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What if Minnesota Football had Wisconsin’s Big Ten schedule?

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Here’s what would change if the Gophers and Badgers flipped conference schedules over the last six years.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I was working on a post-mortem for the Kill/Claeys era when I couldn’t help but think "How would things look if we had different (Wisconsin’s) crossovers?" My gut reaction was 2014 and 2015 would have better records while 2016 would be worse. Since the off-season is the perfect time to talk about hypotheticals I decided to investigate further.

I used every B1G team’s final Massey Composite ranking to determine if a given game should have been a win or a loss. I plugged in Wisconsin’s conference schedules and assigned any game the Gophers did not already play based on who had the better ranking. Any game the Gophers had already won or lost stayed the same. I did not change non-con or bowl results.

Nate Peterson

The tables on the left are each team’s final Massey Composite rankings. The tables on the right show which teams were on the actual schedule, Wisconsin’s schedule, or both schedules. Red for a loss (or to show Gophers were worse), green for a win (or to show Gophers were better).

As a refresher, here are our actual records:

Nate Peterson

The trend shows a steady growth with definite floors and ceilings.

Next, what our records would be with Wisconsin’s conference schedule:

Nate Peterson

The overall picture is better, but we have a definite peak and then a down-slope through this season.

If we switch the schedules, our B1G record over the last 6 seasons would have been 24-25 instead of 20-29. However, we would lose wins against Michigan, Iowa, and Nebraska and replace them with more wins over Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Rutgers, Maryland, and a win over Michigan State. The changes are detailed below:

The initial looks seems to confirm what I thought: Wisconsin has had easier schedules over the last 6 seasons. That trend turned around this year and will likely even out as the B1G implements the new scheduling tiers.

So what? What should we make of this? If the Gophers and Badgers had swapped schedules, we would have seen a higher peak and wouldn’t have cratered last season. We would have been nearly a .500 conference team (better than any coach since Warmath and about equal to Stoll) but would only have 3 rivalry wins as opposed to 5 (or 6 if you want to count Nebraska in 2013).

The question becomes "Would you rather be just about .500 but give up half of your rivalry wins and only beat bad teams, or would you take what actually happened?" On the one hand, a better record would improve our standing within the conference and nationally. However, the lack of wins against rivals would mean string of seasons like this year where we beat up on garbage competition and didn’t beat any teams that matter.

So, TDG commentariat, what would you rather see? A nearly .500 conference record with 3 rivalry wins (.157) or .400 conference record with 6 rivalry wins (.240)? Would the Badger schedule convince you that the program had peaked and was regressing or would the better record show that we were close to a breakthrough? Give your answers and why below!