Big Ten football notebook: COVID-19 takes control of the standings

As the final three weeks of the season near, some of the top teams in the conference have had their season derailed by the virus.

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Megan Nagorzanski

Iowa defensive back Terry Roberts celebrate the win after a game against Northwestern at Ryan Field on Saturday, October 26, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats 20-0.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter


Back in mid-September, when the Big Ten reversed course and decided to have a 2020 football season after previously deciding against it, one of the added rules was that a team had to play in at least six regular-season games to qualify for the conference championship game.

That rule has come into play recently, on both sides of the Big Ten.

COVID-19 impacting conference standings

Through the first five weeks of the season, Northwestern was 5-0, sitting atop the Big Ten West and ranked eighth by the College Football Playoff Committee. Then the Wildcats lost in Week 6 to a previously 1-3 Michigan State team that had been outscored 73-7 in its two games leading up to its matchup with Northwestern.

The loss will most likely knock Pat Fitzgerald’s team out of the top 25 nationally. But, ironically, after the ugly loss “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” clinched the Big Ten West.

The Big Ten West race was between Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Wisconsin became ineligible for the Big Ten Championship after Minnesota’s COVID-19 outbreak forced the Badgers’ third cancellation of the year last week.

Wisconsin had to cancel two earlier games this year because of an outbreak of its own. Now, even if Wisconsin were to win out and finish the season 4-1, the team will not have played the six games needed to play in the championship.

Minnesota’s outbreak also sunk Iowa’s chances to catch the ‘Cats atop the West.

Since Northwestern only has one loss and Minnesota was forced to cancel its game with Northwestern this coming week, the Wildcats only have one more regular-season game remaining. Even if Northwestern were to lose that game, they’d finish with only two losses.

RELATED: Iowa football notebook: Staying on the field a win for the Hawkeyes, team moving forward after undefeated November

Iowa lost its first two games of the season and one of those defeats came against Northwestern so even if the Hawkeyes win out and finish on a six-game winning streak finishing 6-2, with the same number of losses as Northwestern, the Wildcats still have the head-to-head tiebreaker and therefore would beat out Iowa for the top spot.

Bottom line: Northwestern has already won the Big Ten West.

Penix Jr. out for the year

Over in the Big Ten East, something other than COVID-19 is causing problems for the most surprising Big Ten team this year: Indiana.

The Hoosiers’ star quarterback Michael Penix Jr. tore the ACL in his right knee after a 20-yard run in the third quarter of Indiana’s 27-11 victory over Maryland.

Penix Jr. suffered the same injury to the same knee in 2018. The redshirt sophomore was having an outstanding season. He had thrown 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions in five games this season. Backup quarterback Jack Tuttle who took over for Penix Jr. will most likely handle the quarterbacking duties for the remainder of the season.

Despite the loss of Penix Jr. Indiana’s win over Maryland propelled them to 5-1 on the season.

Ohio State, who has only been able to play in four of its six scheduled games thus far because of COVID-19, is the only team that has beaten the Hoosiers. The Buckeyes had coronavirus troubles on their campus last week but have resumed team activities and are preparing for their game against Michigan State this week.

If Ohio State is healthy enough to play, and presumably win its last two contests, it will win the Big Ten East. If not, it will be the Hoosiers and Wildcats facing off in Indianapolis.

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