The Big Ten welcomes Maryland into its ranks this season, meaning that the Terrapins will play their first non-ACC slate since 1952.
Does the move to a Big Ten schedule mean that Maryland will have a tougher road to a division, conference or national title?
To answer this, it’s key to compare the conference and division that the Terps are leaving with the ones they’ll be joining.
ACC vs. Big Ten
Though there is a wide variety of ways to compare conference strength, wins and losses against other conferences is a good place to start.
Taking a look at bowl game success, where one league’s finest is pitted against another league’s best teams, the ACC has had an edge over the Big Ten over the last five seasons.
The ACC is 18-23 in bowl play since 2009, or 44 percent, while the Big Ten is 15-24 (38%) over the same time period.
While the ACC does have a slight advantage, both conferences have struggled playing winning teams from other leagues. To illustrate, both have posted a winning record in bowl play only twice in the last five years — the Big Ten went 4-3 in 2009 and the ACC went 4-2 in 2012.
ACC Atlantic vs. Big Ten East
While the overall strength of the conference is important in gauging how Maryland will fare with its new schedule, the specific division is critical. These are the teams that the Terps will have to beat year-in and year-out to have a shot at winning any sort of title.
Here’s the breakdown. The ACC Atlantic: Clemson, Wake Forest, Florida State, NC State, Boston College and Syracuse. The Big Ten East: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers.
The two divisions share one striking similarity — they both are home to the two current powerhouses in each conference. In the ACC Atlantic that’s Florida State and Clemson, while in the new Big Ten East its Michigan State and Ohio State.
To illustrate, the last three ACC champions were Clemson (2011) and Florida State (2012 and 2013), while a whopping eight of the last ten Big Ten championships have been won outright or shared by a team that is in the new East division.
From a second-tier standpoint, the Big Ten East has the edge in strength with Michigan and Penn State versus NC State, Syracuse and Boston College from the Atlantic.
Though playing a Big Ten East schedule may be more difficult, top to bottom, than what Maryland faced in the Atlantic, the net effect is the same — with the big boys in the same division, every season’s schedule is going to be brutal. And winning the division is just as difficult as winning the conference.
ACC Coastal vs. Big Ten West
Before the ACC expanded to 14 teams in 2013, Maryland played three cross-division games, a number that went down to two last season. This is the same set-up it will face in the Big Ten — six in-division games and then two games rotating between teams from the other division, in this case the West.
So, where the Terps drew two games each season from the Coastal pool of Duke, Virginia Tech, Miami (Fla.), Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Pitt and Virginia, as a Big Ten East member it will draw from Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin.
Again, the set-up is similar across the two conferences. The Atlantic is anchored by Virginia Tech complemented by a rotating cast of programs which jump up and have strong years from time to time, while the West features heavyweights Nebraska and Wisconsin with guest appearances by Iowa and Northwestern.
Though the Big Ten West might look more difficult on paper, it’s worth noting that it didn’t have a member hit double-digit wins in 2014 and three of its seven members weren’t even bowl eligible. By comparison, the ACC Coastal had one double-digit team (Duke) and all but one (Virginia) achieved bowl eligibility.
What this means for Maryland this season is that its 2013 cross-division games against Virginia and Virginia Tech will be replaced in 2014 with Iowa and Wisconsin.
Which is Harder?
Though the Big Ten is generally advertised as a tougher league than the ACC, recent results indicate that the gap between the two is narrow.
Think about it this way — the ACC is 3-2 in BCS play since 2011 while the Big Ten is 2-3. The last time the Big Ten sent a team to the national championship game was Ohio State in 2008, while for the ACC it was Florida State in 2013. And, of course, the Buckeyes lost to LSU while the Seminoles won the big cheesy enchilada over Auburn.
Even though comparing ACC schedules to those in the Big Ten isn’t as simple as apples-to-apples, the numbers don’t lie — the ACC is just as competitive as the Big Ten, especially over the last two seasons.
What this means for Maryland is its Big Ten debut might turn out to be better than expected. In other words, don’t assume that the migration means we won’t hear from the Terps again for several years, like when Arkansas moved to the SEC.
It won’t hurt that Maryland returns 17 starters in 2014, the second most in the Big Ten and the sixth most in the entire nation.