B1G Power Rankings – Week of 10/20

We’re back for another B1G season!  Throughout the 2014 season, I’ll be ranking the Big Ten schools 1-14.  To see where your team was ranked last week, click here.  As always, if you think I’m right, wrong, or clinically insane, let me know in the comments.

Prepare to disagree…

  1. Michigan State.  Another week, another convincing win.  It will be interesting to see if the Spartans overlook “big brother” Michigan for Ohio State.
  2. Ohio State.  For those keeping score at home, in Ohio State’s first games against Rutgers and Maryland, the Buckeyes won by a combined 108 – 41.  Welcome to the neighborhood!
  3. Minnesota.  The Gophers needed a late field goal to survive the game with Purdue.  Husker fans would probably like to see me punish Minnesota for that, but let’s wait and see what Nebraska does with Purdue first.
  4. Nebraska.  So much for the history of close games in the Battle for NU.  The red NU (wearing all white) overcame a slow first half to completely dominate the purple NU (wearing all black) in the second half.
  5. Wisconsin.  I was tempted to put Maryland in the #5 spot, but I can’t punish the Badgers for being idle.  That said, Wisconsin will need to take care of the Terps to keep this post (or more higher).
  6. Maryland.  The Terps beat Iowa in a classic “not as close as the final score indicates” game.  I’m not sure they’re the sixth best team in this league, but I’m also not sure they’re worse than anybody below them.
  7. English: Big Ten Conference logo since 2010.

    (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Iowa.  Are the Hawkeyes a contender for the West title?  They’re off this week before starting a five week tour of the West where 5-0 (or possibly 4-1) could get them to Indy.

  8. Northwestern.  As the second half of the Nebraska game proved, Northwestern doesn’t have upper tier talent.  But as the first half showed, the Wildcats can play good against anybody.  Their remaining conference road is probably the easiest of any West school.
  9. Rutgers.  After getting smacked around by Ohio State, Rutgers faces Nebraska for the first time since the 1920’s.  Clearly revenge will be on the Scarlet Knights’ minds when they roll into Lincoln.
  10. Purdue.  Their 1-3 conference record doesn’t show it, but the Boilermakers are likely the most improved team in the conference.  After playing 3-0 Minnesota to a one point loss, it will be interesting to see what they do with an extra week to prepare for Nebraska.
  11. Penn State.  Ohio State is putting up big points against everybody in October.  Can Penn State avoid the blowout – or possibly pull off a home upset?  Probably not, but I’ve been wrong before.
  12. Michigan.  Can the wounded Wolverines regain some lost pride and upset their little brother?  This is one of the two games left on the schedule that can save Brady Hoke’s job.
  13. Indiana.  Can the Hoosiers get to a bowl game?  They need to find three wins against a schedule of Michigan, Penn State, Rutgers, Ohio State, and Purdue.  It’s doable, they’ll need to get hot.
  14. Illinois.  The best sign that you’re the bottom of the league?  It’s October and speculation on your next coach has already started.

B1G Power Rankings – Week of 10/13

We’re back for another B1G season!  Throughout the 2014 season, I’ll be ranking the Big Ten schools 1-14.  To see where your team was ranked last week, click here.  As always, if you think I’m right, wrong, or clinically insane, let me know in the comments.

Prepare to disagree…

  1. Michigan State.  The Spartans did what the top team is supposed to do:  win.  I’m not real sure what to make of Purdue hanging 31 on Michigan State, but we’ll let that slide.
  2. Ohio State.  It’s really too bad that Ohio State was off this week.  If they would have traded bye weeks with Penn State, the weekend’s Big Ten schedule would have been composed only of “original” Big Ten teams as Nebraska, Maryland, and Rutgers were all off.  But since the conference struggles with scheduling, I’m not that surprised.
  3. Minnesota.  By knocking off the Wildcats, Minnesota has claimed the title of “Surprise team in the West”.  I expect the Gophers to hold that title for the rest of the month (Purdue this week and at Illinois), before a grueling November schedule hits.  Until then, let’s reward the Gophers with the #3 spot.
  4. Nebraska.  This is a critical game in Nebraska’s season.  Coming off of a loss and a bye week, Nebraska needs to beat Northwestern to stay in the hunt for the division title.  But this series is known for close, competitive games (a cumulative difference of 1 point in the last three meetings).  The edge might be if Nebraska has home field advantage in Evanston like they did in 2012.
  5. Wisconsin.  The Badgers took care of Illinois and are rewarded with a week off before welcoming both of the new schools to the league.  This is about the time where Wisconsin really starts to hit stride.

