The B1G Uglies: 3 Offseason Questions
Each week during the offseason, Phil Harrison, Bart Doan, and Terry Johnson discuss three hot topics on the minds of Big Ten football fans. It’s three guys with three opinions that could change the course of human history--or at least add some clarity to football being played in the Midwest. It’s the weekly B1G Uglies roundtable.
The B1G Uglies: 3 BIG TEN HOT TOPICS TO IMPRESS YOUR FRIENDS
(i) Should the conference division names change now that Maryland and Rutgers are all set to join the Big Ten in 2014?
This has been a topic that really lands solidly on the side of “who cares” for me. What’s more pressing is how can the Big Ten get the level of play up on the field. Still, since there seems to be some legs to this thing, and the Big Ten even reached out to fans this time for input (Delany you” for the people” guy you), I’ll say just keep the names the way they are?
Why you say? Well for one, it’s different than the standard compass descriptors, and though it’s polarizing to some for reasons I’ll never understand, it still gets people talking. It’s even resulted in each division being its own brand if you will. Secondly, leaving the names as they are won’t have us all discussing the need to change them again if and when further expansion might take place. The sentiment seems to be that the names need to at least have some semblance of geography involved, and nobody needs to tell you what complications that could involve if more teams join the league.
Instead, I say keep the names, but...wait for it...go out and get some corporate sponsors to stamp their name on them and generate more of the green stuff that runs the business that is college football these days. Yeah, I know it’s not exactly playing to the traditionalist in a lot of us, but this is the game now. Can you imagine the “Wendy’s Legends Division,” or the “Best Buy Leaders Division?” Maybe the better question is if I get some credit if this thing takes off? Quick, someone tweet this baby out to Jim Delany.
I don’t care if Rutgers, Maryland, O-Town or PETA joins the conference. Just change those names. Phil is right in that it really doesn’t matter. It’s not going to determine anything that happens on the field. And no one buys conference division tee-shirts anyways, so it’s much ado about nothing.
But after the Mountain West one-upped Delany in the “drinking and naming divisions” category, maybe the 10 needs a change to take the mantle back. But you understand where the B1G was coming from in the first place. The outside-the-box thinking has always been a hallmark of the Delany tenure, and naming divisions after directions really isn’t the B1G’s style. The B1G rarely does mundane and common as part of any of its decision making.
But again, as Phil said, it’s talking point fodder. It’d be nice to see the conference maybe harken back to its roots and name them after great coaches from the past (but then again, when they were first named, people had that idea and wanted to have Joe Paterno’s name...so maybe that’s not a great idea). Or they could go all the way back to the conference’s early days and pay homage to the first names of the conference, Big Nine and Western. The original name was Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives, but that seems a bit over the top for a division name. Whatever they are named, for one, it won’t matter, and for two, it won’t be boring.
I'll use a quote from Captain Rex Kramer who said, "No... that's just what they'll be expecting us to do."
All kidding aside, I'm surprised that this topic has received as much attention as it has. As Phil and Bart both correctly point out, the conference should be more worried about the on-field product than anything else.
But if we're going to look at the Big Ten brand, Jim Delany and company have earned the right to do whatever they think is best. After all, according to Forbes Magazine, the Big Ten is already the most valuable conference in the land.
As long as that type of revenue continues to pour in, no one will care what the division names or alignments are - unless the conference chooses to expand to sixteen teams.
(ii) What about the alignment of the two divisions once Maryland and Rutgers join? Do you simply add Rutgers to one and Maryland to the other, or shake things up and realign the whole deal?
I think it should be done ala the school yard playing ball on a hot summer Saturday afternoon. Look, if you’re going to just disregard regions and how much it costs these teams to travel (most college football teams are in the red), just line ‘em up and separate them based on talent.
Before you blast me and say that talent is fluid, I offer that really in college football, it’s not. Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska...they’ll have hiccups, but they’ll always be good. Purdue, Iowa, Illinois...they’ll go to a Rose Bowl here and there, but won’t crack that upper echelon. I know, I’m rude...but college football has been around for over 140 years. It is what it is.
Divide them up that way. Michigan is separate from Ohio State. Nebraska from Wisconsin or Penn State. Look at what you have after you do that, and try your best to put them regionally where they’ll have to travel the least. If there’s a way to get RU, PSU, and MD in the same side, that’s preferable.
Ditto with Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa. That makes the most sense from a competitive standpoint, makes the most sense from a logistical standpoint, and still provides a chance for middle of the pack traditionally programs not to have too tall of a wall to scale to reach that Pasadena peak.
Although many would like to see the conference reorganize with the addition of two new teams, the B1G should take a cue from the SEC. It should keep its existing divisional structure, placing Rutgers in one division and Maryland in the other.
Make no mistake about it: tradition actually means something to the Big Ten conference. When it expanded to twelve teams two years ago, Delany and company took considerable care to ensure that the league would keep its traditional rivalries intact, minimize travel, and promote competitive balance in each division. While it's not perfect, the current divisional alignment accomplishes all of these goals, especially with regard to preserving some of its most storied matchups.
