Hoegher's Rankings! Top 10 Big Ten Teams of... well, since 1994

Hey y'all! It's been a while, and I'm itching to get the season started. I've got the shakes over here (though that may just be the coffee I'm drinking, perhaps I should ease up on the strength a bit). I thought that with just two weeks left of summer, I'd make another post listing off (and talking a bit about) the best Big Ten teams I have on record in my assortment of Excel sheets, because I love nothing more than a little self-promotion. A few rules and caveats before I begin:

1) I'm only going back to 1994, because that's the earliest I have continuous rankings all the way through today. I have assorted years from the 50's and 70's that I created for curiosity (SPOILER: 1959 Ole Miss is pretty much the greatest team ever), but I'm going to ignore the Big Ten teams from those years. Just 1994-2011.

2) You have to be a Big Ten team (i.e. no 1990's Nebraska teams). Sorry brah, shouldn't come late to the party.

3) This isn't the MLB, not everyone gets a slot. This means that Indiana ain't going to be showing up, and Ohio State takes up more than a few slots on this list. We don't reward mediocrity here (1995 Northwestern was still quite good, though.)

4) These are based solely on my numbers and rankings, so a couple teams that you think should be on here (cough, 2002 Ohio State, cough) won't be here. You still get a BCS Trophy, which is probably more valuable anyway.

And we're off!

Honorable Mention: 2011 Wisconsin, 1997 Michigan

All-Time Rank Big Ten Team Record Adj Marg Adj Off Yr Rk Adj Def Yr Rk
129 Wisconsin_2011 11-3 0.949 1.700 3 0.751 28
130 Michigan_1997 12-0 0.949 1.292 24 0.343 1


Wisconsin - Lost Rose Bowl to Oregon (38-45)

Michigan - Won Rose Bowl vs Washington State (21-16)

GASP! 1997 isn't in the Top 10? Hey, put down your pitchforks and torches for a second and let me explain. 2011 Wisconsin and 1997 Michigan are great examples of teams that do one thing really well (score and prevent the other team from scoring, respectively), but are just decent at the other thing. 2011 Wisconsin - as anyone who watched the Rose Bowl knows - had a defense that left something to be desired against top quality opponents.

1997 Michigan, on the other hand, had a wonderful defense (seriously, it's one of the best I have all-time, and I have ~2500 teams on record), but an offense that was just good, not great. Their QB was Brian Griese, their best RB was Chris Howard at 4.7 yds/carry, their best WR was a CB (Heisman Trophy winning CB, but still).

Also: the dirty truth is that the overall rating (Adj Marg) I use favors offense over defense. Using a different metric (AdjEff = AdjOff/(AdjOff + AdjDef), 1997 Michigan rates out much, much better (they would come in at #2 on this list). So no: I don't think 1997 Michigan is just the 12th best Big Ten team since 1994. It's a quirk of the numbers, and we just have to recognize that these things happen.

10) 1997 Ohio State

It's tough to find 1990's Ohio State photos, okay?

All-Time Rank Big Ten Team Record Adj Marg Adj Off Yr Rk Adj Def Yr Rk
115 OhioState_1997 10-3 0.982 1.481 13 0.498 2

BOWL RESULT: Lost Sugar Bowl vs Florida State (14-31)

Er... [/tugs collar], let's just be calm here, okay? This is the first of a couple John Cooper-led Ohio State teams, and man: I can understand why he offers so many mixed feelings among Buckeye fans. All the talent in the world (though damn if I don't recognize a single name on the roster other than Antoine Winfield (LOVE YOU!), and the results to back that up (23-7 vs Iowa, 37-13 vs Michigan State, keeping in mind that great teams are usually defined by their ability to dominate weaker teams). Though, of course, that's followed by another loss to Michigan (10-20) and a thumping in the Sugar Bowl against Florida State. I mean, those were good teams, both of them, but it can be quite draining after a while.

9) 2005 Ohio State

All-Time Rank Big Ten Team Record Adj Marg Adj Off Yr Rk Adj Def Yr Rk
114 OhioState_2005 10-2 0.983 1.364 17 0.381 1

BOWL RESULT: Won Fiesta Bowl vs Notre Dame (34-20)

This shouldn't be a terrible surprise, and may be the most fondly remembered Jim Tressel team outside of 2002 (for obvious reasons). Troy Smith was rounding into the form as the machine of destruction he would be in 2006 (Notice I said 2006, not 2007. Big difference), with future pros Ted Ginn Jr. (eh) and Anthony Gonzalez (better) also on the roster. Okay, the offense wasn't the shiny thing here, it was the defense. To offer a comparison: 2011 Alabama also rates out at 0.39 Adj Def rating. That's how good 2005 Ohio State's defense was. Alas, this team came in the year of Vince Young, so their shot at a National Championship was doomed to fail. Still, a pretty good team.