    English: Big Ten Conference logo since 2010.

    (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  6. Northwestern.  Admittedly, I am probably punishing Northwestern a little too much for a seven point loss to Minnesota, but I’m just not sure what to make of Northwestern.  The “Battle for NU” should be a close, competitive game.
  7. Rutgers.  Rutgers enters into the hazing portion of their Big Ten initiation tour with their next three games at Ohio State, at Nebraska, and against Wisconsin.  This is where Rutgers can validate this relatively high ranking or watch it plummet.
  8. Iowa.  I still maintain that Iowa v. Maryland sounds more like a December 30th bowl game than a Big Ten Conference clash.  The Hawkeyes are in need of a good challenge, and I think the Terps could provide it.
  9. Maryland.  Let’s see how Maryland reacts to their first conference smack down as they host Iowa.  This is one of those games that helps provide clarity in the middle of the pack.
  10. Purdue.  It may seem strange to promote the Boilermakers after giving up 45 in a loss, but in a head-to-head match up with any of the schools below, I’d probably pick Purdue.
  11. Penn State.  A loss to Michigan really hurts.  Yeah, Penn State probably got screwed by the refs on another call.  (That sound you hear is Husker fans still bitter over 1982 muttering “karma”).  Regardless, these are the games that Penn State needs to win.
  12. Indiana.  Bad news: the Hoosiers get beat up by Iowa.  Worse news:  they play Michigan State this weekend.  Worst news:  on Monday, they lost their starting QB for the season.  How long until basketball season?
  13. Michigan.  A much-needed win should calm the fires over the bye week (until Sparty drops gasoline over everything).  Although I’m not a fan of the show, I appreciated Michigan’s QB corps showing their excitement for the return of “The Walking Dead”, by limping around for three hours Saturday night.
  14. Illinois.  Simply put, the Illini are the worst team in this league.  For my money, it’s not even close.

B1G Power Rankings – Week of 10/6

We’re back for another B1G season!  Throughout the 2014 season, I’ll be ranking the Big Ten schools 1-14.  To see where your team was ranked last week, click here.  As always, if you think I’m right, wrong, or clinically insane, let me know in the comments.

Prepare to disagree…

  1. Michigan State.  The Spartans had an excellent game plan against Nebraska and executed it very well for two or three quarters before they got bored and almost lost the game.  Still, I didn’t any reason to knock them from the top spot.  Sparty probably won’t be challenged for the rest of the month.
  2. Ohio State.  Hello, Maryland.  To welcome you to the league, we’d like to light up your scoreboard with 52 points.  The Bucks get a week off to prepare for the other B1G newbies.
  3. Nebraska.  It seems odd to move a team up in the rankings when they a) lost and b) looked poor for most of the game in doing so.  In theory, I agree, but it helps that the team in front of them (Wisconsin) lost to a team that is not as good at Michigan State.  The Huskers also get a week off to prepare for the NU-NU grudge match.
  4. Minnesota.  Minnesota’s lone loss (a 30-7 beating at TCU) looks a lot better after TCU knocked off Oklahoma.  The game with Northwestern should provide some clarity as to which West division upstart is a legitimate threat.
  5. Northwestern.  So let’s get this straight:  the Wildcats allow Melvin Gordon to rush for 259 and a touchdown, and they still win?  If Northwestern is going to contend for the West title, they’ll earn it in their next three games (at Minnesota, Nebraska, at Iowa).  Get past those and they can coast to Indy.
  6. Rutgers.  I’m still not real sure what to make of Rutgers.  Four of their six games have been decided by a touchdown or less, which means they are a few bounces away from 6-0 or 2-4.  The game with Ohio State in two weeks should provide some answers.
  7. Maryland.  TheTerps got thumpedgood by Ohio State – probably out of anger inspired by Maryland’s ugly uniforms.  They get to lick their wounds for a week before taking on the Hawkeyes.

