Interesting Days Ahead For College Football

Flex Protect Plus sounds like a Medicare supplemental insurance commercial you might see on MeTV.

It’s a different kind of insurance, though. One that should ensure the Big Ten Conference will be well represented in the upcoming 12-team College Football Playoff.

It’s also an opportunity for Purdue to perhaps build some momentum under Ryan Walters.

The Big Ten unveiled its Flex Protect Plus scheduling for the 2024 and 2025 seasons, when the league grows to 16 teams with the addition of USC and UCLA. Flex Protect Plus is a combination of protected opponents and rotating opponents that will guarantee every school will play every other conference foe at least twice (home and away) in a four-year period.

Flex Protect Plus also spells the end of division play. The top two teams will meet in the Big Ten championship game.

Purdue fans who like to grumble and complain should have nothing to say after the Boilermakers’ traditional games with Indiana and Illinois were among the 11 protected rivalries announced this week. Even better, the first of the rotating “two-play” opponents for Purdue is Northwestern.

The only thing better than that is if the Wildcats were made a protected rivalry alongside the Hoosiers and Fighting Illini.

Indiana has no protected rival outside of Purdue but the Hoosiers did OK with the “two-play” assignments of Michigan State and Maryland for 2024-25.

Iowa is the only school with three protected rivalries and all three make sense: Minnesota for Floyd of Rosedale, Nebraska for the Heroes Trophy and Wisconsin for the Heartland Trophy.

Penn State was the only school with no protected rival. The other protected rivalries are Michigan-Ohio State, Michigan-Michigan State, llinois-Northwestern, Minnesota-Wisconsin, USC-UCLA and Rutgers-Maryland.

New Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti said much of the scheduling decisions had already been made before he replaced Kevin Warren in May. That said, he believes Flex Protect Plus will endure well beyond 2025.

“The first thing is preserving the matchups that are important to Big Ten fans,” Petitti said on Big Ten Network. “The second important thing is being able to see more opponents more frequently. I’m happy where this ended up.

“We wanted to have more competitive balance. You want to respect history and tradition in the conference even as you are expanding. You also want to connect fans. All those things were done with this format.”

Purdue’s 2024 conference schedule features five away games (Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State and Wisconsin). Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State and USC will come to Ross-Ade Stadium. The Trojans have not played in West Lafayette since defeating the Boilermakers 31-13 in 1976, led by Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Bell’s 177 yards rushing.

The non-conference schedule features Notre Dame’s first appearance in Ross-Ade since a 31-24 Irish victory in 2013, plus a home game with Indiana State. Purdue also travels to Oregon State.

The Boilermakers get five conference home games in 2025: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio State. A trip to UCLA heads the four away games that include Michigan, Northwestern and Rutgers. The Bruins faced Purdue in 1980, coming away with a 23-14 victory over Mark Herrmann and Co. at Ross-Ade Stadium. Purdue has never beaten UCLA (0-3-2).

Home games with Ball State and Connecticut, plus a trip to Notre Dame, comprises the 2025 non-conference schedule.

Indiana’s home Big Ten slate in 2024 should sell a few tickets with Penn State, UCLA and Purdue coming to Bloomington along with Maryland and Minnesota. Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin comprise the away games.

A trip to Louisville is sandwiched between home non-conference games with Florida International and Charlotte.

Visits to Ohio State and USC highlight the 2025 Big Ten schedule for the Hoosiers, who also will travel to Illinois, Maryland and Purdue. Michigan comes to Bloomington as part of a home schedule that will also feature Iowa, Michigan State and Rutgers.

All three of IU’s non-conference games will be in Memorial Stadium: Old Dominion, Louisville and Indiana State.

No cupcakes served

Monday’s announcement by the Indiana Sports Corporation that Purdue will play Arizona in the second annual Indy Classic at Gainbridge Fieldhouse adds another quality opponent to the Boilermakers’ 2023-24 schedule.

Purdue, expected to be a preseason Top 5 selection following the return of National Player of the Year Zach Edey, has already announced it will play Xavier as part of the Gavitt Games on Nov. 13 in Mackey Arena.

The Boilermakers also will be a part of a heavy-hitting Maui Invitational field of Kansas, Tennessee, Gonzaga, Marquette, UCLA and Syracuse from Nov. 20-22. Matchups have yet to be announced.

The Indy Classic, which also features Indiana State vs. Ball State, will take place Dec. 16.

Arizona is the reigning Pac-12 Tournament champions on its way to a 28-7 record. Purdue is 7-5 against the Wildcats, including an 89-64 victory over No. 2 Arizona in the 2017 Battle 4 Atlantis.

Big Ten confidential

As part of its 2023 college football season preview, Athlon Sports granted an unspecified number of Big Ten coaches anonymity in exchange for candid views about league opponents.

Here’s what they said about first-year Purdue coach Ryan Walters:

“Jeff (Brohm) never really wanted to be at Purdue long term, so this could be a rare example of where both parties benefit from a coaching change. Defensively, they’re going to be better than most people think. The head coach is a darn good

DC and the staff he brought in is really sharp. They can run complex stuff without sacrificing aggression.”

Not surprisingly, after a 2-7 Big Ten finish a year ago, there’s a thought around the league that Tom Allen is in trouble at Indiana.

“Probably the most uncertain team in the league going into the season. They have to win some big games to keep Tom around, and that doesn’t look likely with the roster they’ve got. … Culturally, this is a hard place to win at, stay winning and make the ‘football’ changes needed to keep it going. Plus, Tom is a ‘bullhorn’ kind of coach, lot of hollering and that as a trend seems to have waned a lot in recent years.”

Hall of Fame hopefuls

A pair of All-Americans from Purdue and Indiana are among 78 players from the Football Bowl Subdivision on the 2024 College Football Hall of Fame ballot.

Record-setting wide receiver Taylor Stubblefield and fellow receiver Larry Burton are back on the ballot. Stubblefield left Purdue after setting the NCAA record for career receptions with 316. He also set a Sun Bowl mark with 196 receiving yards in 2001. Burton earned first-team All-American and Outstanding College Athlete of America in 1974

Indiana’s hopes are represented by running back Vaughn Dunbar and quarterback Antwaan Randle-El. Dunbar led the nation in rushing with 1,805 yards in 1991. Randel-El was the first player in FBS history to pass for 6,000 yards and rush for 3,000 in a career.

Also on the ballot are Purdue offensive coordinator Graham Harrell for his feats as a quarterback at Texas Tech, as well as Indianapolis Colts greats Dallas Clark and Marvin Harrison.

– Kenny Thompson is the former sports editor for the Lafayette Journal & Courrier and an award-winning journalist. He has covered Purdue athletics for many years.