We all know the college football bluebloods. The Big Ten is home to four of the top eight programs in the country in terms of wins, four of ten in winning percentage, and three of the top ten in national championships. What does it look like when we look at the Big Ten since integration within each program?
Let’s be real: college football in 2022 is nothing like it was when it got started on November 6, 1869 between New Jersey (Princeton) and Rutgers. As is the case with all major sports, we have to reconsider stats, records, titles, etc from before the game was open to all. The worst team this year would have been able to run the nation year in and year out before WWII.
Win totals are as of the end of the 2021 season.
The Big Ten Since Integration: How Legit are Certain Programs’ Claims to Fame?
The most difficult part of this exercise is determining exactly when each program was officially integrated. For the sake of consistency, the source for all years is thanks to this extremely detailed and well-researched Reddit post on r/CFB. There is an argument that we need to audit all pre-BCS national titles, but that’s a discussion for another day.
So, how many Big Ten teams’ current standing hinges solely on their successes pre-integration? Let’s take a look. Each entry will show if they gained/lost ground (evident by the +1/-1 in parentheses), year integrated, old records and titles, and new records and titles. Naturally, this will be sorted by new winning percentage.
Ohio State (-)
Year Integrated: 1929
All-Time: 942-329-53 (0.731), 41 Conference Titles, eight National Titles
Since Integration: 737-224-27 (0.760), 35 Conference Titles, eight National Titles
The leader in all-time winning percentage, the Buckeyes have had years and years of success. They’re the only FBS program to never lose eight games in a single season and has routinely been in the National Title conversation.
Ohio State took a while to get going at the beginning, evident by their yearly losses to Michigan. However, once they got going, only Alabama has an argument as to who is better. The program was integrated in 1929 after getting the program started in 1889. According to this exercise, they retain 78% of their wins, all but six conference titles, and every single National Championship.
Ohio State is the top of the Big Ten since integration and top of the Big Ten in terms of wins over FBS foes.
2. Penn State (+1)
Year Integrated: 1945
All-Time: 909-404-42 (0.686), five Conference Titles, two National Titles
Since Integration: 628-240-9, four Conference Titles, two National Titles
It took until the end of WWII for Penn State to finally integrate its football program. Oddly enough, that was Joe Paterno’s first year as head coach (I jest). 31% of the Nittany Lions’ wins came before integration and just one conference championship.
Now, that’s not saying much considering that from 1872 until 1882, they were independent, thus no conference championship was possible. However, they get to retain each of the 1982 and 1986 titles.
3. Michigan (-1)
Year Integrated: 1932
All-Time: 976-352-36 (0.729), 43 Conference Titles, 11 National Titles
Since Integration: 677-280-18 (0.704), 30 Conference Titles, five National Titles
Seems fitting that a team with “champions of the west” in its fight song won nearly a third of its games before integration in 1932. Nobody can deny that Michigan football was as good as it could get for the first decade of the century. However, in the past 90 years, the Wolverines have 30 conference titles and just five national titles. For the sake of this, we are considering the shared title in 1997 as one national title.
Since 1949, however, only one title was brought home to Ann Arbor. Oddly enough, Michigan is the lone top-seven Big Ten team to lose any national titles in this experiment.
4. Nebraska (-)
Year Integrated: 1953
All-Time: 908-409-40 (0.684), 46 Conference Titles, five National Titles
Since Integration: 575-242-7 (0.702), 22 Conference Titles, five National Titles
The other half of that 1997 title comes in as the fourth-best in the Big Ten since integration. Considered as a blueblood or, at the very least, just outside looking in, the Cornhuskers have had plenty of success overall. Nobody can deny how nasty the teams were from 1969 through 2001.
Unfortunately for Nebraska in this exercise, most of their conference titles came pre-1953 when they ran through the Western Interstate University Football Association, Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association, and the Big Six (which turned into the Big XII).
5. Michigan State (-)
Year Integrated: 1946
All-Time: 721-472-44 (0.601), 11 Conference Titles, six National Titles
Since Integration: 489-337-15 (0.590), nine Conference Titles, six National Titles
The Spartans of Michigan State have had great years and not-so-great years in their long history. They tend to go in cycles of a few losing years followed by a longer stretch of winning. If precedence is anything to go off of, they are currently embarking on a stretch of winning.
While nearly 68% of their wins have come since integration, they have had most of their conference and national success since. Most recently, the Spartans won at least a share three times between 2010 and 2015. MSU’s run from 1951-1966 has to be one of, if not the, most dominant of the Big Ten since integration into the programs. Six titles in 16 years aren’t too shabby.
6. Wisconsin (-)
Year Integrated: 1948
All-Time: 728-506-53 (0.586), 14 Conference Titles, zero National Titles
Since Integration: 461-348-20 (0.568), nine Conference Titles, zero National Titles
The Badgers of Wisconsin have been up and down. Pre-integration, the Badgers racked up winning season after winning season. Then their winning seasons were nice little breaks from consistent losing. That was until 1993 when Wisconsin, led by Barry Alvarez, started winning. Since then, the Badgers have had just two losing seasons and have challenged for the Big Ten year in and year out.
While they were considered national champions in 1942, the school does not claim the title. Thus, they could be one of the winningest programs without a title.
7. Iowa (+1)
Year Integrated: 1896
All-Time: 677-567-39 (0.543), 13 Conference Titles, five National Titles
Since Integration: 661-548-27 (0.545), 13 Conference Titles, five National Titles
The second team to integrate its program, the Iowa Hawkeyes have been a great example of doing it right from the onset. The Hawkeyes won about 2% of its all-time games before integration, the fewest in the Big Ten. They only played 10 years before integration.
