On the back of blockbuster expansions, both the SEC and Big Ten are making radical changes to their respective scheduling models starting in the 2024 season. Gone from both leagues is the traditional division format, replaced by a rotating schedule that aims to create a more balanced slate across the board.
Thanks to a "single-standings" model, every team will play one another at least twice in a four-year period with only a handful of rivalry games locked in on a yearly basis. That means, for example, Penn State no longer has to play Michigan and Ohio State every single year for a trip to Indianapolis and the Big Ten Championship Game. Rather, the Nittany Lions will compete with all 15 other Big Ten schools for the top two spots in the conference.
Penn State isn't the only program celebrating the end of divisions in college football's two most successful conferences. Here are the six schools that stand to benefit the most from schedule format changes in the SEC and Big Ten.
Penn State: No longer forced to contend with Michigan and Ohio State in a divisional race every year, the Nittany Lions are the only team under the Big Ten's new scheduling model without any permanent rivals at all. Penn State plays Michigan and Ohio State just one time apiece in 2024-25 and its "two-play" opponents are Rutgers, Michigan State and USC -- which, besides the Trojans, is quite manageable. This scheduling model finally allows James Franklin's squad to step out of the Big Ten East's shadow.
Maryland: Not only does Maryland escape playing Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State every year, but its chosen protected rival is ... Rutgers? The same Rutgers that Maryland has only played on an annual basis since the two programs joined the Big Ten in 2014. The Terrapins are 6-3 against the Scarlet Knights in the span. On top of that, Rutgers hasn't managed a winning season in nine years. The Terrapins may still have work to do if they want to compete for Big Ten championships, but there's no doubt the path just got easier.
Iowa: Considering any Big Ten West team a beneficiary of the new scheduling model is tough. In the West, the path to the Big Ten Championship Game was wide open every year with each team having a realistic shot. Now, they have to jostle with the Big Ten's traditional powerhouses in the race for one of the top two spots in the standings. One may also look at the fact that Iowa has to play Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin every single year as a negative, but that is exactly what fans wanted. Tradition matters to the Hawkeyes, and preserving their biggest rivalries through a sea of change was a win.
Arkansas: It may not be this way forever, but Arkansas' 2024 slate is shaping up quite favorably. Most importantly, the Razorbacks will no longer have Alabama as an annual opponent. Instead, it seems like their protected rivals are Texas A&M (still in Arlington) and LSU, with the potential of adding Texas as a yearly opponent. Sam Pittman's squad has shown that it is more than capable of winning those games in recent years. The same cannot be said about playing Alabama. The Hogs are going on 17 years without a win against the soon-to-be-former SEC West giant.
Texas A&M: As with Arkansas, Texas A&M gets Alabama off its yearly schedule. The Aggies basically swapped the Crimson Tide for Texas, a trade most folks would take every time. It also revives a rivalry between Texas' two preeminent programs. Looking at the immediate future, if Jimbo Fisher does not win big in 2023, the following season may be his last shot. The Aggies get Texas and LSU at home, and their road trips come against Florida, Auburn, Mississippi State and South Carolina. On paper, that might be the most favorable road slate in the entire conference.
South Carolina: The immediate outlook is tough, admittedly. The Gamecocks get LSU and Texas A&M at home and then travel to Alabama and Oklahoma in 2024. Noticeably missing from the schedule, though, are Tennessee and Georgia. The Gamecocks shockingly dismantled Tennessee last season, snapping a three-game winning streak for the Vols that included a pair of blowouts. Tennessee is also recruiting like a national power again under coach Josh Heupel -- who proved last year he can win in big spots. Additionally, any SEC East team that gets Georgia off its yearly schedule is an automatic winner.