Football

How Each Big Ten Team Can (Eventually) Win a Division Crown

Doran Grant Big Ten Football Championship Game

There have been six Big Ten Conference Championship Games since the B1G joined the conference championship party back in 2011. In that time, however, only six teams have participated.

Wisconsin has played in the game four times, Michigan State three, Ohio State twice, and Penn State, Nebraska, and Iowa once each.

The Badgers and Spartans have each won the game twice, with OSU and PSU nabbing the last two championships.

Given that there could have been 12 different teams play in the six Big Ten title games to this point, it is somewhat telling that only six teams have actually accomplished the feat. Apparently, not every team can be as talented as Michigan State or Wisconsin or Nebraska or Penn State or Iowa or Ohio State.

Personally, I would like to see more teams take part. Variety is the spice of life, after all. Though I don’t know what kind of spice a program like Purdue is. And to call Rutgers a spice would be like calling Valvoline a popcorn topping.

Still, I want to see more teams take part. That’s going to be a tall order for some programs, I get that.

It’s not impossible, though, and I can prove it.

Here’s how each Big Ten program can make it the B1G Championship Game. Eventually.

Big Ten West

Illinois
Okay, this is the first team I get to and I’m already stumped. For one, the Illini could maybe build some momentum by not playing such difficult non-conference schedules. Like this year, they have Ball State and Western Kentucky at home, and then they also go to USF. They can’t build momentum with a 1-2 record to start the season! If Lovie Smith is around long enough to get a few recruiting classes together, and then that uptick in talent would happen to fall in line with a favorable cross-divisional trio of games with the Big Ten East, then maybe the Illini can make it to a Big Ten Championship Game in the next three or four years. And once they get there, anything can happen, as Wisconsin showed in 2012 and Ohio State showed in 2014.

Iowa
The Hawkeyes’ best shot for a conference crown has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be more chances. It will take them a year or two to build back up with a veteran team, and once they have that, the West is always up for grabs. I don’t see it happening this year, though running back Akrum Wadley is the kind of guy who can carry a program along for the ride. Road games at Wisconsin and Nebraska this year, as well as a home game against Ohio State will make it tough to win the West. Maybe next year with their home schedule and an experienced quarterback will get them there. The good news is that nothing crazy has to take place like a kidnapping or blackmail. Iowa just needs to stay Iowa, which is what they’ve always been best at.

Minnesota
A year ago, Kirk Herbstreit picked Minnesota to win the Big Ten West. The Gophers went 5-4 in conference play, finishing fifth place in the division. So, if Minnesota wants to win the division, they might want to ask Herbstreit not to jinx them. I really like the hire of P.J. Fleck, but the Gophers probably have a three-year window where either he takes them to heights they haven’t seen since Glen Mason and then leaves, or Fleck flies too close to the sun and then flames out. Road games at Iowa, Northwestern, and Michigan eliminates Minnesota this year, but Fleck will be recruiting at a Tim Brewsterian pace. The good news for the Gophers is that he is actually able to get results from his recruiting. As long as Fleck keeps rowing the boat, I could see Minnesota winning a division title within three years for sure.

Nebraska
The Huskers were blasted 70-31 by Wisconsin in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game, so if they want to win a B1G title, they might want to remember to actually show up when invited. Mike Riley is recruiting pretty well right now, and we can expect his passing game to improve over the next few years. Nebraska will always be a division contender, just like Wisconsin and Iowa, which means they could also win the Big Ten title in any given season. Home games against Wisconsin and Ohio State this season give them two great chances at huge wins. A loss late in the season at Penn State may not matter because it’s difficult to envision more than one team from the West having fewer than two losses.

Northwestern
How are the Wildcats supposed to focus on making the Big Ten Championship Game with Finals approaching? They came to Northwestern to play school, after all. The Wildcats are a lot like Nebraska and Wisconsin in that they could be contenders in any given year, but sometimes they just aren’t. Games at Wisconsin and Nebraska this season will be tough, but if they split those, they could be looking at an 11-1 record this year (assuming they beat Penn State in Evanston.) I can see a division title this year quite easily for Northwestern, which virtually guarantees their 7-5 record.

