Making Sense of Realignment.  Sorta.

The conference division stories have obviously been dominated by the impending move of the OSU/U-M game from November to October (ZOMG!).  The mouthbreathing from both U-M and OSU partisans has been plentiful in the aftermath, but frankly, it's just not all that interesting to us, and, we reasonably assume, to fans of most other teams in the conference.  It'd be great if that game stays in the last week of the season--and there's no doubt that it's the most desirable option--but the world will still turn if THE GAME is in October, not November.

Rather, for Spartans, the most relevant upshot of the (seemingly inevitable) change is that Michigan will be the new season-closer.  For us, it's a clear upgrade: we move from ending the year with a contrived rivalry, to ending it with a real one.  Michigan would end up in a similar position to Texas and Oklahoma: playing their primary conference rival in the middle of the season, and ending the year with the in-state hate game.  In other words, it'll be interesting and fine, and the MSU/U-M game will take on some added significance on both sides.  Good deal for us.

But who will the other conference opponents be?  In the wake of Barry Alvarez's comment yesterday that Iowa and Wisconsin will be split up, predicting the members of each division has become today's most popular parlor game.  We do know a few things: assuming that Michigan and Ohio State do end up splitting up, Michigan and MSU will be in the same division.  Further, if Iowa and Wisconsin isn't going to be a yearly game, it figures that Iowa and Minnesota also won't be in the same division.  If Minnesota and Iowa were in the same division, Iowa and Wisconsin would be the natural protected rivalry, and Alvarez's comments wouldn't make much sense.  Also, more simply, most reports have Minnesota and Wisconsin in the same division.  So, that's that.  Also, it's likely that Illinois and Northwestern will remain paired in the same division, and Purdue and Indiana will be placed in the other.  In terms of historical success, each pair is the rough equivalent of the other, and this setup will allow those season-ending rivalry games to continue as such.

More, after the jump.

Now, onto the teams at the top.  Ohio State and Penn State will probably be kept together, so OSU remains with one of its two existing protected rivalries.  If PSU and OSU are together, Nebraska (the other historic power) has to move into the other division.  Nebraska and Iowa is a natural rivalry, so we keep them together, and place Wisconsin into the other division with Penn State and Ohio State.  Thus, we end up with this:

Division #1

Division #2

Michigan State

Ohio State

Michigan

Penn State

Nebraska

Wisconsin

Iowa

Minnesota

Illinois

Purdue

Northwestern

Indiana

 

I've placed Illinois and Northwestern with MSU based on Mark Hollis's comments on how he'd like Northwestern to be a yearly game.  You could switch Illinois/Northwestern with Purdue/Indiana with very few problems.  The resulting divisions are the same that BHGP and Maize 'n Brew, among others, have come up with.  At the risk of sounding too self-satisfied, they're the divisions that make the most sense, as long as teams are not being divided on pure geography.  Which they won't be, unfortunately.

Now, the cross-divisional protected rivalries.  Michigan-Ohio State and Iowa-Minnesota are obvious.  The key to figuring out the others is, quite simply, to figure out who will play Nebraska.  Penn State and Wisconsin both have a claim.  PSU and Nebraska have the 1994 hate, are the bookends of the conference geography, are two traditional powers, and would create a pretty great game on a yearly basis.  Conversely, Wisconsin has been trying to claim a yearly game with Nebraska since--literally--the day of the announcement, and Alvarez (a Nebraska alum) really wants this to happen.

Let's assume that Penn State wins the day; that matchup would likely be the bigger revenue generator, and as we've seen, this entire thing is all about cash.  So, that leaves MSU, Illinois, and Northwestern on one side, and Wisconsin, Purdue, and Indiana on the other.  The obvious solution here is to place MSU with Wisconsin--because then Illinois-Indiana and Northwestern-Purdue are then easy choices, as they're existing protected rivalries. 

[Diversion: personally, I'm not wild about this plan, because we'd be moving from an annual game against one conference power (Penn State) to another (Wisconsin--albeit a lesser power).  Thus, in my dream scenario, I'll put Wisconsin with Northwestern (Border War game!!!1), Purdue with Illinois, and MSU with Indiana -- making the Ol' Brass Spittoon game an annual affair.  Substituting PSU for Indiana would be phenomenal in terms of wins and losses.]

In any event, we've got: Ohio State vs. Michigan, Iowa vs. Minnesota, Nebraska vs. Penn State, Michigan State vs. Wisconsin, Purdue vs. Northwestern, Illinois vs. Indiana.

But what if Wisconsin is placed with Nebraska?  Then  PSU-MSU makes sense to preserve the epic Land Grant Rivalry, even if Hollis has seemed rather tepid as to whether he'd like to keep this game.  Then, Indiana-Illinois, and Purdue-Northwestern, and it's a done deal.

Anyway, your best guesses at realignment are welcome, in the comments.

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