Despite never finishing atop the AP or Coaches’ poll, Iowa claims five national titles, in back-to-back seasons in 1921-1922 and then three between 1956 and 1960. That 1960 season is considered “the forgotten season” because the team was so good all year — racking up wins against highly-ranked B1G foes — but was overlooked because the conference sent Minnesota to the Rose Bowl thanks to their head-to-head win over the Hawkeyes. The Gophers lost the game but were awarded the 1960 National Championship.
8. Rutgers (+4)
Year Integrated: 1918
All-Time: 662-682-42 (0.493), one Conference Title, one National Title
Since Integration: 531-488-16 (0.521), one Conference Title, zero National Titles
The alpha. The beginning. The first. Rutgers is the birthplace of college football and still has only managed one national title. Even then, it was in 1869 when they played two games and split the title after swapping wins with Princeton.
While they’ve had a small handful of exciting seasons — the 2006 season and 2012 Big East Co-Championship season come to mind — they have been the poster child of “how is THAT team Power 5?” The Scarlet Knights even posted a few undefeated seasons in 1976, 1961, and 1876 (1-0 still counts technically). Overall, their one title was years before integration but they get to keep that co-championship from the Big East in 2012. Technically, they’re the reigning champs because the league dissolved and nobody has take the crown.
9. Minnesota (-2)
Year Integrated: 1931
All-Time: 718-532-44 (0.572), 18 Conference Titles, seven National Titles
Since Integration: 481-452-21 (0.515), seven Conference Titles, six National Titles
Between the years 1931 and 1949, Minnesota was to college football what Alabama is now. Well, maybe not because they had three random losing seasons but they still brought home five national titles and seven Big Ten titles.
The unfortunate part is that they had another elite stretch in the early 1900s as well, including a program-best 24 consecutive wins between 1903-1905.
10. Purdue (-)
Year Integrated: 1947
All-Time: 629-583-48 (0.518), 12 Conference Titles, zero National Titles
Since Integration: 388-408-20 (0.488), three Conference Titles, zero National Titles
Choo choo! Here come the Boilermakers. While Purdue has had stretches of solid seasons, they’re vastly overshadowed by the years of incompetence on the field, mostly of late. Since 2008, Purdue has managed just three winning seasons despite sending a handful of players to the NFL.
The overwhelming majority of the conference championship success from Purdue came before integration, leaving them with just three Big Ten titles. Regardless, here’s a fun fact: Since 2000, Purdue is tied with Penn State for most wins over Ohio State with four!
11. Maryland (-2)
Year Integrated: 1963 (last)
All-Time: 661-614-43 (0.518), 11 Conference Titles, one National Title
Since Integration: 321-349-6 (0.479), seven Conference Titles, zero National Titles
Before we get to the first program to be integrated, we much first discuss the most recent. Just as crazy as the fact that Mississippi ratified the 13th Amendment in 2013, Maryland wasn’t integrated until 1963. In terms of all-time, their wins and losses are not that bad. When subtracting anything prior to integration, however, it gets hairy.
Maryland spent time in five conferences and was independent on three separate occasions. Of all of the Big Ten, Maryland leads the way with a whopping 52% of its wins coming before integration. They lose just four conference titles but its lone national title is gone. Speaking of that title, here is another reason the NCAA needs to re-visit claimed titles: Maryland was awarded the national title despite losing the 1953 Orange Bowl,7-0.
They were dominant that year, allowing a grand total of 38 points in 11 games, but still lost that Orange Bowl.
12. Northwestern (+1)
Year Integrated: 1893 (first)
All-Time: 558-685-44 (0.451), eight Conference Titles, zero National Titles
Since Integration: 542-674-38 (0.447), eight Conference Titles, zero National Titles
The Northwestern Wildcats were the trendsetter in the Big Ten. The purple school in Evanston, Illinois integrated in 1893, just 11 years after founding its program. Current head coach Pat Fitzgerald is a dude and is likely the reason outside fans would root for the team. In between a few atrocious years, Northwestern won the B1G West in 2018 and 2020. Will they pull a San Francisco Giants and win again in 2022?
Since they were the first to integrate, it makes sense that they don’t lose any conference titles. And this is where we’d talk about their national titles *if they had any*. Regardless, less than three percent of their all-time wins came pre-integration, the second-fewest. Of all of the Big Ten teams, Northwestern would have been the best guess as to who integrated first.
13. Illinois (-2)
Year Integrated: 1944
All-Time: 619-613-50 (0.502), 15 Conference Titles, five National Titles
Since Integration: 359-463-22 (0.438), seven Conference Titles, one National Title
As the home of one of the most creative and awesome mascots, the Illinois Fighting Illini have struggled as of late. They had a fun team in 2007 but still lost four games. Since they went 10-2 in 2001, they’ve managed three winning seasons; two of those seasons were 7-6.
Unfortunately for them, they did all of their winning pre-integration. Of their five titles, only one remains (1951). Illinois used to be a power but they’ve since become Purdue’s only threat of finishing seventh in the B1G West.
14. Indiana (-)
Year Integrated: 1931
All-Time: 499-692-44 (0.421), two Conference Titles, zero National Titles
Since Integration: 361-561-24 (0.394), two Conference Titles, zero National Titles
The Hoosiers are the bottom team in the Big Ten since integration and since creation. Indiana gets to keep its two conference titles which were in 1945 and 1967 but that’s about it. Since that 9-2 1967 season, their greatest claim to fame is their 2020 season where they almost beat Ohio State.
Unfortunately, that’s about as good as it gets.