7-7-10: Big Ten (Plus) Alignment

Hello again everybody...

I hope you had a fantastic and safe holiday weekend. I'm back, feeling pretty well rested and refreshed. I also hope you still have all ten fingers and at least most of your eyebrows. I'm not a huge fireworks person myself, so I'm all good.

The All-Star rosters came out over the weekend, and it was my initial intention to compare and contrast them to my ballot today, but I got into an email exchange with Lon in Forest Lake that got me a little sidetracked. So instead, I'll kick the All-Star roster debate til Monday. That'll work out just dandy since by then we'll know the result of the “Final Vote” (go to and Vote Delmon!) and we should have the vast majority of roster-tweaks due to injury and “that pitcher pitched on Sunday, so by rule he can't pitch in the All-Star Game”-type stuff ironed out.

(Hey, I didn't make the rule, but don't think that teams aren't making sure certain guys pitch on Sunday because they don't want them risking injury in an exhibition game.)

Today? We're talking college football. I know, I know. It's early July. Why on earth am I bringing it up now?

One word... fear.

I've been kicking around some Big Ten (Plus) divisional alignment ideas for some time now, and I want to get them down in column-form before the league goes and announces their official alignments and screws me out of a topic of discussion!

So let's get to the aligning...

Right after the quote.

”If I had my life to live again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner.”
- Tallulah Bankhead (1903 - 1968), American actress, talk-show host, and bon vivant

Right? Get them out of the way? Gain your wisdom more quickly? Ah, but Ms. Bankhead didn't take into account the likelihood that making the same mistakes more quickly only frees you up to make more mistakes! Think about it...

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Big Ten Alignment

A few months ago, before we learned that Nebraska would be come the 12th member of the Big Ten (Plus) conference - heck, it was even before the Big Ten (Plus) announced it was “exploring expansion possibilities” - I put together a plan to add a 12th team and align the Big Ten (Plus) into two six-team divisions and create a conference championship game.

Why do I bring this up now? Because I got an email over the weekend asking to have that plan emailed to Lon in Forest Lake who was vacationing in Omaha, Nebraska, and discussing the Cornhuskers' future in the Big Ten with the relatives.

I hadn't looked at the plan in months, and sent it with the HUGE caveat that it didn't take Nebraska's addition into account. In fact, I think my fix had the Big Ten adding one of the MAC teams from Michigan as the 12th member. So clearly my plan needed some tweaking, and after a few emails back and forth with Lon, I think I've got something that works. And that led me to the idea of sharing it with you, my fine readers.

Let's break this down.

First off, we have to dismiss the notion that the teams have to be divided according to geography. If we can keep teams geographically grouped, fine, but more important than proximity is competitive balance.

That means we want to balance the “power” teams as best we can. When you look at the Big Ten (Plus) there are four “power” football programs: Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State.

What's that you say?! You're shocked that I'm not including Wisconsin? Let's face facts, folks. Wisconsin is in the upper half of the league on a consistent basis, but they simply don't have the history, the national recognition or the simple cache of the four teams I've listed. As for the rest of the league... you're kidding right? I mean *maybe* you could make a case for Iowa, but I don't think their case is any better than Wisconsin's.

Since we have four “power” teams, it's easy to split them into two sets of two. Michigan and Ohio State have a long-standing rivalry. That makes them easy to pair together. Plus, since they play each other every year as their last regular season league game, putting them in the same division guarantees we won't have Michigan/OSU two weeks in a row (last regular season game, and championship game).

So if we put Michigan and Ohio State in one division, that means Nebraska and Penn State have to go in the other division. Remember when I mentioned that we couldn't be slaves to geography? Well there aren't two teams in the Big Ten (Plus) more geographically-removed than Nebraska and Penn State. That being said, the two teams do have a history. They've met 13 times, actually, with the Nitany Lions holding a 7-6 advantage in the series. Even when the two teams haven't played each other, they've made history. Think back to 1994. The BCS was still four years off. Two teams finished that season undefeated. But since there was no system to play off the #1 team versus the #2 team, they didn't play each other in a bowl game. Nebraska was voted first in both polls giving them the National Championship. The team that finished #2? Penn State.

