What the Big Ten Championship Games would have looked like without divisions

·8 min read

The Big Ten football conference has been in the current format of East and West divisions since 2014. Before that, for three years it was the zany Legends and Leaders divisions. Either way, you know the drill. The winners of each division met and continue to meet in Indianapolis to play for the Big Ten championship annually.

Through that time, we’ve seen just five teams win the conference championship and eight different teams make it to Indy for the shot to hoist a trophy. But the way teams get to Lucas Oil Stadium might be changing soon. According to a report from The Athletic, the Big Ten is considering eliminating the two divisions altogether and going from a nine-game to an eight-game conference schedule. The move would potentially allow Big Ten, Pac-12, and ACC teams to play each other annually as a part of the new alliance they entered together earlier this year.

So, it got us thinking. What if we never had divisions, but still had the Big Ten Championship Game similar to how the Big 12 crowns its champion today. That would mean the top two teams in the conference standings would meet to play for the title. How would those games have looked like compared to what we saw since the conference went to a division format in 2011?

Here is what all the Big Ten Championship Games would have looked like vs. what two teams we saw over the last eleven years. For argument’s sake, we settle tiebreakers by head-to-head matchups and higher national rankings. We also assume the two top finishers in the league would still play in a championship game.

2011

Badgers center Kevin Zeitler (70) pushes away defenders as Montee Ball scores a first-quarter touchdown in the Big Ten Championship game in 2011. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Actual Teams Represented

Leaders Divison Champion | Wisconsin Badgers
Legends Division Champion | Michigan State Spartans

Final Score | Wisconsin 42, Michigan State 39

What The Matchup Would Have Been Without Divisions

No Change – Michigan State vs. Wisconsin

Michigan State was the clear winner of the Legends Division with a 7-1 record, but there would have been a three-way tie at 6-2 with Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State. Wisconsin beat Penn State head to head and did not play against the Wolverines. Since the Badgers had the higher ranking, they would have gone to Indianapolis.

2012

Dec 1, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon (25) runs by Nebraska Cornhuskers safety Daimion Stafford (3) during the Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Actual Teams Represented

Leaders Divison Champion | Wisconsin Badgers
Legends Division Champion | Nebraska Cornhuskers

Final Score | Wisconsin 70, Nebraska 31

What The Matchup Would Have Been Without Divisions

Nebraska vs. Michigan

With Ohio State and Penn State both being ineligible for the postseason because of separate scandals, Michigan would have gotten the nod at 6-2 in the conference. The Badgers were just 4-4 within the league that year.

2013

Dec 7, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller (5) runs the ball during the third quarter of the 2013 Big 10 Championship game against the Michigan State Spartans at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Actual Teams Represented

Leaders Divison Champion | Ohio State Buckeyes
Legends Division Champion | Michigan State Spartans

Final Score | Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24

What The Matchup Would Have Been Without Divisions

No Change – Michigan State vs. Ohio State

This one would have been easy. Both Ohio State and Michigan State won each division with an undefeated 8-0 conference record.

2014

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – DECEMBER 06: Ezekiel Elliott #15 of the Ohio State Buckeyes runs with the ball in the first quarter of the Big Ten Championship against the Wisconsin Badgers at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 6, 2014, in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Actual Teams Represented

East Divison Champion | Ohio State Buckeyes
West Division Champion | Wisconsin Badgers

Final Score | Ohio State 59, Wisconsin 0

What The Matchup Would Have Been Without Divisions

Ohio State vs. Michigan State

Ohio State beat Michigan State earlier in the season, but the Spartans finished with an identical conference record as Wisconsin at 7-1. The two teams didn’t meet that year, so the Spartans would have gotten the nod as the higher-ranked team in the CFP Standings.

2015

Dec 5, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back LJ Scott (3) dives in for a touchdown during the fourth quarter of the Big Ten Conference football championship game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Actual Teams Represented

East Divison Champion | Michigan State Spartans
West Division Champion | Iowa Hawkeyes

Final Score | Michigan State 16, Iowa 13

What The Matchup Would Have Been Without Divisions

No Change – Michigan State vs. Iowa

A top ten, one-loss Ohio State team still would have been left out in the cold. Iowa finished 8-0 in the conference and the Spartans would have owned the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Buckeyes.

