Big Ten expansion is going to happen, possibly today with the expected announcement that Nebraska will join the Big Ten. So now the stories of how this will affect the Gophers are starting to surface.
- The Pioneer Press talked with Glen Mason about how this will affect the University of Minnesota. Mason tells us that it "sure doesn't help your chances."
- Fox 9 News did a story on what this means for Gopher football as well. They chatted with Dave Mona to get his perspective.
- FringeBowlTeam chimed in on the subject as well using Sagarin Ratings to show that we struggle against good teams.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that adding Nebraska to the Big Ten does very little to affect the Gopher's chances of getting to the Rose Bowl. Certainly the Huskers are an elite football program that will consistently be a ranked team fighting for a conference championship. Clearly their program is in a much healthier state and will probably end up in Pasadena long before the Gophers will get there again. BUT here is my point...
If the Gophers field a team talented enough to win the Big Ten in it's current state, they'll be talented enough to win the Big Ten with Nebraska.
Mason's notion that "it doesn't make it any easier" does not necessarily mean that is actually makes it harder.
The Big Ten already has elite programs that have blocked the Gophers from Pasadena in the past. But to be honest the Gophers have done more to prevent themselves from earning a Rose Bowl trip than anybody else in the conference. The past few decades have seen Gopher rosters that simply were not talented enough to the conference.
Occasionally they have made a run to get relatively close, 2003 comes to mind. But a blown 28-7 fourth-quarter, home lead over Michigan cost them a Rose Bowl berth. They beat themselves. That year Nebraska finished 5-3 in the B12 North getting blown out by Texas and Kansas St. They beat a 3-9 Penn State team at home 18-10. A good team, not an unbeatable team. Even with a win over Michigan that year I'm not sure Nebraska would have been any tougher than Michigan State or Iowa or Wisconsin that year.
Practically this makes some sense as well. With the expansion to 12 teams there will be a division split. Regardless of how the line is drawn the Gophers will likely be in a division with one of the typically elite teams and have a couple in the other division. So assume an East / West split that would put the Gophers in a division with Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois. Obviously Nebraska is added to our schedule on a yearly basis which is a difficult opponent, another team to climb to get to a conference championship game. But that also means they usually will avoid one of the elite teams in the Eastern division along the way.
The Armageddon season will obviously be the one where they miss Purdue and Indiana from the East. But that will very rarely happen and it would be just our luck to have an uber-talented Gopher squad that particular season. But again, if they are good enough to beat Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan then you'll be good enough to beat Nebraska.
Nebraska is a great program that becomes yet another team the Gophers will have to beat. And it clearly will not make anything any easier. But for the Gophers to even talk about the Rose Bowl they need to worry about what they can control. They need to continually get bigger/stronger/faster and they need to start executing well-thought out game plans. Worrying about adding another good football program that makes the entire conference that much stronger is a waste of time. Let's first put ourselves in a position to win the conference, THEN we can start complaining about the addition of Nebraska.