Geography Creates Loaded Big Ten East Division

By Kyle Rowland on July 29, 2014 at 2:47p
You play to win the game.

CHICAGO – Indiana. Maryland. Rutgers. Not quite Leaders or Legends when it comes to all-time great college football programs.

But those three schools are now slotted in one of the sport’s toughest divisions – the up and coming Big Ten East.

Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State round off the vaunted group, perhaps marking a flashback to supremacy for the Big Ten. Geographic divisions have formed a powerhouse in the East and a wide-open West. Urban Meyer likened the looming grind of the Big Ten East to what he faced for six years in the SEC.

If Ohio State advances to the first ever College Football Playoff, it will have earned it. The Buckeyes play at Penn State and Michigan State – both at night – before a possible four-game string of Michigan, Big Ten championship and two playoff games.

“It’s one of the toughest divisions in college football,” Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days Monday. “I hope that happens, but that’s a tough road. It’s a rugged conference. We’re going to do our best to be prepared for it.”

Meanwhile, the West has five teams that could legitimately represent the division in Indianapolis. Wisconsin and Iowa, two favorites, don’t play Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State.

Go figure.

It’s the new reality in the conference, something SEC programs have faced for two decades. When divisions are split and the number of teams grows, there will be long gaps in series and favorable schedules.

As the East grew into the theme of media days, Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen is of the belief the West is dealing with a lack of respect. But if the Badgers can sneak under the radar and enter the Big Ten Championship Game with little fanfare, you won’t find him complaining.

“We’re all going to put our helmets on and go out on play,” Andersen said. “That will define this year’s teams. So to sit here now and say this division is this and this division is that based off traditions of a school, I don't buy that. There’s tremendous tradition on both sides. We’ll all fight it out in the defining moment and we’ll see who’s who.”

Andersen expanded, saying there are no easy games in the Big Ten while sniping at pundits who think the conference is full of glorified bye weeks.

“I’ll debate that with you as much as you want to debate it because you better strap it on and be ready every week in the Big Ten,” he said.

Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson agrees, especially since he drew the short end of the geography stick and must face the four power programs. The Hoosiers have improved of each of Wilson’s three seasons in Bloomington, but bowl eligibility has remained elusive. In the Big Ten, they haven’t been able to win the 50/50 games that marginal teams must capture to separate themselves from mediocrity.

Now Indiana will have four games on its schedule each season that are almost certain losses. Still, it hasn’t dampened Wilson’s spirit. He thinks there are recruiting advantages and opportunities to grow Indiana football into a perennial winner.

“We're excited to be part of the Big Ten East,” Wilson said. “We’re really excited with the opportunity with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers and the East brand growing.”

That brand is one reason why the conference grew by two teams and significantly eastward. Rutgers and Maryland offer the Big Ten a footprint in two cities – New York and Washington – where the league was previously nonexistent. It means piles of cash and more eyeballs on the Big Ten.

Ask Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith to expound on expansion, and he’ll openly admit money was the impetus. But he and conference commissioner Jim Delany don’t believe there will be an imbalance issue for the coming years. Sports have a way of working out the kinks, with cycles of dominance coming and going.

“We’ve had nine different teams play in the Rose Bowl [since 1990],” Delany said. “I’ve seen the strength of teams ebb and flow. The SEC has been doing their divisions for 22 or 23 years, and for a longtime the East was dominant and then the West was dominant.”

Even players have taken notice to the divisional lineup. In a 24/7 news cycle with information at their fingertips, they’ve read Twitter and know what lies ahead. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner called the East “high-intensity.” Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond acknowledged the amount of difficult games, but said he’s only focused on Jacksonville State, an FCS team the Spartans open with.

“Obviously our rivalry with Michigan is intense for us, but we've also got a rivalry with Ohio State from the past and Penn State,” said Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio. “So those things exist for us. I think it’s going to be a tough division. There’s no question about that.”

For the second consecutive season, it’s a tad tougher for Michigan, who must travel to East Lansing once again. It’d an oddity that occurred due to Rutgers and Maryland joining the conference and schedules being rearranged. But Hoke isn’t complaining.

