Winners & Losers: The Nine Game Big Ten Schedule

Written By Lloyd Ribner III (@Ribner3

 The new and improved Big Ten Conference

The new and improved Big Ten Conference

It was back in April when the Big Ten announced that the conference’s athletic directors had unanimously recommended both the beginning of a new football division alignment for 2014, in addition to a nine-game conference schedule beginning in 2016.  The new division configurations were announced immediately.  They will feature Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers in the East Division while the West Division consists of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. 

However, the Big Ten brass waited a few months until coming out with the schedules for the new nine-game conference slate. But here it is...

2016

East Division 

Indiana: Nebraska, at Northwestern, Purdue
Maryland: Purdue, Minnesota, at Nebraska 
Michigan: Wisconsin, Illinois, at Iowa 
Michigan State: Wisconsin, Northwestern, at Illinois 
Ohio State: at Wisconsin, Northwestern, Nebraska 
Penn State: Minnesota, at Purdue, Iowa 
Rutgers: Illinois, at Minnesota, Iowa 

West Division 

Illinois: at Rutgers, at Michigan, Michigan State 
Iowa: at Rutgers, at Penn State, Michigan 
Minnesota: at Penn State, at Maryland, Rutgers 
Nebraska: at Indiana, at Ohio State, Maryland 
Northwestern: at Michigan State, Indiana, at Ohio State 
Purdue: at Maryland, Penn State, at Indiana
Wisconsin: at Michigan, at Michigan State, Ohio State 

2017 

East Division 

Indiana: Wisconsin, at Illinois, at Purdue 
Maryland: at Minnesota, Northwestern, at Wisconsin 
Michigan: at Purdue, Minnesota, at Wisconsin 
Michigan State: Iowa, at Minnesota, at Northwestern 
Ohio State: at Nebraska, at Iowa, Illinois 
Penn State: at Northwestern, at Iowa, Nebraska 
Rutgers: at Nebraska, at Illinois, Purdue 

West Division 

Illinois: Rutgers, Indiana, at Ohio State 
Iowa: at Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State 
Minnesota: Maryland, Michigan State, at Michigan 
Nebraska: Rutgers, Ohio State, at Penn State 
Northwestern: Penn State, at Maryland, Michigan State 
Purdue: Michigan, at Rutgers, Indiana 
Wisconsin: Maryland, at Indiana, Michigan 

Sure it will be four years until the conference will begin playing these schedules, but that hasn’t stopped the arguing and complaining amongst fans.  On twitter, message boards, and comment sections across the nation fans have started questioning and complaining about their future schedule compared to that of their rivals and the rest of the league.  Michigan State fans are saying the Wolverines have it easy, Michigan is wondering why they have a tougher slate than the Buckeyes, and even Hoosier fans are questioning why Purdue's schedule is so soft.

But is that really the case?

Sure it’s easy to quickly glance at these new schedules to see who your favorite team plays and their natural rival and think, “Man, if these games were played this year…”.  However, these matchups don’t take place until 2016!  That’s four whole years from now, and the Big Ten might not stack up anything like what you see today.  Just to see how much things can change, lets take a quick trip down memory lane to glance back at what the Big Ten looked like four years ago in 2009.

Sure the Buckeyes sat atop the standings, but they were sitting in first place in the Conference, not just the leaders division, because the divisions didn’t exist.  As far as the other 2012 division winner, they won their division back in 2009 as well; the only difference was that it was the Big 12 North!  Iowa ended the season in the top-10, while Michigan finished with just a single conference victory. 

As you can see, things can change just a bit in a four-year window.  This is unacceptable though, it’s 2013 and we must have an answer for every question immediately, even if it won’t necessarily be the correct one when it comes to fruition.  Fear not, as I have devised a way to determine which teams in the conference have the toughest nine-game schedules based on -- drumroll please -- actual on the field results.  To make things even better you will not be required to do any math, as simple as the calculations I did may be.

First and foremost I went back over the last five years of games for the 14 Big Ten teams who will be members come 2016.  I decided not to count their games against non-conference opponents as the level of competition was too varied to show any fair comparisons.  As I was trying to determine my sample size I decided that a number like 3 years seemed a bit short to get anything of substance from it, while a 10 year sample seemed to cover far to many changes in a program.  I settled on a 5 season sample size as it is could encapsulate both the old and new trends to display a more honest valuation of a programs strength.

Big Ten Conference wins 2008-2012.png

With the last five years of conference wins broken down it was easy to see who had been the most and least successful programs over the period of time.  There were of course still some discrepancies with the newer members of the Big Ten.  Nebraska played Big 12 Conference opponents in three of the five years, while Maryland did the same, but in the ACC.  Rutgers like the Terrapins played all five seasons outside of the Big Ten, however they did it in the Big East where teams were only scheduled to play seven conference games per year.

Taking the information gathered while breaking down the previous half-decade, I then created power ratings for each of the new nine-game schedules.  I did so by simply adding the average wins, over the previous five years, for each of the team’s three crossover opponents.

For example: Indiana plays Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue in the 2016 crossover schedule.  Therefore:

    5.8      +          4.2      +          3      =    13
Nebraska    Northwestern    Purdue    Rating

I did this for all of the fourteen Big Ten teams, for both the 2016 and 2017 seasons as well as an average to determine the perceived overall difficulty of the new schedules released to see who really were the winners and losers.  It is simple to see that based on the data used, there is not much equality when it comes to the future scheduling of the conference.

2016-17 Big Ten Schedule Strenth Graph.png

Winners:

  • Rutgers has the easiest schedule (8.8 rating) in 2016, the first year of the nine-game conference schedule.
  • Purdue is the only team with a single-digit power rating in both years, leading them to the lowest two-year power ratings average (8.8).
  • Michigan did not seem to be effected by too much of the “parity-based” scheduling as they have the third lowest (10.9) two-year power rating in the conference.

Losers:

  • Iowa received a double dose of bad fortune as they have both the toughest single season schedule of the bunch in 2017 (17.6), as well as the highest average (15.3) which was almost two full points higher than the second-highest rated team's schedule.
  • The “parity-based” scheduling will seemingly take its toll on Ohio State. The Buckeyes open the nine-game conference scheduling with both the second-toughest schedule (15) in 2016 and the second-highest power rating average (13.6) for the two years.
  • Wisconsin could be considered both a winner and a looser.  The Badgers are slated to play the toughest schedule in the conference based on our numbers in 2016.  However, in 2017 they will face just the opposite as they play the lowest ranked schedule (7.8) of the two years combined.

As you can see all is not fair in love and football.  Will this end the arguments about who truly is Jim Delany’s favorite son is in the Big Ten?  Or who has it the easiest in the coming years?  The answer to both of those questions is a resounding no, but lets be honest, do we really want it to?  This is what college football is all about, the rivalries, comparisons and genuine contempt for others because they are wearing a different color than you on Saturdays.  So hopefully this will add a bit of fuel to your weekend barbeque and help you win your argument over who  the winners and losers of the Big Ten nine-game schedule really were.