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There is way too much division in this country, but members of the Big Ten West are happy it will exist for at least one more football season.
The conference will keep East and West divisions for 2023. When UCLA and USC arrive the following year, a non-divisional format is likely. Which means Indianapolis, or wherever future Big Ten championship games will be played, will be a lot harder to reach for current Westies.
No West team has won the league championship in the eight previous years of the East-West format. Only an upset of epic proportions will prevent that number from growing to nine next month.
This season, the difference between the two divisions is especially striking. The league’s three best teams — Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State of the East — are a combined 8-0 against the West and will be 9-0 after Saturday’s Nebraska-Michigan game.
Illinois leads the West at 4-2, the only team in the division with a winning record. Its losses are to East also-rans Indiana and Michigan State. That is Indiana’s only conference win.
Michigan State had a four-game losing streak before it beat Wisconsin. Penn State mauled Minnesota by four touchdowns. Ohio State defeated Wisconsin and Iowa by a combined score of 106-31.
But here we are getting ready for a Wisconsin-Iowa game that could — believe it or not — have West-championship implications. The West will be there to win for two teams that are 3-3 in the league and 5-4 overall if Purdue wins at Illinois Saturday.
Should the Illini prevail they will have one arm around the West trophy. Not two, mind you. It’s the West, after all. But if Purdue wins, there almost surely would be a four-way tie at the top at 4-3, with the Wisconsin-Iowa winner in that quartet.
That would be chaotic and totally unremarkable at the same time, a tough tandem to pull off.
Fast-forward to 2024, when USC joins Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in the top tier, and UCLA joins Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State in the next level.
Do you see three-loss teams finding a path to the top two of a 14-team league? You do not.
So enjoy the present, even though the West winner’s fans will watch this year’s game in Indy with one eye closed, knowing their guys are playing a team trying to stay unbeaten and seal its spot in the national playoffs.
However, the best stories in sports history often spring from the preposterous becoming reality. A once 3-4 Iowa or a once 3-4 Wisconsin pulling itself up by the shoe laces and stunning a Michigan or Ohio State for a championship would be storybook stuff.
The coach of that team would immediately get his contract extended through the year 2099.
The Hawkeyes were a midseason national joke for their crummy offense. The Badgers seemed to have unraveled on and off the field at midseason when coach Paul Chryst was fired. What an un-Wisconsin and un-Big Ten thing to do.
For either to scrounge its way back to a division title? That would be the most Big Ten West thing in the history of the Big Ten West.
In the meantime, here comes the 2022 edition of Wisconsin-Iowa. The weather will be raw. The style of football will be, too, not the kind you’ve seen on your television on any given autumn Saturday night in the 21st century.
A bronzed bull will be given to the team that is more bullying and less inclined to turn the ball over to the opposing defense. Wisconsin has 15 interceptions. Iowa has 10, but is capable of finishing the day with 15 if Badger quarterback Graham Mertz freaks out.
The often-criticized Mertz also has 17 touchdown passes, a number Iowa can only fantasize about. But he’ll stare into the teeth of a snorting Hawkeye defense.
Saturday’s Purdue-Illinois game starts at 11 a.m. That clash, hard as it may be to believe, will either add or subtract juice from Wisconsin-Iowa at 2:30.
No matter how it all turns out, you’ll still see the sun rising in the East on Sunday. And, for the rest of the remaining time the Big Ten has two divisions.
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