6. 2007 (Average: 5.9)
This would have finished lower if I hadn’t voted it the best year. It’s the only year that Illinois had a great team. Really though, could the conference champion take a home loss to Illinois and still qualify for the National Title Game in any other year? That’s an indicator of a strong Big Ten, right?
Well, it certainly speaks more highly of the conference than did #5 Michigan’s legendary season-opening loss to FCS Appalachian State. Despite Michigan shaming the conference, only Minnesota was truly horrid, with Tim Brewster committing the only MAC loss on his way to a 1-11 season.
Four Big Ten teams ended up ranked in the final AP poll and one was Illinois. The Fighting Illini got clowned in the Rose Bowl by a furious USC team, which was out of the title hunt by virtue of losing to Jim Harbaugh’s Stanford Cardinal as a 41-point favorite. Ohio State would also get clowned in their bowl game with a national title on the line. Despite being a Les Miles LSU team, Les Miles’ LSU team put up 38 points on the Buckeyes, who lost their second straight BCS title game.
Northwestern and Iowa pulled off the neat trick of winning six games without getting a bowl invite, joining only Minnesota in staying home for bowl season. The conference went 3-5 in the postseason.
There were many gifts from 2007, from Ron Zook winning Big Ten Coach of the Year (spawning the waterskiing image that will show up in the comments) to 2007 Kansas (paging ziowa9) but an enduring image from 2007 is the glory of Notre Dame’s 3-9 record.
5. 2013 (Average: 5.5)
Now we’re in the top half, and mercifully the last year of Leaders and Legends. Unfortunately, the conference started by going 1-2 against Notre Dame, with the losses being by the worst team in the conference and the best team in the conference. Northern Illinois went 2-0 against the league, accounting for the only two MAC losses of the year.
Some interesting things happened, such as Indiana defeating Penn State for the first time and Illinois ending an 18-game conference losing streak with a horribly-played win at Purdue. It was the Boilermakers’ turn to put out a historically bad team this year, with Darrell Hazell going 1-11, winning only a six point game against FCS Indiana State.
Several truly terrible games were played involving Michigan, including the infamous “27 for 27” game, a 43-40 quadruple-overtime loss at Penn State in which Fitzgerald Toussaint finished with 27 yards on 27 carries, as well as a 3OT 27-19 win over Northwestern. Speaking of the Wildcats, they were riding high after a ten win season and had College GameDay come to Evanston for the first time. After losing to Ohio State, they would lose their next seven games before finally winning a sparsely attended HAT game.
Through it all, Ohio State piled up win after win and seemed unstoppable going into the championship game, but Mark Dantonio’s Spartans rattled off seventeen consecutive points to start the game. Then they gave up 24 in a row. Then they scored 17 straight again to win 34-24.
Michigan State might very well have made it all the way to the title game, where I think they’d have had a shot against a historically overrated Florida State team, but were dogged by their inexplicable early-season loss to NOTRE DAME OF ALL TEAMS.
On to the next one.
4. 2016 (Average: 3.9)
Last year was actually a pretty relevant year for the conference despite two MAC losses and two FCS losses. Northwestern had one of each. Thanks, Northwestern. Clownfraudtrasch aside, Wisconsin opened the non-con with an upset of #5 LSU. The league went 1-0 against Notre Dame, Ohio State dominated Oklahoma on the road and Penn State managed a gritty upset win against mighty Temple.
Michigan State’s sudden fall from grace was pretty good for a laugh; the sight of a defending playoff contender losing to Jeff George, Jr. was sheer comedy. Nobody could compete with Rutgers for sheer comedy though, as their 2-10 implosion showcased historic ineptitude.
A massive upset by Penn State of Ohio State (with a huge boost from a blocked kick) was met not by tearing down the Buckeyes but by elevating the Nittany Lions. This cleared the way for Michigan until they dicktripped against Iowa.
There was much national intrigue with three Big Ten teams looking at potential playoff berths, and the payoff did not disappoint. Ohio State winning an instant classic double-overtime thriller in Columbus over the Wolverines ironically sealed the division title for Penn State on a tiebreaker (given their head-to-head win over the Buckeyes). Down 21 in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Nittany Lions readied the Human Trebuchet and went to work bombarding the Wisconsin secondary, making a massive comeback by passing against the vaunted Badger defense.
Controversially, Ohio State represented the league in the College Football Playoff despite failing to win their division. Bowl season was marred by some very close losses, as the conference went 3-7. Maryland, Indiana, Michigan and Penn State lost heartbreakers. Wisconsin defeated Big Ten nemesis Western Michigan out of the MAC, and the Big Ten was at least present in the Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl and the Rose Bowl.
This season might be even higher if Ohio State had bothered to show up to the Playoff semifinal against Clemson. They were completely torn to shreds in all three phases of the game by the eventual national champions 31-0, which means that in the last two years the Big Ten has been outscored 69-0 in the CFP. Not nice.
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