The Wisconsin Badgers won the Big Ten last season despite posting just a 4-4 record in conference play. They were helped into the Big Ten Championship game by the fact that the two teams ahead of them in the Leaders Division (Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions) were not eligible to participate in the postseason.
With conference realignment on the horizon as the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Maryland Terrapins set to join the league in 2014, Wisconsin may not have to worry about Urban Meyer standing in their way to the conference title game anymore.
The Big Ten has been open to the thought of realigning the league once the new members join up in 2014. That will likely mean the Leaders and Legends Divisions as we know them (and how we name them) will be scrapped and new conference lines will have to be drawn. The conference is looking for a practical and simple way to split up the 14 teams it will claim in 2014.
According to Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, geography will play a part in the new alignment. On his weekly radio show, he even offered up a possible preview of how the conference alignment might shake out:
A straight East-West breakdown doesn’t seem likely, as that would stack the East Division with the Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Ohio State, Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, and Indiana Hoosiers. That would be a brutal division schedule and would eliminate any possibility of the conference’s two flagship programs (Ohio State and Michigan) from meeting up in the conference championship game.
A more likely scenario is for the conference to look to balance the divisions more evenly. Something like Ohio State, Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois in one division while Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin constitute the other. In short, Wisconsin would move from the Legends to Leaders Division, and the two new arrivals would take their place.
In either scenario, Wisconsin would avoid having to go through Ohio State, who looks poised to continue improving after going 12-0 this season, to get to the Big Ten Championship. On the down side, trading in Ohio State and Penn State for Nebraska, Michigan and Northwestern (who all finished with better conference records in 2012) along with Michigan State (who beat Wisconsin last season) may become an even tougher road.
At any rate, change is looming for Wisconsin and Big Ten. How will the Badgers respond?