8) 1998 Purdue

All-Time Rank Big Ten Team Record Adj Marg Adj Off Yr Rk Adj Def Yr Rk
100 Purdue_1998 9-4 1.025 1.849 3 0.823 32

BOWL RESULT: Won Alamo Bowl vs Kansas State (37-34)

BOOM, threw ya for a loop there, didn't I? This rating is partly due to the "Basketball on Grass" offense they ran, with Drew Brees at the helm. I said with Wisconsin and Michigan up there in the HM section [/waves upward] that being really good at one thing while just okay at the other doesn't lead you into the top tier, but it can be overcome. It just takes Drew Brees or an equivalent. Easy, right? Also, Purdue played a BRUTAL schedule, and though they had four losses, those four losses all came against decent-to-great teams. Lost by 10 pts to USC, by 1 pt to Notre Dame, by 7 pts to Wisconsin, and by 18 pts to Penn State (okay, that one is less excusable). Plus, they beat what was probably Bill Snyder's finest team in the Alamo Bowl. No small feat, that.

7) 2006 Michigan

Whoops, how'd that get in there?

All-Time Rank Big Ten Team Record Adj Marg Adj Off Yr Rk Adj Def Yr Rk
96 Michigan_2006 11-2 1.033 1.540 10 0.506 3

BOWL RESULT: Lost Rose Bowl to USC (18-32)

Way to crap out on everyone, Michigan. Sure USC was probably a better team, but they weren't that much better. I have them ranked 5th in 2006, compared to your 6th. You could've put up a better fight than that. But on to the positives: Chad Henne was Chad Henne (and we're talking college, pre-injury Chad Henne, so this is a good thing), and Mike Hart was Mike Hart, meaning Rex Burkhead before Rex Burkhead was Rex Burkhead. Er... yes. That makes sense.

2006 Michigan is a team where nothing really jumps out at you (maybe Mario Manningham), but everything was solid. It's unfortunate that the lasting memory for this team in many eyes is arguing their case for a rematch in the BCS Championship, and utterly failing to defend that arguement in the Rose Bowl. But they beat my favorite team in 2006, so I can't really offer too much criticism. Oh wait: FUCK MICHIGAN.

6) 1995 Ohio State

All-Time Rank Big Ten Team Record Adj Marg Adj Off Yr Rk Adj Def Yr Rk
71 OhioState_1995 11-2 1.1241 1.703 6 0.579 5

BOWL RESULT: Lost Citrus Bowl vs Tennessee (14-20)

John Cooper, we meet again. Let's go through the check-list, shall we?

Talented roster? Check (Eddie George, Terry Glenn, Mike Vrabel). (EDIT: Orlando Pace. I'm an idiot for forgetting him.)

Ran roughshod over the first 11 weeks of their schedule? Check (30-20 vs Washington, 45-26 vs Notre Dame, 56-35 vs Iowa).

Loss to inferior Michigan team? Check (23-31).

Loss in bowl game against quality opponent? Check (14-20 to Tennessee).

Like clock-work man.

5) 2006 Ohio State

You knew this was coming, don't deny it.

All-Time Rank Big Ten Team Record Adj Marg Adj Off Yr Rk Adj Def Yr Rk
63 OhioState_2006 12-1 1.164 1.652 5 0.487 2

BOWL RESULT: damaged Big Ten reputation for years to come Lost BCS Championship vs Florida (14-41)

You knew that with 2006 Michigan on here, this team would be showing up eventually. Also - like Michigan - 2006 Ohio State is remembered more for their terrible, awful bowl performance rather than their high quality results to this point. Don't get me wrong, Florida was clearly the best team in the nation in 2006 (I think they may have even been 1st in my rankings prior to the BCS Championship), but Ohio State completely deserved their berth in that game.

Ohio State was never remotely challenged in a game (closest score: 38-17 vs Iowa) until THE GAME against Michigan, and that really wasn't as close as the final score would indicate. Everybody knows about Troy Smith and Co., but the defense had James Laurinaitis, Vernon Gholston (ignore the fact he sucked as pro), Malcolm Jenkins, etc. Just... a shame what happened once the year turned to 2007.

4) 2008 Penn State


All-Time Rank Big Ten Team Record Adj Marg Adj Off Yr Rk Adj Def Yr Rk
58 PennState_2008 11-2 1.202 1.7640 4 0.561 9

BOWL RESULT: Lost Rose Bowl vs USC (24-38)

Okay, seriously. We need to start doing better in our bowl performances, guys. I know Wisconsin is in the category as well, don't worry. Anyway, 2008 Penn State was the Spread HD, of course. (SIDE NOTE: I thought that name was really stupid, especially considering Joe Paterno was 900 years old) Daryll Clark, Evan Royster (6.5 yds/carry!) helped put together an attack that gave me my worst memory as a Wisconsin fan (48-7 over Wisconsin in Camp Randall), to go with a solid defense to boot.

