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B1G Thoughts: A 3-6-6 scheduling model for a 16-team Big Ten

Scrap what we previous thought about the future of Big Ten scheduling. The conference will soon be at 16 teams, and the future is bright.

NCAA Football: Southern California Spring Game Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

College Football is a giant that refuses to sleep. In the last few months, rumors have swirled that the Power Five was going to get rid of divisions, allowing teams to create scheduling pods that would allow the two best teams to play in the conference title game while allowing everyone to play each other more frequently.

Conferences with divisions have grown stagnant, leading to out-of-division opponents playing each other once or twice every 10 years. This problem existed through all of football, but especially the ACC, Big Ten and SEC — conferences with 14 or more teams. The ACC set up was so bad that Wake Forest and UNC had to set up out of conference games against once another just so they could face-off despite being in the same state. Getting rid of divisions became even more important with the potential of the 12-team playoff and realignment.

After months of speculation, the D-I council approved ridding college football of required divisions to hold a conference championship game. Soon after, the Pac-12 announced it was getting rid of divisions effective immediately. The ACC got rid of divisions and announced a 3-5-5 structure that included each team’s permanent opponents within the ACC schedule up to 2026. The SEC is expected to get rid of divisions, but after going to 16 teams by adding Oklahoma and Texas, they’re experience push back from some schools who don’t want to go from eight conference games to nine.

The expectation is the powers that be will ultimately win out, and the SEC will announce a nine-conference game schedule with a 3-6-6 model that will allow them to play every SEC opponent at least twice every four years.

That leaves the Big Ten. Speculation was that they would get rid of divisions but stay at nine conference games. That math was hard to understand, but becomes much easier with the addition of USC and UCLA. The Big Ten, for the time being, now has the perfect conference for a 3-6-6 model similar to that of the SEC.

Getting rid of divisions was always going to come with tough decisions, especially in a conference like the Big Ten with so much history and rivalries that span a hundred years. The addition of USC and UCLA make it even harder to keep rivalries intact. Big Ten decision-makers must determine again how they want to select permanent opponents. Do they protect rivalries? If so, how many? What are the travel requirements? Should they give us the best games? Do the power teams deserve a cupcake opponent, or do you risk your top teams feasting on each other?

The decision won’t be easy, but if you know anything about college football, you know that money and ultimately the upcoming media deal will win out. They will protect certain rivalries, but they will also go with what is in the best interest of the conference’s wallet and allows for the best chance for a Big Ten team win national championships.

I have attempted — for a second time — to pick permanent opponents for the new Big Ten. Some rivalries must be protected: USC vs. UCLA, Ohio State vs. Michigan, Michigan vs. Michigan State. Some collection of Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin must play each other. Maryland and Rutgers have no real rivals, so they’ll play each other as well. The rest is a tossup. I can’t predict what the decision makers in the Big Ten will do, but below is my attempt at selecting permanent opponents that both protects rivals and interest fans and media partners.

B1G Thoughts 16 Team Proposed Protected Opponents 

Team Protected #1 Protected #2 Protected #3
Team Protected #1 Protected #2 Protected #3
Illinois Norwestern Purdue Ohio State
Indiana Purdue Penn State Northwestern
Iowa Nebraska Wisconsin Minnesota
Maryland Rutgers Minnesota Purdue
Michigan OSU Michigan State UCLA
Michigan State Penn State Michigan Rutgers
Minnesota Wisconsin Maryland Iowa
Nebraska Iowa UCLA Wisconsin
Northwestern Illinois Rutgers Indiana
Ohio State Michigan USC Illinois
Penn State Michigan State Indiana USC
Purdue Indiana Illinois Maryland
Rutgers Maryland Northwestern Michigan State
UCLA USC Nebraska Michigan
USC UCLA Ohio State Penn State
Wisconsin Minnesota Iowa Nebraska

As always, someone is going to be disappointed. You may think you can come up with a better combination, and I look forward to seeing it. The Big Ten has changed the landscape of college football. Now, they must finalize their media deal and then determine the future scheduling of their conference. The summer is far from over!