One could easily get lost in the hype of the upcoming matchup between Michigan State and Ohio State. After all, ESPN’s juggernaut program College GameDay will be in town, both are undefeated in Big Ten play and the two programs are likely to be ranked highly in Tuesday’s College Football Playoff Top 25.
Considering that foundation, its hard not to set your sights on the Big Ten East race as the end all, be all of the Big Ten. Don’t tell that to the Big Ten West division though, as it fights for some of the spotlight this week there will be plenty of time to shine.
It’s the age-old magician’s trick — distract you with the shiny thing in one hand, while the other does the work of the trick. For the Big Ten, the shiny thing was the promise of big names like Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State all in one division.
The promise was tough competition and games that matter each and every week. It hasn’t exactly played out like the experts thought it would, as Penn State has squandered early promise and Michigan has gone from one controversy to the next while playing some seriously offensive offense and sits with a losing record.
However, on the opposite side of the Big Ten divide there’s some compelling football ahead and teams who are taking advantage of the opportunities presented them.
Unlike the East division, every team in the West owns a Big Ten win entering Week 11 of play and unlike the East division, there isn’t one game that will make or break the race. In fact, each of the next four weeks will have huge implications on who comes out of the division.
It all starts this week, as two of those four one-loss teams in the West clash when Iowa meets Minnesota. As the season got underway Iowa was a popular darkhorse candidate to win the division, while Minnesota was an afterthought for most around the Big Ten and national pundit scene.
Come this weekend, the Battle for Floyd of Rosedale becomes more than its normally bitter rivalry game. Instead, it takes on a loser goes to the back of the division theme.
Week 12 features the game everyone circled on their calendars for the Big Ten West, when Wisconsin and Nebraska clash as likely (Wisconsin takes on Purdue this weekend) one-loss Big Ten teams.
But, that’s not to ignore the fact that the West had its stumbling blocks — with Michigan State dominating three-quarters of its win over Nebraska, Wisconsin having a now inexplicable loss to Northwestern on its resume, Minnesota giving Illinois its first Big Ten win and Iowa somehow losing to Maryland despite knocking out quarterback C.J. Brown for a large part of the game.
However, what has transpired is a far cry from the seeming mediocrity that was coming following those events. If anything, the Big Ten West represents what is good in Big Ten football this year in the weeks following those losses.
The Badgers are a classic example of the gauntlet needed to be run to win the West division, as they take on Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota to end the season. If you’re counting at home, that’s three opponents with a combined three losses entering play this weekend.
Ohio State? They end the season with Indiana and Michigan, arguably the two worst teams in the East and in the conference as a whole.
Michigan State? Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State — three teams with a combined Big Ten record of 2-12 entering this weekend. Not exactly scaring anyone at all.
So much for the East division running away with things, huh? Then again, maybe the pundits meant the top of the East was going to run away with everything in the conference?
Either way, the conference higher-ups probably didn’t imagine the scenario playing out quite like it did this season.
The reality is, if you want competitive football and games that matter then the West is where it is at. So, as you settle in to watch Michigan State vs. Ohio State for all the East division marbles, just remember these two teams have nothing on the competition level being played out in the Big Ten West.
Dare we say the Big Ten West could be better off come the championship game in Indianapolis thanks to its level of competition down the stretch?