Of course, they ran into Iowa (who is the Northwestern to Penn State's Iowa... yeah), and really didn't do anything to threaten USC in the Rose Bowl (I watched it, it was depressing). Wait, the NCAA tells me that I'm wrong here. Hush now NCAA, no one likes you anyway.

3) 1996 Ohio State

All-Time Rank Big Ten Team Record Adj Marg Adj Off Yr Rk Adj Def Yr Rk
39 OhioState_1996 11-1 1.294 1.681 5 0.3867 2

BOWL RESULT: Won Rose Bowl vs Arizona State (20-13)

Wait, something's wrong. This is a John Cooper-led team, right? [/checks]. Why is there only one loss? [/checks bowl opponent] Ah, it was Arizona State. Well, then that doesn't really count then. Wake me up when you beat a classically good team, John Cooper (Okay, Arizona State was pretty good in 1996. But I don't think I can live in a world where John Cooper isn't known as a choker).

Other than that strange occurrence, it's more of the same for 1990's Ohio State. Some no name QB led Ohio State through the first 10 weeks unscathed, destroying the weak teams (72-0 vs Pitt? Jeez...), and putting up comfortable victories against the better teams (38-26 vs Iowa), before tripping over their shoelace (DUDE. I just came up with the best headline if Ohio State loses to Michigan next year. NO ONE STEAL IT.) against an inferior Michigan squad. Rinse, wash, repeat. Still, hey! Rose Bowl Champs, y'all. Must be something about Arizona.

2) 1994 Penn State

Side note: It's kind of annoying searching for Penn State photos from the 90's now.

All-Time Rank Big Ten Team Record Adj Marg Adj Off Yr Rk Adj Def Yr Rk
18 PennState_1994 12-0 1.430 2.230 1 0.800 32

BOWL RESULT: got shafted by Tom Osbourne apologists Won Rose Bowl vs Oregon (38-20)

1994 Penn State got shafted, y'all. This was the best team in the country that year, and they didn't get a single vote. You know how 1995 Nebraska had such an awesome offense? Well, 1994 Penn State was even better (1995 Nebraska: 2.19 Adj Off. Which is still, like, frickin' insane). Their closest game? 31-24 against a Michigan team ranks #7 in my numbers for 1994 (they would finish 8-4, but they had Gary Moeller as a head coach, so you have to have a handicap for that). They put up 63 pts on an Ohio State team that would finish with 9 wins. 63 pts!

Kerry Collins, Ki-Jana Carter, those names are instantly familiar. But no, Nebraska gets the National Championship by beating up on the Big 8 (Kansas State was 2nd 3rd (EDIT: whoops, my bad) in the Big 8 at with a 9-3 overall record. Not counting Penn State, four Big Ten teams ranked above them in my numbers). This team comes in at #2 here, but my personal opinion is that this was the best Big Ten team since 1994, regardless of what the next paragraph says.

1) 1998 Ohio State

It's what y'all deserve, don't complain.

All-Time Rank Big Ten Team Record Adj Marg Adj Off Yr Rk Adj Def Yr Rk
17 OhioState_1998 11-1 1.435 1.948 1 0.512 7

BOWL RESULT: Won the Sugar Bowl vs Texas A&M (24-14)

Didn't even make the Rose Bowl (suck it Buckeyes!), but they did beat Michigan (31-16 in style), so this is the best team that John Cooper fielded by default. Most surprising? Michigan was actually good that year, going 10-3 and beating Arkansas in the Citrus bowl. Not surprisingly, Ohio State is my number one ranked team for 1998, though I wouldn't say Tennessee was undeserving, as they were undefeated at the end of the year, along with... Tulane. Yep, Tulane (still ranked 42nd, because Sun Belt C-USA).

Unfortunately for Ohio State, they got beat by Nick Saban (Dammit Saban, you ruin everything!) in one of those rare years that Michigan State stopped Sparty-ing all over the place. (EDIT: I confused this team with 1999 Michigan State, consider Sparty still Sparty) Other than that? Smooth sailing, with no other game before the Sugar Bowl within two scores. 34-17 vs West Virginia (ended 8-4), 49-0 vs Toledo (hey, 7-5 ain't bad), 35-14 vs Missouri (8-4), and 28-9 vs Penn State (9-3).

Of course, this being John Cooper, he followed up this fine team by going 6-6 in 1999 and getting fired in 2000. It's the John Cooper way.

Thoughts? Comments? Criticism? Feel free to let me know. By no means do I think this is a definitive list, but I do enjoy rating things and seeing where they land. If I'm bored (and I have time) I might do much the same thing with offense and defense specific ratings. (SPOILERS: 1994 Penn State has the best offense.)

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