All right, so far we've got one division with OSU and Michigan, and another with Penn St. and Nebraska. That leaves 8 more teams to divide up. While I've pointed out that we shan't be slaves to geography, it's worth trying to use it as a guide when we can. To that end, let's go ahead and put Michigan State in the same division as OSU and Michigan.

Next up, I want to assign the cluster of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa in the same division. Those three teams have significant history. Wisconsin and Minnesota have the longest running series in all of college football. Minnesota and Iowa have a “last game of the season” series similar to Michigan/OSU. Plus they've got the "Floyd of Rosedale" trophy, and any Trophy Game that involves a bronze pig is worth keeping! So which division do we put them in?

Again, looking at history, Minnesota and Nebraska have plenty. The two teams have played 51 times with the Gophers holding a 29-20-2 advantage over the Cornhuskers. But before Gopher Nation gets too excited about that stat, let's point out that Nebraska has won the last 14 in a row. The last five times they've played? 56-0, 48-0, 38-7, 84-13, and 54-0. All in favor of Nebraska. In fact you have to go back to 1960 to find the last time the Gophers beat the Huskers.

Iowa also has a significant history with Nebraska. Those two schools have played 31 times with the Huskers owning a 22-8-1 lead in that series.

Wisconsin has only played Nebraska 5 times, with the Huskers owning a 3-2 lead in the series. But the Badgers do have ties to Nebraska. Wisconsin A.D. Barry Alvarez learned at the feet of one of college football's masters, Nebraska A.D. (and legendary coach) Dr. Tom Osborne. That's enough of a connection for me.

Put all that together, and I like putting those three schools in the same division as Nebraska and Penn State.

So that leaves us with Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in one division, and Penn State, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin in the other.

That leaves us with four remaining teams to divide amongst the two divisions: Indiana, Purdue, Illinois and Northwestern. Here's where we have to give up on geography again. Ideally, you'd put the two Indiana schools in one division and the two Illinois schools in the other. But if you do that, that means you've got to separate one of the Minnesota/Iowa/Wisconsin teams from the other two. And keeping the Indiana and Illinois pairings together isn't important enough to do that in my mind. Plus, there's a work-around I'll explain in a bit.

Really, you could flip a coin to pick which pairing to split up. Me? I'm splitting the Illinois schools. Northwestern has always been the red-headed step-child of Big Ten (Plus) football, so that's what decided it for me. Flimsy? Probably. But I had to pick something! I do, however, like the Milwaukee/Chicago vibe between Wisconsin and Northwestern, so I'll put the Wildcats in with Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.

Here then, are my two divisions:

Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, and Illinois


Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Northwestern

Oh, but we're not done.

That “work-around” I mentioned a couple of paragraphs earlier? The SEC has a schedule template that I think the Big Ten (Plus) should emulate.

Each team plays four non-conference games, five games against division opponents, one game against an annual inter-division rival and two games against a rotating list of teams from the other division.

That “annual inter-division rival” is how we work around splitting up the Illinois schools, as well as maintaining as many Trophy Games as we can. Here's how I would pair them:

Michigan vs. Minnesota - The Little Brown Jug (no Hammer, I don't care how many times Michigan has won it, I'm not calling it “The Little Maize and Blue Jug”). This trophy goes back to 1903. That kind of tradition has to be maintained.

Illinois vs. Northwestern - This is our “work-around” game. It makes sure the two Illinois schools play each other every year. Plus it keeps the “Land of Lincoln” trophy game intact. Okay, that trophy was only invented in 2009, but still, it's worth saving I say!

Michigan State vs. Penn State - The Land Grant Trophy doesn't have a huge history either (it started in 1993), but I want to keep as many Trophy games as possible, so let's pair these two up, shall we?

