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Big Ten Football: Which Division Dominated Legends/Leaders Era?

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Big Ten Football: Which Division Dominated Legends/Leaders Era?
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When the Big Ten football conference added Nebraska in 2011, competitive balance was the order of the day with the establishment of Leaders and Legends Divisions. But was competitive balance actually achieved, or did one of the divisions dominate this short-lived, three-season era?

As the final season of the BCS winds down, there are many articles analyzing teams and conferences from the 16-year Bowl Championship Series era, including several (here and here again) about the Big Ten. However, the Legends and Leaders division era also now comes to a close with the additions of Rutgers and Maryland, causing a more logical, geographic realignment.

Three seasons may not have been long enough to develop a lengthy narrative, but it was more than long enough to generate some relevant data on competitive balance.

Factors to consider when determining stronger divisions include: conference championships and bowl game success, cross-division and nonconference records, and major individual awards such as All-Americans.

So who should go down as the winner of this short-lived 12 team alignment of the Big Ten's football history? Let's take a look.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

 

 

1. Conference Championships and Bowl Game Success

 

Conferences are often judged on postseason success, so why should divisions within a conference be treated any differently? For division comparisons, the most relevant piece of postseason evidence is the Big Ten Championship.

Big Ten Championship Results

  • 2011: Wisconsin 42, Michigan State 39 (Leaders 1-0)
  • 2012: Wisconsin 70, Nebraska 31 (Leaders 2-0)
  • 2013: Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24 (Leaders 2-1)

Even though the Legends Division made an important statement by knocking off the Buckeyes this season, the Leaders Division will forever hold the edge, thanks to Wisconsin. At least there's one positive lasting legacy of the Bret Bielema tenure in Madison.

Turning to bowl results, each team other than Indiana took part in bowl games over the past three seasons. Results and recaps of the games can be found for 2011, 2012 and 2013 on BTN.com, but here is a summary for each division.

Leaders Division Bowl Results

  • Illinois (1-0): Def. UCLA in 2011
  • Indiana (0-0): NONE
  • Ohio State (0-2): Lost to Florida in 2011, Lost to Clemson in 2013
  • Penn State (0-1): Lost to Houston in 2011
  • Purdue (1-1): Def. Western Michigan in 2011, Lost to Oklahoma State in 2012
  • Wisconsin (0-3): Lost to Oregon in 2011, Lost to Stanford in 2012, Lost to South Carolina in 2013
  • TOTAL: 2-8, 0-3 in BCS Bowls

Legends Division Bowl Results

  • Iowa (0-2): Lost to Oklahoma in 2011, Lost to LSU in 2013
  • Michigan (1-2): Def. Virginia Tech in 2011, Lost to South Carolina in 2012, Lost to Kansas State in 2013
  • Michigan State (3-0): Def. Georgia in 2011, Def. TCU in 2012, Def. Stanford in 2013
  • Minnesota (0-2): Lost to Texas Tech in 2012, Lost to Syracuse in 2013
  • Nebraska (1-2): Lost to South Carolina in 2011, Lost to Georgia in 2012, Def. Georgia in 2013
  • Northwestern (1-1): Lost to Texas A&M in 2011, Def. Mississippi State in 2012
  • TOTAL: 6-9, 2-0 in BCS Bowls

Pretty clear advantage there, despite the dismal results by both divisions when taken as a whole. Not only was the Legends Division twice as successful in bowl games (40 percent win), the disparity between being undefeated in BCS bowls and winless is incredible.

Additionally, the top-tier programs of each division tell a disparate story, favoring the Legends Division as well. While the Spartans and Cornhuskers carried the league banner with a 4-2 record (including the only two bowl wins in 2013), the Buckeyes and Badgers slunk home 0-5 over the past three seasons.

If the bowl games were closer, the nod would have to go to the Leaders Division for owning more Big Ten championships in this era. But with the Leaders Division fizzling at every level and bringing shame with three BCS losses, there is only one conclusion to this factor.

Advantage: Legends Division, by a significant margin

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Conference's Best Duel

 

2. Cross-Division and Nonconference Records

 

Although less high-profile than postseason play, the reputation of a conference and a division is also built by playing and winning the big games outside the division. Similar to the postseason statistics above, the more important set of records when comparing two divisions is play against one another.

Here is how the Legends and Leaders fared against one another, including the Big Ten Championship games (results listed here and here, for example):

Leaders Division Cross-Division Records

  • Illinois: 1-8
  • Indiana: 1-8
  • Ohio State: 6-4
  • Penn State: 5-4
  • Purdue: 2-7
  • Wisconsin: 8-3
  • TOTAL: 23-34

Legends Division Cross-Division Records

  • Iowa: 3-6
  • Michigan: 6-3
  • Michigan State: 9-2
  • Minnesota: 5-4
  • Nebraska: 7-3
  • Northwestern: 4-5
  • TOTAL: 34-23

Despite having lost two of the three Big Ten Championship games, the Legends Division has outpaced the Leaders Division by winning about 60 percent of the time.

