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What will the Big Ten do if Ohio State can't play Michigan this week?

What will the Big Ten do if Ohio State can't play Michigan this week?

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What's a college football weekend without cancellations and speculation dominating the discussion?

The Big Ten had two more games canceled in Week 7: Northwestern couldn't play Minnesota because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the Gophers program, and Maryland couldn't play at Michigan because of the Wolverines' active cases.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats clinched the Big Ten West for the second time in three years without playing. And now all attention is on whether Ohio State will be able to play its next game.

Here are five takeaways from the weekend.

1. The Big Ten needs to get Ohio State into the conference title game.

A week after having to cancel its game at Illinois, and with a limited roster due to players sitting out per COVID-19 protocols, Ohio State rolled over Michigan State 52-12.

The Buckeyes (5-0), currently fourth in the College Football Playoff rankings, seem determined to get to the Big Ten championship game and earn a spot in the playoff.

But like all things in 2020, it's tricky.

To get to the minimum six games to to be eligible to face Northwestern on Dec. 19 in Indianapolis, the Buckeyes need to play Saturday. Rival Michigan, their final scheduled opponent, might be unable to compete because of its COVID-19 outbreak that caused the Wolverines to cancel their game against Maryland.

That would leave the Buckeyes with only five games and in a quandary. It also puts the Big Ten in an awkward position.

When university chancellors and presidents voted to return to competition after initially planning to move the season to the spring, they set eligibility rules. Now that those rules might affect the conference's best team, there are reports the Big Ten might want to change the rules.


"If (Ohio State) has a game canceled, I think we as athletic directors would have to revisit whether they should be involved (in the Big Ten championship game)," Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told Fox College Football.

The Big Ten could reword eligibility rules in a way to make sure an undefeated Ohio State team — and not Indiana (6-1), which lost to the Buckeyes — competes for the Big Ten championship.

The Buckeyes also could become eligible by scheduling another game for Saturday, which became possible because of an alteration to the rules (yet another) in November. If Michigan-Ohio State and another Big Ten game are canceled because of COVID-19 protocols, the Buckeyes could play the left-out opponent from the other game.

Another possibility is if Minnesota can't play Saturday at Nebraska, the Cornhuskers could take on Rutgers and the conference could reschedule Maryland from playing Rutgers to making up its Nov. 14 game against Ohio State that was canceled because of a Terrapins outbreak.

An Ohio State win in that scenario would eliminate a lot of controversy, which the conference needs far less of after a season that has seen fans, media, players and coaches critical of the Big Ten's leadership.

The Buckeyes belong in the championship game. They beat Indiana 42-35 on Nov. 21 and otherwise haven't been challenged.

The Big Ten's lack of cohesion in starting the season and putting together a thought-out plan is in the spotlight again. The priority is the exposure and financial benefit of having a team in the College Football Playoff. Getting the Buckeyes more games and a conference championship (unless Northwestern has something to say about that) are the surest ways to do it.

Even if it means changing the rules again.

2. Indiana has another star: the defense.

The No. 12 Hoosiers were two-touchdown underdogs heading to No. 16 Wisconsin. A major reason many doubted Indiana was the loss of quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to a season-ending knee injury.

While Penix supplied much of the excitement in the Hoosiers' resurgence, they have been more than a one-man team.

They're allowing only 19.4 points per game. Take out the 42-35 loss at Ohio State, and they held their last three opponents to 17 points total. They're tied for fifth nationally with 20 turnovers gained, including 17 interceptions.

The defense was on display in Saturday's 14-6 victory against Wisconsin, the Hoosiers' first victory against the Badgers since 2002. The Hoosiers forced a fumble and snagged an interception while keeping Wisconsin out of the end zone.

A win Saturday against Purdue would give them seven Big Ten wins for the first time ever.

Quarterback Jack Tuttle, a transfer from Utah, filled in admirably for Penix in his first career start, throwing two touchdown passes.

"Most people wrote us off because we lost Michael Penix, who is truly a tremendous player, but we are a football team," Indiana coach Tom Allen told reporters. "That team showed up tonight and that team hung together, prepared well this week, and I just feel so blessed to be the leader of this group."

3. Clarity finally was reached in the Big Ten West.

Indiana did another favor for Northwestern and the Big Ten.

