Every Tuesday, Matt Hayes tackles the 10 hottest topics in the Big Ten …

1. The B1G Story

If this bowl of puke that is the Big Ten West Division doesn’t convince conference presidents to eliminate divisions, nothing will.

Let me give you a quick West Division breakdown, entering the 2nd week of November:

— Illinois has 2 conference losses, 1 of those to the worst team in the East Division (Indiana).

— Wisconsin, Purdue, Iowa and Minnesota have 3 conference losses.

— Nebraska has 4 conference losses, and is the only program in the Power 5 to not qualify for a bowl game since 2017.

— Northwestern has 1 conference win — against the only Power 5 team to not qualify for a bowl since 2017 — and will more than likely lose 11 games for the first time since a winless 1989 season.


Illinois, in the middle of a dream season not seen in Champaign since the days of the Zooker and Juice, last weekend played a Michigan State team in such turmoil, no one would’ve blinked had Spartans president Sam Stanley decided to sit out the Illinois game, take the forfeit and start over this weekend.

And Illinois lost. At home. With all the momentum of a team on the verge of a breakout season.

Purdue entered the season with super senior QB Aidan O’Connell and 8 returning starters from the No. 34 scoring defense in the nation, and just lost by 21 points to an Iowa offense that previously this season couldn’t score 21 — if you spotted them 17.

Iowa is a complete train wreck of an offense, and speaking of one-dimensional, boring offenses, Minnesota coach PJ Fleck stayed too many seasons with struggling QB Tanner Morgan while his defense got stronger and stronger (sound familiar, Paul Chryst?).

Then there’s Wisconsin, which fired Chryst in the first week of October after the humiliation of losing to Illinois. The Badgers need to win out (at Iowa, at Nebraska, Minnesota), and have Illinois to lose 2 of its past 3 games (Purdue, at Michigan, at Northwestern) to restore some semblance of order and structure to this unruly mess.

At this point, that aforementioned scenario seems more likely than Illinois winning out and removing all doubt. The rest of the potential West Division championship scenarios are so discombobulated and dysfunctional, it dulls the senses to even contemplate.

This isn’t “competitive” football, or a “great division race.” It’s bad football, and it reflects poorly on the Big Ten.

Get rid of it, B1G presidents. As soon as possible.

2. The origins

I’m a division guy. Love the idea of playing for a division championship, and then advancing to the conference championship — where the grand prize awaits.

It increases the excitement of the regular season throughout the entire league and keeps programs and fan bases invested in the season for as long as possible.

And frankly, it leads to a celebration of sorts in December on Championship Saturday. One division may not be close to the other, but on Championship Saturday with everything on the line, you never know what happens (you do, but just the idea of having that potential is beautiful theater).

Had the Big Ten simply kept the original division breakdown and named them East and West, it could’ve worked — even if it were a bit geographically funky.

Division I (should’ve been West): Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern.

Division II (should’ve been East): Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin.

Instead, former commissioner Jim Delany decided to call them “Legends” and “Leaders” — and the pretentious names gave way to nonstop criticism when the Big Ten did what it had done for more than a decade prior: fail to win a national title.

It also came on the heels of Delany’s infamous “SEC speed” open letter 4 years earlier, when he penned a letter to fans stating, “winning our way requires some discipline and restraint with the recruitment process. Not every athlete fits athletically, academically or socially at every university.”

Sports Betting in Big Ten Country

There is big news coming to the upcoming 2022-23 Big Ten football season (and NFL season). Ohio online sports betting and Maryland sports betting are on the way.

21+ and present in OH. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER.

Think about that letter in today’s world.

Not surprising, it wasn’t long until the Big Ten — trying to keep up with the Joneses (see: the SEC) and make millions in the process — announced the division format and a championship game. Three years after Legends and Leaders were born, the Big Ten moved to East and West and reshuffled the lineup to make a more geographical fit with new members Maryland and Rutgers.

The West Division hasn’t won the conference championship since.

3. How the West was won, The Epilogue

The best-case scenario for the Big Ten: Illinois finishes 9-3 (losing to Michigan), wins the West and sneaks into the top 15 of the Playoff poll heading into Championship Week.

The Illini then put up a huge fight, and lose in the 4th quarter of the Big Ten Championship Game to Ohio State. The Buckeyes beat Michigan in a close game a week earlier, and unbeaten Ohio State and 1-loss Michigan (which beat Illinois earlier in the month) then both have a Playoff-worthy résumé.

More than likely, it will be some convoluted evolution over the next 3 weeks that spits out a West Division champion — one the Playoff committee slides onto the fringe of the Top 25 just to make the Big Ten Championship feel important.

If there were no divisions, it would be a rematch of Ohio State and Michigan — and 1 of the 2 could win their way to the Playoff.

Might be time for another open letter to get rid of the divisions.

4. Under the radar

We’re 9 games into the season, and Michigan is the only FBS team that has not trailed in the 4th quarter all season.

Before you think it’s a product of the schedule, understand that Georgia trailed in the 4th quarter to Missouri and Ohio State trailed in the 4th to Penn State.

Michigan, in its toughest game to date, led Penn State 31-17 heading into the 4th quarter — and won 41-17. The closest any team has been to Michigan in the 4th quarter is Maryland, which trailed 24-19 after a Taulia Tagovailoa touchdown pass — but could get no closer.