The only team with a significant winning margin from the Leaders is Wisconsin, thanks in large part to Ohio State going 0-3 in 2011. But the real lodestones weighing down the Leaders Division are the trio of Indiana, Illinois and Purdue.

Meanwhile, Iowa is the only program pulling down the overall Legends Division record. Considering the improvement in the Hawkeyes and Golden Gophers this season, the clear advantage of this division became even more pronounced.

Just like bowl games, non-conference play also brings the only opportunities for the conference as a whole to gain perception-enhancing wins against major outside competition. The story stays the same when looking at the past three seasons of September football, as evidenced by the records below:

Leaders Division Non-Conference Records

  • Illinois: 8-4
  • Indiana: 5-7
  • Ohio State: 11-1
  • Penn State: 8-4
  • Purdue: 6-6
  • Wisconsin: 10-2
  • TOTAL: 48-24

Legends Division Non-Conference Records

  • Iowa: 8-4
  • Michigan: 10-2
  • Michigan State: 9-3
  • Minnesota: 9-3
  • Nebraska: 10-2
  • Northwestern: 11-1
  • TOTAL: 57-15

Once again, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue do the conference and the Leaders Division no favors. While the worst team record in the Legends Division is Iowa at 8-4, only two of the six teams in the Leaders Division better that mark.

The proof really comes out when looking at these games between the divisions and outside the conference. The Legends Division is deep, while the Leaders Division is top-heavy. Which leads to one inevitable conclusion.

Advantage: Legends Division, by a significant margin

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Hyde came on strong in 2013

 

 

3. Major Individual Awards

 

Another of the signs of national and conference prestige is sweeping the major awards.

On the conference level, the Big Ten hands out ten individual awards for the best player at each of the major positions. In addition, all-conference awards are handed out by the coaches and media, causing a select few players to earn consensus all-conference merits.

There are also national awards extending from the Heisman Trophy to position-based awards. Five media outlets honor All-American teams, and again, consensus and unanimous All-Americans are determined for a small number of players in college football.

Here is a summary of the major individual awards (all-conference and All-American honorees must be consensus or unanimous) won by each team:

 

Leaders Division Major Individual Awards
Team All-Americans National Individual Awards All-Conference B1G Individual Awards
Illinois 1 1 2 0
Indiana 0 0 0 0
Ohio State 1 0 7 4
Penn State 1 1 6 4
Purdue 0 0 2 1
Wisconsin 3 1 10 5
TOTAL 6 3 27 14

Wikipedia.org and BTN.com

 

Legends Division Individual Awards
Team All-Americans National Individual Awards All-Conference B1G Individual Awards
Iowa 0 0 3 2
Michigan 1 1 2 5
Michigan State 2 2 6 2
Minnesota 0 0 1 0
Nebraska 0 0 8 5
Northwestern 0 0 2 3
TOTAL 3 3 22 17

Wikipedia.org and BTN.com

 

 

Unlike the numbers above, the major individual awards are evenly split between the two divisions. The only real notable edge is the Leaders Division having twice as many consensus All-Americans (six compared to three) and a slight edge in consensus All-Conference team members.

Wisconsin certainly carried the flag early in this Legends-Leaders setup, but Nebraska also earned a lot of praise in 2011 and Michigan State evened everything out with tons of awards in 2013. Star power is present all over the conference, even if the results on the field were a bit lopsided.

Advantage: Leaders Division, by a highly narrow margin

 

The result is pretty clear when putting the statistics and the awards on paper over the past three seasons. The 12-team alignment of the Big Ten conference was dominated clearly by the Legends Division, thanks in large part to a depth advantage overall.

For a conference alignment based on nothing more than competitive balance, the three-year experiment appears to have failed. It will be fun to see how the trends develop when the East and West Divisions have a few seasons under the belt later this decade.

But for this part of Big Ten history, the Legends Division owns the bragging rights.

Congrats "Iowa and the M's and N's" (the mnemonic for remembering who was in the Legends that will blissfully be forgotten now), you are the champions!

Besides, it wouldn't make much sense for Legends to trail Leaders

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Thanks for reading! David is the Featured Columnist for Big Ten Football at Bleacher Report, and he can be reached in the comments below or on Twitter. Please provide your opinion below on whether the Legends Division was the best, or if an argument can be made for the Leaders Division.

Until next time, be #B1G

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