If you study the past 11 years from 2000-2010, you get a very good idea of which are the top, consistently most winning college football programs in the Big Ten.
Prior to 2011, the Big Ten had 11 football teams competing in the conference with rotating schedules. Each team played eight conference games, which meant two conference foes were not scheduled each year.
The team that ended with the best conference record won the division.
That often proved very unsatisfactory to players, coaches and their fans because multiple teams would end the season with identical win-loss records. The subsequent ties were decided by a combination of factors, but the main one was the head-to-head competition––for purposes of determining the postseason bowl destination of the respective winners.
There was, however, often an incomplete, unsettled feeling when there was no head-to-head result because the teams in question did not play each other during the season.
Last year, for example, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State all ended conference play at 7-1, tying for the Big Ten title. Michigan State beat Wisconsin during the Big Ten season, but did not play Ohio State. Wisconsin beat Ohio State, but lost to Michigan State. Michigan State, on the other hand, lost to Iowa.
The feeling of many in the Big Ten was that pollsters and others may have penalized the Spartans for not playing Ohio State. The conference schedule, however, was simply out of the control of the Spartans. Ultimately, Wisconsin got to play in the Rose Bowl and Ohio State, the Sugar Bowl, while Michigan State ended up in the Capital One Bowl.
That situation should not resurface because in 2011, the Nebraska Cornhuskers become members of the Big Ten Conference. With the separation of the 12 teams into two divisions, the "Legends" and the "Leaders," a true Big Ten champion will emerge at the conclusion of the season in December.
Who has the best shot to win it all? No one really knows at this point. But take a look back at 2000-2011 conference competition and see whether it is likely that the past leaders will continue to dominate.
Perhaps the new format, along with the addition of the Cornhuskers in the Big Ten lineup, will change the pecking order of the traditional power brokers on the gridiron.