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Tenth Anniversary Special: Ranking the Last 10 Big Ten Football Seasons (Part 1)

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What were the best years for our beloved conference in the past decade?

Big 10 Championship Game - Wisconsin v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

As Off Tackle Empire comes up on its ten year anniversary (dating back to The Rivalry, Esq. days), the staff became reflective. Then we asked ourselves: what was the best season of Big Ten play in the past ten?

This was a difficult question, as criteria are hard to select. Ideally, a lot of memorable moments and a high profile for the Big Ten is what we want. A lot of highly ranked teams and a successful non-conference makes for a good season. Drama, however, also makes for a hell of a year. And to each of us, it warms our heart when our team does well. Nevertheless, some actual trends emerged. Let’s count down:

10. 2012 (Average: 7.6)

2012 clocked in at last place, and it’s not hard to see why: Ohio State went 12-0, but was ineligible for the postseason due to sanctions. Penn State’s 6-2 conference record also didn’t matter due to their sanctions, so a Wisconsin team with a 4-4 conference record qualified for the conference title game and proceeded to win it 70-31 over Nebraska.

Over Nebraska? Yes, because we were still doing the Leaders and Legends Divisions. Strike two.

The non-conference held similar embarrassments. Michigan kicked things off by getting crushed into dust by Alabama 41-14, while Penn State opened up the season by losing to Ohio and Virginia. Illinois trotted out Tim Beckman in his inaugural year and proceeded to take a whipping at Arizona State before being blown out by Louisiana Tech. Wisconsin suffered a baffling 10-7 loss to Mike Riley’s Oregon State Beavers, and the conference went 0-3 against Notre Dame.

Purdue made a bowl game, but a 5-game losing streak sealed Danny Hope’s fate, and no mustache has returned to the helm of the Boilermakers since then. The Big Ten went 2-5 in bowl season and watched Notre Dame go to the National Title Game.

2012: A Season Of Nope.

9. 2008 (Average: 7.0)

I’m not entirely sure why Michigan’s hilarious 3-9 season is this low, but there was plenty to hate about this season too. The co-champions, Ohio State and Penn State, both lost BCS bowl games against Texas and USC respectively, and of course no Big Ten team qualified for the title game.

Weird things involving Illinois happened. Penn State vaulted from #12 to #6 after defeating the #22 Fighting Illini, who went on to obliterate

ichigan in Ann Arbor yet lose to Western Michigan at Ford Field.

Ohio State spent the whole season with the shame of a 35-3 non-conference beatdown by USC, and then they seemed buried when Penn State beat them in Columbus. The Nittany Lions turned around and lost to unranked Iowa.

The non-conference had four losses to the MAC (two by Indiana) and Iowa’s Outback Bowl victory was the only postseason win in the seven bowl games to which the league sent teams.

Urban Meyer won the Natty though, so I guess that’s something.

8. 2010 (Average: 6.6)

The last season before Nebraska joined, the Conference Championship game was born and the divisions emerged, 2010 was marked by Ohio State’s 0-1 campaign. The NCAA really wants me to believe that the only game Ohio State played was their loss to Wisconsin because some free tattoos made their wins cease to be real.

At least Wisconsin’s conference title was legitimate and there was no vacating of a league championship. Indiana fans may remember this as the year of 83-20. The Badgers were one of only three teams to finish ranked in the final AP poll, with the other being Michigan State. However, in the Rose Bowl, they lost to a mid-major in Mountain West-dwelling TCU.

Only two MAC losses marred this year, but one led to strange events. Minnesota’s loss to FCS South Dakota and the MAC’s Northern Illinois led to a 1-6 start, prompting the firing of Tim Brewster. After this, they proceeded to upset Illinois and #24 Iowa.

Speaking of Illinois, they were involved in the least Big Ten-like game ever, a 67-65 triple overtime loss to Michigan in which crossing routes were automatic touchdowns. Northwestern attempted to play football on a baseball field; Mikel Leshoure punished them for their arrogance with over 300 yards rushing in a victory.

The Big Ten went 3-5 during bowl season, with Ohio State’s victory being vacated. We went 0-2 against Alabama, but at least scored some field goals on them.

7. 2011 (Average: 6.4)

Some very very bad things happened in 2011. An unmentionable incident at Penn State came to light midway through the season, casting a huge shadow over the whole season and making football fans feel bad for being football fans.

In actual football news, Indiana put out one of the worst FBS teams in recent memory, defeating only FCS South Carolina State in Kevin Wilson’s first season. Their loss to Ball State was the only MAC loss of the year, but Minnesota’s losses to New Mexico State and FCS North Dakota State didn’t help the conference, nor did Northwestern’s loss to Army or Purdue’s loss to Rice.

Ohio State was in disarray with Jim Tressell having been forced out by the NCAA and won only six games, completing only one pass against 6-0 Illinois...in a victory. Illinois would lose all 6 of its last 6 games after winning the first 6 and fire Ron Zook, then defeat UCLA in a bowl game between two teams that had fired their head coaches already.

Michigan was the only Big Ten win against Notre Dame (1-2), and with Brady Hoke at the helm, Michigan Was BACK! Somehow, their soft schedule produced 11 wins and a Sugar Bowl berth. Conference newcomer Nebraska was humming along nicely until a home loss to a mediocre Northwestern team.

The Big Ten Championship Game was won by a Hail Mary from Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson and featured several Gusgasms from announcer Gus Johnson. The Big Ten went 4-6 in bowl games (incredibly, only two teams stayed home) but once again lost the Rose Bowl. Thanks, wisconsin. Ohio State lost to Florida in the Urban Meyer Trapped Between Worlds Bowl.

Ultimately, though, despite some of the terrible things that happened, we must be thankful for 2011 for gifting us Joe Bauserman’s Passing Chart.

Join us for parts two and three as we relive some memories to get amped for 2017.