If Michigan beats Wisconsin in Week 7 — and Ohio State and Penn State take care of business vs. Minnesota and Michigan State, respectively — the Big Ten East will have three playoff contenders. The Big Ten West will have zero.
On Sept. 1, 2010, 12 weeks after Nebraska accepted the Big Ten's invitation to join the conference, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany revealed the conference's football divisional split that would take effect in 2011 when the Huskers became the 12th member. (The divisions weren't named Legends and Leaders until December 2010.)
Legends: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern
Leaders: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin
The divisions' names were greeted with laughter, and while each team had an annual crossover rivalry game, the split of rivals Ohio State and Michigan (and, to a lesser extent, Minnesota and Wisconsin) were greeted with anger. After three years, in 2014, the divisions were scrapped in favor of a geographic East-West split that included new members Rutgers and Maryland.
East: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers
West: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin
What if the Big Ten kept the original alignment? What if they put Maryland in the Legends and Rutgers in the Leaders (or vice versa) and the Big Ten was still playing football with the original alignment from 2011?
Penn State wouldn't play Michigan each year, and ratings for the annual Maryland-Rutgers game would be lower than re-runs of "Cavemen" at 3 a.m., but the divisions are more balanced.
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Annual opponents for each team (crossover game in red):
Given the current state of Nebraska's program, a more appetizing crossover game for Penn State would be Michigan State, but with no guarantee that the Big Ten would change the initial crossover games from 2011, I've left Nebraska as Penn State's Legends opponent.
Assuming the Big Ten still adopted a nine-game schedule in 2017, each team's schedule would include two crossover rotational games selected by random order. For example, Ohio State might play Iowa and Maryland in 2018, Michigan State and Minnesota in 2019 and Nebraska and Northwestern in 2020. Either the Buckeyes' cycle continues with Iowa and Maryland in 2021, etc. or resets with a new rotation (e.g. Minnesota and Northwestern in 2021, Maryland and Michigan State in 2022, Iowa and Nebraska in 2023).
Although divisional strength ebbs and flows across each conference, this alignment is undeniably more balanced than the current alignment. Would it suck losing the annual the Michigan-Penn State game? Of course. Same goes for Iowa-Wisconsin, Michigan State-Ohio State and Michigan State-Penn State.
Would it suck having more balance in the Big Ten? No.