Purdue
I love the Jeff Brohm hire. I’ve been saying for years that Purdue needs to get back to what they used to do under Joe Tiller. With Brohm, the Boilermakers will put pressure on defenses from the outset, and not just when they’re down by 35 points. Yeah, Purdue threw the ball a ton last year, but desperation isn’t an offense. While we’re all paying attention to the offensive attack, however, the Boilers are only ever going to win a division when they get back to fielding defenses like they did under Tiller. Brohm’s defenses got better each year he was at Western Kentucky. The same will happen here. I can see a division title in the next four years. The defense will be the wildcard because the offense is a certainty.

Wisconsin
Who am I to tell Wisconsin how to win a division? Based on how they won the Leaders Division in 2012 by planting free tattoos on various unaware Buckeyes and then alerting the NCAA two years prior, these guys have no problem playing the long con. Pretty shameful, actually.

Big Ten East

Indiana
I think the Hoosiers need to go out and find themselves an offensive-minded head coach who was a successful coordinator at a perennial power and see how that works out. Ohio State has a guy they might want to look at. Indiana’s best bet at winning a division is losing no more than two conference games and hoping for a tie at the top. Honestly, with Ohio State and Michigan both coming to Bloomington — and with the Hoosiers returning nine starters on defense — if that scenario is ever going to happen, this is the year.

Maryland
Let’s give D.J. Durkin two more recruiting classes in the DMV area and then really start to ramp up the expectations. You could make an argument that Maryland has the best recruiting footprint of any Big Ten school. Unfortunately, they can’t keep any of the other schools out, so it’s not doing them as much good as it could. If the Terps are ever going to win the Big Ten East, it starts with recruiting. Keep the best players in the area home and away from Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan, and their chances go way, way up. There will be an increase in skill here, however, so don’t be too dismissive.

Michigan
Gosh, maybe join the Big Ten West?

Michigan State
The Spartans have already made it to three Big Ten Championship Games, so I don’t need to tell them how to win a division. The more interesting question here for Mark Dantonio is if he can get his program back on the right path. Forever, MSU was a program that would ebb and then come back. Dantonio built up those expectations and pretty much eliminated the ebb…until last season. So now we need to know if these last few years were the anomaly or if last year was the anomaly. There is so much doubt around this program right now. How can MSU win a division again? I’d say they should just do what they’ve been doing, but how much of these last few years was dependent upon a down Michigan and Penn State?

Ohio State
Ohio State has won a division every year under Urban Meyer, even though most of them are shared. Still, sharing is a great quality to have. Nobody likes selfish people.

Penn State
The Nittany Lions are the reigning Big Ten Champions, so they already know how to win a division. The publications are tabbing them for the No. 2 spot in the East, so they’ll be right in the thick of the hunt again this year. With nine starters returning on offense and six on defense, Penn State could be a Top 10 team this season. So how do they win a division title? Let Saquon Barkley show them the way.

Rutgers
You might not think Rutgers winning the Big Ten East is possible, but I would remind you that you were still in diapers when Rutgers was inventing the game 148 years ago. Greg Schiano led the Scarlet Knights to greatness back in the mid-to-late 2000s, so there’s no reason to think somebody can’t do the same over the next decade. How do they do it? Easy. I know a guy who knows a guy and say maybe the trash at Penn State or Ohio State doesn’t get picked up for a few weeks and rats start hanging out and they start spreading diseases around OSU or Michigan or wherever, you know? I’m just saying. Just hear me out. And say maybe I know a guy who knows a guy and maybe Penn State’s playbook goes missing, you know? How does it happen? It just does. Or maybe some guy shows up to Schembechler Hall and tells the people there that he’d hate to see something happen to such a beautiful building. I’m just saying is all. Anything can happen. This is a crazy world that we live in. You can never be too sure, you know?