Three more games to go... I'm tempted to put Ohio State and Nebraska together, but if Penn State and Michigan are matched up against lesser programs, it's probably not fair to pair the Buckeyes and the Cornhuskers. How about we go with...

Ohio State vs. Iowa and Nebraska vs. Indiana. The Hoosiers are one of the few Big Ten (Plus) teams with a winning record against Nebraska, so that works. I've got no explanation for Buckeyes/Hawkeyes, really. It just sounds good.

That leaves Wisconsin vs. Purdue as the final annual inter-division game. Again, not a ton of cache to this game, but these two schools have matched up in some barn-burners over the last decade or so, so why not?

So we've got divisions, inter-division rivals and the basics of a workable schedule worked out. What else do we need? Division names of course!

Not that it's an easy task to come up with some. Remember, because I'm not tying myself to the notion of geography, that means that the classics like North/South and East/West don't make a lot of sense. The ACC goes with Coastal/Atlantic. I guess we could try something like that, but nobody can remember which teams go in what division in that league. If that's the case, why not give the division names some meaning.

My thought? Hockey fans often complain about how much they preferred the old Conference/Division names to the current generic ones. I mean seriously, would you rather play in the “Central” or the “Norris” divisions? Of course you go with “Norris”!

So let's follow that model and name the two divisions after legendary Big Ten (Plus) figures. At first I thought we'd go with coaches. But if you go with “Schembechler”, Ohio State fans will riot. And Michigan fans would do likewise if you went with “Hayes”. In the other division, Paterno is still coaching, so that wouldn't work, and Nebraska just got here, so “Osborne” is out too.

My solution? Go with players. And when you think of legendary Big Ten (Plus) players, the first name that comes to mind is Archie Griffin. The only two-time Heisman Award winner in NCAA history is a natural for this honor. But wait, he's a Buckeye. Won't Wolverine fans go crazy? Did I mention that Griffin is the only guy to win two Heismans? Yeah, not even Michigan fans can argue with that.

So Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois will now be the “Griffin Division”.

The other division isn't quite as easy. There were two options I considered. The first was Iowa's Nile Kinnick, who won the Heisman in 1939 and was training to become a Naval aviator when he was killed in an accident in 1943. Heisman + War Hero? That's a pretty powerful combination. But Kinnick already has a stadium in Hawkeye-land named after him.

So instead I decided to go with Alan Ameche. Call me a homer if you want - you probably wouldn't be far off - but Wisconsin's Ameche won the Heisman in 1954, was a 3-time All-American, is one of only 6 Badgers to have his number retired and one of only four whose name and number appear on the facade of Camp Randall Stadium. If you can find a player with a better resume from the teams in that division (remember, Nebraska doesn't count - they're too new), I'd love to hear it.

So Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Northwestern become the “Ameche Division”.

Look, there's less than no chance that the Big Ten (Plus) are going to go with any player names, much less those player names. Sadly, they'll likely name them after Great Lakes, or some such geographical nonsense. But until they do, I'm sticking with my choices!

There you have it then. My plan to align the 12 Big Ten (Plus) teams into two six-team divisions.

Did I leave something out? Is there some glaring flaw you've noticed in my logic? Post a comment and let me know!

That wraps things up for today. I'll be back on Friday to get you Updated.

Until then, thanks for reading!


  1. Sounds fair. But, I'd would have liked to have had the Husker play the Buckeyes for the newly-created "Big Red Bull" trophy game, sponsored by Big Red chewing gum and Red Bull energy drinks.

  2. How dare you steal my idea for the Wisconsin/Nebraska game (which would also occur annually under this plan) and apply it to the Buckeyes?!

  3. And are you going to forward this wonderful piece to those Nebraska relatives?

  4. When the Gophers win the jug and actually hold on to it for a period longer than a year then I'll call it by it's intended name. Until then it's the little Maize & Blue jug for me.

  5. If someone wants to send the link to Nebraska, I can't stop them. But I'm not going to be the one to do it!

    Hammer, you call it whatever you like. I'm just saying that I'm not going to call it that!