, including back-to-back dates versus Indiana and Penn State in November.
Illinois – Bret Bielema’s first season in Champaign is slated to start with an Aug. 28 date against Nebraska in Ireland, followed by a tough matchup versus UTSA – the potential Conference USA front-runner in 2021 – on Sept. 4. The Fighting Illini miss Michigan, Ohio State and Indiana in crossover play but have to play at Penn State and Minnesota. With Illinois playing in Week 0, it will have two bye weeks – Oct. 16 and Nov. 13.
Iowa – The Hawkeyes face one of the toughest two-game stretches to start 2021. Coach Kirk Ferentz’s team opens with Indiana on Sept. 4, followed by a road date at Iowa State on Sept. 11. Four of the team’s next five games come at home, including a matchup against Penn State on Oct. 9. Iowa plays five key games down the stretch, with Wisconsin and Nebraska on the road and Minnesota visiting Kinnick Stadium.
Minnesota – The Golden Gophers open on Thursday, Sept. 2 with a home date against Ohio State. However, coach P.J. Fleck’s team could be favored in its next five matchups, and the second-half slate features home dates against Wisconsin and Nebraska. Minnesota’s road schedule includes trips to Northwestern, Iowa and Indiana in the second half of 2021.
Nebraska – The Cornhuskers face a tough 2021 slate. As of early February, Nebraska plays Illinois in Ireland, followed by a bye week, then games against Buffalo and at former conference rival Oklahoma. Coach Scott Frost’s team then gets matchups at Michigan State and Minnesota, along with home dates against Michigan and Northwestern in a four-week stretch before another bye. Things won’t get any easier in the last four weeks of conference play. Nebraska gets Purdue, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa to close 2021.
Northwestern – Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team has a lot to replace from its 2020 squad that won the Big Ten West Division. However, the first four games are manageable – Michigan State, Indiana State, at Duke and Ohio – before a road trip to Nebraska and a bye week. The slate gets tougher in the second half. Northwestern has key road trips to Wisconsin and Michigan, along with home games against Minnesota and Iowa.
Purdue – The Boilermakers catch three out of their first five opponents at home but face a trip to Notre Dame on Sept. 18. Four of the team’s final seven games come on the road, including trips to Northwestern, Ohio State and Nebraska. The crossover against Ohio State, Indiana and Michigan State is one of the toughest in the league.
Wisconsin – Playing Penn State and Notre Dame in September should give coach Paul Chryst a good idea of where his team stacks up for the rest of the 2021 season. Overall, the Badgers’ slate is relatively favorable. The Nittany Lions, Michigan, Iowa, Northwestern and Nebraska come to Madison, while the matchup against Notre Dame is in Chicago. The team’s toughest road date is at Minnesota on Nov. 27. One x-factor: Wisconsin has an early bye week (Sept. 18). It will play from Sept. 25-Nov. 27 without a week off.