    Maryland, the Big Ten has a strict dress code. These things are clearly in violation. (image via Washington Post)

  8. Wisconsin.  So let’s get this straight:  Melvin Gordon rushes for 259 yards and a touchdown and they lose?  Look for the Badgers to take out some frustrations against Illinois.  And considering how bad the Illini rush defense is, don’t be surprised to see Gordon put up 300 yards.
  9. Iowa.  Having successfully defeated the bye week, Iowa turns their attention towards the Hoosiers.  The loser will definitely find themselves in the double digits of these rankings.
  10. Penn State.  For a team with the depth issues that Penn State has, a bye week is a welcome chance to rest and heal.  Unfortunately, their schedule has them off, at Michigan, and off again before six straight games to end the season.  That is rough.
  11. Purdue.  Look at you, Purdue!  Last year you had to wait until late November before you won a conference game.  If you could play Illinois every week you’d make the Rose Bowl!
  12. Indiana.  It’s Hoosiers v. Hawkeyes in the battle of “which team is a potential cellar dweller”.
  13. Michigan.  I’m not sure what is more surprising:  that Michigan almost won, that Brady Hoke is still employed, or that the Wolverines made it through a game without any scandals.
  14. Illinois.  Having lost to Purdue, Illinois’ best chance for a conference win will be hoping that Penn State is so beat up on Nov. 22 that they can steal a W.  Until then, I’m not seeing much hope for the Illini.

B1G Power Rankings – Week of 9/29

We’re back for another B1G season!  Throughout the 2014 season, I’ll be ranking the Big Ten schools 1-14.  In case you missed my pre-conference season predictions, click here.  As always, if you think I’m right, wrong, or clinically insane, let me know in the comments.

Prepare to disagree…

  1. Michigan State.  The Spartans crushed three inferior non-conference opponents and lost to a top 5 team by 19 points.  That really doesn’t tell me how good they are, but I still think they are the class of the conference.
  2. Ohio State.  I’ll admit that the Buckeyes are ranked this high partially based on reputation.  Another part is the sweet take down of a fan by their strength coach.  But since that former Buckeye linebacker has exhausted his eligibility, we should learn a lot about this team when they travel to Maryland to officially welcome the Terps to the league.
  3. Wisconsin.  Much like Michigan State, we really don’t know too much about the Badgers.  They too have beaten up the non-con opponents they should beat and barely lost to a top 15 team.  But with Wisconsin, they may not be tested until the end of October.
  4. Nebraska.  Yeah, the Huskers are probably too low, but I’ve been underwhelmed with the teams they have played.  Don’t worry, the Huskers will have every opportunity to make a big jump Saturday night in East Lansing.
  5. Maryland.  Kudos to the Terrapins on being the first B1G expansion team to win their debut since Penn State.  Granted, it was against Indiana, but it still counts.  To go 2-0, they’ll need to beat Ohio State at home.
  6. Minnesota.  A lot of attention has been paid to Michigan practically giving away tickets to watch the Gophers, as well as the tire fire surround that program.  Meanwhile, few are giving credit to Minnesota for going into Ann Arbor and taking care of business.  That is what teams in the upper half of the conference are supposed to do.

    “You are looking live at the Big House in Ann Arbor, MI”

