Eliminating divisions: How would the Big Ten fare?


ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg and Andrea Adelson addressed the idea of eliminating divisions this week. So, as part of a conference-wide series, we at the Big Ten blog decided to see how that would specifically impact the conference.

It's pretty easy to conclude that teams in the East would wind up better off with no divisions -- and the West would suffer -- but we decided to delve in a little deeper by pointing to the three teams that would benefit the most and the three that would be hurt the most:

Three teams most hurt

1. Wisconsin Badgers

No team would be more harmed by the absence of divisions than the Badgers. Sure, with divisions, they've been able to make three B1G championship appearances in the past four years. But without divisions? They would've made only one appearance, on a tiebreaker in 2011. Playing Michigan State and Ohio State more often certainly wouldn't be beneficial, either: Of the last four meetings against each program, Wisconsin has been able to win only one game combined.

2. Iowa Hawkeyes

The Hawkeyes have boasted three winning seasons over the past four years. Take away the divisions, though, and that streak likely wouldn't have held up. Iowa had an easy slate last season thanks to the division alignment -- and was often labeled a division dark horse as a result -- but still struggled, with conference losses to Maryland, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes' 7-5 regular-season record could've easily turned to .500 or worse, if they played Michigan State or Ohio State. Iowa is the Big Ten's definition of average, but a harder schedule with no divisions could push the program to a few notches below that.

3. Nebraska Cornhuskers

You could just as easily go with Minnesota here, but the Huskers have the edge because of bigger expectations. Nebraska fans aren't satisfied with four-loss records, and the path to the Big Ten championship becomes markedly harder without any divisions. Right now, Nebraska really has to contend only with the Gophers and Badgers. Throw Michigan State, Ohio State and an improving Penn State and Michigan into the mix, and all bets are off. It wouldn't be impossible for Nebraska to make a B1G championship appearance, but it certainly wouldn't be any easier.

Three teams most helped

1. Michigan State Spartans

Does this one really need to be explained? Michigan State was clearly the second-best team in the conference last season and would've played Ohio State in a coveted rematch in the Big Ten title game ... if there were no divisions. Alas, the Spartans were instead forced to watch on TV as OSU decimated Wisconsin 59-0. They could find themselves in a similar position this season -- or could put the Badgers in that unenviable position. Having no divisions almost guarantees more B1G championship appearances for Michigan State.

2. Penn State Nittany Lions

Like Michigan, the Nittany Lions are one of the "haves" of the college football world. They have the money, the resources and the coveted coach necessary to take them to the next level. Unlike Michigan, they wouldn't have to deal with Ohio State every year if there were no divisions. The fact is, without divisions, it becomes easier for East teams like Penn State to make the conference title game.

3. Maryland Terrapins/Rutgers Scarlet Knights

These newcomers almost don't stand a chance in the East. At least not yet. Rutgers and Maryland boasted the hardest conference schedules in the Big Ten last season, and both lost big to the B1G's best. (The two schools fell to Ohio State and Michigan State by an average of 33 points in four combined meetings.) The Knights and Terps performed admirably in their first seasons in their new league, but bowl eligibility would be a lot easier to come by with no divisions and the accompanying easier schedules.