Perception of Big Ten's Leaders Division as Weaker of Two Could Be Changing

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IOctober 8, 2013

Oct 5, 2013; Bloomington, IN, USA; Members of the Indiana Hoosiers sing the Indiana fight song with the fans after beating the Penn State Nittany Lions at Memorial Stadium. Indiana won 44-24. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Since the inception of the ill-concieved Leaders and Legends Division names, the Legends Division (M's, N's and Iowa if you still haven't gotten used to it) has had the perception of being the stronger and much more competitive division. 

Having Michigan and Nebraska to go along with recent champions like Iowa and Michigan State helped to create that perception at the beginning of the alignment. So did having a rising Northwestern program. 

On the flip-side of things, the Leaders Division was supposed to be Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State running away with things and fighting amongst themselves for the title of division champion—Illinois, Indiana and Purdue were supposed to be after thoughts.

For the first few years of the league those two scenarios played out.

The Legends Division had a 22-14 advantage in head-to-head matchups during the first two years of the division setup. And the three expected contenders in the Leaders division were the only ones to be in the mix.

Oct 5, 2013; Lincoln, NE, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Tim Beckman watches his team before the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois changed coaches and bottomed out at 2-10 last season, while Indiana improved—but not enough to get them into bowl contention over the last few seasons.

Heading into 2013 people were once again talking about the "stacked" and "loaded" Legends Division and wondering how any team inside that division was going to survive the gauntlet. 

On the other hand, Ohio State was expected to cruise in the Leaders Division race, and maybe Wisconsin would challenge for a good record as well.

Add in sanctions to Penn State and terrible results in 2012 for Illinois and Indiana, as well as a coaching change at Purdue, and the perception was that the rest of the division wasn't going to be competitive. 

Yet, just in time for the final year of this divisional lineup, the perception of the Leaders Division could be changing. 

Two teams have already or could potentially flip perception on its head and they are unlikely sources. 

Of course we are talking about Illinois and Indiana. 

The Hoosiers just got done beating Penn State for the first time in school history and the Illini have come out of nowhere to top their win total from 2012 already. It has led to pure fantasy from Indiana fans:

Illinois' transition on offense has been the biggest reason for its improvement, with the team averaging 36 points a game and ranking 2nd in passing (behind Indiana).  

For Indiana, the change came about thanks to the Hoosiers finally breaking through in a closer game and getting the defense to hold up at crucial times.

So far, from the Leaders Division, all but Purdue have winning records.

Of course, the perception of the weakness of the Leaders division has always been a bit relative.

I mean, there is the fact that no team but Wisconsin has ever won the Big Ten Championship game to work in the Leaders Division's favor. 

If the "weaker" division is winning all the championships, is it really the "weaker" division? Or is it that its representative just happened to be the better team on that particular day? 

That is an interesting situation to ponder. But winning on the field has to count for something in this equation, otherwise why play the game? 

I mean, last season's title game should be all the proof one needs for why they play the game, with the presumed "weaker" Badgers winning 70-31 over Nebraska. It was a result no one, including the most diehard of Badger fans, saw coming. 

However, there is always the regular season battles to look at and after examining that record (22-14 in favor of the Legends Division, as we mentioned before) you begin to see why perception has become reality.  

With the Big Ten adding Rutgers and Maryland to the mix next year, the division alignment changes and all of this won't matter.  

However, for the here and now, the perception of the Leaders Division has the potential to really change as this season goes on..

It is also part of why some feel the Big Ten is a deeper and more competitive conference as a whole in 2013. 

*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter: @andycoppens.


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