  7. Iowa.  Like the Gophers, Iowa faced a struggling team on the road in a stadium that was below capacity.  But beating Purdue by two touchdowns is not as impressive to me.
  8. Northwestern.  Raise your hand if you saw the 29-6 win over Penn State coming.  No, seriously.  Are the Wildcats going to rally from a 1-2 start to put together a strong season?  Well…let’s wait until after they play Wisconsin before making any declarations.
  9. Penn State.  Bad news:  with a bye week coming up, the Nitany Lions have to chew on that Northwestern loss for two weeks.  Good news:  Penn State’s next opponent is Michigan, so they probably can take most of this week off.
  10. Rutgers.  I feel like I have Rutgers too low as their only loss was by three points at Penn State in their conference debut.  We probably won’t learn too much until October 18 (at Ohio State) as the Scarlet Knights do not play anybody the next two weeks.  Oops…my bad.  Rutgers hosts Michigan this week.  Same difference.
  11. Indiana.  Who is this team?  Are they the ones who beat a ranked SEC team (even if it was Missouri)?  Or are they the ones who lost their conference opener by three touchdowns?
  12. Purdue.  Once again, the Boilermakers again find themselves in their familiar 12th place slot.  The good news is there are now 14 teams in the conference.  So they’ve got that going for them.  Of course, losing to Illinois next week will change that in a hurry.
  13. Michigan.  What a rough week for the Wolverines.  First the buy two Cokes, get two tickets promotion made the program a national laughingstock.  Then, they look bad at home against Minnesota.  Now, there are big questions about Brady Hoke putting his players in risk.  If Hoke is still employed on November 1, (they host Michigan State on 10/25) it will be a minor miracle.
  14. Illinois.  With all that said, why aren’t the Wolverines in last place?  Like Michigan, Illinois is a bad team with a coach unlikely to be employed in 2015.  But here is the key difference:  Michigan has enough talent on their roster to squeak out a win on athleticism alone.  Illinois is rather devoid of talent – especially at the skill positions – and their defense is giving up an average of 35 points a game.

Rejected Big 10 Divisions

On Friday, Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delaney announced that the much maligned Legends and Leaders divisions will mercifully go away for the 2014 season.  Legends and Leaders will be replaced by simple, geographically oriented divisions known simply as “East” and “West”.

Thank God.

Not only was the original idea of splitting the conference up by non-geographic means ridiculous, the Legends and Leaders names were confusing – I guarantee there are passionate Big Ten fans out there who could not name the schools in their division, let alone remember if they were a Leader or a Legend.  But what bothered me the most was how incredibly arrogant those names sounded for a conference that already has a very strong “holier-than-thou” stigma.

I was in touch with one of my contacts at the Big Ten offices (a janitor named Rusty) who was kind enough to grab some of the rejected alignment maps out of the trash can, and send them over to me.

Here are the divisional alignments that were considered, but ultimately rejected:

Reds & Rainbow
Schools are divided by their primary school color, with the red teams in one division and the other colors of the rainbow on the other side.

Red Rainbow
Indiana Illinois
Maryland Iowa
Nebraska Michigan
Ohio State Michigan State
Rutgers Northwestern
Wisconsin Penn State

B1G Skittles, anyone?

*Yes, I know Minnesota’s colors are maroon and gold, but I needed seven in each division and maroon was the closest to red of the remaining schools.

Much like the “logic” used by Delaney when Wisconsin was initially sent to the Leaders division, you’ll going to have to cut me some slack on some of these as I work to get seven teams in each division. 

Haves and Have Nots
The schools are split based upon their football ticket revenues.  (Much thanks to the Cedar Rapids Gazette for the numbers)

Cash Cows Charity Cases
Iowa Illinois
Michigan Indiana
Michigan State Maryland
Nebraska Minnesota
Ohio State Northwestern*
Penn State Purdue
Wisconsin Rutgers

*As a private school, Northwestern did not have to submit their ticket revenue numbers, but you would have a tough time convincing me that they beat out any of the top seven teams.

Animals & Others
All schools with animals for mascots versus the schools with people, tree nuts, and other unknown things as their mascot.

Animals Other
Iowa Illinois
Maryland Indiana
Michigan Michigan State
Minnesota Nebraska
Northwestern Ohio State
Penn State Purdue
Wisconsin Rutgers

I don’t either.

Take the teams, sort them A through Z (or I through W), and then divide down the middle.

I – M N – W
Illinois Nebraska
Indiana Northwestern
Iowa Ohio State
Maryland Penn State
Michigan Purdue
Michigan State Rutgers
Minnesota Wisconsin

Time Zone
Does your early game start at noon or 11 am?  Rumor has it, this is how Delaney stumbled upon the East/West split that was ultimately selected.

