By: Mike Davis
This post is an explanation for why I paired these schools as fixed rivals as part of my “No Divisions” scheduling project. I only included the pairings that I felt needed the most explaining. You may ask why I spent so much time breaking down the Big Ten. The reason for this is because the Big Ten schools played each other so frequently and more often than the ACC/SEC. For the ACC/SEC, the rivalry options were obvious. For the Big Ten, it was harder to determine/justify rivals. I also had to factor in that the Big Ten just added three new schools, none of which had extensive history with the Big Ten. Incorporating these new programs into the Big Ten was also challenging.
Nebraska-Penn State: A end of year rivalry featuring Penn State and Nebraska as a precursor to the Michigan-Ohio state rivalry perhaps is one of the smartest moves for the Big Ten. UNL* and PSU are the only two elite programs that lack a true rivalry game with another elite school, but more importantly, they lack a true conference rival. The Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry has never been the same since the formation of the Big 12. Nebraska and Penn State are two power programs that could benefit greatly by pairing up. It would be great for the Big Ten as it gives the conference a highly anticipated game each year. UNL and PSU rarely played each other before they were members of the Big Ten but they do share a love/hate relationship. Penn State fans have an animosity towards Nebraska over a disputed national championship (1994). But at the same time, Nebraska played a crucial role in 2011 during the child sex abuse scandal. It was the first school to play Penn State in the post-Paterno era. The Cornhuskers handled that game with complete class and developed a shared mutual respect between the two fan bases.
*I refer to Nebraska as UNL and not NU to avoid confusion with Northwestern.
Michigan State-Penn State: These two schools had an end of year rivalry from 1992 to 2010. MSU is one of the few trophy games that PSU has and I felt that it was important to keep at least one of Penn States original Big Ten rivalries and they were the best choice. The two schools were already slated to play each other on a yearly basis under the original Big Ten 14 team scheduling plan.
Michigan State-Iowa: These two schools share a common problem. They are the only two Big Ten schools that lack the ability to play their #1 rival in the last week of the season. Michigan is already occupied with Ohio State while Iowa State plays a Big 12 team that week. The best solution to this is allowing the two schools to pair up and become each other’s end of year rival. I polled various Hawkeye and Spartan forums and found that both fan bases are very supportive to this type of matchup and already enjoy playing each other.
Indiana-Ohio State: I picked this matchup because it is a trophy game and two border states.
Rutgers-Maryland: They were by far the two hardest schools to figure out. I ultimately decided to give them each other as their end of year rival as neither team really made sense to pair up with any other Big Ten team to end the season.
Rutgers-Nebraska: I selected this matchup for the benefit of the Cornhuskers. The biggest problem facing the Big Ten right now is Nebraska. Nebraska is not reaching their full potential in the Big Ten in large part due to recruiting issues. The 2013 UNL class is all over the map and the recently signed 2014 class wasn’t any different. While this may look abnormal to other programs Nebraska has a history of recruiting like this.
Historically UNL has recruited mostly in the Big 12 footprint and California. Their Big Ten recruiting has been meager over the years. So moving to the Big Ten did very little to help them with recruiting and this has had a negative effect on them.
Nebraska’s class rankings for 2014 were 39th by ESPN, 35th by 247sports, 32nd by Rivals and 34th by Scout. Nebraska is considered to be one of the elite programs in the country however they are not living up to that status recruiting wise. Part of the problem for Nebraska has been the loss of Texas recruiting since joining the Big ten. UNL had a combined 17 Texas signees in their 2008 and 2009 classes. The next two years (2010 and 2011) UNL had just ten Texas signees. In 2012 and 2013 UNL had only five Texas signees.
Giving UNL a rivalry with both Rutgers and Penn State opens them up to the recruiting grounds of NJ and PA. Those two states produced 119 division I signees last year. New Jersey and Pennsylvania ranked 3rd and 4th among Big Ten states for total recruits; however, they jump to 2nd and 3rd when that number is adjusted for population. These grounds are not Texas, but it allows for UNL to obtain access to some of the better recruiting grounds that the Big Ten has to offer and in the process gives them an East Coast media presence.
Rutgers-Ohio State: This was a case of “I couldn’t find a better a decent school for Rutgers and OSU had an open slot”. Rutgers gets screwed having fixed rivals with 2 different power programs. However they are even more screwed under the original Big Ten scheduling format, which has them playing Penn State, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Michigan each year. On the plus side, Rutgers will get some great exposure playing UNL and OSU each year. The only major downside is that OSU has the easiest fixed rivalries schedule. However considering they are the Big Tens best hope at bringing home a national championship it is a blessing in disguise for Big Ten as a whole.
Penn State-Maryland: Maryland is the first historical rival of Penn State to join the Big Ten. Capitalizing on pre-existing history between new incoming members and current members during conference realignment is one of the smartest decisions a conference can make. It creates excitement about the move by bringing back once dormant rivalries and goes a long way to help the new school fit in with its new conference.
Northwestern-Maryland: Another case of “I couldn’t find a good rival for one of the new Big Ten members and Northwestern had an open slot.” One thing that makes this matchup special is that these are both Under Armor schools who have made some serious attempts in the past to top Oregon as “Gimmick U” with their over the top flag themed uniforms.
