Friday Five: Big Ten Football is Back

SI All-American

Beginning Friday night with Illinois at Wisconsin, Big Ten football has all 14 teams in action on a football field this weekend. 

The return to the college football slate has included everything a pandemic-related decision could have before the first kickoff is in the air. It had a push-back to the spring, double-down on the push back, protests to the contrary led by parents and plenty more before announcing the comeback some five weeks ago. 

Since then, plenty has jumped right back to the forefront of our collective mind at SI All-American from an on-field and off-the-field standpoint. 

In the debut of a weekly SIAA feature titled the 'Friday Five,' we dive into five topics of conversation we're most curious to see revealed in the coming weeks and months.

1. Ohio State hype 

The Buckeyes return more than 10 starters from a 2019 team that went 13-1, won the Big Ten crown, beat rival Michigan and made the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes have the best player in the conference in quarterback Justin Fields, likely a first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft. Head coach Ryan Day opens this season with the No. 5 team in the country (AP, Coach's Poll) and is expected to contend for a national title yet again. Toss in Ohio State currently has the No. 1 recruiting class in the country with 10 SI99 commitments, and it’s easy to see why this could be the start of a Golden Age in Columbus, which is saying something when leveraged with the past history, prestige and success of Ohio State Buckeyes football. -- Edwin Weathersby II

2. Penn State recruiting 

Wisconsin. Minnesota. Iowa. Maryland. Nebraska. Rutgers. What do those schools have to do with Penn State? Well, they’re conference foes who are currently ahead of the Nittany Lions in 2021 recruiting. Head coach James Franklin and his staff have not had a banner year on the recruiting trail, tallying just 14 commitments and not possessing a single SI99 pledge. Their best chance at landing an elite prospect lies with the upcoming decision of in-state safety Derek Davis Jr., who ironically will be visiting Ohio State this weekend unofficially and on his own dime. Do not expect Penn State to bring in a top-25 recruiting class this year, which is simply shocking given how much Franklin and co. prioritize recruiting. -- Weathersby II

3. Jim Harbaugh hot seat? 

Going 47-18 over 6 seasons would be deemed as a success for a head coach at almost any school in the country. However, more is expected and demanded at Michigan. Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor essentially as its prodigal son, the former Wolverine QB back to restore Big Blue to its glory days. He’s 0-5 vs. nemesis Ohio State and just 1-4 in Bowl games with no Big Ten conference titles or even title game appearances. Harbaugh, who’s in his 6th year of a 7-year deal that pays out more than $50 million, also has allegedly drawn the ire of Michigan President Mark Schilissel over their disagreement regarding playing this season. If Harbaugh fails to beat the Buckeyes this season, will he enter the 2021 campaign without an extension? -- Weathersby II

4. Racial allegations at Iowa 

 The biggest non-COVID, non-restart story in Big Ten football is what is going on at Iowa and its ramifications are still very present the day that football is back in the league. Strength coach Chris Doyle and Iowa ‘parted ways’ (including a $1 million separation agreement) after current and former players went public with racist actions and examples of bullying against Black players over his 20-plus years at the program. Earlier this, eight former Black players have come together to demand $20 million along with the firing of athletic director Gary Barta, head coach Kirk Ferentz and assistant coach Brian Ferentz for what the group says was intentional racial discrimination when they were with the program. The growing perception around the program has hurt the Hawkeyes on the recruiting trail, from a tangible perspective, with the decommitment of Florida defensive back prospect Jordan Oladokun (view above). The senior cited racial inequality as part of the reason to rescind the pledge. Will this storyline fade as more games are played? I doubt it. -- John Garcia, Jr.

5. Why Greg Schiano being back at Rutgers will be harder than the first time 

This ain’t your uncle’s Rutgers football conference, a.k.a. The Big East. No UConn, South Florida, Cincinnati or other non-Power 5 programs exist in the expanded Big Ten. Instead it’s RU that’s viewed as the ‘meh’ program across the landscape with national powers like Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan leading the way in perception along with ‘they’ve been there, done that’ programs like Wisconsin, Michigan State, Minnesota and Maryland. Even the Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern, Illinois grouping has had more moments than Rutgers has had in the last decade or so since Schiano last led the program. Throw in a pandemic, minimal practice time on an inherited below-average roster and it feels that much more of an uphill climb. Searching for some silver lining? Similar perception was considered going into the 2020 season at P5 programs like Arkansas and Baylor, each now sitting at .500 thus far (though we know Arkansas is really 3-1 to the people). Guess we’ll start finding out about the Knights right out of the gates against another program with a first-year, familiar coach in Mel Tucker and Michigan State. -- Garcia, Jr. 

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