“Who cares? You’re going to play 12 football games, right?” he said. “When those decisions are made, embrace it. If not, you’re going to make excuses, and we, rightfully, don’t believe in excuses.

“All want to do is we want to compete. We want to compete on every Saturday. So as far as we’re concerned, we’re looking forward to [playing in the East].”

For at least one season, Dantonio and Co. will consider themselves the Beasts of the East. Conference titles are welcomed, but Dantonio is aware of the danger that lurks behind.

“I think we’re a little bit more of the hunted,” he said. “That’s a good place to be, but it’s also a very precarious place to be.”


Comments Show All Comments

ohiowhitesnake's picture

B(IG)east will be a tough road

I finally got a set of Gold Pants!

+4 HS
HilltopHustle's picture

With Ohio State being Ohio State and James Franklin eating worlds recruiting, there's going to be some real nasty games starting in a few years. Who knows would end up coaching Michigan too if Hoke does, in fact, get terminated. The B1G East is probably second to only the SEC West, or will be very, very soon.

+3 HS
Killer nuts's picture

How about an annual Big Ten East vs SEC West challenge similar to the B1G/ACC challenge in basketball. That'd make for some fun games

+6 HS
nfischer's picture

Solid write up.  Personally, while it definitely looks like the East is stacked, I'm totally in favor of it.  It is going to sharpen whichever team represents the East in the B1G Championship and hopefully the playoffs.  I'm just hoping it's the Bucks doing the representing.

Chief B1G Dump's picture

At least for now, we've seemingly consolidated the BIG strength is schedule to help bolster the winner of the east. 

Mever know about the future though, as the SEC east dominated at first then the power shifted west there. 

Anyhow, BIG East is the new battle cry. 

TheShookster's picture

Hoke doesn't believe in excuses, that's absolutely comical considering last year everything was blamed on the players and execution, not on the play calling.

He ain't even stretch doe!!

+2 HS
Bucksfan's picture

Remember "Legends" and "Leaders?"

Sigh...those were the days.

+2 HS
Buckeyeneer's picture

While the latest round of expansion has been underwhelming, and I realize the unlikelihood, but I would still love to see Texas and Oklahoma added to the West to balance it out when the various conference agreements expire.

"Because the rules won't let you go for three." - Woody Hayes

THE Ohio State University

+5 HS
bakerjon's picture

Really would love to see OU ans the other OSU added to the West.  We'll never get Texas, but I think there is a chance with these 2. Really wanted to see Mizzou when they went to the SEC, but that ship has sailed. Kansas and Kstate would be interesting, but Delaney would rather see the money from OKC metro come in I'm sure. 

"You do what I cannot do. I do what you cannot do. Together we do great things"

+2 HS
Buckeyeneer's picture

Kansas is actually the #3 money maker in the B12 after OU and Texas because they are B-ball royalty and have fans well outside the borders of Kansas proper. They would be the biggest prize in the B12 if you weren't able to get Texas or OU. 

"Because the rules won't let you go for three." - Woody Hayes

THE Ohio State University

+1 HS
Menexenus's picture

Kansas and UConn are my favorite expansion targets.  I believe they are AAU members, so they are academically eligible.  And they would solidify the B1G as the dominant basketball conference forever and ever.  Amen.

Real fans stay for Carmen.

Scarlet_Lutefisk's picture

UConn is not a member of the AAU, nor will it become one anytime soon.

OH1O State's picture

Would LOVE to see Texas and Oklahoma added, but Texas will never give up the Longhorn Network...
I would be fine settling for a Baylor or maybe TCU.

OH1O State's picture

...or Kansas, as BUCKEYENEER noted above.  Great point.

buckeyedude's picture

I think Oklahoma could happen and would welcome that as a rivalry with Nebraska. I just don't see Texas joining the B1G. I think they're less likely to join the B1G than ND.  I think they'd go PAC first.



+1 HS
BeijingBucks's picture

I had actually managed to obliterate the Leaders and Legends from my memory banks until this write up.  Actually felt like it was always East/West up to that point.  Amazing the capacity of the human brain to delete painful memories as if they never existed.  Now excuse me my therapist is calling me back to reality.

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

+3 HS