1. The B1G Story

The Big Ten can’t fumble now, can’t stumble with so much good going for it.

Especially with the growing angst in the SEC.

It’s a new day in the Big Ten. New commissioner, new multi-billion dollar media rights deal, new hope with USC and UCLA arriving in 2024.

The conference will be featured on 3 television networks beginning this fall (Fox, CBS, NBC), and has 3 legitimate Playoff teams (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State).

The horizon never looked so within reach, never felt so real and attainable.

Don’t blow it now.

Don’t stumble, like the SEC, over a new scheduling format for 2024 when USC and UCLA arrive. Do what the SEC couldn’t do: pass the 9-game schedule with the exact format that led to so much strife in the SEC, the conference that always — yes, ALWAYS — votes and smiles together but couldn’t get on the same page to save face.

Even the media rights funny money mess new commissioner Tony Petitti inherited can’t overshadow this move. This is the Big Ten vs. the SEC — and who can move forward united in the age of the super conference and expanded Playoff.

For the love of all things Legends and Leaders, don’t try to pass something called the “Flex” schedule plan, a mishmash of teams having 1, 2 or 3 permanent opponents — depending on how it will help the league reach competitive balance and ease of travel for teams to and from the West Coast.

Take a wild stab in the dark who decides “competitive balance” and how the schedule fits on an annual basis. That’s right, the league office.

Nothing is more dangerous to conference moral than the idea that some programs are more important than others in the minds of those making the schedules. And nothing is more demoralizing to your fans.

It’s unfair to put that kind of focus on those making the schedules  in the Big Ten, when a simple 3-6 model will take away that responsibility from conference officials. There are 3 permanent opponents, and the remaining 12 schools rotate 6 at a time over 4 years.

Period. No questions, no controversy.

2. The calm in the storm

The ACC had a near mutiny. Half of its teams were demanding the other half agree to revenue sharing, a futile experiment that finished with what could be a worse deal for the half looking for more money — if they can’t win the conference.

No conference not named SEC and Big Ten is safe from the Big 12, which is doing everything in its power to become a true national conference.

The Pac-12 is a bad media rights deal from dying.

The SEC, at the top of the mountain in college football, is vulnerable from member infighting.

This is the landscape the Big Ten sees as it makes a crucial scheduling decision. There will be 1 (or 2) teams who will have to take a significantly more difficult trio of permanent games, much like Alabama (Auburn, Tennessee, LSU) and Florida (Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina) in the SEC.

Rivalries in the Big Ten, like the SEC, are the fabric of the league. And the addition of USC and UCLA can’t arrive without new, intriguing annual rivals.

The future of media rights deals is all about big games, and developing those games is at the top of the list of needs from media rights partners. ESPN wasn’t driving the schedule ship in the SEC, and Fox isn’t driving it in the Big Ten.

But you better believe both conferences have those partnerships in mind when developing schedules, both for current and future media rights deals.

Perception in 2024 is just as important as the games on the field. If the Big Ten can promote new annual rivalries between, say, Ohio State and UCLA, or USC and Penn State — as well as a 9-game schedule where everyone plays each other at least twice over 4 years — two important factors will have been birthed.

  • The Big Ten is together, on the same page, as a super conference leading by example through a tenuous time in college sports.
  • More important, the Big Ten will play a 9-game schedule (with 3 permanent opponents and an equal formula not weighted in favor of any program) vs. the SEC’s 8. In the new 12-team Playoff era, those 9 games will (in theory) hold more weight than the 8.

3. Attacking the problem

Let’s not forget how close Ohio State was to beating Georgia in last year’s Playoff semifinal, and then advancing to the national championship game against heavy underdog TCU.

The Buckeyes were a handful of plays from likely winning their 1st (and the Big Ten’s 1st) — national championship since 2014. How much different would the SEC vs. Big Ten rivalry be — because that’s what it is, a full-blown rivalry in every sense on the field and off — if the Buckeyes had won it all?

The Big Ten is that close to a statement season, that close to beginning to change the narrative that has beaten down the conference for 2 decades.

Don’t blow it now — with huge television properties USC and UCLA entering the league in 2024 — by fumbling around with a simple schedule format. Don’t leave doubt about how the league could be paving the way for specific teams with some nebulous “Flex” schedule.

Run out the 3-6 format, an easily understandable setup that is all but bulletproof to criticism. Everybody plays everybody. Some play others every year.

The optics of the SEC avoiding a 9-game schedule are terrible. The only thing softening the blow is the reality that it doesn’t matter what happens, the SEC wins national titles.

The only non-SEC team to win a national championship since Ohio State in 2014 — the beginning of the Playoff era — was Clemson in 2016 and 2018. So the SEC can afford to look foolish.

That is, until the Big Ten makes it look easy off the field — and then takes a stand on it.

