Published Tuesday, March 19, 2013 AT 2:49 PM / Updated at 7:24 PM
The pros and cons of Nebraska in the Big Ten’s ‘western’ division
Sam McKewon Omaha World-Herald

Look for Nebraska’s schedule — and path to the Big Ten Championship — to get a considerable shakeup in 2014. ESPN’s Big Ten blog — which is consistently plugged in to the league – strongly speculated Tuesday morning that the league is headed for a “western” and “eastern” geographical split of the league when Rutgers and Maryland join after next year. And all that’s left to decide, ESPN’s sources say, is which divisions Purdue and Indiana will land in.

EAST

Maryland
Michigan
Michigan State
Ohio State
Penn State
Rutgers
Purdue or Indiana

WEST

Illinois
Iowa
Minnesota
Nebraska
Northwestern
Wisconsin
Purdue or Indiana

Purdue has the stronger program historically. But I suspect Indiana’s is the stronger program over the next decade.

At any rate, a list of pros and cons from Nebraska’s perspective:

PROS

>>Easier travel: For everyone. The team. The media. The fans.

>>Easier long-term road to the Big Ten title game: Don’t kid yourself. Being on the other side of Michigan and Ohio State, the league’s two undisputed recruiting powers, is a luxury. Not because teams in the west won’t ever be good — Wisconsin, after all, has attended three straight Rose Bowls for a reason — but because, historically, teams with better recruits and more talent are tougher to beat.

>>Regional rivalries: Nebraska playing Wisconsin annually is a really good thing. The Badgers have been on the better end of it so far, but the passion and relative good cheer of the fan base will quickly become something NU connects to. Meanwhile, continuing series against Minnesota and Northwestern — two road games that Nebraska can stuff to the brim with fans — is another positive. Having been to Illinois, Husker fans will love visiting there, as well. Lots and lots of tailgating room there.

>>It’ll help clarify recruiting: Whether it’s Indiana or Purdue in NU’s division, the state of Illinois is wide open for business. And that’s a good thing. Nebraska’s current coaching ties will always help in landing a player or two from Ohio. But Illinois needs to be a secondary pipeline — one or two players per year — and putting Northwestern and Illinois on the schedule annually gives those kids — and their parents — more incentive to check out Nebraska.

The end of a Penn State crossover game: I look forward to returning to Happy Valley this year when it doesn’t feel like campus is broken in two, but, still – it’s just not a great trip. And the Nittany Lions are nowhere near a college football power for the next decade.

CONS 

>>Missing Michigan: The Wolverines and Spartans will be in the opposite division. Two great stadiums fans won’t see as often. Plus, both programs recruited well, providing a motivator for NU to stay on track. That said, the state of Michigan wasn’t going to be a place where Nebraska got many good recruits. They best ones are too in demand, and the under-the-radar guys are recruited well by Central and Western Michigan.

>>Nebraska’s been here before. It was called the Big 12 North: After NU’s program went in decline after the 2002 season, Oklahoma or Texas won eight of the last nine Big 12 Championship games. The legitimate worry is that Michigan and Ohio State will duplicate such a trend once they’re back at full strength. Put simply: The East looks a lot stronger than West. NU and UW need a third program — hello, Iowa? Northwestern? — to join the race for consistency. It should be the Hawkeyes, but they’re hard to trust after the last two years. Kirk Ferentz just overhauled his coaching staff for a second straight year and has to find a new quarterback. Does that sound like a program on the rise?

Will this divisional split be used for men’s and women’s basketball? If that’s a consideration at all — not sure it is — that lends more credence to Indiana being in the West.

About Sam McKewon

Sam McKewon covers Nebraska football for The World-Herald. Got a tip, question or rant? Good. Email him at sam.mckewon@owh.com. And follow him on Twitter at @swmckewonOWH. And call him at 402.219.3790.