"To mourn a mischief that is past and gone is the next way to draw new mischief on."
- William Shakespeare
For the past three months we've hitchhiked through the heart of the conference, spending a week with each member of the Big Ten. Throughout these sixty-two articles we've labored to chronicle their greatest strengths and weaknesses heading into the fall. In most cases we raised more questions than answers, but time and time again we found closure on Fridays through the soft words and patient embrace of the enemy.
Yet, somewhere along the way something strange happened. Rivals with less history and tumult somehow managed to dial up more hate than their "historic" counterparts. While Ohio State/Michigan -- the name brand in Big Ten strife -- barely drew blood, junior adversaries went for the jugular.
This got me thinking, what are the most contested rivalries in the conference today? What teams have inflicted the most damage on one another recently? We asked our staff to rank the Top 5 Big Ten rivalries in the present. The results may surprise you. (Spoiler: Only one of the rivalries on Adam Rittenberg's traditional Top 5 list made the cut).
Honorable Mentions: Illinois/Minnesota, Penn State/Michigan, Iowa/Minnesota, Wisconsin/Iowa
In many ways, when Ron Zook and Tim Brewster square off, they're fighting to keep their jobs. That's because no one wants to lose to a coach on the hot seat. And although Minnesota is up on the all time record, Iowa has screwed them on and off the field recently, with back to back shut outs (55-0, 12-0) in the battle for Floyd of Rosendale. Meanwhile, Penn State fans fantasize about returning the favor against Michigan. As Paterno Ave puts it:
I would say it was in 2007 that Michigan fans (like this one) went from being just another (arrogant) fanbase in the conference into something else entirely to me. They transcended the sort of good-natured banter and light-hearted insults that is healthy for fans to trade with one another. It was then that every time I saw the color yellow, be it in State College on gameday or in a far-flung airport during a layover, that adamantium claws involuntary released from my clenched fists. A combined score of 81-27 in Penn State's favor in the two games since has hardly abated this affliction. I want a win over Michigan in 2010 more than any other game this season. I want to turn on ESPN when the two squads match up, Harbaugh vs. Robot-Paterno, in 2013 and see the graphic: "Penn State has not lost to Michigan since 2007 (121-40 point differential).
Finally, Iowa has won two in a row in Wisconsin to take a 4-2 series lead for the Heartland Trophy. But we're just getting warmed up...5. Ohio State/Wisconsin
Series Record: Ohio State leads 51-17-5.
Don't let the series history fool you, no one in the conference hits as hard as Ohio State and Wisconsin when they square off, and there's no place I'm more afraid of playing on the road than Camp Randall Stadium. It probably has something to do with the memory of watching the No. 3 Buckeyes drown in a torrential downpour to the 22nd ranked Badgers in 2003. Wisconsin won again in Columbus the next year. The series went on hiatus in 2005 and 2006, before Ohio State finally enacted its revenge with a 38-17 win in 2007. In 2008, Wisconsin's Jay Valai took helmet-to-helmet shots at Dan "Boom" Herron, and Dane Sanzenbacher. A freshman Terrelle Pryor responded by leading the Buckeyes down the field on a game winning drive. Wisconsin suffocated the scarlet last season, only to be bombarded by defense and special teams points.
Next: Ohio State travels to Camp Randall on October 15th for a showdown between two possible undefeateds.
Jay Valai turned some heads in 2008.
4. Michigan/Michigan State
Series Record: Michigan leads 67-30-5.
As Graham describes the battle for the Paul Bunyon Trophy, "This rivalry has taken an abrupt left turn, result wise, as Michigan took 6 in a row and MSU took a quick 2 back. Last year's game featured a windy rainstorm, a last minute 90 yard touchdown drive, and a stumbling game-winning touchdown run. Just when the Spartan fans put the "splitting" into ear splitting cheers, Tate Forcier rushed UM down the field, encouraging the Wolverine fans on and tying the game with 8 seconds left. The hate is alive!"
Next: Michigan State travels to Ann Arbor on October 9th.
Little brother no longer...
They might be just Northwestern, but the Wildcats have accounted for three of Iowa's five worst upsets in history. Not only has Northwestern won two in a row, but they've taken out key Iowa players in both games. Shonn Green left in 2008 with a head injury. Last year, Ricky Stanzi went down in the first quarter. The subsequent loss cost the Hawks a shot at the MNC, and ruined a perfect 9-0 start. Perhaps just as damning was the fact that Stanzi would not return the following week, when Iowa dropped in overtime against Ohio State, losing the chance to travel to Pasadena.
Bama Hawkeye puts it more succinctly: "The teams have split the last ten meetings, with each costing each other a Rose Bowl bid. And, the 'Cats play dirty and hate America."
Just Northwestern? More like just your worst nightmare.
Next: Iowa travels to Evanston on November 13th. There will be blood.
Did I do that?
2. Penn State/Iowa
Series Record: Tied at 11 a piece.
Despite the fact that the overall series is in a dead heat, some Penn State fans don't consider Iowa their foe. As Paterno Ave puts it "To be honest, I really don't think of Iowa as a rival. As much heartache as they've caused the Nittany Lions over the recent years, there just isn't anything personal to it. I respect their head coach. I can't think of any players I really hated. And, most importantly, when I see people in black and gold walking around State College on football Saturday, I can't help but think: 'Ouch...you grew up in Iowa.'"
Speaking of ouch how about when the Hawkeyes ruined Penn State's perfect season in 2008 by kicking a last second field goal. Or when they blocked a Nittany Lion punt to turn the tide in last year's upset.
Like it or not, Iowa is a major pain in Penn State's ass.
Next: Penn State travels west to face Iowa under the lights at Kinnick on October 2nd. The teams shouldn't have more than one loss between them.
1. Ohio State/Penn State
Series Record: Ohio State leads 13-12.
It's often said that Penn State has no natural rivals in the Big Ten, yet they somehow occupy the top two spots on the list.
Says Paterno Ave: "The 2005 game was a watershed moment for Penn State football, a single victory that signaled a return to prominence for the program. Ohio State got payback the next two years, and then the Terrelle Pryor recruitment was another form of power struggle between the two. The win in 2008 was the kind of college football fandom ecstasy that you rarely get: we had lost the recruitment battle, but then it was Pryor himself who fumbled the game away and gave us that wonderful Kodiak moment on the bench afterward. The bottom line is that we're the only other program to win the league in the last five years - how can this not be the biggest modern rivalry in the Big Ten?"
Terrelle Pryor is the face of the biggest rivalry in the Big Ten.
Bama Hawkeye agrees: "By my count, 2004 was the last time that the winner didn't at least share the Big Ten title."
Next: Penn State heads to Columbus on November 13th. Bring a quarterback, and two Advil.