Nebraska will begin Big Ten play in the fall of 2011, and the Internets are full of proposals for splitting the twelve-team conference into two divisions. Many of those proposals are fundamentally flawed, either because they are parochial (obviously to one school’s advantage), or because they ignore what Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney has already said about the conference’s priorities.
In the press conference welcoming Nebraska to the Big Ten, Delaney said that divisional alignment would be based on competitive balance, protecting rivalries, and geography, in that order. He also said that some rivalries are more important than others.
By putting geography third, Delaney sent a clear signal that an east–west split is highly unlikely. As many commenters have noted, that arrangement would put three of the conference's four traditional powers—Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State—in the same division.
A north–south alignment seems equally unlikely. There isn't a huge difference in latitude between the northernmost and southernmost schools in the conference. No one in Illinois thinks of a trip to Michigan as “going north,” even if that’s literally true. It would be an awfully odd way to split up, if geography is the commissioner’s bottom priority.
Last year, three BCS leagues had twelve teams in two six-team divisions: the SEC, the ACC, and the Big XII. All three used the same scheduling formula: teams play all five members of their own division annually, plus three of six in the opposite division on a rotating basis, for a total of eight conference games. This is the most straightforward scheduling plan. It preserves the same number of league games that Big Ten teams play today, and it also ensures that every team plays all of the others reasonably often.
If we assume this format for the Big Ten in 2011, then Michigan and Ohio State will probably be in one division, Nebraska and Penn State in the other. This is the only arrangement that ensures the Wolverines and Buckeyes will play The Game every year. Putting the two in opposite divisions would either eliminate The Game as an annual affair, or create other scheduling headaches. There is simply no good reason to put Michigan and Ohio State in different divisions. Penn State and Nebraska may be at opposite geographic poles, but the commissioner has already said that geography is his last priority.
With the traditional powers evenly divided and geography a minimal concern, the remaining eight teams will probably be divided up based on rivalries, and the commissioner said that some are more important than others. Let us consider, then, how the rivalries might be ranked.
Two groups of rivalries are probably at the bottom of the heap: those that are not contested annually, and those involving Penn State. The Little Brown Jug, involving Michigan and Minnesota, is in the first category. Even the current Big Ten scheduling system does not ensure that these two meet every year. If that’s acceptable today, then surely it is acceptable in the future.
Before Penn State joined the conference in the 1990s, it did not have a notable rivalry with any Big Ten team. Several rivalries were more-or-less invented for the Nittany Lions. They play for two named trophies—the Governor’s Victory Bell with Minnesota and the Land Grand Trophy with Michigan State—plus an annual unnamed tilt with Ohio State. As none of these rivalries is long-standing, they are presumably dispensable.
We move on to the Big Ten’s current protected rivalries—those that are contested every year, under the current system, minus those involving Penn State. Here they are:
Illinois: Indiana, Northwestern
Indiana: Illinois, Purdue
Iowa: Minnesota, Wisconsin
Michigan: Michigan State, Ohio State
Michigan State: Michigan,
Minnesota: Iowa, Wisconsin
Northwestern: Illinois, Purdue
Ohio State: Michigan,
Purdue: Indiana, Northwestern
Wisconsin: Iowa, Minnesota
We have already concluded that Michigan and Ohio State will be in the same division, so that rivalry is taken care of. We can assume that the conference would seek to preserve the same-state rivalries, such as Michigan vs. Michigan State, as most Division I football schools have an opponent in their own state that they play annually.
The adjoining-state rivalries require a bit of discussion. Michigan fans wax poetic about past Ohio State games, but many haven’t a clue about the games that matter to other teams in the conference. I am astonished when I see proposed line-ups that put Wisconsin and Minnesota in separate divisions. Amazingly enough, these two schools have the oldest annually contested rivalry in Division I football. There is no way Wisconsin and Minnesota would give that up. They’ve played every year since 1892. In contrast, Michigan didn’t play MSU until 1898, and it wasn’t an annual meeting until 1902.
The annual Minnesota–Wisconsin game is for a trophy called Paul Bunyon’s axe. There are named trophies for these two schools’ annual games with Iowa too—the Floyd of Rosedale and the Heartland Trophy respectively. In contrast, the annual Illinois–Indiana and Northwestern–Purdue tilts are of no special significance, beyond their longstanding membership in the Big Ten, a fact they share with other teams.
