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Big Ten Realignment: How Would a 3-5-5 Work?

Divisions appear to be gone soon.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Hey kids! I know I haven’t written a ton of late, but such is the burden of the offseason. There often is not a lot to talk about, but the latest semi-big news is that the much maligned divisions in the Big Ten could soon be going by the wayside:

We have had 11 editions of the Big Ten championship game now (my God, Nebraska has been in this conference for 11 years?) Only the first three had the “Leaders vs. Legends” format, with Wisconsin winning the first two from the Leaders Division (which was Purdue’s at the time). Michigan State won the third one, and ever since there was a realignment to the current East vs. West format the game has been dominated by the East. The East Division is 8-0 in that span, with Ohio State winning five of those games. Michigan State, Michigan, and Penn State each won one, while Indiana, Maryland, and Rutgers have not made an appearance (because the idea of any of those three making it is downright silly).

Not only has the West not won one of these yet, it often has not been close. Michigan State beat Iowa in 2015 16-13 in a game that came down to the wire. Wisconsin was within a touchdown the next two years, but in the last four games the East winner has won by double digits every time.

If the divisions are gone it won’t eliminate the championship game, but it will mean the top two teams in the conference standings will face off each year. Since the East has long been the stronger of the two divisions that opens things up for Penn State vs. Ohio State or even the conference’s dream of Michigan vs. Ohio State round 2.

But how would the scheduling work? Currently the Big Ten has a nine game schedule. Going to a full 13 game round robin is unlikely, but what if we trimmed off a game? The ACC is a fellow 14 team league and they have proposed a 3-5-5 model which works well with their Notre Dame agreements. Basically, every team in the conference has three opponents it would play every year. For the remaining 10 the schools would rotate five one year, and the other five the next. It works out that you would play every team at home at least once every four years.

I like this. The way the Big Ten is now scheduling is a six year rotation at a 6-1-2 model. We play our six divisional opponents every year. For a six year stretch there is a locked in cross division opponent (Indiana for us), and the other two rotate among the other six teams in the opposing division. This means we get a visit from every team guaranteed only once every SIX years. That leads to some wild gaps. For example, Purdue has not played in Ann Arbor since 2011, and the earliest it could play there is 2023, as this is the last year of the six-year rotation. We were supposed to play there in 2020, but…

Dropping down to an eight game conference schedule opens things up in the non-conference as well. I love random non-conference games and seeing teams come to Ross-Ade that don’t come very often. The eventual expansion of the college football playoff will only make desirable non-conference games even bigger, so I think school will welcome a fourth non-conference game, even if it is for a cupcake to get fat off of. The Group of Five school would love the extra schedule openings too. If it opens things up to play Air Force, Memphis, and the road game at Boston College that were lost from the 2020 schedule, even better.

But who becomes the locked in opponents for everyone? Let’s take a look at how each school would get its three permanent opponents.

Trophy Games/Traditional Rivalries

The Big Ten certainly loves itself some trophy games, especially Minnesota. I believe the Gophers officially have five of them. Even newcomer Nebraska has had some pretty good rivalries already. We can already knock off a few schools who can fill their three on trophy games alone:

Illinois – Purdue (Purdue Cannon), Northwestern (LOL Hat), Ohio State (Illibuck)

Iowa – Nebraska (Heroes Trophy), Wisconsin (Heartland Trophy), Minnesota (Floyd of Rosedale

Michigan – Minnesota (Jug), Ohio State (The Game), Michigan State (Paul Bunyan Trophy)

Michigan State – Indiana (Old Brass Spittoon), Michigan (Paul Bunyan Trophy), Penn State (Land-Grant Trophy)

Minnesota – Iowa (Floyd of Rosedale), Wisconsin (Axe), Michigan (Jug)

Wisconsin – Minnesota (Axe), Nebraska (Freedom Trophy), Iowa (Heartland Trophy)

That’s six schools already taken care of, with a few more that already have two:

Indiana – Michigan State (Old Brass Spittoon), Purdue (Old Oaken Bucket)

Purdue – Illinois (Purdue Cannon), Indiana (Old Oaken Bucket)

Nebraska – Iowa (Heroes Trophy), Wisconsin (Freedom Trophy)

Ohio State - Illinois (Illibuck), Michigan (The Game)

Let’s fill three of these out with some easy ones based on proximity.


Indiana – Congratulations, you get Rutgers! You both traditionally suck at football and there has been a lot of sniping there thanks to Crimson Quarry. Have fun! Jim Delaney will get more Rutgers-Indiana because he knows what he did.

Purdue – Northwestern is right up I-65 and is a nice, easy road trip. Plus, this is a Purdue blog and if I want to give Purdue a steady diet of football powerhouses Northwestern, Indiana, and Illinois every year I will.

Ohio State – The Buckeyes have the Illibuck with Illinois and there is no way they won’t have a season without playing Michigan, so that’s too. Penn State is a natural third with them since they are so close by.

That leaves us with Maryland, Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State, and Rutgers missing dance partners. We can pair these down really quick, too.

The Fill-ins

Penn State – The Nittany Lions have the Land-Grant with Michigan State and it really does feel like a rivalry by now. They also get Ohio State because it is a natural rivalry and we’ll give them Maryland, too, because someone has to play Maryland.

Maryland – There is no way we’re having a permanent rivalry without Maryland and Rutgers being intertwined. Congrats, guys, you’re stuck together forever. You also have Penn State, who only has a 41-3-1 lead in the all-time series (but Maryland has won twice since joining the Big Ten). For your third I am giving you Nebraska. You’re both up and coming programs always looking for that big breakthrough

Nebraska – The two for Nebraska already make really good sense, but the rest of their nearby foes are spoken for. That leaves Maryland or Rutgers since I already have those two playing each other and need one for Northwestern’s third. I’ll give them Maryland, a program whose success in the last few years is inspiring for a bottom tier team like Nebraska.

Northwestern – Purdue and Illinois are only natural. Rutgers and Northwestern though at least sounds even over the course of history.

Rutgers – Maryland, Northwestern, and Indiana definitely have a “we have to play these teams every year vibe”, but it is Rutgers football, so no one cares.

And there you have it!