In what might have been the world’s most poorly kept secret, Brett McMurphy of ESPN is reporting that the B1G will ditch the Legends and Leaders divisional alignment and move to a geographical format.
The B1G West will reportedly consist of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. The B1G East looks to house Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers.
With the report of the ACC media rights deal through 2026-27, it looks as if the current 14-team roster may be in place for a while. So what are the pros and the cons for Nebraska with this proposed new alignment?
You have to be in the title game to win the title game. There is no escaping that truism, which means that the easier Nebraska’s path is to Indianapolis every year, the better chance Nebraska has to finally win that elusive conference title.
With Michigan moving to the East division, Nebraska escapes having to compete with the Wolverines year in and year out for a chance to get into the B1G title game. For a school that hasn’t won a conference title since 1999, any step that smooths the path to a trophy should be welcomed.
Nebraska fans (and the rest of the B1G) probably don’t want to hear this, but Michigan and Ohio State really are the pillars of the conference.
When you think Big Ten football, the first image that will come to mind is almost certainly one of the Wolverines or the Buckeyes. Heck, there was talk initially to name the two divisions “Bo” for Michigan’s Bo Schembechler and “Woody” for Ohio State’s Woody Hayes.
So losing Michigan as a yearly opponent means that Nebraska will miss out on some of what makes the B1G the Big Ten. Yes, it’s likely that Nebraska will see either Michigan or Ohio State in crossover games, particularly with a nine-game conference schedule. But being in different divisions does make a big difference. Look what happened to the Oklahoma-Nebraska series once the Big 12 was formed.
The addition of Rutgers and Maryland to the B1G last year caught many by surprise. Most think of the B1G as a Midwestern conference, so adding two schools on the Eastern seaboard seemed like quite a stretch, both culturally and geographically.
By splitting the divisions geographically, though, some of that identity can be retained.
The B1G West looks to be made up of schools that would still be considered “western” by most people (with Northwestern, ironically enough, being the only exception). The B1G East, by contrast, has schools that at least somewhat seem at home looking more toward the Atlantic Ocean.
When you factor in the savings in terms of travel costs, the geographic split helps Nebraska in a number of ways.
Hey, remember when B1G conference commissioner Jim Delany announced the addition of Rutgers and Maryland to the conference? What was one of the big benefits—the big reasons why the move was made?
Yes, of course, it was television money, but Delany didn’t really care to dwell on that. Instead, it was all about opening the Eastern seaboard to B1G schools and the recruiting benefits that would flow from including New York and Maryland in the B1G’s “footprint.”
Well, with Rutgers and Maryland being in the opposite division from Nebraska, it means that NU will have spells where it goes two years without a single trip to the East Coast. While that might be welcome news for the "Children of the Corn" making travel plans, it also means that Nebraska’s additional recruiting leverage in those areas has been diminished markedly.
Yes, I know, Iowa is Nebraska’s B1G trophy game and designated rival. And don’t get me wrong, I love the series and think Iowa-Nebraska has the potential to be a passionate rivalry.
But Iowa’s struggles on the football field the last two years haven’t helped that rivalry grow. And Nebraska is building a bit of a history with Wisconsin.
In Nebraska’s first B1G conference game, the Wisconsin Badgers humbled NU in Madison. Nebraska got revenge (and some spiffy new uniforms) last year in Lincoln. But when the two schools met in the B1G title game, Wisconsin humiliated Nebraska, 70-31.
Now it looks, at least at first blush, like it will be Wisconsin and Nebraska playing every year for the West Division crown. There is already an ember of a rivalry between the two schools, and moving into the same division and playing every year could fan that into a fire very quickly.
College football is cyclical. Teams that are really good now may not be quite so good in 10 years and vice versa. So it’s unfair to cast complete judgment on the competitive imbalance of the two proposed divisions right now.
But having said that, at least for the forseeable future, the B1G West looks to be the Big 12 North 2.0.
Wisconsin is the three-time defending conference champion, but will be breaking in a new coach. Nebraska is a team that seems on the rise, but has yet to get over the line. Northwestern and Minnesota are teams on the rise, but likely with ceilings in terms of how good they can get.
Illinois looks to be a sleeping giant like Missouri, but the Illini have been napping for a long time. And Iowa and Purdue are schools with football programs in serious need of help.
Meanwhile, the East has both Ohio State and Michigan, not to mention Michigan State and Penn State. If you were to rank the schools in the conference one through 14 in terms of likely success in the next five years, you’d probably have three East schools in the top five.
The B1G already has a lousy perception nationwide. If the B1G West gets a Big 12 North 2.0 kind of reputation, that will further harm Nebraska’s perceived strength of schedule. And with the College Football Playoff starting after next season, strength of schedule will be even more important to fight for one of those four spots.
(I swear to heaven, “College Football Playoff” is what the thing is going to be called, according to ESPN. No word on whether the logo will be black stencil on a plain white background like the generic product craze of the 1970s.)
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