With our background on rivalries complete, we can now try to slot the new twelve-team Big Ten into divisions. It is obviously sensible to put Iowa into the same division as Nebraska, given that they occupy adjoining states. Nebraska does not have a long-standing rivalry with any Big Ten team, but if they were going to develop one, Iowa would be an obvious candidate. As the Hawkeyes and the Wisconsin Badgers are routinely strong football programs, it makes sense to split them, for competitive balance reasons. And given the background recited above, where the Badgers go, the Minnesota Golden Gophers go too.
(Incidentally, Nebraska has played Minnesota 51 times, more than any other team in the conference. But as the two have not met since 1990, this is not likely to be a factor in setting up the divisions.)
We therefore have the following start:
Plains: Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State
Lakes: Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin
The Illinois and Indiana schools cannot be slotted into this arrangement without splitting one of the in-state rivalries. Fortunately, there is a straightforward solution. Although Illinois and Northwestern have played every year within living memory, the game was not annual until 1927. They played many times before that, but with numerous gaps. Indiana and Purdue have missed only two years since 1899. The state of Indiana therefore trumps the state of Illinois.
I therefore submit the following alignment as consistent with Jim Delaney’s stated priorities of competitive balance first, rivalries second, and geography third.
Plains: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue
Lakes: Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin
This plan has reasonable competitive balance. The only named trophy rivalries that would no longer be contested annually, aside from those involving Penn State, are Iowa–Minnesota, Iowa–Wisconsin, and Illinois–Northwestern. Of course, this doesn’t mean they’d no longer play each other, only that it wouldn’t be annual.
There does not appear to be an alignment that preserves these rivalries without breaking others that are more important, or setting up divisions that are clearly unbalanced. For instance, in the alignment above, if you swap Iowa and Northwestern, then the broken rivalries would be restored, but the Lakes division would be top-heavy, with Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. Other re-arrangements meet with similar objections.
Obviously, with the Big Ten’s expansion study still very much alive, the conference might not have 12 teams for very long. But while it does, I think the Plains/Lakes alignment given above does the best job of meeting the Commissioner’s stated priorities of competitive balance first, rivalries second, and geography third.
Action since last rankings:
6-7-10 Ohio State gains commitment from Joel Hale.
6-8-10 Indiana gains commitment from Nick VanHoose. Minnesota loses commitment from James Farrow. Minnesota gains commitment from Sam Rohr.
6-10-10 Indiana gains commitment from Shafer Johnson.
6-11-10 Indiana gains commitment from Donte Phillips. Minnesota gains commitment from Max Shortell.
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||ESPN Avg|
Rivals, Scout, and ESPN all have their Top-X (X is 250, 300, and 150, respectively) lists released now. In the tables, Rivals' and Scout's rankings are on the 5-star scale (unranked = 1-star), and ESPN's will now be shown as their numerical rating (unranked = 45).
|#1 Ohio State - 14 Commits|
Ohio State gets a long-awaited commitment from Joel Hale.
|#2 Notre Dame - 9 Commits|
The Irish have been stagnating for a loooong time. Are some recruits taking a wait-and-see approach on the Kelly Administration?
|#3 Michigan - 5 Commits|
No commits for Michigan coming out of their Elite Camp, but a new offer or two could net them a new recruit soon.
|#4 Michigan State - 5 Commits|
The Spartans could move up once ESPN ranks Jones and Miller.
|#5 Indiana - 11 Commits|
Quantity over quality early for Indiana - as has seemed to be the case for each of the past couple years, as well.
|#6 Wisconsin - 4 Commits|
Wisconsin's averages are slightly deflated by the fact that Rivals and ESPN have each ranked only half of their commits.
|#7 Iowa - 3 Commits|
I considered moving Iowa past Wisconsin, but even with poor rankings for the Badgers' as-yet-unrated guys, they'd move up big time.
|#8 Purdue - 2 Commits|
A solid air for the Boilers.
|#9 Northwestern - 2 Commits|
No change, though ESPN's rankings helped them pass Minnesota.
|#10 Minnesota - 4 Commits|
Gophers pick up Sam Rohr and Max Shortell, though my Minnesota peeps tell me James Farrow has decommitted. That's already two commits lost for Tim Brewster this year, and it seems like he's looking to outdo last year's decommitment parade.
|#11 Illinois - 3 Commits|
Nothing new for UI.
|#12 Penn State - 1 Commit|
Still ho-hum for PSU.
Brandon Phelps is one of the top athletes in the country, hailing from Demascus High School in Maryland. Phelps was recently ranked a 4 star on Rivals, and can play either side of the ball. I caught up with him to talk about Michigan, and his recruitment. Take a look at his highlight tape, then the interview.