2016

Dec 3, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions tight end Mike Gesicki (88) catches a pass against Wisconsin Badgers safety Leo Musso (19) during the Big Ten Championship college football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Actual Teams Represented

East Divison Champion | Penn State Nittany Lions
West Division Champion | Wisconsin Badgers

Final Score | Penn State 38, Wisconsin 31

What The Matchup Would Have Been Without Divisions

Penn State vs. Ohio State

Ohio State would have gotten a second crack at Penn State. Both teams were the only once-beaten teams in the league and would have rematched in Indy. Wisconsin was 7-2 that season as the West division champ.

2017

Dec 2, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) looks to pass the ball in the second half against the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Actual Teams Represented

East Divison Champion | Ohio State Buckeyes
West Division Champion | Wisconsin Badgers

Final Score | Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 21

What The Matchup Would Have Been Without Divisions

No Change – Ohio State vs. Wisconsin

Ohio State was an outright 8-1 champion of the East, and Wisconsin was undefeated overall and in the conference heading to Indy.

2018

Ohio State vs. Northwestern: 5 keys to a Big Ten Championship victory
Ohio State vs. Northwestern: 5 keys to a Big Ten Championship victory

Dec 1, 2018; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back J.K. Dobbins (2) runs up the middle in the second half against the Northwestern Wildcats in the Big Ten conference championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Actual Teams Represented

East Divison Champion | Ohio State Buckeyes
West Division Champion | Northwestern Wildcats

Final Score | Ohio State 45, Northwestern 24

What The Matchup Would Have Been Without Divisions

Ohio State vs. Michigan

We would have had a rematch of “The Game.” Ohio State beat Michigan in the season finale to win the tiebreak scenario. However, the Wolverines were still 7-1 in the conference and higher ranked than a 7-1 Northwestern squad.

2019

Ohio State football still on top of ESPN's SP+ Ratings - Buckeyes Wire
Ohio State football still on top of ESPN's SP+ Ratings - Buckeyes Wire

Dec 7, 2019; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields (1) runs out of the pocket and is tackled by Wisconsin Badgers defensive end Noah Potter (97) during the first half in the 2019 Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Actual Teams Represented

East Divison Champion | Ohio State Buckeyes
West Division Champion | Wisconsin Badgers

Final Score | Ohio State 34, Wisconsin 21

What The Matchup Would Have Been Without Divisions

No Change – Ohio State vs. Wisconsin

It’s a bit tricky, but the matchup would have been the same. Behind an undefeated Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Minnesota were all 7-2. The Nittany Lions lost to the Golden Gophers, while Minnesota lost to Wisconsin. The Badgers didn’t lose to either and were also the highest-ranked in the CFP standings between the three.

2020

Ohio State Buckeyes and Northwestern Wildcats players meet at mid-field prior to the Big Ten Championship football game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.
Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Actual Teams Represented

East Divison Champion | Ohio State Buckeyes
West Division Champion | Northwestern Wildcats

Final Score | Ohio State 22, Northwestern 10

What The Matchup Would Have Been Without Divisions

Ohio State vs. Indiana

The Hoosiers would have gotten their shot after playing Ohio State close the first time around in a crazy COVID-19 year. Northwestern was also 6-1 as the West Division champ with a conference-only schedule, but the two didn’t play head-to-head. Indiana would have gotten the nod as the higher-ranked team in the CFP.

2021

Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson sacks Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras during the first half of the Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Actual Teams Represented

East Divison Champion | Michigan Wolverines
West Division Champion | Iowa Hawkeyes

Final Score | Michigan 42, Iowa 3

What The Matchup Would Have Been Without Divisions

Michigan vs. Ohio State

Ohio State and Michigan would have re-matched in back-to-back weeks again. Iowa won the West with a 7-2 conference record, but with linear conference standings, a one-loss Buckeyes squad would have gone to Indy to avenge the loss to the Wolverines the week earlier.

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