Central Eastern
Illinois Indiana
Iowa Maryland
Minnesota Michigan
Nebraska Michigan State
Northwestern Ohio State
Purdue* Penn State
Wisconsin Rutgers

*Technically, Purdue is in the Eastern Time Zone, but since Indiana has a lengthy, bizarre, and often confusing history with their time zones and acceptance of Daylight Savings Time, it is fitting that one Indiana school goes Central and one goes Eastern.

Football or Basketball?
Fans of most colleges usually consider their school to be a “football school” or a basketball school.  While a team may have success in the other sport (such as Kansas going to the Orange Bowl in 2007), they will always be known by their primary sport.

Football Basketball
Iowa Illinois
Michigan Indiana
Nebraska Maryland
Northwestern Michigan State
Ohio State Minnesota
Penn State Purdue
Wisconsin Rutgers

Lots of potential arguments here.  Northwestern is a football school only because their hoops program is at a level known as “Nebraska bad”.  I don’t consider Rutgers a basketball school, but their modest football success does not bump any of the others (even Iowa) off the list.

Football Program Strength
Part of Jim Delaney’s logic for the original Legends and Leaders divisions was to distribute the football powers (Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State) among the two divisions.  A similar concept here:  who are the strong programs and who is at risk of losing to a MAC team.

Bowl Eligible Bottom Feeder
Iowa Illinois
Michigan Indiana
Michigan State Maryland
Nebraska Minnesota
Northwestern Penn State*
Ohio State Purdue
Wisconsin Rutgers

*No I do not consider Penn State to be a “bottom feeder”.  But their probation means they are not currently bowl eligible.  Plus, I’d definitely argue that Northwestern has been better than PSU over the last five years.

Capitals and College Towns
Where is the school located?  Are they in a state capital or a humble college town?

College Town State Capital
Illinois Michigan State
Indiana Minnesota
Iowa Nebraska
Michigan Ohio State
Northwestern Wisconsin
Penn State Maryland*
Rutgers Purdue*

*Anybody who passed fourth grade geography will know that College Park, Maryland and West Lafayette, Indiana are not the capitals of their respective states.  Since there are only five B1G schools located in a capital city, I had to reach a little bit (okay…a lot). 

The University of Maryland campus in College Park is less than 10 miles from the United States Capitol building.  And West Lafayette is roughly half way between the state capitals of Illinois (Springfield) and Indiana (Indianapolis).  Hopefully nobody pulled anything stretching that far…

Notable Trophy Games
The Big Ten loves it some trophy games.  Paul Bunyan’s Axe, Old Brass Spittoon, Floyd of Rosedale, Old Oaken Bucket, etc.  Since some schools care more about preserving their rivalry game than anything else, we’re going to put them in one division where they can battle for things that you and I would donate to Goodwill.  The other schools, who are either involved in a lesser known trophy game (Purdue Cannon) or a forced rivalry (Heroes Trophy, Land Grant Trophy) can go to the other side.  Who knows, maybe that Illinois – Maryland rivalry will really take off.

Trophy Game Forced Rivalry
Indiana Illinois*
Iowa Maryland
Michigan Nebraska
Michigan State Northwestern
Minnesota Ohio State**
Purdue Penn State
Wisconsin Rutgers

Page 96 of the Generic Trophy Supply catalog. Also available in basketball, bowling, volleyball, and snarky caption writing.

*According to Wikipedia, Illinois has three trophy games (Land of Lincoln, Illibuck, and Purdue Cannon).  But really, could you pick any of those trophies out of a line up?  Heck, the last two sound like fancy names for Monopoly tokens. 

**As for Ohio State, while they are half of the conference’s marquee game and premier rivalry, no trophy is on the line when they play Michigan.  OSU’s participation in the Illibuck game doesn’t make the cut over some of the more famed trophies.

Thoughts on B1G Expansion

The University of Maryland will leave the ACC to join the Big Ten in 2014, becoming the league’s 13th member.  Rutgers University is widely expected to leave the Big East for the Big Ten tomorrow.

