HOUSTON - The College Football Playoff championship is quite the stage for Washington and Michigan to get reacquainted with each other.
The teams play for the national title on Monday night. Starting next season, they’ll compete against each other for Big Ten titles.
"I imagine all the Big Ten folks in Chicago in the office, they’re sitting like a rat in a cheese factory right now for sure," said Washington co-defensive coordinator William Inge, who was a graduate assistant at Iowa and assistant at Indiana for seven years.
The Big Ten's coast-to-coast expansion began in the summer of 2022 when it voted in Southern California and UCLA beginning in 2024. The Pac-12's demolition was assured just over a year later when it failed to land a lucrative media rights contract. Oregon and Washington in August accepted invitations from the Big Ten and four other Pac-12 schools bolted to the Big 12.
"The Big Ten goes into 2024 with the national championship. We can write that now," Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo said.
Washington and Michigan have met 13 times previously, most recently in 2021, and are scheduled to play a regular-season game in Seattle on Oct. 5.
DiNardo, the head coach at Indiana from 2002-04, said the entry of Washington and the other three schools comes at a fortuitous time.
The Huskies are the team of the moment, but Oregon, USC and UCLA traditionally have been the biggest brands on the West Coast.
"We're taking on four teams that potentially are as good as they've been in recent years," DiNardo said. "It's not an obvious marriage, but never has there been a better time for this crossover to happen."
ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said he was a fan of the Pac-12 and has mixed feelings about its breakdown.
"How fitting that they’ve had a heck of a run as a conference this year and then one of their teams get to the championship," he said. "There are a lot of people from the Pac-12 excited to see how they go out. And then for the Big Ten to look into their future ... It’s just weird to think this will be a conference game next year.
"I’m from that early '90s era," he added. "I remember these teams playing in the Rose Bowl back-to-back years. We’re all going to have to go through it to get used to it."
Herbstreit said even though he's excited about the prospects for an 18-team Big Ten, he also is apprehensive. The Big Ten will have no divisions starting in 2024, meaning the top two teams will meet in the conference championship game, and the College Football Playoff will go from four to 12 teams.
All that expansion, Herbstreit said, could water down the Big Ten's most famous rivalry — Ohio State-Michigan. In the 10 years of the East-West alignment, the winner of "The Game," as it's known, reached the conference title game.
Herbstreit, who played quarterback for the Buckeyes from 1989-92, said Ohio State and Michigan could meet multiple times over a month if the Big Ten power structure remains the same. Conceivably, he said, the teams' regular-season game the last Saturday of November could be followed by a rematch the next week in Indianapolis.
"How could it not take away from the last game in November?" Herbstreit said. "Not to say Ohio State and Michigan will do it every year. But if they play, and then again a week later, that’s bizarre. And then what if they match up a third time in the playoff? It’s part of this new world we have to get used to."
Michigan receiver Cornelius Johnson shares Herbstreit's concern about the rivalry.
"Used to be you’d play that game, and that would be basically the championship right then and there," he said. "Now you get it adjusted, it’s going to be like an NFL-type of schedule with the playoffs."
As a fan, he said, he liked the Pac-12 and the four-team playoff. He also said he understood greater revenue potential was the impetus for the changes.
"I thought it was perfectly fine the way it is," he said. "They switched it up. The fact they did, you've got to roll with it. I’m excited to see how it plays out with everything new going on. It’s going to be weird getting adjusted to. There’s never been that many changes from one year to the next."