For the second time in four years, divisional realignment is coming to the Big Ten.
In preparation for the arrival of Maryland and Rutgers, the Big Ten has announced a new divisional format that will kick in for the 2014 season. Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, and Rutgers form the Eastern Division, while Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, and Wisconsin make up the Western division.
The new alignment emphasizes geography over historic balance, and it also does a fairly good job of preserving the conference’s many historic rivalries. The league will also transition to a nine-game league schedule in 2016, and with the exception of Indiana-Purdue, all of the permanent cross-divisional rivalries have been eliminated.
Some thoughts on the Big Ten’s realignment plan:
1. No more Legends and Leaders Divisions.
Bowl season hasn’t been kind to the Big Ten in recent years, and with the conference struggling throughout the 2012 campaign, it will take some doing to reverse that trend. Still, some impressive offensive talents will get their chances to shine on the New Year’s Day stage.
This trio has the best prospects of earning some bowl-game pride for their beleaguered conference:
1. Venric Mark, Northwestern
By far the most evenly matched of the conference’s five New Year’s bowls pits No. 20 Northwestern against Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. The Bulldogs aren’t the best defense in the mighty SEC, but they’ll give the Wildcats a tougher test than most of the opponents they’ve faced in a 9-3 season.
The offensive hero for NU has been tailback Venric Mark, who piled up more than 1,400 yards from scrimmage and led the nation with 20.1 yards per punt return. The MSU defense will need to contain the lightning-fast Mark at all costs. Even so, it’s a good bet that he’ll still get the 148 all-purpose yards he needs to eclipse Damien Anderson’s school record for a season.
2. Montee Ball, Wisconsin
At first glance, the Nebraska Cornhuskers look like they shouldn’t need to break a sweat to win the Big Ten championship game over the Wisconsin Badgers. After all, Nebraska is 10-2 and ranked 12th in the country, while the unranked Badgers are a mere 7-5 (4-4 in conference play).
However, Wisconsin came perilously close to upsetting the Huskers on their home field, losing in Lincoln only after a 17-point Nebraska comeback, and only by a three-point margin. In neutral Indianapolis, Bret Bielema’s team has a real chance to pull the upset and advance to a BCS bowl.
Here are five keys for Wisconsin if it hopes to come out on top at Lucas Oil Stadium:
1. Trust Montee Ball
Ball is the heart and soul of the Wisconsin offense, having rushed for more yards (1,528) than any Badger quarterback has thrown for this year. In the first meeting with the Huskers, though, he had a rough second half capped by a midfield fumble that sealed the Nebraska win.
You are all decked out with your new Ohio State Jacket and hat. Then a Michigan fan walks by with that big cocky smile, boasting about Michigan’s win in “The Game” last year. You think about how on earth this person could be fooled into being a Michigan fan. So you start to think of things to tell him, just to give him a friendly reminder of why your precious Buckeyes should be the ones with the cocky attitudes. From the perspective of a biased Ohio State fan, Denard Robinson would be considered worse than Braxton Miller. (B. Miller: 56.8% Completion, 14 TD Passing 6 INT; 1214 yards rushing with 13 TDs. D. Robinson: 53.6% Completion, 9 TD Passing 9 INT; 1044 yards rushing with 6 TDs this season.) You tell the Michigan fan this and he has a lot to say back to you.
He says that even though Denard Robinson hasn’t lived up to his Heisman potential this year, he has made a great impact at Michigan. He retaliates, “Miller can’t throw the ball!”
You look at him with curiousity on why he would think such a thing. You try to come up with a comeback. “Oh yah? Well….. umm… Denard Robinson sucks!” Then it hits you. He doesn’t suck.
The University of Maryland’s Board of Trustees voted to accept an invitation to become the Big Ten’s 13th member on Monday. Rutgers is then expected to announce their move to the Big Ten on Tuesday, which will round out the conference with 14 schools. From the moment the rumors of a potential move from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten began about a week ago, Maryland fans were starting to form their opinions about leaving their beloved ACC.
On paper, the move to the Big Ten makes perfect sense for Maryland. Their athletic program has been bleeding cash in recent years, and the Big Ten offers far more revenue for the school then the ACC does. The Big Ten also has the added luxury of the Big Ten Network to further increase revenue, and that their other TV deals expire in 2017, giving them a chance to negotiate a new deal far sooner than any other conference can.