As George Thorogood once inquired: “Who Do You love?”
With USC and UCLA set to join the Big Ten, the conference will inevitably have to realign. What will that mean for everyone? Well, in a conference with 16 teams, but at most 9 conference games a year, the math would dictate no team can play every other team in a single year.
For most teams, that’s fine. If Rutgers doesn’t play Illinois, no one is going to bat an eye.
But if Michigan doesn’t play Ohio State?
Wars have been fought for less.
Given the history between many of the teams in the conference, it makes sense that protected rivalries will at least be attempted to be maintained.
But as the Athletic points out - who is Penn State’s rival? The answer, at least historically, is not one that many Penn Staters will like to hear.
In a list of the 50 most-played matchups in the conference, guess how many times the Lions have participated in a game featuring the same opponent 100+ times?
Zero. Out of 9 such matchups in the conference.
Ok, how about games against an opponent that has been played 50+ times?
Zilch. Out of 36 such matchups in the conference.
Penn State’s most-played team on the list? Maryland, at 46 times, which places it as the second lowest of the top 50 matchups.
Funny enough, Penn State-Ohio State is #50 on the list, at 38 occurences.
Long story short, if the conference goes without divisions, and adopts some manner of round robin, typically spread out over 2-4 years, teams will likely have to submit a list of protected rivals that they would like to keep.
Michigan-Ohio State, Minnesota-Wisconsin, Indiana-Purdue, USC-UCLA, even Illinois-Northwestern seem like they would get top billing.
Does the rest of the conference just divvy up the remaining teams for second-tier rivalries?
Iowa-Nebraska (played 53 times)?
Penn State-Michigan State (played 37 times)?
Maryland-Rutgers (played 18 times)?
Or does the conference somehow adopt three protected rivalries for each team? Or perhaps an unbalanced amount of protected rivalries? Some teams have three, others maybe have two, or even just one? How do you balance protected rivalries against just one team versus playing the other 14 teams in the conference with any sort of regularity?
Ideally, I’d like the notion that if a player stayed at the same school for 4 years, they’d get to play each team at least twice, once at home and once on the road. If protected rivals can be kept up with such a format, I’m down for it.
But long story short, whenever the conference expands and realigns, don’t be shocked if Penn State doesn’t get a super-favorable rival (or batch of rivals). History simply isn’t on their side.