Hot Reads: More Novelty in Indy in 2019?
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Hot Reads: More Novelty in Indy in 2019?

March 25, 2019

We've had eight Big Ten football conference championship games since Nebraska joined the conference in 2011. If you had to guess, without looking it up, how many of those eight have been new matchups?

I would've guessed five. Wisconsin and Ohio State have been there half the time. Michigan State has been there three times. Even when you factor in the division change (RIP Legends and Leaders), which locked off matchups like Nebraska-Wisconsin (2012) and Michigan State-Ohio State (2013) from recurring, it feels like a lot of the usual suspects.

And while three schools have taken 12 of the 16 available title-game slots, there's actually only been one repeat matchup. The Badgers and Buckeyes played in the East-West title game in 2014 and again in 2017. Beyond that, every other matchup has been a new matchup.

I was thinking about that after reading Tom Fornelli's ranking of the division champions least likely to repeat in 2019. Last year's title game participants, Ohio State and Northwestern, both made the top five.

Given the Wildcats' unlikely run to Indy last year, it's not a surprise to see Northwestern here. It ranks No. 2 on the list behind Pitt.

Ohio State, which is in at No. 5, is a more interesting discussion.

The Buckeyes are here for a few reasons. One of them is that they play in the Big Ten East, which means they have some stiff competition from schools like Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and maybe even a Maryland team that's more talented than most Big Ten squads. Still, the real reason I have Ohio State here is the turnover.
Urban Meyer is gone. I think Ryan Day could be successful at Ohio State, as he has the most talented roster in the conference and he's getting Justin Fields to replace Dwayne Haskins. Still, we've never seen Fields take on a full-time role and Day has been a head coach for three games. I'm not just going to assume everything will run smoothly. After all, in 2010 Ohio State went 12-1 and won the Sugar Bowl. Then Jim Tressel was fired and replaced by Luke Fickell, who inherited a team that had a lot of talent and the No. 2 dual-threat QB in the country taking over as a freshman in Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes then proceeded to go 6-6 and eventually hire Meyer.

Based on early lines, Ohio State not winning the East could end up being the consensus view of the rest of the sports books fall in line with what's already out there. (That hasn't been the case in the way-too-early top 25s where OSU still consistently outranks Michigan.)

I'd say it's about a coin flip that we get yet another new Big Ten championship game in 2019, maybe 60/40 in favor of the new. Wisconsin will likely be a slight favorite to win the West with Iowa and Nebraska not far behind. The East will be something close to a coin flip between Ohio State and Michigan, most likely, with Penn State probably the third choice. (Which really sets up well for another of those bounce-back, what-the-heck Michigan State years.)

But if the Wolverines do finally get there––it's still strange to look at the list of title-game participants and not see Michigan, even if you already knew that was the case––the Big Ten is guaranteed more novelty in Indy. If Iowa should get there out of the West, and Michigan State doesn't have that we're-back-again year, it's a new matchup. If Nebraska makes it, it's a new matchup as the Huskers can't face Wisconsin.

That sets up what should be a pretty fun year in the Big Ten.

Or it could just be Ohio State-Wisconsin again. College football is sort of built on that premise, a promise of parity that rarely materializes.

The Grab Bag

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