Big Ten football’s return and Week 9 picks ATS: A Blitz Podcast

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz threw four touchdown passes in the first half Friday night.Uwgrid24 11
Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz threw four touchdown passes in the first half Friday night.Uwgrid24 11 /

Big Ten football returned with some expected — and surprising — results, and their stricter testing protocols are already making a big impact.

Week 8 saw the return of Big Ten football, leaving the Pac-12 and MAC as the only conferences yet to kick off their 2020 seasons. After next week, the college football season will finally feel normal.. er.. as normal as it is going to get in 2020.

The results on the field for the Big Ten was a mixed bag of the expected and the unexpected. Ohio State shook off a sluggish start and ultimately dominated Nebraska to immediately announce to the country that it is a legitimate College Football Playoff threat. That school to the north — Michigan — similarly flexed its muscles, albeit in a more surprising fashion. The Wolverines showed a much more explosive offense en route to a 49-24 beatdown of Minnesota on the road, signaling to Ohio State that their rivals to the north may be their biggest threat for Big Ten supremacy.

That title was hastily given to Penn State in the preseason, but the Nittany Lions suffered a stunning defeat to Indiana when Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. converted a two-point conversion in overtime to give Indiana a 36-35 upset. Penn State’s loss takes a bit of the shine off of the highly anticipated matchup with Ohio State in Happy Valley this weekend, but we think that game may have said more about Indiana than it did Penn State.

In perhaps the most surprising result around the country, Rutgers snapped a 21-game Big Ten losing streak dating back to 2017 in a 38-27 win over Michigan State in East Lansing. Needless to say, the early returns of Greg Schiano 2.0 in Piscataway are extremely positive.

The Big Ten’s more stringent COVID-19 protocols have already made a major impact with one of the league’s brightest new stars. Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz — who was brilliant in his first career start against Illinois on Friday night — tested positive for the coronavirus and now will be sidelined for 21 days. He’ll miss games against Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan.

With an injury to last year’s starter Jack Coan — and their third-string quarterback also testing positive — the Badgers will have to navigate the next three weeks with fourth stringer Danny Vanden Boom.

Mertz’s positive test also brings about another question as to how exactly the conference will navigate their schedule with no margin for error. Roughly 14 percent of games have been postponed in 2020 so far, and the Big Ten is trying to squeeze in eight games in eight weeks. Good luck.

The Saturday Blitz Podcast is part of the FanSided Radio Network at Omni. The show goes live every Wednesday morning. You can reach John Mitchell at @jlmitchell93 and Zach Bigalke at @zbigalke on Twitter.

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