Since the Big Ten settled on a geographic split in 2014 for its expansion to 14 schools, the West Division has been the place to be.

Come for the competitive balance. Stay for the affordable ticket to the conference title game.

The East Division, of course, has produced all nine Big Ten champions in the current format and eight participants in the College Football Playoff. But the West has been a bastion of inclusivity with four different division winners the last four years.

That inviting path to Indianapolis — for Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin — is about to be repaved.

When Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington are admitted in 2024, the divisional format will disappear. Landing a spot in the league title game will then require a top-two finish in an 18-team conference with mammoths like Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State also in the scheduling mix.

That creates some urgency for a bunch of teams unlikely to be CFP contenders but plenty driven to appear on the national stage.

“The gifts of something like that, earning a championship, it’s determined by what you do each and every week. That’s going to be the same this year, next year, 10 years down the road, whether there are divisions or not," Iowa left tackle Mason Richman said, reflecting on the drastically shifting landscape of college football. “I think you look at it, and then you look away. For me, for a lot of guys on the team, it doesn’t really matter.”

Wisconsin tight end Hayden Rucci was informed about the impending change when asked earlier this month by a reporter about the opportunity.

“I haven’t really been paying attention. I've just been kind of focusing on this season,” Rucci said, “but if there is no more more Big Ten West then I think we’ve got to finish this thing out with a bang.”

New Nebraska coach Matt Rhule will try to make this year count. He took Temple to two American Athletic Conference championship games and Baylor to a Big 12 title game before leaving for the NFL.

“I thought it was kind of cool playing divisions, but the league’s gotten so big, it’d be really hard to do that," Rhule said. “As just kind of a purist, I like the way things always were. But I do appreciate the fact that at least now the two best teams are playing in each conference.”

The conference title games so familiar in college football are not that old: The SEC broke ground for major college football with the division format in 1992, when the arrival of Arkansas and South Carolina gave it 12 teams and the right to play a conference championship game after the conclusion of the regular season. The Big 12 followed with its launch in 1996 as a north-south league. The ACC split into Atlantic and Coastal divisions in 2005.

When Nebraska and Colorado bolted the Big 12 in 2011, that conference went back to one 10-team collective while the new respective homes of the Huskers (Big Ten) and Buffaloes (Pac-12) each reached the 12-team threshold for staging a title game.

After the NCAA eliminated that rule, the Big 12 restored its championship game in 2017 based simply on the top two records from league play. Last year, the other title-game requirement for undivided conferences — playing a round-robin schedule — was dropped. The Pac-12 immediately combined its North and South divisions into one entity. The ACC has done the same for this year, and the SEC will execute its east-west merger in 2024 when Oklahoma and Texas join to give it 16 teams.

The Big Ten initially put Michigan and Ohio State in opposite groups — the ill-fated geography-free Legends and Leaders divisions that lasted three years — and never had that hallowed matchup materialize in the title game. Wisconsin won the first conference championship game out of the Leaders Division when Ohio State was down and again in 2012 when both Ohio State and Penn State were on probation.

The Badgers have won the West four times. Iowa and Northwestern are the only other repeat winners. Purdue went to the title game last year with three losses. Nebraska won the Legends Division in 2012 but has never captured the West. Neither has Illinois or Minnesota, with both finishing in a three-way tie for second place last season when the competitive balance was at its peak.

The Gophers would have won the West by beating Wisconsin in the final week in 2014, 2016 and 2019. Same goes for their November game at Iowa in 2021 and their October game against Purdue in 2022. Soon they might find themselves in one of those key games in ... California.

“Growing up, you always thought of the Big Ten as what the Big Ten used to be, but it’s exciting to think about, ‘Hey, we might be able to get to play new teams,'” Gophers defensive end Danny Striggow said.

The Big 12 has 4 new members this year. It is also getting an early look at 3 teams coming next year

The Big 12 has four new teams debuting in the league this season, and thanks to some coincidental non-conference scheduling is already getting some prime previews of what's to come next year.

Three of the four Pac-12 teams that will join the Big 12 next year are playing future conference foes over the next two Saturdays. There haven't been many such matchups in the past for Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah, who got Big 12 invites over the past five weeks.

Deion Sanders makes his debut as Colorado's coach in the season opener Saturday at 17th-ranked TCU, which last year on the way to the national championship game won at Boulder in Sonny Dykes' first game coaching the Horned Frogs. That was also the Buffaloes' first regular-season game against a Big 12 team since leaving that league after the 2010 season.

In Week 2, No. 14 Utah goes to Baylor for its first regular-season game against the Big 12 since 2010, and Arizona State hosts Oklahoma State after last year playing in Stillwater for the first time since 1991. The Sun Devils also had a home-and-home series against Texas Tech in 2016 and 2017, with the home team winning each high-scoring game.

BYU and Houston, incoming teams this season with Cincinnati and UCF, were in similar spots when both sets of Cougars played Big 12 opponents after being accepted in September 2021. That was about six weeks after Oklahoma and Texas were invited to join the Southeastern Conference, which happens after this season.

“I was very careful with talking too much Big 12 prior to January. I think we pressed too much a little bit, just based on this is what it’s going to be like. But I tried not to make that big of a deal about it,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Since January, yeah, I’ve talked about it because that’s the way it’s going to be. It’s going to be like that every week.”

Houston had back-to-back games early last season against the Big 12, losing at Texas Tech and at home to Kansas. The Cougars are 4-13 against the league since not being among the four Texas teams from the Southwest Conference that merged with the Big Eight to form the Big 12 in 1996. Their loss to the Red Raiders in 2021 came the weekend before getting their invitation to join.

BYU's double-overtime win at home over then-No. 9 Baylor last September was the part of a non-conference home-and-home series, the Cougars' first games against a Big 12 opponent since 2016. Now they are part of the league after playing 12 seasons as an independent.

“Being in the Big 12 is exciting. You have so much more to play for," BYU linebacker Ben Bywater said. “Obviously, being an independent was great but now you can play for a conference championship, you’re competing, you’re watching week-to-week who’s winning and who’s losing. ... There’s been a lot of anticipation and a lot of talk but I’m ready to just get out there and go do it."

UCF's last game against the Big 12 was a 52-42 win over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 2013 season. Cincinnati, which two seasons ago was the first Group of Five team to make the four-team College Football Playoff, hasn't played a team from its new league since losing to Oklahoma in 2010, and it hasn't played one of the continuing members since Kansas in 1997.

Colorado was part of the original 12-team lineup before the first rounds of conference realignment that dropped the Big 12 to 10 teams. The Buffaloes will now be part of an expansion that will make the Big 12 bigger than ever.

Founding members Texas A&M and Missouri left for the SEC after the 2011 season, a year after the departures of Colorado and 1997 national champion Nebraska (to the Big Ten). TCU and West Virginia joined in 2012, and the Big 12 stayed at 10 teams through last season. It is at 14 this year with BYU in along with Cincinnati, Houston and UCF from the American Athletic Conference.

With no more moves, the Big 12 will grow to 16 teams next season when the quartet from the dismantled Pac-12 officially become members.

While Arizona doesn't play a team from its future league this year, the Wildcats are the only incoming Pac-12 team with multiple regular-season games against Big 12 teams before this season — Texas Tech in 2019, and Oklahoma State in 2011 and 2012.

All will have a chance to become more well-acquainted after this season.