Big Ten Expansion: Power Ranking New Legends and Leaders' Divisions
Just when college football seemed settled on conference affiliations, ESPN has reported that Rutgers and Maryland are preparing for a shift to the Big Ten. There is still a lot that has to be settled before the conference shift, but this appears to be a done deal for both schools.
When the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights enter the Big Ten a shift will occur inside the divisions, creating a new power structure for the conference.
The Big Ten has underachieved on the national stage so far this season. Ohio State has been the strongest team in the conference, but the Buckeyes are banned from the postseason this year. The addition of Maryland and Rutgers brings bodies to the party, but won’t bring up the reputation of the conference.
Looking at the conference shift that lies ahead, here is the power ranking for the new Big Ten conference.
No. 7 Leaders Division: Maryland Terrapins
Maryland was on an upswing in football during the early 2000’s when Ralph Friedgen returned the Terrapins to the winner's circle on a regular basis. After a 9-4 season in 2010, Friedgen was fired despite winning the ACC Coach of the Year award that same season. Randy Edsall was then hired from UConn.
The Terrapins have been absolutely terrible in the past two years under Edsall, finishing 2-10 in 2011 and sitting at 4-7 this season. Shifting to the Big Ten is not going to help things get better.
Exposure will help this program grow and possibly make it back to the glory days, but this conference will have more heavyweights than the ACC, providing a difficult climb back to relevance.
No. 7 Legends Division: Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois is bad. They are easily the worst team in the Big Ten and nothing has indicated that the cards will change for this team with expansion.
Heading into the new expansion, the Illini are rumored by ESPN to be shifting from the Leaders to the Legends Division, making room for newcomers Maryland and Rutgers.
Over the years, Illinois has been able to muster some quality football, but the Illini are consistently found at the bottom of the conference. The Big Ten is doing this team no favors with the division shift as they leave the easy side of the conference to join the heavyweights.
No. 6 Leaders Div.: Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana and Maryland are battling for the bottom spot in the Leaders Division, but given that the Hoosiers are staying home in this conference expansion they get the favorable boost to No. 6 in the power rankings.
The Hoosiers' last appearance in a bowl game was 2007 when they lost to Oklahoma State in the Insight Bowl. Making the postseason is not a regular affair for Indiana. With conference expansion, the chase for a bowl game will get more difficult for Indiana.
The Hoosiers are right where they need to be at No. 6 in the Big Ten division power rankings.
No. 6 Legends Div: Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa has fallen hard this season, tumbling to the bottom half of the Legends Division. Kirk Ferentz has coached the Hawkeyes through struggles during his 14-year tenure, but no year has been this bad since his first two with the team.
This was a team that was expected to be competitive and possibly make a dark-horse charge at the Big Ten title. Instead of fighting for a conference title, the Hawkeyes are struggling to remain relevant in the conference.
Unless something changes soon, the Hawkeyes will consistently find themselves at the bottom of the Big Ten power rankings.
No. 5 Leaders Div.: Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue consistently performs at a middle-of-the-pack level in football, and this year has been no different. The Boilermakers are on the edge of bowl eligibility and are having their best season under Danny Hope.
There is a hunger for more from West Lafayette, Ind. than just bowl eligibility. This program and its fans are looking for another Big Ten title. The last one came in 2000 but the future is expected to hold more.
The expansion won’t affect this team much, but it will provide the Boilermakers with another quality conference win or two in the future as they search for championships.
No. 5 Legends Div.: Michigan State Spartans
When Big Ten fans think disappointment, the Spartans have to come to mind. This was a team that was expected to challenge for the Legends Division in 2012, but instead the Spartans are sitting at the very bottom of the division.
Michigan State has a powerful defense and strong ground attack, but junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell has struggled to find consistency this season.
That should change as he moves into his senior season.The Spartans are right in the middle of the Big Ten pack with a lot of upswing potential in the future.
No. 4 Leaders Div.: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers has been a major player in the Big East consistently in the past few years, but they have been unable to take over the national conversation consistently. That should change with a shift to the Big Ten.