TOM: Tell me a little bit about your game. I don't think a lot of people know that much about you.
BRANDON: I play receiver and corner for my high school team. Colleges are mostly recruiting me for defense, though. I honestly feel like I'm pretty even at both positions, but most colleges see me as a defensive back. I really don't have a preference, so what ever they want me as, that's what I'll play.
TOM: What makes you say you're even on both sides. What are your strengths?
BRANDON: My ball skills, and being a receiver really helps me know how other receivers are going to run their routes. I can also pick up on weaknesses in zones real well, and my speed is one of my strengths, too.
TOM: What was your most recent forty time?
BRANDON: I ran a 4.39, a 4.40, and a 4.37 on our track at my school recently. I'm always trying to get bigger, stronger, and faster, though.
TOM: You said most schools are recruiting you for defense. Which schools are recruiting you the hardest right now?
BRANDON: Probably UCLA, Virginia, Michigan, Maryland, and Penn State.
TOM: So are those the schools that stick out to you, or that are on top of your list?
BRANDON: I don't really have a list yet. I'm going to try to make it out to as many schools as I can over the summer, and do some research on each school over the internet, then narrow it down from there. I'll narrow the list probably midway through the summer, because I want to make my decision before the season starts.
TOM: Where does Michigan fit into that? Are they getting a visit?
BRANDON: Oh yeah, I'm definitely going to try to get up there; they're on my list. Growing up I really liked Braylon Edwards, and I watched them on TV, so I've been following ever since. My coach said the Big House is unbelievable, because he's been there for a game. He told me that whenever I visit, he's coming with me.
TOM: Who do you keep in contact with at Michigan?
BRANDON: I'm mostly in contact with Coach Dews. He's a real cool guy; I like him. We mostly just have regular conversations, and it's cool to have the luxury of being able to talk about whatever with a coach like that. But, we're still getting to know each other, and building a relationship.
TOM: What is a school going to have to do to get your attention, or get you to commit?
BRANDON: To me, the most important thing is education. I want to become a better person, wherever I go, and I want to be able to find a good job after college. I'd really like to play in front of a lot of people, too, and I just want to be around nice people. People that make you better, and that make you feel comfortable. That's what I'm looking for on these visits, and I hope to have it done before the start of my season.
Now that the Big Ten will officially have 12 teams, divisions aren't far behind. We have options here, and that's not even to speak of the question of whether other sports besides football should use divisions as well. (Helpful hint: HELL NO.)
No, the options are the myriad ways this could be done. Some choices to make:
- ACC-style split, non-geographical or Big 12/SEC-style split, by geography.
- ACC/SEC-style scheduling or Big 12-style scheduling.
There are probably other ways to do it, but these are the extant methods and I don't see a great many different ways to do it. Those are basically the only options for a divisional split, for example. So how would this look?
Well, the Big Ten is different than these other conferences, in that we have a lot of trophies to hand out. No conference does intraconference rivalries like the Big Ten. I count thirteen games that are played each year, or used to be before Penn State, for trophies - this includes Michigan/Ohio State, for which there is no formal trophy, but often, the winner receives a Rose. So this kind of thing needs to be taken into account. These thirteen are:
|Michigan-Michigan State||Paul Bunyan Trophy|
|Michigan-Ohio State||needs no trophy|
|Michigan-Minnesota||Little Brown Jug|
|Michigan State-Penn State||Land Grant Trophy|
|Michigan State-Indiana||Old Brass Spittoon|
|Illinois-Northwestern||Sweet Sioux Tomahawk*|
|Wisconsin-Minnesota||Paul Bunyan's Axe|
|Penn State-Minnesota||Governor's Victory Bell|
Old Oaken Bucket
Floyd of Rosedale
The conference did a decent job of keeping rivalries intact as best they could when Penn State was added, so I think they will take these into account in the future as well.
Note that Nebraska has no established rivalries; this makes things easier. What might a geographical split look like? East/West is natural; this means:
This isn't well-balanced, but it's not terrible either. At least the eastern teams get to beat up on Indiana. And the rivalries match up for the most part. If you use the Big 12 system for scheduling, which means you play three teams two years in a row and the other three teams the next two years, a lot of trophy games get left behind; therefore, these are matched up with permanent opponents in order to save a few - here, Illibuck and the Jug. Lost (or relegated to occasional status, are the Victory Bell - not very old - and the Purdue Cannon - and my brother is a Purdue grad and never, ever talks about some pressing need to beat Illinois. Come to think of it, nobody does even though Illinois thinks everyone is their blood rival.) In the ACC model, you play your permanently-matched cross-division opponent every year and rotate the other games. Michigan would play Wisconsin and Illinois one year, Illinois and Iowa the next, Iowa and Northwestern after that, and so on.
