Since news of the Big Ten division realignment first broke, some Nebraska fans have fretted that they are entering a new Big 12 North.
The comparisons at first glance seem valid. Michigan and Ohio State seemed poised to dominate the league from the Big Ten West the way Texas and Oklahoma did in the Big 12 South for several years. Meanwhile, Nebraska is the headliner in the other, seemingly weaker division -- again.
But does the comparison really have any legitimacy? Let's examine some history.
The Big 12 staged a conference championship game from 1996 until 2010. During that time, the South won the title games 11 times to just four by the North. Four of those wins by the South, however, were decided by three points or fewer.
The real issue for the North was the alleged lack of depth at the top. Nebraska appeared in the championship game six times in 15 years, joining Colorado (four), Kansas State (three) and Missouri (two). However, Texas and Oklahoma gobbled up 13 of the 15 championship game spots for the South.
Just how bad was the rest of the North outside of Nebraska? Here are the records during that span for the other teams in the division, and their bowl bids:
Kansas State: 120-67 (.642 winning pct), 11 bowls, 2 BCS appearances
Missouri: 104-79 (.568), nine bowls
Colorado: 93-90 (508), nine bowls, 1 BCS appearance*
Kansas: 78-97 (.446), five bowls, 1 BCS appearance
Iowa State: 70-109 (.391), six bowls
Totals: 465-442 (.513), 40 bowls, four BCS appearances
*Colorado's 1997 wins were vacated by the NCAA.
Let's see how that compares with the Big Ten West by examining the teams' records during that same time for Nebraska's future division:
Wisconsin: 134-58 (.698), 14 bowls, 3 BCS appearances
Iowa: 108-76 (.587), 11 bowls, 2 BCS appearances
Purdue: 99-85 (.538), 10 bowls, 1 BCS appearance
Northwestern: 88-94 (.484), seven bowls
Minnesota: 85-97 (.467), nine bowls
Illinois: 64-111 (.366), four bowls, 2 BCS appearances
Totals: 578-521 (.526), 55 bowls, five BCS appearances
There are some similarities here, but the new Big Ten West ranks better in winning percentage, bowl appearances (nine per team, compared to eight per team for the Big 12 South) and BCS bids. Wisconsin trumps Kansas State as the most consistent winner, especially since the Wildcats' success has been so heavily dependent on one man (Bill Snyder). Missouri and Iowa and Purdue and Colorado have very similar résumés, although Colorado fell on some hard times toward the end, and it took a while for Missouri to really get going. Illinois is comparable to Kansas in that it has had a couple of banner seasons and a lot of bad ones.
The problem with the Big 12 North wasn't a lack of good teams, as Kansas State, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado all had their moments. It was a lack of consistency by most everyone outside of Nebraska and, to a lesser extent, Kansas State. The same will likely be true in the Big Ten West. While Wisconsin and Nebraska should field good teams year in and year out, it will be up to Purdue, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern and Minnesota to remain consistently competitive and not fluctuate wildly from year to year. If, say, Iowa can return to getting into the annual mix for BCS bowls, or if Northwestern can build off last year's 10-win season, then the West will be more than just Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Then, even if Michigan and Ohio State turn the Big Ten East into a new Big 12 South, the West won't have to suffer those Big 12 North comparisons.