The Scarlet Knights are a very good football team, but they are overshadowed by their conference affiliation. Landing in the Big Ten would allow this team to finish with one or two losses and still earn a major bowl bid.
This is a great move for both the Scarlet Knights and the Big Ten as the conference shift will bring a proven winner to the table.
No. 4 Legends Div.: Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Golden Gophers have a rich history of great football, fielding one of the oldest teams in the country. Minnesota claims 18 Big Ten titles, but the last one came in 1967.
This team has struggled to find consistency in the recent past, but this year they will head to their first bowl game since the 2009 season. The Gophers are consistently inconsistent this season, but have been competitive in a number of games where they shouldn’t have been.
The Gophers represent the middle of the Big Ten well and should hold strong in the center of the conference with the coming expansion.
No. 3 Leaders Div.: Penn State Nittany Lions
Bill O’Brien has done an amazing job with this Nittany Lions team after the sanctions that were handed down earlier this year. A number of players departed and Penn State had to cut its scholarships from 85 to 65 overnight.
Somehow this team has still managed to land behind only Ohio State in the Leaders Division this year. The Nittany Lions have won some big games and have overachieved on a consistent basis.
The coming years will bring a drop in performance as the sanctions catch up with the program, but as of now this team is near the top of the Big Ten discussion.
No. 3 Legends Div.: Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern has been a fun team to follow over the past decade. Pat Fitzgerald took over this program six years ago after the tragic death of then-head coach Randy Walker, and has since taken this team to four winning seasons in six years.
The Wildcats have also gone to four straight bowl games under Fitzgerald with a fifth bowl berth on the way to close the 2012 season.
This ‘Cats team has gotten better every season under the leadership of Fitzgerald, and they will continue to win big games as long as he is roaming the sideline. Northwestern may not be a traditional Big Ten power, but they are near the top of the pack heading into the latest expansion.
No. 2 Leaders Div.: Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin can’t seem to find the fence-line to jump out of the field of national mediocrity. This Badgers squad had a Heisman-contending running back entering the season but has since fallen away from the national scene with Montee Ball’s Heisman hopes in tow.
Two consecutive trips to the Rose Bowl had this team looking for a national title run, but instead the Badgers lost four close games, two of which were in overtime. Champions don’t lose those types of games.
This team has consistently underachieved expectations in the past few seasons, but they are still among the elite of the Big Ten. They are a few fumbles or field goals away from a run at the national title.
No. 2 Legends Div.: Michigan Wolverines
The Big Ten has consistently underachieved this year, and the Wolverines were a big part of the letdown.
Denard Robinson entered the year as a Heisman hopeful—one of the many in the Big Ten—but he has produced his worst season since taking over the quarterback position at Michigan. This Wolverines team now sits with an outside shot at the Legends Division, even though they were expected to run away with the title this fall.
Brady Hoke has the program headed in the right direction despite the inconsistencies. Michigan will continue to battle for the top of the Big Ten well into the future.
No. 1 Leaders Div.: Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State is the measuring stick for the Big Ten right now after an unexpected undefeated run decided to come in 2012. Urban Meyer has proven why his coaching stock continued to be so high after a fall at Florida and one year in the announcer’s booth.
This Buckeyes squad is going to be very dangerous in the next few years as Meyer continues to implement his offense and integrate his players into his program.
Braxton Miller has become an overnight Heisman front-runner under the guidance of Meyer and will continue to lead this Ohio State team to the top of the Leaders Division despite the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the fold.
No. 1 Legends Div.: Nebraska Cornhuskers
Bo Pelini marched into Lincoln, Neb., and rebuilt the Cornhuskers program in just two short seasons. Pelini has won at least nine games in all five years with Nebraska, with two seasons ending with 10 wins.
The Cornhuskers have pushed through the Big Ten schedule this year with only one conference loss, at the hands of Ohio State.
The future will bring new conference opponents to the schedule, but wins should continue to pile up for Nebraska no matter the competition. Nebraska has pushed to the top of the Big Ten in just two short years and nothing indicates that it will leave the post soon.
The future of the Big Ten appears the be held by the Buckeyes and Cornhuskers.