Maybe they can keep those uniforms limited to just this matchup and not blind other Big Ten fan bases.
It already happened in the ACC
Northwestern-Illinois & Purdue-Indiana: It is pretty simple to figure out what I did here. I kept these two in state rivals together and also capitalized on the geographical proximity of these four schools and gave them as many match ups with each other as possible which includes Illinois-Indiana, Northwestern-Purdue, and Illinois-Purdue.
Minnesota-Wisconsin: These schools are already great rivals. Since all of the other western Big Ten schools have end of year rivals these schools are the last two schools left.
Wisconsin-Iowa: I have always viewed these two programs along with Michigan State as the next strongest group of Big Ten programs after the elites of UM, OSU, PSU, & UNL. Besides geographical proximity pairing up these schools is great because these two schools will be competitive on a regular basis.
Nebraska-Iowa: Iowa is the only school the Cornhuskers have any real history with. They have a total of 44 games played between the two. As I stated earlier if two schools who become new conference mates have prior history, then the conference should capitalize on that history.
Minnesota-Iowa: I selected this final matchup because of geographical proximity.
Florida-Auburn & Georgia-Auburn: I have talked to countless Auburn fans on SEC teams they would want as rivals. Nearly all of them say Florida and Georgia are the teams they would want as fixed rivals besides Alabama. There is very strong fan support for this and looking at the all time series records Auburn has played UGA more often than any other program at 117 games. Florida is currently Auburn’s 3rd most played SEC team at 83 games. Mississippi State is 2nd at 87 games however it is important to note that MSU only jumped so far ahead Florida due to the SEC divisional alignment in 1992.
South Carolina-Georgia: A lot of UGA fans that I have talked to don’t like this particular matchup, however most Gamecock fans prefer it. Georgia may have no shortage of conference rivals but South Carolina does and these are border states which means their fan base and recruiting grounds are right next to each other which fuels this rivalry.
Texas A&M-Missouri: The two don’t have a lot of history despite being former Big 12 schools, however I put these two together because I didn’t want to pair them with an older SEC member unless they have some sort of historical connection. Pairing either of these schools with another SEC member means that their partner school loses a fixed rivalry with a school that they have more history/tradition with.
Arkansas-Texas A&M: These two former SWC members have played a total of 70 times in the past despite not playing a game between 1991-2009.
Kentucky-South Carolina: This was another forced rivalry I had to select. Not ideal but UK has played USC every year since they joined the SEC and I couldn’t find a more intriguing matchup. The one positive here is both schools have end of year AC rivals which means they won’t be stuck as end of year games and gives the SEC much more flexibility scheduling wise.
LSU-Texas A&M: The two already have history and the SEC has already shown that they want to make this matchup a conference rivalry. I wrote about this matchup being pushed by the SEC a few months ago.
Florida-South Carolina: Like UK and USC, this is also another forced rivalry I had to create to fill South Carolina’s slots. Florida is South Carolina’s second most played SEC opponent at 34 games.
Mississippi State-Missouri & Missouri Arkansas: Missouri has no real history with any SEC school. Former SWC rival Texas A&M (14 games) is the only SEC school that Missouri has played more than seven games against all time. Forcing two different programs into a rivalry with a new member like this when they have such little history is not ideal, but inevitable due to conference realignment.
I took a different route with the ACC and embraced a format similar to a pod system. The three northern (SU, Pitt, & BC) schools plus Louisville make up a northern pod and the four southern schools (Miami, FSU, CU, GT) make up a southern pod. The six remaining Virginia & North Carolina schools I matched up with each other as best as possible to find the three best rivals per school.
The northern pod: Even though Louisville is in a southern state their most recent history was with the Big East and I wanted to keep the momentum going with the Louisville-Pittsburgh and Syracuse-Louisville match ups. Louisville is geographically isolated from the rest of the conference however the two closest ACC schools to the Cardinals are Pittsburgh & Virginia Tech, which happen to be nearly identical in travel distances from Louisville. Pittsburgh is an outlier in the north to BC & SU (who are rivals) and being one of the closest schools to Louisville and pairing them up makes perfect sense to me. The only problem is that Kentucky is Louisville’s end of year rival meaning this game can’t be played to finish the season which will force Pitt to find a non conference opponent to end their season.
Hey West Virginia…….
The southern pod: I setup this pod for geographical reasons as well as guaranteeing some compelling match ups each year since Miami, CU, & FSU are the strongest ACC programs.
The Virginia & North Carolina schools: I started with the most important rivalries Duke-UNC and Virginia-Virginia Tech which left Wake Forest & NC State with no matchup so I put them together as end of year in-state rivals. Then next group I chose by pairing up the two privates WF & Duke as well as the two flagship land-grants of UVA & UNC. This left Virginia Tech & NC state without a matchup so I paired them up. For the last group of match ups I kept the in-state land grant matchup of NCSU & UNC. This left Wake Forest, Duke, Virginia, & Virginia Tech. I Ultimately chose Duke-UVA and WF-VT.