Four Down Territory: Big Conference Match-Ups, Big Ten East vs. West & Must-Win Non-Conference G
First Down: Big Ten Crossover Games: The Big 10 inter-divisional crossover games this week. Since going to an East/West split there has been a lot of discussion about the imbalance of the two divisions. However despite that perception of Eastern superiority only once has the East had a winning crossover regular season record.
East Vs West Crossover Game Records:
2017 East 13-8
2016 West 11-10
2015 Tied 7-7
2014 Tied 7-7 Total East 37-33 52.9%
For those arguing for a more balanced division of teams using data and past results, that was the Big 10’s initial approach in 2011. The league was split into two divisions the Legends: (Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State, Purdue, Penn State and Wisconsin) and the Leaders: (Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota). The Leaders won the crossover battle all three years and won by a much wider spread than the current geographic model.
2013 Legends 11-7
2012 Legends 10-8
2011 Legends 12-6 Total Legends 33-21 61.1%
Maybe computers and analytics aren’t always the best way for these things.
This week the crossover games begin. For Illinois to have a chance when they host #10 Penn State Friday night, they’ll need to continue getting turnovers (they are +5 this year). On Saturday winless Nebraska travels to #19 Michigan. If Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez is healthy he will cause Michigan’s defense big headaches. As for Minnesota at Maryland: will the Maryland team that beat Texas show up or the one that lost to Temple by 21?
Second Down: Key Conference Games--The Big 12 and 10: Texas welcomes #17 TCU to Austin. TCU has elite defensive speed and a blitz scheme that kept Ohio State’s offense out of the end zone for the entire first half. On offense TCU has skill players that made multiple big plays against Ohio State’s super-fast defense. If the Longhorns beat TCU on Saturday it will be an even bigger statement than last week’s win over USC. In the Big Ten #18 Wisconsin goes to Iowa. Iowa’s 10-point win over Iowa State looks stronger now that Iowa State gave Oklahoma quite a run last week. This game will come down to whose offense can establish the run game and open up their play-action pass game. These two are almost mirror images of each other and turnovers and field position will be prime factors in who wins this battle.
Third Down: Key Conference Games--The SEC & Pac 12: In the Pac-12 Washington State is at USC. After losses to Stanford and Texas the USC faithful may be a little antsy to get a win over the visiting Cougars. #7 Stanford travels to #20 Oregon. Despite their Top 10 ranking, Stanford remains a bit of a mystery with underwhelming wins. Are they really deserving or are they simply there because of losses by teams ahead of them allowed them to climb? Saturday night will tell the tale. In the SEC #22 Texas A& M heads to Alabama full of the confidence gained by a close call against #2 Clemson. If Alabama stomps the visiting Aggies, we may all find that the gap between #1 and #2 is even wider than we imagined. While Alabama’s young secondary is vulnerable at times, their offense just has speed and weapons all over the field.
Fourth Down: Interesting Must-Win Non-Conference Games: Buffalo at Rutgers….yes this is interesting because it is Buffalo heading into a Big Ten Stadium as a slight favorite. Given the Bulls 21-point rout of Maryland they will have confidence against Rutgers, a team reeling after back to back routs at Ohio State and Kansas. For the Scarlet Knights this is a must win. Northern Illinois at Florida State….the Seminoles must win this non-conference game at home. With combined losses to Va Tech and Syracuse by a combined 54-10 the FSU offense is going to need to find some consistency and confidence before facing a schedule that includes Miami, Notre Dame, Clemson and Florida. The Huskies allowed an average of 25 points to Iowa and Utah so the Seminoles may be in for a tougher afternoon that one would think.