By Brady Stiff
Big Ten Football is back.
With three teams making their season debuts tomorrow night (Ohio State, Indiana, and Minnesota), the Big Ten got into the news cycle a day early by making a much anticipated announcement. They announced who will be in what division when Nebraska joins the party beginning next season.
Before I get into the breakdown of the divisions and my thoughts, let me just say this: My Indiana Hoosiers are in second place in the Big Ten standings.
Yes, the Indiana Hoosiers are in second place in the Big Ten standings.
That may or may not be because their name is second in the alphabetical listing of schools…but hey, I might as well say it while I can, because I won’t be able to say that for long.
OK, now back to football that actually matters…
These divisions haven’t been named yet, but they look like this:
- Michigan State
- Ohio State
- Penn State
Much of the debate was about whether or not to split up Michigan and Ohio State. Fans of those schools, and frankly fans of football everywhere, didn’t want to see these teams stop playing each other every year. But fear not, the rivalry is protected. The Michigan-Ohio State game will continue to be played on the final Saturday of the regular season, setting up a possible rematch a week or two later.
Remember in 2006, when the Wolverines and the Buckeyes went into the final week ranked 1-2, and they played an absolutely epic game in Columbus? I sure do, and I wouldn’t have been upset if the BCS Championship Game featured those same two teams. I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt that way, either.
The Big Ten would love to be able to capitalize on that situation again, though there’s no telling when Michigan might get back to playing at that level. The Buckeyes are ready to contend for another National Championship, while the Wolverines are coming off a 5-7 season, their second consecutive bowl game-less campaign.
Of course, UM-OSU isn’t the only spectacular rivalry the Big Ten hosts. Games like Northwestern-Illinois, Iowa-Minnesota, Michigan State-Indiana, and Indiana-Purdue will be protected as well. Whether the Old Oaken Bucket game (Indiana vs. Purdue) will remain on the same day as OSU-UM will remain to be seen. I hope it does. It’s frequently the only reason either team has to keep playing. I say that lovingly of course.
The way they came up with the divisions is interesting, and it seems like a lot of hard work and thought went into it. This ESPN blog breaks it down, but here’s some of the highlights…
- The entire conference was broken down into three tiers based on data going back to 1993. The top tier included Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, and Penn State. The middle tier included Wisconsin and Iowa, and the bottom tier included the other six. Each tier was evenly divided to come up with the divisions.
- Wisconsin is “a victim of its own success”. They are kind of out of their element when it comes to geographical alignment. They’ll be doing the most travelling, and they were separated from their two closest geographical neighbors, Iowa and Minnesota
- Once they figured out who would be in what division, they had two options as far as scheduling goes. They could play all trophy/rivalry games in the first seven weeks of the season, leaving the last week or two for strictly divisional play; or they could spread all those games out to keep tradition going as best they could. They chose the latter, but I kind of like the idea of the former. It would be similar to the NFL’s new scheduling philosophy, as they’ve scheduled just divisional games the last two weeks to try to minimize the amount of meaningless games towards the end of the regular season.
It’s going to be an adjustment period for everyone, but I for one am glad that Nebraska is joining the conference. It brings yet another tradition-rich school into the mix, and it allows the Big Ten to be relevant after Thanksgiving. In the past, the season had ended the Saturday before Turkey Day, while the other conferences had at least one or two more games, plus a conference championship game to play. That fact also probably hurt the Big Ten’s teams in the BCS standings.
As for this season….we’ll see what happens tomorrow night. Indiana hosts Towson, Ohio State hosts the Thundering Herd of Marshall, and Minnesota visits Middle Tennessee State.