Earlier today news was dropped that USC and UCLA have reached out to the BIG 10 and plan to join the conference as early as 2024. This article will focus on a few main topics: BIG 10 realignment, conference rankings, and future conference predictions.

BIG 10 Realignment

With two new teams joining the conference, there is likely going to be a realignment process to sort everything out. The BIG 10 has already been eyeing this action, and this move gives them the perfect reason to do so. There are two options; mix up the current two divisions, or create a ‘pod’ system with 4 pods each with 4 teams. These would look like so:

Divisions

After some reading, mainly from a great article from The Game 730am, I mocked two divisions from what I thought could be an even distribution of the conference. 9 of the last 10 seasons have been won by the current East Division–5 of those by Ohio State. Throwing them along with Penn State and USC into one division will spread out the talent, as it leaves strong programs in Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin to balance. This system could cause issues, however, as it can split up legendary rivals like OSU and Michigan–of course, there are other variations of mixing up the division, but these issues are difficult to avoid.

North

  • Michigan
  • Michigan State
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Wisconsin
  • Nebraska
  • Northwestern
  • UCLA

South

  • Ohio State
  • Penn State
  • Maryland
  • Purdue
  • Rutgers
  • Illinois
  • Minnesota
  • USC

Pod System

With the pod system, we can split the division into 4 conferences of 4 teams. I am not entirely sure how this would work with scheduling, but I mocked 4 possible pods with the addition of USC and UCLA. This would leave the North division pod stacked and might lead straight back to the conference’s current problem with unbalanced divisions.

North

  • Michigan
  • Michigan State
  • Ohio State
  • Penn State

South

  • Iowa
  • Indiana
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska

East

  • Wisconsin
  • Rutgers
  • Maryland
  • Illinois

West

  • USC
  • UCLA
  • Purdue
  • Northwestern

There is also the option to remove all divisions and simply have one large conference with teams to schedule games more freely. I feel this may be the best option as it doesn’t leave for any lopsided divisions and it doesn’t risk splitting apart any rivalries.

Conference Rankings

With the new addition of USC and UCLA, let’s take a look at how they square up against the other BIG 10 teams. The table below shows the (new) BIG 10 EPA (expected points added) rankings from 2014 to 2021–it looks like the two newbies fit in just fine. Ranking 2 and 3 amongst the conference in total EPA the past 7 years will definitely throw them right into the mix.

We can’t even argue that the BIG 10 has been an incredibly stronger conference during this span either, as the average team in the BIG 10 posted 1631.1 EPA compared to the Pac-12’s average of 2088.6 EPA (minus USC and UCLA).

Bringing coaches Chip Kelly and Lincoln Riley to the conference also will add some offensive flavor that the BIG 10 has been lacking outside of OSU. Their offensive-mindedness should show even more than it already does when looking at the table below.

Even when we look at the average EPA per play for teams last season, USC and UCLA sit at the top of the leaderboard. Watch out BIG 10!

Future of the BIG 10

With teams swapping conferences left and right, this can’t be the end for the BIG 10. One likely event would be the addition of Notre Dame football to the BIG 10. With two of their biggest rivals (USC and Michigan) now floating in the same conference, there is no reason for the school not to make the move and fully commit to the BIG 10 for all their D1 athletics (unless they are still scared to play Michigan!). If Notre Dame makes the move, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Clemson join them to keep the divisions even. There are also talks of ‘super conferences’ being formed between the SEC and the BIG 10, entailing multiple Power-5 teams coming to either conference for football. Regardless of which additional teams join, the BIG 10 has added two strong football programs to its arsenal, giving it two more bids at getting a team in the college football playoff. This move certainly makes the division stronger and opens up tons of possibilities for the future.