One of the funniest things about the B1G is the power imbalance between the two divisions. When the B1G first split up its teams in 2010, it was the Leaders & Legends division. Hilarity ensued.
After adding Rutgers and Maryland, the conference realigned, now with geographic divisions for east and west. That realignment, while geographically accurate, just so happened to place 4 of the 5 national brand powerhouses on one side of the Big Ten – the East. Some people may try and argue that Nebraska is still a national blue chip brand, and to those people I say lol.
This realignment was hugely beneficial to Northwestern, and all the other teams in the West. It’s no coincidence that after the realignment, the Big Ten East has won every single conference championship game. The Big Ten has had three teams represent the conference in the College Football Playoff – each of them hailed from the East.
While the teams in the East are competing for national prominence in the playoff, the West has been a dogfight of underrated teams trying to make up for a talent gap. This is where Northwestern thrives, down in the mud. It gives us motivation that we have something to play for each year…we have a realistic shot to win the West and make it to Indy for the Big Ten championship. The ‘Cats have done this two out of the last four years. Only three teams have ever won the West and made it to Indy – Wisconsin and Iowa being the other two. Nebraska made it in its first year in the Big Ten…but as the winner of the Leaders division.
We want to maintain this division advantage as long as we possibly can. Once USC and UCLA join the conference, there will inevitably put the ‘Cats in a tougher spot to make it to Indy, assuming they would both be in the West (seems like a fair assumption).
The power imbalance has led us to look at the crossover games each year between the West and the East. Each team in the West plays each other team once, and then has three crossover games against teams in the East. The division championship can be won or lost can be simply based on how lucky each team is with their crossover schedule. Playing Rutgers in a crossover game is much better than playing Ohio State.
Just for kicks, I’ve looked at each West school’s crossover games for this year, to try and determine who got the easiest draw in 2022. Who has an advantage based on their schedule. Using an aggregate of CBS Sports analysts’ predictions for Big Ten standings, I’ve given each school a rating – the higher the number, the easier their schedule. Here are the results for 2022.
Nebraska – crossover: IU, @Rutgers, @Michigan. 15
Minnesota – crossover: @MSU, @PSU, Rutgers. 14
Purdue – crossover: PSU, @MD, @IU. 14
Illinois – crossover: @IU, MSU, @Michigan. 12
Wisconsin – crossover: @OSU, @MSU, MD. 10
Iowa – crossover: @Rutgers, Michigan, OSU. 10
Northwestern – crossover: @MD, @PSU, OSU. 9
As you can see, the ‘Cats have the toughest schedule. This isn’t the only measure, and certainly isn’t 100% objective, but gives us one more piece of intel about where the Big Ten West could shake out this year. It’s also important to note that in the same CBS Sports poll, every single analyst picked Northwestern to finish last in the West. We’re off to an ideal start taking down Nebraska in game 1. Is that a harbinger of good things to come? One can dream!
*Note – if interested, below were the aggregate CBS rankings for the East.