When the Big Ten announced the addition of USC and UCLA last summer, one of the first questions was how the Bruins and Trojans would be integrated into the conference schedule.

Now we know.

Divisions are officially dead in the B1G following the 2023 season as the conference unveiled what it’s calling the “Flex Protect Plus” scheduling model for 2024 and 2025.

Some teams have protected rivalries. Others have just a single annual rivalry game. And Penn State doesn’t have any rivalry game at all.

The most important element to the model is that every Big Ten team will play every conference opponent within a 2-year window.

“It’s one of the most primary things that was accomplished with this format,” Big Ten commissioner Tony Pettiti said on BTN’s Big Ten Today. “I think we’re going down the absolute right direction. I think our fans will come to like and understand this format.

“It comes down to the ability to see more opponents, and competitive balance within the conference.”

There’s a lot to digest, so consider this your digestive aid.

As with anything, there’s winners and losers in this story — along with other observations about the Big Ten’s new schedule.

Winner: Big Ten fans

Finally, college football decisionmakers have done something that benefits you, the fan.

Even with the B1G expanding to 16 teams, every conference member will visit every opponent at least once every 4 years. And they will face every opponent at least once every 2 years. That’s a vast upgrade over the SEC, where you might only come across certain cross-divisional opponents twice a decade at best.

And though “Flex Protect Plus” is silly corporatese jargon as a phrase, it works as an actual model. The rivalries that matter most to fans are still protected. That’s no small feat given the complexity of what the Big Ten wanted to accomplish here.

The biggest win for fans? The elimination of divisional play, which means the Big Ten championship game will actually be watchable every year.

Loser: Big Ten West

There’s obviously no bigger loser in this scenario than the Big Ten West, which will fade into oblivion following the upcoming season.

Whether you call it meritocracy or mediocrity, B1G West teams always had a chance to make the Big Ten championship game. Last season, 5 of the 7 teams were still alive for the division title with just 2 games remaining.

It may be a very long wait for some schools in the West to get back to the Big Ten title game.

Winner: Penn State

The Nittany Lions haven’t had this much independence since they were independents.

Penn State is the only team in the conference without a protected annual opponent, though it will still face Michigan State for the beloved Land-Grant Trophy in 2024 and 2025.

But freeing Penn State from the chore of playing both Michigan and Ohio State every single year will benefit the program — and the conference. With the College Football Playoff expanding to 12 teams, it’s now more realistic for the B1G to get 3 or more teams into the field.

Loser: The Game

Let’s face it — it’s going to be pretty anticlimactic when Michigan beats Ohio State for right to face the Buckeyes again the following week, or vice versa.

The one thing the SEC has over the Big Ten scheduling-wise is that we’ll never see the Iron Bowl duplicated. It’s theoretically possible in the future for Ohio State and Michigan to meet 3 times a season — the season finale, the conference championship, and then once more in the CFP.

That waters the magic down quite a bit. Hopefully the future is free of too many rematches.

Winner: Iowa

Iowa and Penn State wanted very different things with the schedule, but both still got them. That’s the magic of Flex Protect Plus. (As much as it pains me to use that phrase with a straight face.)

The Hawkeyes will still see Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska every year. Throw in the nonconference Cy-Hawk game against Iowa State, and that’s 4 protected staples on the schedule.

Tradition matters to Iowa, and this plan preserves it as much as possible.

Loser: Northwestern

The Wildcats have made the same number of Big Ten championship games as Michigan (2) and have been there more frequently than Penn State or Nebraska.

Those days figure to be numbered.

Because nobody in the West recruits at the level of Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State, Pat Fitzgerald’s disciplined brand of football can win the division. It will prove far more difficult, if not impossible, to get back to Indianapolis with more exposure to those programs as well as USC.

Winner: Ohio State

Penn State is often capable of beating the Buckeyes, particularly in a White Out setting at Beaver Stadium. Ohio State no longer has to deal with the Nittany Lions every season and may only have to visit Happy Valley once in a 4-year cycle.

Instead, the Buckeyes have home-and-home games against Illinois and Northwestern in 2024 and 2025 in addition to Michigan.

Outside of Penn State, nobody’s a bigger winner in this than Ohio State.

Loser: 2024 UCLA

Welcome to the B1G time, Bruins.

UCLA will potentially face 3 top 10 opponents in its first Big Ten season. There’s USC, of course, along with Michigan and Ohio State. At least the Bruins will get the Trojans and Buckeyes at the Rose Bowl.

They will be doing quite a bit of travel, though.

UCLA has games at Hawaii, LSU and Rutgers, which means the Bruins will travel from sea to shining sea and quite a few points between.

Winners: Indiana, Rutgers and Maryland

These 3 programs are almost permanently trapped beneath the yoke of Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. There are too many roadblocks to the Big Ten championship game.

And while it’s still unlikely we’ll see any of the 3 in the title game any time soon, at least it’s now plausible if the Hoosiers, Terps or Scarlet Knights capture lightning in a bottle. Even if it doesn’t culminate in a trip to the championship game, a 9- or 10-win season is now more obtainable for each of these programs.

Loser: 2025 Nebraska

The Huskers follow in UCLA’s 2024 footsteps.

Nebraska visits USC and Ohio State in addition to games against Michigan and UCLA. And not unlike UCLA in 2024, there’s also a nonconference road game thrown in — this one at Cincinnati.

One B1G takeaway

The biggest takeaway from the Flex Protect Plus world salad is flexibility. If anything needs tweaking every couple of years, it can be done.

And there’s also the great unspoken element of why flexibility matters.

Further expansion.

It may be later rather than sooner, but it will be a surprise if the B1G doesn’t expand to 18 or 20 teams at some point in the next decade. If every team had the same 3 set opponents every season, integrating 2-4 new teams would prove to be a headache. With this model, that task can be done somewhat seamlessly.

Whenever it may be.