The Big Ten screwed up divisional alignment.
Why bring it up again? Because Nebraska and Wisconsin are four days from kicking off the Big Ten’s biggest game in five years (since Ohio State-Michigan in 2006).
In many ways, these two programs are cousins. From the offensive styles to the school colors to the personal connections. Barry Alvarez played linebacker for Bob Devaney; Bo Pelini was a graduate assistant at Iowa when Bret Bielema played for the Hawkeyes.
This relationship has serious potential. But Nebraska and Wisconsin won’t meet every year. Why?
Because historically Michigan is stronger than Wisconsin. So the Wolverines took Wisconsin’s place with Nebraska and Iowa in the Legends Division. Wisconsin joined powerhouses Ohio State and Penn State in the Leaders. Each side had two traditional heavyweights and one light heavyweight.
Perfect, right? Well, no.
Just because Wisconsin and Iowa can’t equal Penn State and Michigan historically doesn’t mean they won’t beat ‘em in the future (the Badgers and Hawks were actually superior to Penn State and Michigan the past decade). By refusing to divide geographically, the Big Ten created more problems than it saved:
>> No college football fan outside the Big Ten footprint has a clue which teams are in what divisions. That matters when you’re trying to build a brand.
>> Gerrymandering the boundaries creates more travel for fans. Instead of Wisconsin fans traveling to Northwestern every other year, they travel to Penn State. Michigan State doesn’t go to Ohio State every other year, but Spartan fans do go all the way to Nebraska.
– The non-geographic split necessitated silly crossover rivals, which aren’t even close to fair. Michigan gets Ohio State; Iowa gets Purdue. So much for competitive equality (the reason for gerrymandering in the first place).
– Finally, one good rivalry (Iowa-Wisconsin) and one potentially great rivalry (Nebraska-Wisconsin) won’t have enough steam to thrive.
By moving Wisconsin to the Ohio State/Penn State division, the Big Ten pulled the Badgers away from arch-rival Minnesota. So the Badgers had to be crossover rivals with the Gophers. Which meant they couldn’t play Nebraska (or Iowa) every year.
The Huskers, meanwhile, drew Penn State as a crossover rival. Great match-up in the 80s. But it doesn’t have much appeal anymore, especially with Joe Pa about to retire.
The Big Ten should’ve put Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin in the same division. Didn’t happen. All because Penn State had more hardware in the trophy case than Wisconsin. (And because Jim Delany couldn’t pass up the possibility of Ohio State-Michigan in the Big Ten championship game.)
So Husker fans better seize the opportunity to see Camp Randall Saturday. Nebraska won’t be going back ‘til 2015 or 2017.
>> Yoshi Hardrick expressed a little confidence in his team Monday. Said a few things most teammates wouldn’t. And many fans responded like this: Bite your tongue, big man!
I say that’s ridiculous. Stop the paranoia. Wisconsin doesn’t need cocky quotes from a Nebraska player to get motivated for Saturday. Sure, Yoshi will probably end up on Wisconsin’s bulletin board. Who cares? It isn’t gonna help the Badgers on the field.
Players aren’t timid with their words once the game starts. Why be timid at press conferences? What difference does it make if trash talk starts on Monday afternoon or on Saturday night. We should all have a little more fun. This is football, not Middle East diplomacy.
>> A few Husker stats to keep an eye on: Nebraska has six takeaways in four games. That ranks nationally in the middle of the pack. Its four tackles for loss per game ranks 104th. Its 1.5 sacks per game ranks 78th. What’s the theme here? The defense needs to make more plays.
>> Hope you saw Bill Haas’ water blast in the Tour Championship playoff Sunday. He saved par. Then he won the tournament (with $1.4 million prize) on the next hole and — here’s the real reward — also captured the $10 million Fed Ex Cup. That’s a pretty important up-and-down from the lake.
>> ESPN has taken its share of hits for The Longhorn Network. Now the Columbia Journalism Review has joined the festivities.
>> So I guess this explains why a USC assistant coach resigned the week of the season opener. Oh, Lane Kiffin.