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Big Ten Hold 'Em

August 26, 2010

Written by Jon Miller

Hawkeye Nation

As I try to figure out how the Big Ten divisions are going to be split up, I have forgotten one important factor: there is a new kid at the table and that kid has some cache.

Yesterday morning, Steve Deace and I brought up the thought that Wisconsin and Iowa could not possibly be in the same division, because that would affect the balance of the divisions, as we both believe Michigan and Nebraska will be on one side along with Ohio State and Penn State.

The Hawkeyes and Badgers cannot possibly be in the same division, because that would create an overload on one side and a two-team race on the other.

In splitting those schools, it means one fan base might not be thrilled to leave a scenario where it had a chance to be divisional rivals with newcomer Nebraska, among other reasons.

Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez (a Nebraska alum who played for the Huskers in the late 1960’s) and his coach Bret Bielema have both stated publicly that they would like to have an annual rivalry with Nebraska.

Bret Bielema Tweet from June 12th: “I contacted the Big 10 office about hopefully scheduling Nebraska as a last game rival on a yearly basis. Possibly starting a trophy game.”

Iowa fans would love the same thing, being in a division with the Cornhuskers, a state they share a rather long border with.

Last night, Alvarez came out and confirmed my suspicions; Iowa and Wisconsin will not be in the same division.

That means someone is going to be throw in with Ohio State and Penn State and away from Nebraska and Michigan.

If you are an Iowa fan, and faced with going East with the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions, I doubt you are excited about having Nebraska as your protected rival, meaning you play three of the six most successful football programs in the sports history each season, plus Michigan four or so times a decade. Those programs have rich national title legacies and thus advantages that Iowa does not have.

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Or, perhaps that is just my thinking and you wouldn’t feel the same.

However, there is one thing I am forgetting, and one of my listeners (Joe Byrd, a Nebraska fan) pointed it out to me this morning.

Yesterday, Deace and I said to imagine a table and all of the athletic directors are sitting together. Each of them has a chip they can play. Michigan and Ohio State play their chip to play one another each year but to be in different divisions. Penn State and Nebraska would likely be asked to be protected rivals, but neither would move their chip to the middle of the table to make this happen. The Big Ten likely plays one of its chips here.

Michigan State’s chip would be played to stay in the same division as in-state rival Michigan. Wisconsin knows its going to get to play either Iowa or Minnesota each year and their rivalry game with the Gophers is the longest running rivalry in college football. The Big Ten might play another chip to keep the Gophers and Badgers together in the same division.

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Both Iowa and Wisconsin play their chip to be in the same division as Nebraska…

Now, all of the Athletic Directors look across the room at Tom Osborne of Nebraska, who has been sitting back quietly, patiently, watching the other teams make their move. He is the newcomer, after all…

At this point, he is forced to cast his chip…and I would say there is at least an 80 percent chance he says: “We want to be in the same division as Iowa.”

Osborne quote from earlier this summer: “There’s been a lot of discussion among our fans, about playing Iowa. So, I think any alignment where Nebraska didn’t play Iowa would probably not be as well received by our fans.”

Tom casts his chip, and Iowa and Nebraska are joined at the hip for any divisional discussions.

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I think this is a likely scenario, and one that Scott Dochterman of the Gazette has played out too, in this offering.

So after thinking about this entire scenario through the night and talking about it on the radio again this morning, it makes the most sense to keep Iowa and Nebraska in the same division, which means moving Minnesota and Wisconsin together to an eastern division.

So here is my final prediction on how the divisions will line up…if any ‘new’ news comes out to the contrary, then I will just suck it up say I was wrong, with protected rivalry games in italics.

    DIVISION A

Ohio State (Michigan)
Penn State (Michigan State)
Wisconsin (Nebraska)
Minnesota (Iowa)
Indiana (Northwestern)
Purdue (Illinois)

    DIVISION B

Michigan (Michigan State)
Michigan State (Penn State)
Nebraska (Wisconsin)
Iowa (Minnesota)
Northwestern (Indiana)
Illinois (Purdue)

Yes, I realize that in this scenario, Wisconsin will have to play three of the most successful college football programs each year. Perhaps it’s just my belief that Barry Alvarez has more ego than I do 😉

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