Why those schools?  There appears to be two main reasons:

1) Shifting population.  Core Big Ten states Michigan and Ohio are losing population.  Maryland and the New Jersey/NYC area are gaining population.  The logic is to position the Big Ten for future growth and success, it needs to have footholds in population centers.

2) Television money.  Sports on TV are one of the few things people will watch live, instead of fast-forwarding through the commercials on their DVR.  This makes airing sporting events (especially football) a lucrative venture.  The Big Ten will be renewing their TV contracts soon, and adding teams in bigger Northeastern markets makes it more likely for the conference to land a huge payday.

2b) Cable subscribers.  Along with getting a big TV contract, the Big Ten also makes money by having people subscribed the Big Ten Network (BTN).  You can argue just how much folks in Washington D.C. or New York City really care about Maryland or Rutgers sports, but if the BTN becomes an addition to more cable companies in those areas, it results in more money for the schools.

There may be other reasons at play, conspiracy or otherwise*, but those are main factors driving the realignment bus, as always.

*I’ve heard the argument that this move is nothing but Boss Delaney sticking it to the ACC for getting Notre Dame to agree to play five game each year against ACC schools, when the Big Ten has been trying in vain to land ND for years and years.  That seems more short-sighted than Delaney is known for, but it is an interesting argument.

The thing one thing missing from this round of Big Ten expansion is the name factor.  When the conference added Penn State in 1993, they were getting a traditional power with a legendary coach.  When the Big Ten added Nebraska in 2010, they got one of the winningest programs in college football history, with one of the nation’s most passionate fan bases.

But what do Maryland and Rutgers bring in terms of football?  Not much.  Since 2000 (through this past weekend), these two teams are a combined 166-149 (53%) with a combined 13 bowl appearances.  None of these 26 squads has finished a season ranked higher than 11 (Maryland, 2001).

The 2000s were one of the worst decades in Nebraska history, but the Cornhuskers are still 112-54 since 2000 (67%) with 10 bowl appearances and two top 10 rankings.  I don’t expect every new member to be on par with Nebraska, but I definitely feel like the Big Ten could have done better.

My opinion of these moves is rather mixed.  Yes, the move will likely benefit Nebraska with more money, increased recruiting opportunities in Maryland and New Jersey, and the likelihood more easy conference victories, but at what cost?  Currently, if I want to watch NU play Illinois, Indiana, or Purdue, it is doable without shelling out for airfare (around 1,200 miles by car, round trip.  But 1,208 miles to College Park, MD or 1,288 miles to Piscataway, NJ?  Each way?  Forget it.

As a football fan, would you rather see Nebraska play Wisconsin or Ohio State every couple years, or once or twice a decade?  Whomever bids on the TV rights will know that for every classic Michigan-Ohio State game, they are also paying for the right to show Indiana-Rutgers, Maryland-Minnesota, and other duds.

Right now, I’m down on the expansion.  The addition of two unremarkable teams won’t help the overall product or brand, and I feel pretty safe in saying that the extra TV revenue won’t make my season tickets any cheaper.

There are some opportunities for a silver lining to come out of this realignment, specifically:

  • The conference finally gets rid of the overly pompous (and confusing) Legends and Leaders division names.  Call it East/West, Central/Eastern, whatever, but don’t insult my intelligence by trying to convince me that either of these new schools is a leader or legendary (unless we’re talking about leading the pack in wearing legendarily ugly uniforms).
  • Maybe Nebraska will get a new “designated cross-over rival”.  When NU joined the Big 10, Penn State was tagged as their inter-divisional rival, meaning they would play every year.  It felt like a forced marriage then, and the PSU sanctions since have all but guaranteed that this “rivalry” won’t really take shape for years.  Hopefully, NU can get a better draw with a team that they have more in common with, and would be a bigger draw for fans.  Wisconsin, I’m looking at you.
  • What dominoes fall next?  Is Delaney done with 14 teams?  Or does he move to 16 by expanding into the Sun Belt?  How does the ripple effect play out in the other conferences?  When is all of this going to be over?

Regardless of how this expansion turns out – good or bad – it is safe to say that this decision will surpass the move to land Nebraska as the one that ultimately defines Jim Delaney’s legacy.

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