Division alignment will be a huge topic of conversation at this week's Big Ten media days in Chicago, so let's take an early crack at it.
My breakdown can be found below. Here's an explanation of how it came about:
1. Ohio State and Michigan MUST be in the same division.
Their regular-season finale is one of the best rivalries in all of sports, and it has to be protected. If they are in different divisions, and each wins its division, they would meet again the following week in the Big Ten championship game.
That's a terrible idea and one the conference simply cannot allow. It potentially would devalue the regular-season contest.
The rivalry game needs to remain at the end of the regular season, and when Michigan eventually turns things around, that contest will decide the division champ in a lot of seasons.
2. Penn State cannot be in the same division as Ohio State and Michigan.
It makes no sense having three of the most dominant programs in college football history in the same division competing for one spot in the Big Ten championship game. That would destroy competitive balance in the conference.
3. Michigan State must be in the same division as Michigan, again for sake of the rivalry.
4. To keep competitive balance, Nebraska and Iowa should be in Penn State's division.
Those are the basics of division alignment and get us halfway through the process.
Wisconsin is considered next. The Badgers have an outstanding program, and they belong in the division with Ohio State and Michigan to put three powers there.
Meanwhile, Penn State, Nebraska and Iowa give the other division three powers, so competitive balance is intact.
Things get more difficult dividing up the rest of the teams.
Geography probably will not be a major factor in the Big Ten's process since North and South or East and West divisions simply won't work from a balance standpoint.
Purdue and Illinois are generally competitive, as is Michigan State. Since the Spartans and Wisconsin are in Ohio State's division, the Boilermakers and Illini are needed to strengthen the Penn State division.
Wherever Minnesota, Northwestern and Indiana end up will be at the mercy of many other factors because those three generally are not as competitive.
There will be at least one crossover rivalry for each team, and the Big Ten would be foolish not to protect Penn State vs. Ohio State.
One other issue is the season-ending rivalry component for the Nittany Lions. Sorry, Land Grant Trophy fans, but Michigan State in week 12 does virtually nothing for either team or the Big Ten.
Most teams would love a shot at playing Nebraska to end the regular season. But no other school could give the conference the bang for its buck from a national perspective as PSU could.
Imagine a TV doubleheader comprised of Penn State versus Nebraska and Ohio State versus Michigan. What college football fan wouldn't be interested in that to close out the Big Ten's regular season?
If the league can't work out the Lions and Huskers, the next-best thing for Penn State would be a season-ending game against Iowa. The Hawkeyes have given PSU fits in recent years and are a consistent threat, so that game frequently could determine the division champ.
No final decisions on division alignment are expected this week - that may take a while - but it will be interesting to hear all the coaches' perspective on it.
Check the Mirror throughout the week as I will be reporting from Big Ten media days in Chicago.
Joe Paterno's health undoubtedly will be a major focus Monday. The coach had to cancel several speaking engagements this summer and hasn't addressed the media publicly since a May 5 press conference with Pitt's Dave Wannstedt.
The impact of adding Nebraska to the Big Ten schedule in 2011 will be another topic of interest. Penn State has a tremendous home schedule (Alabama, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue) and will not be happy if a marquee game against the Buckeyes or Hawkeyes were to be eliminated.
Of course, there's also the possibility of adding Nebraska to the home slate, which could make it even better if it replaces Purdue.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
This division alignment would protect the Big Ten's best rivalries and keep competitive balance.