Placing Rutgers and Maryland in the same division would completely disrupt that intricate balance. Having both of its new members in the same division guarantees that five Big Ten teams will play two fewer traditional rivals every season since they'll face the Scarlett Knights and Terrapins instead. Does the B1G really want to create league structure where some teams play both of the new members every year, while others will go twelve years between meetings? Wouldn't that contradict everything that the powers-that-be intended when they created the two divisions?
Yes, it would. That's why we should keep the existing league structure as it is, and place the new members in opposite divisions until the conference decides to expand again.
Okay,I’ll go mixed between Terry and Bart. I say let’s get this thing right while we’re tinkering under the hood this time. The first order of business has to be to restore the universe and put Michigan and Ohio State in the same division. Nobody should want to see a repeat of what the Pac-12 endured this year when Stanford and UCLA played an uninspired exhibition prior to the one that mattered a week later. It’s The Game. Let’s keep it that way.
Now for the rest. The underlying theme here should not be geography, but rather long-term, sustained competitive balance. To that end, you have OSU and Michigan already together. The other two “historic” programs are Nebraska and Penn State, but you can’t forget about Wisconsin who has been second behind Ohio State over the last decade or so. I say put Wisconsin and Nebraska in the same division, and fill in the rest by also ensuring that Penn State and Michigan State are split. Of course there is the ability to have a protected cross-over game for rivalries that might otherwise get eschewed (most notably MSU vs. Michigan). Here’s a quick look at how it would look:
That looks competitive enough with a large sample size, and wouldn’t be too bad on the ‘ole travel pocketbook. Oh yeah, get a corporate sponsor to name those things--(wink, wink, at the direction of one Mr. Jim Delany).
(iii) Which teams are the odds on favorite right now to win each division in 2013?
Fans will see plenty of red at the B1G Championship Game (and we’re not talking about the lack of making money).
Nebraska should win the Legends Division again this season. The ‘Huskers return ten starters on offense from last year’s squad, including Taylor Martinez, who led the B1G in both passing efficiency and total offense. A veteran O-Line will give the Big Red Machine enough firepower to offset any growing pains that a young (but talented) defense may go through this season.
On the other side of the conference, Ohio State is the overwhelming favorite. The Buckeyes were clearly the best team in the B1G last year (just ask Nebraska), and return 16 starters from that undefeated squad. With future Hall of Fame coach Urban Meyer roaming the sidelines, it’s hard to envision anyone overtaking OSU this season.
Though Northwestern and Michigan won’t roll over in the Legends division, I agree with Terry that Nebraska should be the team to beat on that side. There are a lot of returning pieces--more so than what Michigan has--and the talent is better than what Northwestern has returning. Taylor Martinez should take another step in improvement, and the defense can’t really get any worse can it? Lastly, the wedgie of an initiation Jim Delany and gang handed out to the ‘Huskers in the form of arguably the toughest schedule they could come up with eases a bit in 2013. Both Ohio State and Wisconsin drop off--likely the two best teams in the Leaders division. It all adds up to things going through Lincoln for the Legends crown.
And in line-step with Terry again, Ohio State has to be the team to beat on the Leaders side. The offense should be even more dynamic with more hair on the chest of Braxton Miller. He’ll be pulling the trigger for an Urban led game-plan with more weapons. The backfield is deep and the maturing wide-receivers showed the play-making ability that was missing in 2011. If there is a worry with the Buckeyes, it has to be on defense where the line will has to be renovated with newer parts. Gone is entire starting unit including John Simon and Johnathan Hankins. But there are some blue-chip youngsters that should be able to step up their game as full-time starters. And this time, Ohio State has been let out of the penalty box and can skate again.
Hey! See that in the corner over there? It’s a broken record! Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the favorites to win the B1G are Michigan and Ohio State. I don’t really see how that wouldn’t be the case, to be honest. Northwestern makes a compelling case in the Legends though, I will admit.
Ohio State was supposed to be just a team learning a drastically new system last year. Uh, it went 12-0. So it stands to reason this Ohio State offense will be more potent, and Braxton Miller will be better.
On defense, the Buckeyes have a veteran secondary to help break in a mostly new front seven aside from Ryan Shazier, and the division is in flux with most teams trending down. As for Michigan, it got a jump on 2013 when Denard Robinson went down against Nebraska. Devin Gardner is a better passer and should get better at reading when to run and when to throw. Blake Countess, the Wolverines’ top cover corner, returns after missing basically all of the year with a knee injury. There are issues for the Maize and Blue, namely running the ball as it wants to and needing a pass catcher to step up, but overall this is a much deeper Michigan football team than we’ve seen the last few years, and much more two dimensional on offense. Getting Nebraska at home should pave a way for a back-to-back version of The Game...albeit early to call that.
Follow Phil on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN, Bart @Bart_CFN, and Terry @TPJCollFootball