In the second season after Nebraska turned the Big Ten into a 12-team league, it had appeared that the conference would be one of the few bastions of stability among the shifting winds of college sports realignment. Now, however, it appears the question of Big Ten expansion has been reopened.
ESPN reports that the Big Ten is in serious talks with both Maryland (a founding member of the ACC) and Rutgers (ditto for the Big East as far as football is concerned) about joining the league. The putative 14-team conference would then have its first foothold on the Atlantic coast to go with its traditional Midwestern power base.
Assessed purely as a financial decision (admittedly the primary driving force of the entire realignment maelstrom), the addition of both schools makes some sense. Maryland offers access to Washington, D.C. as a television market, while Rutgers does the same for New York City, and a bigger conference will inevitably have more bargaining power for TV contracts in any case.
While the Big Ten Conference, with the exceptions of Ohio State and Penn State, has been disappointing as a whole this season, a number of schools still have the opportunities to have excellent seasons.
With both Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for postseason or a conference championship, the Big Ten Leaders division will likely fall to Wisconsin even if is by default. Regarded prior to the season as a team that could compete for the national championship, the Badgers have been to many, a disappointment.
If Wisconsin however, were able to rise to the occasion on December 1st and win the Big Ten, the Badgers would reach the Rose Bowl for a third consecutive season. That's something that has never been done in Wisconsin history. No Big Ten school has played in the Rose Bowl in three consecutive years since Michigan did it from 1977-79.
The burden of being a top-tier college football player is that when your team is in a jam, you’re the one who has to make the game-changing plays. With virtually every Big Ten game this week carrying conference title implications, several of the league’s elite will be facing high-stakes situations as they try to keep their squads in contention.
These three standouts will be up against especially daunting tasks in Saturday’s action:
Joe Gaglione, Iowa
Iowa’s unexpected 2-0 start in conference play owes a lot to a defense that’s allowed a combined 29 points in two Big Ten games. The heart of that defense has been senior defensive end Joe Gaglione, with his eight tackles for loss and four sacks, but he’ll need to play even bigger than usual on Saturday.
After four weeks of (mostly) getting beaten about the head and shoulders by the rest of the country, the Big Ten’s top teams breathe a sigh of relief and head into conference play this weekend. The race to the league title game in Indianapolis is complicated this year by the fact that two of the six teams in the Leaders division (including undefeated Ohio State) are ineligible to win it thanks to NCAA sanctions.
With that in mind, here are the teams whose chances of making it to Indy could swing the furthest, for better or worse, on Saturday:
1. Wisconsin Badgers
Even after an embarrassing loss to Oregon State dropped them from the Top 25, the Badgers are in the best position to win the Leaders division title. Of course, that will change in a hurry if they don’t look like the Badgers of old against No. 22 Nebraska in Lincoln.