Ever since Nebraska joined the Big Ten and Colorado and Utah joined the Pac-10, no one has said much about how the conferences will be structured. Granted, the change can’t even happen this year so it isn’t a big deal, but what is the best natural fit for each conference? They obviously want a championship, so that requires to divisions of 6 teams each. Do you divide by geography? By rivalry? By seniority? What makes sense for each conference?
First let’s look at the Pac-12. They have 6 pairings of natural rivals…sort of. No one is going to suggest Utah and Colorado are rivals yet, but they’ll get there. So you obviously want to keep those rivalries in tact. That’s a given. Now, how do you sort out which pairs of rivals get in the same division? If you go geographically, Utah and Colorado are the farthest out from the others. It would make sense to put them with whoever is closest to them, the Arizona schools. Then the southern California schools are closest to them. That’s a six team division.
But divide the California schools? Shouldn’t those 4 be in one division? Since Utah and Colorado have a big trip ahead of them no matter who they play, why not group them with the Oregon and Washington schools? Then you keep the California schools together with their neighbors in Arizona. I believe this also keeps the divisions more competitive. That gives you Utah, Colorado, Washington, Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State in one division, and USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford, Arizona and Arizona State in the other division. Based on how things have been lately, this would create a pretty good rivalry between Utah and the Oregon schools as they would likely fight for that division each year. Plus the California rivalries would all be in tact. That all makes for some good watching.
The Big Ten is a bit more complicated. There are all sorts of pairings that people claim as “rivalries” that probably aren’t. There are a lot of trophies between different schools though. The good thing about the Big Ten is that they have essentially made divisions already. Every school is permanently assigned two other schools to play every year. They rotate through the others. Who plays who permanently?
* Illinois: Indiana, Northwestern
* Indiana: Illinois, Purdue
* Iowa: Minnesota, Wisconsin
* Michigan: Michigan State, Ohio State
* Michigan State: Michigan, Penn State
* Minnesota: Iowa, Wisconsin
* Northwestern: Illinois, Purdue
* Ohio State: Michigan, Penn State
* Penn State: Michigan State, Ohio State
* Purdue: Indiana, Northwestern
* Wisconsin: Iowa, Minnesota
This gives us a good three way rivalry of Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. It only makes sense that Nebraska would join them. Who should be the other two? Illinois should be there with Northwestern. Mostly because Northwestern’s closest rival is Illinois as they play for the Land of Lincoln Trophy each year. Those 6 make up the west division, leaving Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue to make up the east division.
These would surely be competitive divisions in football. The Nebraska/Iowa game would largely decide one champion, and the Penn State/Ohio State game would likely decide the other. But then you have Wisconsin and Michigan who would love to be spoilers in that formula. Either way, it makes for a great conference that has a shot at establishing itself ahead of the SEC.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the conference divisions end up looking this way.