4. An eye on the future

Petitti needs a win. The last thing he needs, the last thing the Big Ten presidents who hired him need, is drama over the schedule format for 2024.

He’s already dealing with the media rights mess Warren left. He already has to figure out an answer for the integration of 2 schools that are 1,500 miles from the Western-most Big Ten school, and 2,600 miles form the Eastern-most.

Don’t let anyone sell combined road trips and a week on the West Coast as the answer for non-football sports. That’s going to get old, quickly, for all involved.

Knock out the schedule, and frankly, crow about it. Get Fox to show the schedule release on network primetime and make a show of it.

The first 3 rounds of the NHL Playoffs averaged 1.14 million viewers across ESPN, ABC and TNT. A Big Ten schedule release will triple that.

That’s how you steal momentum from the SEC. If you can’t beat them on the field (yet), beat them at the next best thing.

Controlling the narrative.

5. The Weekly 5

The top 5 games that stress the Michigan season win total of 10.5 for 2023:

1. Nov. 11, at Penn State: Wolverines could easily be unbeaten and untested, and Penn State QB Drew Allar will be 10 games into his first season as a starter — including a start at Ohio State.

2. Nov. 25, Ohio State: That’s right, the Penn State game is more dangerous — because of where it’s played, and because Michigan has figured out how to physically beat up Ohio State.

3. Nov. 18, at Maryland: Can’t wait to see how Kevin Sumlin and Josh Gattis impact the offense and QB Taulia Tagovailoa.

4. Oct. 21, at Michigan State: It’s still a massive rivalry game, even though the difference between the 2 programs now seems as large and wide as Lake Michigan.

5. Oct. 7, at Minnesota: Gophers have had the most underrated defense in college football over the last 2 years. Can they get enough offense in big games?

6. Your tape is your resume

An NFL scout analyzes a draft eligible Big Ten player. This week: Ohio State RB TreVeyon Henderson.

“The 1st time I watched him play as a freshman, I thought he was ready for our league. He was that talented, but more to the point, he was physically ready then. He’s had some injury issues, and missed some time and availability becomes an issue. But when he’s healthy and right, wow, what a talent. He’s a rare guy at his position, a guy you’d spend a Day 1 pick on. He’s sub 4.4 (40), he’s 215 pounds and plays like he’s 230. He’s got wiggle, and can make you miss. Soft hands, great vision. You want something negative? He’s not too interested in pass protection, but that can change.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: geography is more influential of late in Big Ten schedule talks, leading to a new best-fit scenario for the 3 permanent opponents in a 3-6 schedule format.

1. Michigan: Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State

2. Ohio State: Michigan, Penn State, Purdue

3. Penn State: Maryland, Ohio State, Rutgers

4. Wisconsin: Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska

5. Iowa: Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin

6. Minnesota: Iowa, Maryland, Wisconsin

7. Illinois: Northwestern, Purdue, UCLA

8. Maryland: Minnesota, Penn State, Rutgers

9. Purdue: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State

10. Nebraska: Iowa, UCLA, Wisconsin

11. Michigan State: Michigan, Rutgers, USC

12. Indiana: Michigan, Northwestern, Purdue

13. Rutgers: Maryland, Michigan State, Penn State

14. Northwestern: Illinois, Indiana, USC

15. UCLA: Illinois, Nebraska, USC

16. USC: Michigan State, Northwestern, UCLA

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: Will USC and UCLA change their recruiting habits? Can their style of play work in the Big Ten in November? — Paul Schlottmann, Cincinnati.


We’re going to get a good idea of how that style translates when Wisconsin tries to run Air Raid principles in November. My guess is it comes down to protection.

If Wisconsin — and therefore USC, and UCLA, which runs more zone read, spread principles — can pass protect, whoever plays quarterback (right now, it’s SMU transfer Tanner Mordecai) will have an opportunity for success.

In that sense, it not unlike any other pass game in any other climate. Think about it this way: Mike Leach’s quarterbacks at Washington State set Pac-12 passing records over and over during Leach’s time in The Palouse. And there have been some elite Pac-12 quarterbacks over the years.

Washington State in November is as cold or colder — with as much November snow —as any Big Ten campus. It can be done, but there will no doubt be a transition period.

9. Numbers

7. Want to know why Ohio State — despite likely new starring QB Kyle McCord — is a favorite to win the national title?

The Buckeyes could have as many as 7 players selected in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft: WRs Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, edges JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer, DT Michael Hall Jr., CB Denzel Burke and Henderson.

Georgia had 5 first round selections in its record-breaking 2022 NFL Draft class, where 15 players were selected — and were the most in the modern draft era (7 rounds).

10. Quote to note

Indiana coach Tom Allen on QBs Tayven Jackson and Brendan Sorsby: “The summer is going to be huge. Fall camp is massive. Any time you have two talented young quarterbacks … It’s going to be a big part of what we want to be able to do. Take advantage of their skill sets and maximize our run game and our throw game.”