In Part 2 of our countdown, we saw that the votes were very concentrated towards the top five games in the Big Ten football season that was. Well, the top tier has some absolute bangers, and here's our picks for the top three!
Both teams came into this game locked into their postseason fates. This was still the most important game.
A rivalry trophy on the line. Over 1,100 offensive yards with only two turnovers. 55 first downs. Two overtimes.
What a thrill ride.
Things started auspiciously for the Hoosiers as Peyton Ramsey threw and ran for a touchdown early, but with Purdue, the big play is always a threat. Aidan O'Connell found Brycen Hopkins for a 72-yard score, but Sampson James responded with his second touchdown run. After the half, Whop Philyor stretched the lead to 18.
This was a shootout, yes, but it was no air-raid spray-and-pray busted coverage mess. Each team had a back carry over 20 times for over 100 yards. Zander Horvath scored two touchdowns for the Boilers in the second half to cut the lead to five. An oddly unreliable Logan Justus was pulled for Charles Campbell to kick an Indiana field goal in the fourth quarter, but Purdue roared back after David Bell beat Tiawan Mullen on his third straight try. Hopkins scored the conversion and the game went to overtime at a 31 point tie.
The Hoosiers prevailed in 2OT, but there are so many heroic individual performances, from backup quarterback Ramsey throwing 3 scores and running for two, to third-string O'Connell going for over 400 yards, to Bell and Hopkins breaking 100 yards, to Tiawan Mullen battling Bell and recovering a Purdue fumble, to Purdue's Derrick Barnes making 10 tackles and 3.5 TFLs. This was a phenomenal game.
#2: Minnesota 31, Penn State 26 (121 pts, 5 first place votes)
It's no exaggeration to say that before the game, this was quite fairly touted as the biggest Minnesota game in decades. The undefeated Gophers were out to prove they could punch with the Big Ten's elite.
The scoring started in a flurry, with the teams trading touchdowns, but Penn State couldn't match Minnesota's second TD drive, settling for a field goal. Tanner Morgan then threw his third touchdown midway through the second quarter. In 23 minutes, he threw touchdowns to the entire trio of elite wideouts that is Chris Autman-Bell, Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson. The #4 Nittany Lions were suddenly hanging on for dear life, trading field goals to end up down 24-13 at the half.
Sean Clifford finally got the Nits back on the board with a touchdown, but Minnesota responded. The two teams combined for over 900 yards of offense, and the Gopher drive was capped by a Seth Green touchdown bash. Moving quickly, the Lions put the ball in the end zone with Journey Brown and then forced a 3-and-out with the help of a Micah Parsons sack. A huge gain by Jahan Dotson moved them to the Gopher 11, but an OPI penalty put them behind the sticks and Clifford was picked off in the end zone. The Gophers had gotten that signature win, making fewer mistakes and putting up some big numbers on a highly-regarded defense.
Field rush: initiate.
I've written and spoken at great length about the 31-point underdog Illini with the lame-duck head coach knocking off the #6 Wisconsin Badgers that had annihilated Michigan, so I need to find a new angle. If you take the circumstances out of it, this was still an objectively great game. Wisconsin led for the whole game until the end, but it was definitely a back-and-forth battle, with Wisconsin having more success on each play but Illinois making enough big plays to hang around. The Badgers outgained the Illini by 95 yards but lost the turnover battle 3-1.
There was also a clear contrast in styles; while Wisconsin chunked away, Illinois was wildly inconsistent on offense. Wisconsin's touchdowns were very Wisconsin: a throw to the tight end, a 5 yard Jonathan Taylor run. Illinois had a 48-yard touchdown by a walk-on (Donny Navarro, who was later awarded a scholarship in the middle of the week) winning a footrace, a breakaway run by Reggie Corbin, and an NFL-grade throw on a 28-yard strike to a covered Josh Imatorbhebhe.
This contrast is best exemplified by the quarterback comparison. Jack Coan was efficient, going 24 for 32 for 261 yards while being sacked four times. Peters, on the other hand, completed just 9 of 21 passes for 174 yards, yet in contrast to Coan's 1/1 TD/INT number, he had 2 TD's and no picks. He was also sacked four times. In many ways, this was a team that's very good 95% of the time (Badgers) against a team that makes phenomenal plays 5% of the time (Illini).
So, you have this contrast in styles, and then the team that trailed the whole game wins on James McCourt's walk-on field goal. That's a hell of a game right there. NOW, let's add the circumstances back in. Illinois is 2-4 with a lame duck coach. Wisconsin is #6 in the country and seems invincible. Illinois hasn't beaten Wisconsin since 2007. This is why, despite the game being just mildly in Wisconsin's favor the whole time, ESPN's win probability for the Badgers never dipped below 88.9% until midway through the fourth quarter. Though it objectively seemed like anyone's game, the circumstances of these two teams let you know that this comeback and upset is just never going to happen.
Then it did!