What the new Big Ten divisions mean for Northwestern

John Paschall, Reporter

In the Big Ten Conference, geography now matters more than ever.

The conference on Sunday announced its new divisional alignments, set to debut in 2014. Northwestern joins Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue and Wisconsin in the West Division. Its East counterpart consists of Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers.

In addition to the divisional realignment, the conference set the schedule format for 2014 and 2015, in which each school in the Big Ten will play all six schools in its division and two teams from the other division. Schools will play nine-game schedules beginning in 2016 including contests against everyone in their division and three teams from the other division.

Earlier this week, University President Morton Schapiro said NU’s place in the West Division is a point of Midwestern pride – but it’s the university’s statistical edge over its new division-mates that give NU football fans bragging rights.

To say the Wildcats caught a huge break is an understatement. The eye test says the West Division should be easier than the East  for Northwestern, but the stats show it goes beyond that.

Consider this:

The Cats have a 18-12 record against their new division foes. Excluding Nebraska, because the team arrived in the Big Ten only two years ago, NU has beaten every team in the West Division multiple times except for Wisconsin (only one win). Compare that to a 8-18 record against the new East Division. Of those 8 wins, 5 are against Indiana, and Pat Fitzgerald has yet to beat Penn State or Ohio State.

Not only that, but the score differential score (subtracting NU’s score from the opposing teams score) for games against the West teams is only at -18, though it is -261 against the East schools. But if you take away one outlier, the 70-23 blowout against Wisconsin a few years ago, the score differential against the West schools is +29.

NU’s worst margin of defeat is against Ohio State, where the Buckeyes have outscored the Cats by 130 points in their three losses. The best belongs to Indiana at 41.

To make this division seem even more enticing, just look at the winning percentages since Nebraska came to the Big Ten. NU is just below the middle, coming in seventh place with 61.5 percent. Out of the five teams below them, four will be in the West Division and none of the teams are better than 50 percent.

Now some will point to the fact that Wisconsin and Nebraska aren’t exactly pushovers. That is true — they aren’t. Looking at the past winners of the Big Ten title,  Wisconsin’s name appear the past three times. But after? It’s heavily weighted towards the East Division. One needs to go back to 2004 to see a team that will be in the West Division with at least a share of the Big Ten title (Iowa). When Nebraska was in the Big 12, it had not won a conference title since 1999.

Note: These calculations are only from 2006 on, when Pat Fitzgerald became coach.

A previous version of this story misstated the name of the new division. It is the West Division. The Daily regrets the error.