Yesterday, we started our post-season review by celebrating the sometimes magical, often merciless month of September in the Big Ten Conference. We remembered a heartbreaking Ohio State loss to USC, a season that was over almost before it began for Illinois, Tate Forcier's early promise, and the moment Iowa established itself as a force to be reckoned with.
Three return touchdowns proved that numbers do lie in Ohio State's 31-13 victory over Wisconsin.
Today, we move on to October -- perhaps the most precious month in Midwestern football. The leaves are golden. The air is crisp, and sweet with smoke from red-hot cedar barbecue planks. Teams are dreaming big as they transition from out of conference pleasantries into the meat of the conference slate.
Here are the games, wins, losses, and moments we can't help but remember.
Biggest Game: Wisconsin at No. 9 Ohio State (13-31)
It might not seem like it from the caption -- or the final score -- but hindsight is 20/20. A beautifully balanced Wisconsin attack that would finish 2009 with 10 wins and a victory over No. 15 Miami, came to Columbus with hopes of avenging a heartbreaking 2008 loss in Madison. The Badgers did everything they could, badly outgaining the Buckeyes 368 to 184 yards. But despite decrepit offensive play, Ohio State's defense and special teams stole the show. Kurt Coleman and Jermale Hines returned two interceptions for touchdowns, and Ray Small took a kickoff back 96 yards en route to a 31-13 victory. Who needs an offense? Really?
After 5 heartbreaking losses in a row Danny Hope shocked No. 7 Ohio State.
Best Win: No. 22 Michigan at Michigan State (20-26)
Riding the coattails of a four game winning streak, a "restored" Michigan team traveled to East Lansing in the first week of October to butt-heads with "little brother." Forcier looked the part of a championship quarterback after carrying the Wolverines back from a 14-point deficit in a violent rainstorm to take the game into overtime. But as the clouds parted in East Lansing, the Spartans wrestled victory from the jaws of defeat. Larry Caper broke free for a 23-yard touchdown run in overtime, and Forcier threw an interception, damning the Wolverines. Michigan State's 26-20 win snapped a three-game losing streak, and gave the Spartans its second win in a row over its in-state foe -- its first back-to-back wins over Michigan in 42-years. Michigan would go on to lose 7 of its final 8 games, all against conference opponents.
Worst Loss: No. 7 Ohio State at Purdue (18-26)
By calling this the worst "loss" of October, I don't mean to take anything away from the Purdue Boilermakers who earned their biggest upset in three years on the arm of Joey Elliott and the hands of Aaron Valentin. A dynamic and disciplined Purdue attack that came within a two point conversion of disbanding the eventual Pac 10 Champion Oregon Ducks in Eugene, showed that it's more than headed in the right direction under rookie coach Danny Hope. Still, Terrelle Pryor's two fumbles, and two interceptions book-ended a record high five turnovers that buried the Top 10 Buckeyes. In the wake of the loss, Terrelle Pryor called a special team meeting behind closed doors. He told his offensive teammates that "I'm not a loser," and "We're not going to lose again."
His words were prophetic. Ohio State would go on to win its final 6 games -- including three over Top 10 teams -- a Big Ten Championship, and a Rose Bowl.
Stanzi threaded the needle on this 7 yard touchdown pass against Michigan State to keep Iowa unvanquished.
Biggest Moment: One Perfect Throw Spells 8-0
Anyone who questions the pre-destined, ephemeral nature of Iowa's special season, should note that the Hawkeyes were responsible for the conferences' biggest moment in both September and October. For the fourth time in seven games, No. 6 Iowa needed a prayer to stay alive, and got it. Trailing the Spartans 9-13 with 1:37 remaining in the fourth-quarter, Ricky Stanzi drove the Hawkeyes to the Michigan State 15. After a Spartan interception was rendered obsolete by a defensive holding penalty, Iowa got the ball first and goal on the Michigan State 7. Stanzi threw an incomplete pass. Then he threw two more, before hitting Marvin McNutt on a 7 yard slant in the endzone as time expired to defeat the Spartans 15-13. The win gave the Hawkeyes their first 8-0 start in school history.
They were just getting warmed up.
Stay tuned for November's memorable milestones...