Michigan star tailback Blake Corum has only played in the 4th quarter 5 times this season, and has rushed for 182 yards and 3 TDs of those games. Quarterback JJ McCarthy has completed 64 percent of his passes in the 4th quarter, and hasn’t thrown an interception.

Of McCarthy’s 18 completions in the 4th quarter, 9 have gone for first downs.

That, everyone, is closing out teams.

The Weekly Five

Five picks against the spread, brought to you by our friends at FanDuel:

  • Indiana at Ohio State (-40.5)
  • Purdue (+6.5) at Illinois
  • Nebraska (+28.5) at Michigan
  • Wisconsin (-1.5) at Iowa
  • Maryland (+10.5) at Penn State

Last week: 1-4.

Season: 22-28.

6. Your tape is your résumé

An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible Big Ten player. This week: Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njiba (2nd evaluation in 2022).

“Am I concerned about the (hamstring injury)? Depends on the grade of the injury. Those things can last months. I’ve seen it. I’ve heard the rumors that he’s protecting himself from a more serious injury. Can you blame him? He showed what he could do last year. The ability to get off the jam, the separation speed, making tough, 2nd-level catches over the middle, high-pointing the ball. All of it.

“He can run, and his (route) tree is so disciplined. He’s a top-15 pick, and who knows how high he will go after he gets healthy and runs at the Combine and his Pro Day. It’s a vertical passing game right now, and everyone is looking for those guys who can take the top off a defense.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: Transfer portal priority in 2023.

1. Michigan: Added 1 transfer of note in 2022 (C Victor Oluwatimi from Virginia), and will do the same in 2023 (offensive line) if the perfect candidate arises.

2. Ohio State: S Tanner McCallister left Oklahoma State and followed new DC Jim Knowles. Other than that, Ohio State doesn’t need the portal — unless a unique player is available and interested.

3. Penn State: Defensive line and edge rush. James Franklin has made it clear the Lions need to get stronger and bigger on the D-line.

4. Illinois: Bret Bielema has spent 2 years hunting through the portal for the right fit, no matter the position. He’ll do it in Year 3, too.

5. Wisconsin: Badgers tried to add a quarterback last offseason, and lost out (Caleb Williams), or couldn’t find a fit. Expect another look at QB in 2023.

6. Maryland: Terps have a handful of critical transfers now, and will need immediate help on the lines of scrimmage in 2023.

7. Iowa: With all the issues at quarterback the past 3 seasons, quarterback is a must. But Kirk Ferentz has won a lot of games around here, thank you.

8. Purdue: Offensive line and quarterback. Not surprisingly, the 2 areas of disappointment this season.

9. Minnesota: Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. Did I say quarterback?

10. Michigan State: No team in the Big Ten has lived off the portal more. It worked in 2021, not so much in 2022. The Spartans need help everywhere in 2023.

11. Rutgers: Greg Schiano likes his young quarterbacks. His offensive line? Needs some help.

12. Nebraska: This all depends on the new coach, but the lines of scrimmage — average at best — seem to be the obvious need.

13. Indiana: Tom Allen needs to recreate the attacking defense of 2020, and Hoosiers need help at every position — but specifically the secondary.

14. Northwestern: Pat Fitzgerald wants guys that fit his program. He won’t randomly add — but needs speed on both sides of the ball.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: Do you still believe in Mel Tucker and that huge contract at Michigan State? — Pete Fisher, Detroit.


I get it, everyone is waiting for Tucker to fail because he took advantage of a job situation where he had leverage. Suddenly, for some reason, that’s a bad thing.

You’re also going to bail on Tucker 1 year after he leads Michigan State to a New Year’s 6 bowl and beats Pittsburgh without his best player (Kenneth Walker III)? You’re going to bail on him after 1 season of regression — a season that despite the distractions, could finish with as many as 8 wins and 2 wins over ranked teams (Illinois, potentially Penn State)?

A few losses have been ugly (Minnesota, Ohio State, Washington), and QB Payton Thorne didn’t exactly take the next big step in his development like many expected (shaky pass protection didn’t help).

Those are all things under Tucker’s purview — so he, at the end of the day, is responsible. But I’m not ready to say Michigan State wasted money on a guy who had them in the Playoff race in 2021 and regressed the following season.

Let’s see what happens in Year 4, when the entire roster is his — and more important, when the majority are high school players he recruited.

9. Numbers

83. Look, I get it. I don’t know what I’m taking about and Kirk and Brian Ferentz are brilliant. They’ve won a lot of games, you know.

Yet somehow, Team Ferentz didn’t understand what it had WR Charlie Jones. Or maybe Charlie, too, doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Here’s what Charlie Jones does know: how to get open, and how to catch balls — 83 of them in 9 games in his first season at Purdue. He’ll have well over 100 by the end of the 13-game season, after catching just 39 passes in his first 3 seasons at Iowa.

He has done it with a quarterback (Aidan O’Connell) who is dealing with nagging injuries and poor protection, and isn’t the same player he was in 2021. So the idea of blaming it all on QB Spencer Petras in 2022 at Iowa doesn’t fly.

Get a quarterbacks coach, Kirk. Keep your son as offensive coordinator, and get a quarterbacks coach who has played the position and understands how to coach it. And if he’s a play-caller, too, all the better. It’s not that difficult of a decision to make your program better.

10. Quote to note

Ohio State coach Ryan Day, on the wild weather last weekend at Northwestern: “I don’t know what the numbers were, but there must have been 30 mph winds. If you ever tried golfing in 30 mph winds, it’s hard to get it off the tee — forget throwing the football.”