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Also, I still can't believe that we went 1-7 in the Big Ten in 2009.
Now that the Big Ten is in full meltdown expansion mode, a lot of people are asking about The Game and its impact on the Big Ten championship game, now and in the future. How often both teams appear, how The Game affects the division champions for better and for worse, and everything affliated with it.
The biggest complaint has been a schedule that has Michigan and Ohio State playing each other every year, with weaker teams having guaranteed rivalries against each other. As it turns out, due to regularly dominant teams...Michigan and Ohio State typically come out on top anyway.
I looked at the Big Ten standings and results from 1969-2011. 1969 is the arrival of Bo Schembechler, the start of the modern M/O rivalry. And in 2012, Ohio State is ineligible to win the division, the first time that's happened as the game was being played.
The standings are from the regular Big Ten schedule, without it being weighted for divisional matchups. Division winners were the two teams that finished highest in the Big Ten standings, as divided up by the current divisions. (If a 4th place team was the highest of a current division's teams, they were the appointed division champions.) Ties were broken with head-to-head matchups, and if the teams did not play each other, I split the division title.
First off, here's how the Big Ten championship games would have looked like, under the current divisions.
With that in mind, let's first look at the potential for rematches.
Going by the eventual matchups, 20 seasons would have featured Michigan/Ohio State rematches for the Big Ten title, or about 47% of the time. 16 of those, or 38% of the time, were outright victories with no tiebreakers.
Those seasons are as follows: 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1998, 2003, 2006, 2007
Michigan would have won the Legends division title in 28 seasons, with 27 of those outright. Michigan won more division titles than any other team, pulling ahead of Ohio State for two reasons. The first is that Nebraska, a division rival, does not factor into these seasons at all, winning zero titles in their one eligible year. The second is that Minnesota, a longtime doormat, also won zero division titles over 43 seasons. In comparison, every team in the Leaders division won a division title, with five of the six (all but Indiana) winning at least three titles.
Michigan's division titles are as follows: 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007
Ohio State won a division title in 26 seasons, with 23 of those outright. The Buckeyes had a much stronger division to contend with, but much of their faults were somewhat of their own doing, from timely losses over the years.
Ohio State's division titles are as follows: 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009
In only 9 seasons, the Big Ten championship game would not feature either Michigan or Ohio State, with 8 of those without any tiebreakers. In only 19% of the time, a Big Ten championship game did not feature either Michigan or Ohio State. Those seasons, with a matchup, are below.
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Also, I still can't believe that we went 1-7 in the Big Ten in 2009.
I guess another fun thing in setting up these conference title games is looking for teams who would be this year's version of OSU. They have sanctions banning them from playing in a bowl so they probably shouldn't be allowed to play for the conference championship either.
Sleazy Mike White got Illinois on 2 years of probation in 1984 (for illegally giving prospective players transportation, meals, tickets and lodging) and the NCAA gave them a bowl ban, TV ban and loss of 10 schloarships. So I guess you can take out Illinois from the 1985 B1G game.
You can also throw out Sparty in 1978 (for similar violations under Dan Stolz) and put us in the conference championship game against Purdue. MSU was already banned from playing in the Rose Bowl.
Otherwise, interesting matchups there. That might be an argument to put us and OSU in the same division. Kind of like Florida and Tennessee in the 90's in the SEC, it just would have been them every year in the conference title game had they been in separate divisions.
One thing I was thinking about... how many times have we lost to Ohio State and still won the B1G and went on to the rose bowl? I ask because it's going to be less likely we can do this in the future, especially as Nebraska is now in our division. It irks me that we're guaranteed to play MSU, Nebraska every year (and probably now Illinois), yet Ohio State's toughest test is Wisconsin. They should be forced at least to play Nebraska or MSU every year.
Because I see this as a reason to separate Michigan and Ohio. If you trim down to when PSU joined, then PSU and Wisconsin are the next most frequent winners of the title. I have never understood why people don't think these conference divisions are balanced. Nebraska clearly brings a challenge equal to what PSU bring. In fact look at the top two teams in each division. Ohio and PSU, and Michigan and Nebraska. And let's not forget that MSU and Wisconsin were in the first championship game.
Yes, The Game is weakened by splitting Michigan and Ohio, but the championship game would have stayed weak unless you put Nebraska and PSU together, which is geographically weirder than what is happening to Wisconsin now.
While Michigan and Ohio State are still somewhat dominant, the two divisions are balanced out.
The Game almost always affects the Big Ten divisional race, for better or worse. A win over the main rival is a big step to locking up a division title, a loss can knock you out. Just like it's always been, Michigan/Ohio State always affects the Big Ten championship, although in a different way.
