The Big Ten announced today the divisional alignment for the 12-team conference starting next year. You've probably seen it by now, but in case you haven't, here it is:
  • Division O (West) - Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Minnesota
  • Division X (East) - Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue
The protected rivalries are: Michigan-Ohio State, Nebraska-Penn State, Iowa-Purdue, Wisconsin-Minnesota, Illinois-Northwestern, and Michigan State-Indiana.

One last information thing before I get into my thoughts...the 2011 schedule.

09/03vs. Tennessee Tech
09/10at Iowa State
09/17vs. Pittsburgh
09/24vs. Louisiana-Monroe
10/08at Penn State
10/15vs. Northwestern
10/22vs. Indiana
10/29at Minnesota
11/05vs. Michigan
11/12vs. Michigan State
11/19at Purdue
11/26at Nebraska

I have to say as an Iowa fan I am pretty happy with this set up. First of all, Iowa keeps it's rivalry with Minnesota and adds a rival in Nebraska. Wisconsin isn't a yearly foe anymore (for now...we'll see what happens when the league goes to a 9-game conference schedule), but I am perfectly fine with trading Nebraska for Wisconsin. I also like the idea of ending the season with Nebraska over Minnesota. I like the tradition and all, but Iowa-Nebraska will be a bigger game. I wish the game was in Kinnick next year though. It is going to be huge.

Iowa's division sets up pretty nicely. I think top-to-bottom the west might be slightly better. Minnesota, Michigan State, and Northwestern are all usually middle of the pack teams, while Indiana, Purdue, and Illinois haven't been as consistent. However, I think the other division is more top heavy and it is very unlikely somebody outside of Ohio State or Penn State (and occasionally Wisconsin) to win the division. Iowa's division though, has some more opportunities...especially for Iowa.

The two traditional powers ahead of Iowa in the division are Michigan and Nebraska. Look at their cross over games: Ohio State and Penn State respectively. Iowa's cross over in Purdue makes its schedule slightly easier on a year-to-year basis. This could be a big advantage in the race for conference title game. How awesome would it be if Iowa played in the first ever Big Ten conference championship game? It could definitely happen. Nebraska's schedule is ridiculously difficult next year (PSU, Wisconsin, and Michigan on the road, OSU and Iowa at home). Michigan could likely still be down. The rest of the teams aren't too scary right now. I think Iowa will be the favorite.

Last thought for now: the 2012 home schedule is awesome. Iowa plays Iowa State, UNI, Central Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue, and Nebraska all at home. That's 2 interstate rivals, 1 gimme, 1 traditional rival, 1 recent rival, 1 brand new protected rival, and 1 border-state hate war. (So I used the word "rival" a little loosely, but still those are good games.) Season tickets might be tough to get again.