Reshuffling B1G Divisions

July 19, 2019

Written by Jon Miller

Big Ten Media Days are under way, and having attended a handful of these through the years, my belief is they are often short on substance but a nice way to inject some football into your veins.

But this tweet from Scott Dochterman got my attention:

I am a bit of a realignment nerd…be that conference realignment or reshuffling the Big Ten divisions. I put together a quickly arrived at scenario, but before we hit that, I want to talk about Michigan and Ohio State. The Game. Because that is where all of these discussions must start.

They have been playing The Game since 1897. It’s arguably the greatest rivalry in college football. Your answer to that question will have a lot to do with your geographic upbringing. Folks raised anywhere but the Southeast will say Michigan v Ohio State is the best rivalry in the sport. Folks raised in the Southeast will tout the Iron Bowl and Alabama against Auburn…and they would be wrong.

As for Michigan and Ohio State in the same division, we refer back to 2013 and the comments at that time. The two schools felt they should be in the same division, because they did not want to take away from the importance of The Game. To play The Game on the last weekend of the regular season, then have a rematch the following week in the Big Ten Title game is not something either school wanted…perhaps that has changed, but when you consider what I just wrote, I doubt that will have changed. If they were in the same division, playing two weeks in a row would lessen the importance and significance of The Game. I just don’t see that happening. Which also leads me to believe the Big Ten will not scrap the divisions altogether, because the same exact scenario could play out.

So for my scenario, I have kept the divisions and I have them in the same division.

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There is but one tweak to this, and that is swapping Illinois and Michigan State. Illinois has been the worst team in the Big Ten West, by a landslide.

The league moved away from the Legends and Leaders set up beginning in 2014. Prior to 2014, Wisconsin was in the East and Michigan and Michigan State were in the West. The 2014 changes ushered in what the league has right now.

During the past five years under the current setup, Illinois has a total of nine Big Ten victories. Nine. In five years. Nine. 3, 2, 2, 0, 2. Nine.

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Conversely, and playing in the division that has been much stronger during those five years, Michigan State has won 27 games, winning seven games in three of those years and winning the Big Ten East and Big Ten title in 2015. They dashed Ohio State’s national title hopes in 2015 with a victory in Columbus, they are 3-2 against Michigan and 4-1 against Penn State during this time.

During this five-year period, Michigan State has been arguably the second best program in that division. Penn State also won 27 games during those five years, including a Big Ten Title, but I give the nod to the Spartans as they made the CFP (Penn State had two regular season losses in 2016 and went to the Rose, out of the playoff) and Sparty had three seasons of seven conference wins while Penn State had two of seven or more.

Swapping Michigan State for Illinois bolsters the West and lightens up the East. In essence, it also gives Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State a favorable path to four expected conference victories each year.

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Meanwhile in the West, given the trajectory of the programs in that division right now as well as factoring in the historical competitiveness, you are talking about a meat grinder. A week to week Thunder Dome. There are grand total of ZERO weeks where you can likely still win by not playing your best. You”re also unlikely to see a CFP contender come out of this division, with the East having the greatest odds of delivering such a team.

But then again, that’s been the case for much of the past five years. Iowa and Wisconsin have had their chances at the CFP, with Iowa one drive away from making it in 2015.

If the league wants to make a change for competitive balance, this is the change I see as being most likely. Perhaps you could swap Michigan State for Purdue, which nearly happened back in 2014. That might actually be more fair to the teams in the West…which right about now, no one is considering that aspect. Swapping Michigan State for Illinois would make the West a tougher division to win, even though it would likely not garner the headlines and still be a punching bag for the uninformed and for those not paying attention to the sport.

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