By ERIC OLSON, AP College Football Writer
The Big Ten will increase its number of conference football games in the opening weeks of the season in 2020 and 2021.
There also is a change in rivalry week in schedules announced Tuesday. Iowa will meet Wisconsin and Nebraska will play Minnesota the last week of the regular season in 2020 and 2021. Iowa and Nebraska have closed the regular season against each other since the Cornhuskers joined the conference in 2011.
East Division teams will have five home conference games and West teams will have four in 2020. The split will be reversed in 2021.
The 2020 season opens Sept. 5 with Indiana at Wisconsin, Northwestern at Michigan State and Purdue at Nebraska. The 2021 season opens Sept. 4 with Indiana at Iowa, Michigan State at Northwestern, Ohio State at Minnesota and Penn State at Wisconsin.
The Big Ten is joining other conferences in playing early league games.
“Really, 2017 was the first year we could do that,” Senior Associate Commissioner Mark Rudner said. “Obviously, Ohio State and Indiana two weeks ago had a great game and was watched by a lot of people.”
Northwestern visits Purdue in Week 1 in 2018 and Rutgers plays at Iowa in Week 1 in 2019.
Nonconference games arranged years ago had to be scheduled around, and more openings for early conference games were available beginning in 2020.
“The idea (is) let’s play more conference games early on because our fans tend to gravitate more toward conference games than some of the nonconference games our teams are playing,” Rudner said.
The tweak to the schedule the final week in 2020 and 2021, Rudner said, was a result of the Big Ten wanting to “mix and match” rivalries.
Ohio State-Michigan, Indiana-Purdue and Northwestern-Illinois are locked in the last week of the regular season for the foreseeable future. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa will play among themselves the last week on future schedules, as will Michigan State, Penn State, Rutgers and Maryland.
Asked about ending the Iowa-Nebraska game on Thanksgiving Friday, Rudner said neither school opposed the change.
In other scheduling news, Rudner said there would be four games played on Friday nights going forward, two fewer than originally announced last year as part of the conference’s agreement with television partners.
Rudner said two games will be played on the Friday before Labor Day, and two others will be on Friday nights later in September or October. The Friday games will be announced in the October prior to the season in which they’ll be played, meaning the 2018 Friday games will be announced next month.
Three Friday games have been played this season — Washington-Rutgers and Utah State-Wisconsin on Sept. 1 and Ohio-Purdue on Sept. 8 — and Nebraska will visit Illinois on Sept. 29.
Northwestern had Friday games initially scheduled this season for Oct. 13 at Maryland and Oct. 27 at home against Michigan State. Those games were moved to Oct. 14 and Oct. 28 in what Rudner said were scheduling changes made by ESPN.
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