The idea for Championship Weekend the Big Ten presented at the beginning of the season was this: Every team would get matched up with an equivalent team in the other division based on the final standings.
Which is why it makes perfect sense that sixth-place, 2-4 Michigan will prepare to play … second-place, 6-2 Iowa?
The Big Ten appears to not have stuck to its original plan, instead creating a mismatch set to air this Saturday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. Eastern on ESPN from Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.
The last time these two teams played was last season at Michigan Stadium, a game the Wolverines won, 10-3. The last time the two teams played at Kinnick was in 2016, when kicker Keith Duncan, who still plays for the Hawkeyes, ended Michigan’s perfect season with a game-winning field goal.
All this is rendered moot if Michigan is unable to play due to a COVID-19 outbreak that caused the cancellation of its last two regular-season games. A report from The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman stated that if the Ohio State game had been played, the Wolverines would’ve been without 40 players. It’s unclear how many of those were positive tests versus contact tracing or injuries, but players who tested positive are required to sit out for 21 days, meaning anyone who tested positive after the Nov. 28 game against Penn State would not be able to return against Iowa.
The athletic department does not release specific testing numbers for football. In the past two weeks, the school reported 23 positive cases in athletes and five in staffers across all sports. If Michigan, which was not cleared to practice last week, is able to play, it will likely be severely short-handed and lacking in practice time.
Iowa has avoided any major outbreaks this season and is one of just three Big Ten teams that played all eight scheduled regular-season games.
This season, Iowa has wins against three teams Michigan lost to in Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State, as well as a win over Minnesota, which the Wolverines beat.
The Hawkeyes have held opponents to 24 or fewer points in 21 straight games, the longest active streak in the FBS.