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Hawkeyes assigned to host Michigan under the lights as part of Big Ten's 'Champions Week'

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

The 2020 Iowa football team has another scheduled game in Kinnick Stadium, after all — the key word being "scheduled."

The 6-2 Hawkeyes were assigned a matchup with Jim Harbaugh’s 2-4 Michigan Wolverines as part of the Big Ten Conference’s “Champions Week” schedule. The game is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT Saturday in Iowa City and will be televised by ESPN.

It’ll be Michigan’s first trip to Kinnick since 2016, when the Hawkeyes as three-touchdown underdogs stunned the unbeaten Wolverines, 14-13, on Keith Duncan’s last-second field goal.

This time, though, the Hawkeyes are the clear favorites. They’re riding a six-game winning streak that was punctuated by Saturday’s 28-7 suffocation of Wisconsin and were favored against Michigan by 14 points in opening .

Hawkeye players swarm onto the field before their 28-7 win against Wisconsin on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Michigan has struggled to find success in a season impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. After an impressive season-opening win at Minnesota, the Wolverines have lost four of five games — their only win coming in triple overtime at Rutgers — and had two others canceled due to rising coronavirus cases within their program.

That begs the question: Will Michigan be able to play the game? According to the Detroit Free Press last week, “at least a dozen” Michigan players had tested positive for COVID-19 and 40 would have missed the scheduled Ohio State game, had it been played.

But why Michigan? Under the original premise of the Big Ten's "Champions Week" concept that was announced in September, first-place teams in the West and East divisions were supposed to play each other, as were the second-place teams, and so on. That ordinarily would have meant that West runner-up Iowa (No. 16 in the College Football Playoff rankings) would face East runner-up Indiana (6-1 and No. 12).

However, the Big Ten put a priority on rescheduling rivalry games with this bonus week. So, Indiana was scheduled to face 2-4 Purdue instead on Friday night, reviving the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket. The next-best option for the Hawkeyes was to play a big-brand program that could entice the most TV eyeballs, and Michigan certainly fits the bill.

There was initial discussion that the Iowa-Michigan game could be held Friday night. But with Iowa student-athletes taking final exams this week, that became a less attractive option.

The matchup, assuming it's played, creates a fun Saturday for Hawkeye fans. Earlier in the day at 11 a.m., the third-ranked Iowa basketball team is scheduled to face No. 1 Gonzaga in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in a nationally televised game on CBS.

Big Ten 'Champions Week' matchups

Friday's games

3 p.m.: Nebraska (2-5) at Rutgers (3-5), Big Ten Network

6:30 p.m.: Purdue (2-4) at Indiana (6-1), Big Ten Network

Saturday's games

11 a.m.: Northwestern (6-1) vs. Ohio State (5-0), Fox (championship game)

3 p.m.: Minnesota (3-3) at Wisconsin (2-3), Big Ten Network

4:30 p.m.: Illinois (2-5) at Penn State (3-5), Fox Sports 1

6 p.m.: Michigan (2-4) at Iowa (6-2), ESPN

6:30 p.m.: Michigan State (2-5) at Maryland (2-3), Big Ten Network