Now suppose we were a little different about splitting this up. As it turns out, this is geographical, in a way; it's a North/South split. It also preserves 11 of the 13 rivalries:
|Michigan State||Penn State|
This also has the benefit of matching Nebraska with its western cousins, and in an ACC/SEC-style schedule system, 11 of the 13 rivalries. This time the Victory Bell and the Spittoon are relegated to semi-rivalry status, and let's face it, anyone who claims to have a rivalry with IU football that doesn't share a state with them is doing it wrong. The Spittoon is pretty one-sided.
In this arrangement, you could actually switch Penn State and Indiana's "permanent rivals" and save both those rivalries at the expense of the Land Grant Trophy and keep 12 of 13 rivalries intact. But MSU-PSU is a lot more compelling (and liable to get MSU beat more often) than IU/MSU or Minny/PSU.
This allows, also, for the possibility of a Michigan/OSU title game, though it sacrifices the idea of the division as a prize for winning the game.
Either one is a tough draw for Michigan. One puts them in a division with Penn State and Ohio State, which is a nasty way of doing things. The other puts most of the crappy Big Ten teams in the other division, but also the two toughest teams in the conference.
These, I think, are the ways of splitting up this conference and still keeping the rivalries intact. It remains to be seen how much these things come into play.
I'm just sayin'. Two-deep players bolded.
|NO||NAME||POS||HT||WT||YR||EXP||Hometown (Last School)|
|94||Armstead, Armond||DE||06/05/10||295||JR||2V||Sacramento (Pleasant Grove)|
|97||Jackson, Malik||DE||06/05/10||245||JR||2V||Northridge (Birmingham)|
|91||Casey, Jurrell||DT||06/01/10||295||JR||2V||Long Beach (Poly)|
|92||Fangupo, Hebron||DT||06/02/10||330||RS JR||1V||Santa Ana, Calif. (Mt. San Antonio JC)|
|98||Harris, DaJohn||DT||06/04/10||295||RS JR||2V||Inglewood (Serra)|
|90||Simmons, Derek||DT||06/04/10||285||RS SR||3V||Suisun (Armijo)|
|44||Tupou, Christian||DT||06/02/10||285||SR||3V||Sacramento (Grant)|
|46||Cumming, Ross||LB||06/01/10||220||JR||2V||Laguna Niguel (Santa Margarita/Naval Acad. Prep)|
|37||Campbell, Jordan||LB||05/11/10||230||RS JR||2V||Corona (Norco)|
|54||Galippo, Chris||LB||06/02/10||250||RS JR||3V||Corona (Servite)|
|23||Horton, Shane||LB||06/01/10||210||RS JR||1V||Chatsworth (UNLV)|
|17||Morgan, Michael||LB||06/04/10||220||RS SR||3V||Dallas, TX (Skyline)|
|6||Smith, Malcolm||LB||06/01/10||225||SR||3V||Northridge (Taft)|
|38||Bryant, T.J.||CB||06/01/00||180||JR||2V||Tallahassee, FL (Lincoln)|
|35||Ashton, Taylor||CB||05/08/10||170||RS JR||TR||Mission Viejo (Arizona State)|
|47||Harbin, James||CB||05/10/10||175||RS JR||Los Angeles (Los Angeles Southwest JC)|
|26||Harper, Daniel||CB||05/10/10||180||RS JR||2V||Rancho Cucamonga, CA (Damien)|
|41||Noble, Allen||CB||06/01/00||190||RS JR||SQ||Denver, CO (Mt. San Antonio JC)|
|35||Taylor, Ashton||CB||05/08/10||170||RS JR||TR||Mission Viejo (Arizona State)|
|24||Wright, Shareece||CB||06/01/00||185||RS SR||4V||Colton (Colton)|
|45||Crittenden, Omari||CB||06/01/00||180||SR||SQ||Modesto, CA (Modesto JC)|
|19||McAllister, Drew||S||06/01/10||195||JR||2V||Danville (Monte Vista)|
|49||McMahon, Ryan||S||06/01/00||195||JR||2V||Daimond Bar (Damien)|
|27||Jones, Marshall||S||06/01/00||190||RS JR||3V||Agoura Hills (Oaks Christian)|
|34||Spiegel, Spencer||S||05/11/10||175||RS JR||SQ||Los Angeles (Harvard-Westlake)|
|14||Kan, Brett||QB||06/02/10||195||RS JR||TR||Honolulu, HI (Punahou)|
