Mark Dantonio thinks Michigan State could have his best defense yet, and the Spartans believe they can become the nation’s No. 1 overall unit in 2019.
Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press
CHICAGO — Rumors buzzing around a potential Big Ten football realignment reached conference’s media days this week. The divisions could be changed or even eliminated, but the Big Ten did not comment on the matter, according to The Athletic.
The USA TODAY Sports Network polled the Big Ten football coaches about possible realignment. Most like the divisions as they stand.
“I love the divisions the way they are,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said. “It gives us some geographical rivalry.”
They also know the decision is likely out of their hands.
“I think we’ll change it at some point because change is coming, somehow, some way,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said. “And I think people are going to want to move it around and shake it up a little bit.”
Since going to East and West in 2014, the East has won every Big Ten championship game. An elimination of the divisions could the Big Ten place a team in the College Football Playoff. Last season, No. 6 Ohio State blew out No. 21 Northwestern, 45-24, in the conference title game.
But the win wasn’t enough to catapult the Buckeyes into the top four at the end of the season.
Here is what Big Ten coaches said about possible conference realignment:
Tom Allen, Indiana
“It’s discussed every year at other places. When I was in the SEC, the feeling was that the SEC West, they needed to realign, because it was out of balance and the East was not (as strong), and then it cycles back. But I will say, when you think about traditional programs, in the East division, there’s more traditional powerhouses that have been good for a long, long time. Way before I was ever coaching, or even alive. Those teams were winning football games. So that’s where you get a little bit of the imbalance sometimes, maybe. But I think the (Big Ten) West is doing a lot of good things and has got a lot of good football teams. I think at the end of the day, it all probably cycles, and if you make adjustments, you’d probably have to go back and make another adjustment later on. At the end of the day, I don’t foresee any changes coming in the near future.”
Chris Ash, Rutgers
“I know a lot of people have talked about that. I think it just goes by the year. There was a time when the league went to the different divisions, that some of the traditional blue-blood programs weren’t as strong at that time, and I don’t think you’re going to be able to realign the conference to make everybody happy. We could to try do that and have those conversations, I just don’t think it’s possible. It is what it is. It’s a very competitive league on both sides, in the East and in the West, and we’ve got to play who we play, and I like where it’s at right now, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.”
Jeff Brohm, Purdue
“I don’t have a problem with it. I know there’s a lot of great football teams in the Big Ten and I think the Big Ten West is stronger now than it’s ever been. I’m happy with the way it’s aligned right now.”
Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
“I think as a kid it is easier to understand the West and the East. Legends and Leaders, that one threw us all off. But you knew what they were trying to do. The thing you appreciate from the Big Ten is that you’re trying to preserve some of the great rivalries. That was the whole Legends and Leaders thing.”
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
“I have not heard about the realignment of the divisions, but I guess change is inevitable. And at some point in time, things happen. So I’ll just deal with it as it comes.”
Ryan Day, Ohio State
“I haven’t thought about that. I think our side is tough. I think we’ve got our hands full on our side. But the rivalries are awesome. I do think when you have to play Up North, you have to play Penn State, you have to play Michigan State every year, that’s hard. And so we’ve got our hands full that way. But I haven’t really thought about that.”
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
““Me personally, no . First of all, we tried that once. And I don’t know what division we were in. I still don’t. I’ve got a 50/50 chance of getting it right, I know that. However many years we didn’t play Illinois. It was like five years I think. To me, that’s weird. It’s weird. If I was a fan, I’d think that’s weird, too, I’m guessing. I think geography means a lot. To me, it makes sense. And I would say this: If you track, at least go back six years, five years, four years. Ohio State’s won more games than anybody. That’s not a discussion. No. 2? Anyone want to venture a guess? Wisconsin. That’s not a discussion. And everybody else is chasing those two. So I think perception sometimes, you get all these crazy ideas. It’s tough to win in college football no matter where you are. That’s all I know. Especially when you’re in a tough conference. And the Big Ten is certainly one of the more competitive conferences.”
P.J. Fleck, Minnesota
“I always think change is inevitable. I think we all know that. I think that the East and West has been around for a while. I like it. I like the division of it. But I don’t think it will stay the same. I think we’ll change it at some point because change is coming, somehow, some way. And I think people are going to want to move it around and shake it up a little bit. Which, I think change is healthy. Change, we define it as true felicity, and there’s a lot of people who want it. And if you want to continue to make the game better, I think people are going to want to do it. So I’d be for it. Or, if they keep it the same, I’m fine with that, too.”
“I think it’s fine the way it is. The demographic of where people are. I think the travel is easy for a lot of people. I think the West is getting a lot better, with all due respect with that comment. But I think the coaches in the West are dynamic coaches. You can see it on the recruiting trail. You can see it in games that are considered upsets. I don’t think those are going to be upsets in the next few years. So I like the way the conference is aligned. I think it’s really healthy for the game, for our conference. But you start to see this elevation of the coaches that are coming in this league. And I see it from my perspective. And I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about other coaches I compete against on a daily basis. Remember I was at Western Michigan and I got to compete against the Big Ten in recruiting. And we had a lot of success. There’s not a lot of, I don’t know a Group of 5 or FCS schools having that type of success against the Big Ten West maybe that they did in the past. So I can see that whole West elevating. And I think that will change the game over a few years. So give it a few years and see where it goes.”
James Franklin, Penn State
“I think the East is very strong and has been strong for a number of years. Obviously you can have the argument over history that there’s ebb and flow, but if you look at the East, it’s been pretty strong. Probably similar in a lot of ways to what the SEC West is like. I think we’ve got to look at that, at least have a discussion. I’m not saying we have to make any changes, but we need to have discussion.”
Scott Frost, Nebraska
“I love the divisions the way they are. It gives us some geographical rivalry. I don’t think it’ll be very long before people are talking as much about the West as they’re talking about the East. We have a responsibility to try and make that happen, too.”
Mike Locksley, Maryland
“I haven’t looked at it. I came into this league back in 2013 or 2014 and then left (for Alabama). So I haven’t put a lot of thought into it. The schedule is what it is. The East is what it is. So we’ll do our part (at Maryland) to start the process of really being focused on developing the right kind of habits and behaviors to help us be competitive on a tough, tough side of the league.”
Lovie Smith, Illinois
“Maybe more transparency as much as anything on how the process kind of goes a little bit when you deny it or grant it… Sometimes divorce is a good thing in life in general, so for players to take that approach and have an opportunity to move on, as long as we’re all going by the same rules, I’m OK with whatever we have in place and OK with the current rules that we have in place.”
USA TODAY Network football beat writers Nick Buamgardner, Mike Carmin, Mark Emmert, Chad Leistikow, Zachary Osterman contributed to this report.