Hensley: The Big Ten’s divisions are lopsided, but that will change

The East and West divisions in the Big Ten aren’t on the same level yet, but they will be.


Joseph Cress

Purdue punter Joe Schopper leaps into the arms of a teammate in celebration during the Iowa/Purdue football game in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. The Boilermakers defeated the Hawkeyes, 24-15.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

The Big Ten is arguably the best conference in college football. Sure, there’s Alabama and the SEC, but aside from the Crimson Tide, each program is completely beatable. From top to bottom, the Big Ten is the most complete conference in the nation.

But is there a problem between the East and West Divisions in the Big Ten? Is there a major disparity between the two? At the 2018 media days in Chicago, this question came up frequently.

“Anybody can beat anybody, so you better be ready each and every Saturday,” Kirk Ferentz said.

Now, Ferentz didn’t come out and say it, but as of right now, the East is stronger than the West. At least for right now, that is. Give it some time, and yes, the conference will in fact even itself out.

Last season, Ohio State had 12 wins, Penn State had 11, Michigan State had 10, and Michigan had 8.

In the West, Wisconsin finished with 13 wins, Northwestern had 10, Iowa had 8, and Purdue had 7.

Just by the total wins, it’s clear the West is behind the East. Two of the top-four teams in the West had either the same or worse record than the fourth-best team in the East.

Urban Meyer, Ohio State’s (at least for now) head coach, said during media days in Chicago that the Big Ten East is uber-competitive.

“It’s the most competitive division that I’ve ever been a part of,” he said.

Meyer was previously at Florida before taking the gig at Ohio State. His tenure coaching the Gators in the SEC featured divisional clashes with Georgia and South Carolina, so that’s saying something.

There is a problem with disparity, yes. Insert a team such as Northwestern into the East, and it would struggle to hit the eight-win mark.

But give it few season, and both divisions will be close to, if not on, the same level.

Hear me out. Wisconsin is Wisconsin. The Badgers will always be atop the division or at least vying for that No. 1 spot. Northwestern and Pat Fitzgerald are good for an eight- to 10-win season. Iowa’s right there, too.

Now come the teams with seven wins or fewer.

I’m a big fan of Jeff Brohm at Purdue. What he did while coaching Western Kentucky was phenomenal, and I am confident when I say Purdue can get back to its ways of winning eight to nine games in a season, if not more. This team will beat people it shouldn’t this year, and that’s a sign of things to come.

Nebraska has its guy in Scott Frost, and even though it’s Nebraska, and as much as it hurts to say, I believe the Huskers will come back to football relevancy in the near future. It’s not as if Frost is taking over a historic Dumpster fire. Nebraska has history and usually is one of the better teams in the Big Ten.

Finally, there’s Minnesota. The Gophers are a wild card here, and maybe if they’re able to understand just a few things spewing out of the mouth of fast-talker P.J. Fleck, they’ll win seven or more games in the future.

So, essentially, Purdue, Nebraska, and Minnesota are all in this sort of rebuilding phase, with the Boilermakers leading the pack. Similar to how an NBA team tanks and rebuilds itself, these programs gutted what wasn’t working and plugged in promising pieces to return to relevancy.

Add those three schools to the likes of Iowa and Wisconsin, and you could (potentially) have at some point a five-team race for the division, much like there is typically a four-team race in the East. Then you’re looking at a Big Ten that is truly competitive from top to bottom.