The Wildcats did not play because Minnesota canceled their game, but they clinched the Big Ten West title anyway. Once three games were played Saturday, the conference average was assured to be at least six games per team, meaning the six-game eligibility threshold for the Big Ten championship game would remain in place, thus eliminating Wisconsin.

But if the conference does change the rules to make Ohio State eligible with only five games played, a scenario could have arisen to make things murkier if Wisconsin had won its last two games to finish 4-1 and Northwestern lost to Illinois on Saturday to fall to 5-2. That became moot when the Badgers (2-2) lost to the Hoosiers.

Fortunately for the Wildcats, they can distribute Big Ten West championship shirts without worrying about a recall.

4. Nebraska's QB pendulum swings back to Adrian Martinez.

Last season, Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez threw for 328 yards and rushed for another 118 yards in a victory over Illinois. So it was strange when the Cornhuskers played the Illini this season that Martinez didn't appear until late in the 41-23 Nebraska loss.

After opening the season with road losses to Ohio State and Northwestern - the teams at the top of their divisions - the Huskers benched Martinez for Luke McCaffrey before playing Penn State on Nov. 14. It was the first game Martinez missed for a reason other than injury.

Before Saturday's game against Purdue, Nebraska's plan was to play Martinez and McCaffrey. Martinez was his old self, playing well enough to stay in the game, win the game 37-27 and possibly hold on to the starting role against Minnesota.

The junior was elusive and effective like he was in 2018, when he showed so much promise. He connected on 23 of 30 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 45 yards and two touchdowns as the Huskers improved to 2-4.

Nebraska won thanks in part to a very 2020-ish drive. The Huskers' 17-point lead had shrunk to seven when they marched 79 yards for a field goal. The drive included 14 snaps, four Nebraska penalties for a loss of 42 yards, three Purdue penalties for 45 yards and 5 minutes, 12 seconds used up.

"One of the weirdest drives I've ever seen," Nebraska coach Scott Frost said.

A drive like that would be the perfect way to end the 2020 season.

5. Illinois' fast start turns into a slow meltdown.

The Illini looked on their way to something inspiring.

They built an impressive 14-0 lead against Iowa as quarterback Brandon Peters completed his first eight passes and the defense held the Hawkeyes scoreless into the second quarter. Maybe this would be Illinois' turning point, evening its record at 3-3.

After back-to-back road wins over Rutgers and Nebraska, the Illini appeared ready to prove the program indeed had taken a step forward as promised in the preseason.

Instead, they suffered a colossal meltdown.

The Illini didn't score again until 1:32 remained as the No. 19 Hawkeyes built steam in a 35-21 victory.

Illinois will close the regular season Saturday at No. 14 Northwestern, which already clinched the Big Ten West.

Chances are slim Illinois will be invited to a bowl game after playing in the Red Box Bowl last season — its first since 2014. The Illini are tied for last in the Big Ten West at 2-4 with Purdue and Nebraska and will finish the regular season below .500.

Illinois has had COVID-19 cases and quarantines causing valuable players to miss time. Injuries also have been a factor, including several defensive players getting hurt against Iowa. Running back Mike Epstein missed the Iowa game for unspecified reasons.

But nearly every other conference team has dealt with COVID-19 cancellations and injuries — most of them more ably than the Illini, who are now 10-32 in Big Ten games under coach Lovie Smith.

"Couldn't stop them defensively, couldn't score on offense," Smith told reporters after the loss. "It's pretty simple on what happened."

After Peters completed his first eight passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns, he completed only 2 of 10 for 15 yards the rest of the way.

Isaiah Williams replaced Peters in the fourth quarter, putting together two long drives and a late touchdown. He completed 7 of 16 passes for 83 yards and his first career touchdown pass while rushing six times for 38 yards.

"I thought he gave us a spark," Smith said of Williams.

But Smith didn't sound like he would change starters, noting that the offensive line also faltered Saturday.

The Illini need some kind of spark against Northwestern. The Wildcats have beaten them in five straight meetings.

Iowa, meanwhile, has won five straight and must be kicking itself for a 21-20 loss to Northwestern in the second game in which it blew a 17-0 lead.

Photos: Wisconsin Badgers come up short against Indiana Hoosiers

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