Now that Utah has moved to the Pac 10, giving the conference 12 teams and a title game, it appears the conference realignment is done for now. It was kind of a dud. Just a week ago it looked like the Big XII would be no more and we’d see the Big 10, Pac 10, and SEC all be superconferences of 16 teams. Then, somehow, the Big XII was able to muster up the cash to keep Texas and the remaining ten teams (Nebraska and Colorado had already left) stayed together. Ultimately only four teams moved. Colorado and Utah moved to the Pac 10. Nebraska went to the Big 10 and Boise Stated left for the Mountain West Conference.
It appears the Pac 10 will break off into a North/South division alignment once they officially reach 12 teams. Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, California, and Stanford will make up the North. Newcomers Utah and Colorado would join USC, UCLA, Arizona, and Arizona State in the South. There is some concern that the North schools would lose a bit of recruiting presence in Southern California with this alignment. However, if the conference continues playing 9 conference games (5 within division, 4 out of division rotating yearly), the North schools should still be able to play one game a year in South California.
Still unknown is how the Big Ten plans on dividing up its 12 teams into two divisions. There is no easy logical way to do so. Michigan and Ohio State would still like to play every year and have their game be meaningful. This would also be beneficial for the conference as it is its “Super Bowl” of sorts for the year. To make this happen, Michigan and Ohio State would likely have to be in the same division.
A East/West alignment would be difficult because it would put the three of the four most prestigious programs in the conference in the same division (Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan). However, if the top four programs are to be split up (Nebraska being the 4th), it would mean an annual game between Penn State and Nebraska, the conference’s westernmost and easternmost schools. Ultimately, an annual Penn State-Nebraska game may have to occur because there seems to be no other way to divide the conference. Here would be my proposal:
Division 1 – Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana, Illinois
Division 2 – Penn State, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northwestern
The problem currently is that the 1st division is considerably weaker than the second one . Outside of Ohio State, none of those teams is any good. However, Michigan should improve and Michigan State and Purdue have had their successes. In the second division, Penn State, Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin would all be regular contenders to take the division and Minnesota and Northwestern have become decent bowl-eligible teams recently. It would be loaded. The advantage is that it would instantly give Nebraska three natural rivals. Penn State fans are still angry at Nebraska’s 1994 “title” (and Penn State still needs a true Big 10 rival as well.) Nebraska used to have an annual game with Iowa and could start that once again, and Wisconsin is already hoping to begin an annual end of year rivalry game with Nebraska (apparently Brett Bielema is sick of beating Minnesota every year). The biggest advantage of this set up is that outside of the Illinois-Northwestern rivalry, almost rivalry is kept intact. In a conference built upon tradition, this is important.