By having balanced divisions that separate the two powers, it not only creates the potential for a rematch, but also allows other teams to win division titles in down years. A Michigan & Ohio State division would all but lock out every other team in the division.
I didn't want to rely on too many sanctions, because my off-hand knowledge is incomplete. If a team won on the field, I put them in the title game.
Again though, putting Michigan and OSU in the same division would avoid a lot of rematches, but it would also lock out their divisional opponents from pretty much any division titles.
Splitting up the teams allows for potentially lucrative rematches, and opens up the field for the rest of the Big Ten.
1. Great job--I love the data
2. Even though in this scenario Michigan comes out on top more than any other team, this two division crap still blows
3. You must have a lot of spare time on your hands
My only question - in 1993, you have PSU vs. OSU/UW. All three of them are in the same division, so I was wondering what the rationale was for making that the BTCG?
- It was like midnight, and I was tired.
- Aargh, I thought I checked everything aaaargh
EDITED: 1993 got fixed. Good news guys, Michigan wins another division title!
Sure Nebraska would have had a similar effect as Penn State (5 division titles in 20 years) but what about adding Rutgers and Maryland. It is like adding Minnesota and Indiana. Errrrr.....
Rutgers and Maryland were largely irrelevant (and still are!), so I didn't bother to include them.
Adding Nebraska officially would have added more logistical hoops to jump through (how can you predict a conference finish with a completely different schedule?).
Wait, Sparty vs. Indiana?!
You bet. Both teams were excellent in 1987, and both deservedly beat Michigan that year. It seems strange to us now, but Indiana had some good years in the late 80s and early 90s.
...excellent work, one of my favorites of all time. Well-researched...keep up the good work.
My one comment is that the dominance of Michigan and Ohio State is unbelievable, but really cool to see laid out in your post. I guess I didn't realize how few times other teams would have made the championship game.
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.
One the one hand, you quite naturally and rightly insist on playing Ohio State every year, with most even wanting to share the same division. It's the only game you want even though OSU is a perennial power. On the other hand, you worry that your other conference rivals don't have to play OSU every year and get an easier path to the B1G title.
And yet there've been many posts along the lines of "UM-OSU will dominate the B1G in the future, with maybe Nebraska-Wisconsin-Illinois-Iowa getting lucky and having an occasional good year", so why would you even care about their strength of schedule?
My point is, since it's a given in the Michigan world to play OSU every year and everyone else can't, don't sweat the rest. There's been divisions of 6, soon there'll be divisions of 7. Likely there'll be a 16 team conference before too long. There's geography, scheduling logistics, and ebb and flow of school's program strength. Not to mention the occasional PSU sanction cases. No way it can all be factored in around the one thing you guys all want, preserving your game with OSU.
Honestly, I like things the way they are now.
Michigan should play Ohio State every year, and The Game always does affect the final standings.
The only time I'd radically switch things around would be if the conference went to 20 teams. Then, have the Big Ten against the Big East Ten or something.
We're not conflicted. Brian and others have long argued that Michigan should be in the same division as OSU, which preserves the place and significance of the rivalry while ensuring better cross-divisional fairness and removing the distasteful possibility of a rematch a week later.
Most of us hope that any significant divisional realignment will match us with OSU so that we can compete for the same divisional spot. The days of the Game determining the B1G title are over anyway with the championship game; at least let it determine the division champ.
There's good precedent for this in the SEC, where rivalries like the Iron Bowl are in the same division and frequently have SEC championship implications.
and "no longer a Midwestern conference" (per Jim Delany), I don't think you'll ever see UM-OSU in the same division. Now its all about maximizing the different combinations of UM-OSU-NEB-PSU games.
For now, they'll just move Illinois or another Leaders team over, because pretty soon it'll be a 16 team conference with those 4 each heading up a division and playing 9 conference games:
3 in-division games
3 locked cross division games - 1 from each division
3 outside-division games
I'm not advocating this, but it best fits the TV-driven, Midwest/NE reality and future.
Here is a graphical view of the results you tabulated; feel free to use without restriction, if desired:
I shall use this.
This is an excellent collection of data. On your initial title game list you incorrectly list 1979 as Michigan vs. Purdue (OSU was undefeated that year) but you have the correct information in the season summary.
I found myself reading through every season, for nostalgia purposes. Nice work.
The only team without a hypothetical championship game berth since 1969 is Minnesota. A once-proud program that has been totally irrelevant for over 40 years--incredible.
Went back and edited it, along with all of the other data sets. Thanks!
It's quite amazing that Minnesota has been highly irrelevant for so long. There's a lot of random stats to use just for that (like Michigan going undefeated in the Metrodome, for example).
Very cool. Excellent diary.