The Big Ten officially announced realignment starting in the 2014 football season, with teams divided into two seven-team divisions -- East and West, mercifully replacing Legends and Leaders. The general reaction is that the Gophers made out pretty nicely in the new configuration, which places the two joiners (Maryland and Rutgers) in the East with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Indiana. The Gophers get Nebraska, Wisconsin, Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois and Iowa in the West.
The logic is sound. Even in their best years, the Gophers would have a hard time trying to compete for a division title against the loaded East. In the West? You could argue the best Gophers team could go 4-2 or even 5-1 against those six teams, and with the right draw from the East crossover games possibly contend for a division title.
As such, we took a look at what constitutes the "Golden Era" of modern Gophers football -- 1999-2006, the final eight seasons under Glen Mason. The Gophers went to bowl games seven times in that stretch and finished at least .500 in the conference four times. We wanted to break down how the Gophers fared during that era against the teams that are now going to be in the West. And, well, the results weren't quite as promising as we might have expected.
Keep in mind, this does NOT count Nebraska, which is certainly one of the power programs in the West but was not part of the Big Ten back then. Here is how Minnesota did against these teams from 1999-2006:
Overall against those five teams: 15-19
During that span, the Gophers were 29-35 against the Big Ten -- 15-19 against the five West teams and 14-16 against the rest.
One could argue that Iowa's program has fallen since then, as had Purdue's. Then again, one could also argue that Northwestern is more established now and that Nebraska's presence looms large.
What should a realistic expectation be for the Gophers starting in 2014? How about this: A good chance at going .500 against West foes in almost every season, with a chance once every 4-5 years or so, when the schedule breaks right, to realistically be a threat to contend within the division -- and also the chance, when the team is young and the East crossover games are tough, to finish near the bottom.
But remember when you get excited to see winnable games against Illinois, Iowa and Purdue on the schedule every year, those schools, at least for now, are also thinking the same thing about Minnesota.