Michigan at Ohio State 2018.jpg

Ohio Stadium is packed every Saturday during the college football season — like it was on Nov. 24, 2018, when Ohio State and Michigan faced off, a 62-39 victory by the Buckeyes — under normal circumstances. But this year isn’t normal, the result of the coronavirus pandemic. So when the Buckeyes and Wolverines meet in Columbus, Ohio, on Dec. 12 for another installment of their annual rivalry — known as ‘The Game’ — none of the 102,780 seats inside the iconic venue will be filled as the Big Ten isn’t allowing fans to attend games this season.

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Sports copy editor Joe Vozzelli Jr. offers his weekly picks for one game to watch for each week in the Big Ten (AP national rankings are as of Oct. 18):

Week 1

Tonight: Illinois at No. 14 Wisconsin, 7 p.m. (BTN)

Why it’s our pick: Friday night lights have been more like Friday night frights for Lovie Smith‘s Illini (0-3 record on Friday during Smith’s tenure). Still, questions at quarterback for the Badgers (Jack Coan is out indefinitely with a foot injury) and a tamer-than-usual Camp Randall Stadium (no fans) gives Illinois a glimmer of hope. So you’re saying there’s a chance.

Week 2

Oct. 31: No. 5 Ohio State at No. 8 Penn State, 6:30 p.m. (ABC)

Why it’s our pick: This Pennsylvania-Ohio border school battle has leaned heavily toward the Buckeyes — at least recently. Excluding the 2010 game — that Ohio State win was vacated — the Buckeyes have won 13 of the past 18 games against the Nittany Lions, including seven of the past eight matchups. Justin Fields vs. Sean Clifford is a tantalizing quarterback matchup for the 2020 version.

Week 3

Nov. 7: Michigan State at Iowa

Why it’s our pick: For no other reason than hearing the best name in all of college football — Rocky Lombardi — said over and over on the TV broadcast. OK, I’m biased. You say Rocky and this Philadelphia native is all-in. Lombardi should take over the control of the Spartans’ offense after the graduation of Brian Lewerke. Plenty of questions still face Michigan State in year one of the Mel Tucker era, though, as the Spartans will try to surprise a few teams.

Week 4

Nov. 14: No. 8 Penn State at Nebraska

Why it’s our pick: To say Scott Frost‘s return to his alma mater as head coach has gotten off to a bumpy start would be an understatement. A trendy pick to win the Big Ten West a season ago, the Huskers finished 5-7, making Frost 9-15 in his first two seasons in Lincoln. Perhaps lower expectations entering 2020 will yield better results. It’s 2020, after all.

Week 5

Nov. 20: Purdue at No. 21 Minnesota

Why it’s our pick: Rondale Moore‘s hot and cold approach to the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic has followed the same path as the Big Ten’s decision-making process regarding its campaign. The consensus All-American in 2018 (1,258 yards; 12 touchdowns) is looking for a bounceback season after an injury-riddled 2019. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Moore can only help his NFL draft stock as a potential first-round pick.

Week 6

Nov. 28: No. 21 Minnesota at No. 14 Wisconsin

Why it’s our pick: The battle for the coolest trophy in sports (minus the Stanley Cup, sorry not sorry). Paul Bunyan’s Axe is pretty cool, though. And dangerous when wielded improperly (safety first, people). The Badgers lead the all-time series 61-60-8 after a dominant stretch in the past 16 years that resulted in 15 wins. The Gophers’ only win in that span? A 37–15 thrashing of the Badgers in 2018 in Madison, the site of this season’s rivalry game.

Week 7

Dec. 5: Iowa at Illinois

Why it’s our pick: Yes, I realize this isn’t in men’s basketball — although the past two Illinois-Iowa games on the hardwood have been in a word, great. Illinois will likely have to win its final two regular-season games — including this one against the Hawkeyes — to have any chance at a winning record. No easy task as the Illini only have two wins against Iowa since the time of Y2K, and the Hawkeyes dominated Illinois 63-0 the last time they met in Champaign.

Week 8

Dec. 12: No. 18 Michigan at No. 5 Ohio State, 11 a.m., FOX

Why it’s our pick: The Game has belonged to THE Ohio State University in the past decade. The Buckeyes have won eight consecutive games, after all, against the hated Wolverines, and there’s no reason to suggest Justin Fields and Co. won’t make it nine in a row. The schedule looks plenty favorable for Ryan Day‘s group, with only two of the eight teams on Ohio State’s regular-season slate currently ranked in the AP Top 25.

Joe Vozzelli

Sports Copy Editor

Joe Vozzelli Jr. is a sports copy editor at The News-Gazette. His email is jvozzelli@news-gazette.com.

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