|16||Mustain, Mitch||QB||06/03/10||200||RS SR||2V||Springdale, AR (Arkansas)|
|26||Tyler, Marc||TB||06/01/00||225||RS JR||1V||Lancaster (Oaks Christian)|
|21||Bradford, Allen||TB||05/11/10||235||RS SR||4V||San Bernardino (Colton)|
|2||Gable, C.J.||TB||06/01/00||205||RS SR||4V||Sylmar (Sylmar)|
|27||Mokhtar, Ahmed||TB||06/01/00||210||RS JR||SQ||Laguna Beach (OSU/Orange Coast College)|
|10||Shoemate, D.J.||FB||06/01/00||220||JR||2V||Corona (Servite)|
|31||Havili, Stanley||FB||06/01/10||230||RS SR||4V||Salt Lake City, UT (Cottonwood)|
|80||Carswell, Brandon||WR||06/01/10||185||RS JR||2V||Milpitas (Milpitas)|
|22||Ness, Drew||WR||06/01/00||190||RS JR||SQ||San Diego (Westview)|
|9||Ausberry, David||WR||06/04/10||235||RS SR||3V||Lemoore (Lemoore)|
|17||Patterson, Travon||WR||05/10/10||175||RS SR||4V||Long Beach (Poly)|
|47||Stephens, Scott||WR||06/01/10||185||RS SR||1V||Pasadena, CA (St. Francis)|
|83||Johnson, Ronald||WR||06/01/00||190||SR||3V||Muskegon, MI (Muskegon)|
|88||Ayles, Blake||TE||06/05/10||245||JR||1V||Orange (Orange Lutheran)|
|40||Ellison, Rhett||TE||06/05/10||255||RS JR||2V||Portola Valley (St. Francis)|
|84||Kusnir, Zack||TE||06/06/10||260||RS JR||La Jolla, Calif. (San Diego State)|
|23||Cameron, Jordan||TE||06/05/10||220||RS SR||2V||Newbury Park, CA (BYU)|
|67||Reardon, Michael||C||06/05/10||285||RS JR||1V||Anaheim (Orange Lutheran)|
|61||O'Dowd, Kristofer||C||06/05/10||300||SR||3V||Tucson, AZ (Salpointe Catholic)|
|74||Heberer, Zack||OG||06/05/10||290||RS SR||3V||San Pedro (San Pedro)|
|68||Lewis, Butch||OG||06/05/10||285||RS SR||3V||Denver, CO (Regis Jesuit)|
|70||Smith, Tyron||OT||06/06/10||285||JR||2V||Moreno Valley (Rancho Verde)|
|72||Coleman, Martin||OT||06/05/10||315||RS JR||2V||Huntington Beach (Edison)|
|25||Roepke, Boomer||P||05/09/10||180||RS JR||SQ||Reno, NV (Reno)|
|30||Houston, Joe||K||05/08/10||175||RS SR||SQ||Redondo Beach, CA (El Camino JC)|
|48||Harfman, Jacob||P||05/11/10||200||SR||1V||Chino (Mt. San Antonio JC)|
There have been a lot of articles written about NCAA sanctions will impede the Trojan's recruiting in 2011 and beyond. I wanted to see strictly based on the numbers what USC will be able to do this year in recruiting.
The USC Depth Chart lists 16 scholarship players as either a Senior or RedShirt Senior. I also counted 4 RedShirt Juniors who were low on the depth chart and unlikely to earn a 5th year. By my count USC will have somewhere between 16-20 scholarships available for 2011. Take into the NCAA banhammer and they are down to 6-10* available scholarships.
*This number may also get bigger if Juniors and Seniors on the team decide to transfer
USC already has 7 Verbal Commitments but obviously some of those players may be looking elsewhere. However 6 of them are from California (the other 1 from Las Vegas) so they may stick it out. And since there is a scholarship reduction not all of the Freshman would probably redshirt may be afforded that luxury (Michigan fans know all about that). USC coaches will have to make some tough decisions on what positions they want to focus on recruiting the next 3 years.
In relevance to Michigan football directly I don't think this means too much. I believe the only recruit Michigan and USC are competing for is OL Andre Yruretagovena. In 2011 USC will have only 3-4 Offensive Tackles on scholarship so I believe they will still be pursuing Andre. I am hopeful he goes Blue and Michigan is playing in a bowl game while USC is not. GO BLUE!