Well, Super Bowl LIII is over and so is football at all levels until the fall. The lowest-scoring of all Super Bowls, this game was, to put it mildly, a
hideous plodding glacier of ass defensive struggle. The quarterback play was a vomit-inducing master class in how to do just enough right at your job to avoid being fired mid-shift secondary to the magnificent punters’ duel and each coach spent significant chunks of the game unable to figure out how to get across their own 40 masterfully positioned their team to control the battle for field position. This was a revolting, horrific shitshow true throwback game of the highest order, achievable only at the highest level.
At least, that’s what you’d say if you’d never watched Big Ten football.
What the nation experienced in this instant classic? That’s just a week 6 conference game in this league. Here, I’ll prove it: here’s 10 games from the 2018 Big Ten slate that were better and more watchable than Super Bowl 53.
14: Northwestern 29, Michigan State 19
“The NFL is finally becoming a wide-open passing league!” That’s the refrain of those who wish to assert the superiority of the shield; the premier football organization in the land has finally implemented concepts the Big 12 has been doing for decades.
Well, in this matchup of stubborn rushing teams, each quarterback completed 31 passes, while old man Tom Brady was only able to coax 35 attempts out of his decrepit throwing arm. Clayton Thorson and Brian Lewerke combined for over 700 passing yards. So much for the wide-open air raid NFL!
13: Michigan State 21, Penn State 17
In this game, the winning quarterback completed 24 of 52 passes. Over 800 yards produced just 38 points. However, unlike the Super Bowl, this game featured a passing touchdown. In fact, there were three. It also featured a lead change!
12: Penn State 30, Iowa 24
Iowa scored more points than the entire Super Bowl without an offensive touchdown, scoring on a safety, a fake field goal and a short pick-six in the fourth quarter. Penn State inexplicably brought Iowa back to life with that mistake, but not even James Franklin could have made Super Bowl LIII interesting. Nate Stanley went 18 for 49, averaging 4.18 yards per attempt. I still would have benched Jared Goff and Tom Brady for Stanley and Trace McSorley.
11: Duke 21, Northwestern 7
As this list will demonstrate, Northwestern might as well have been in the Super Bowl. While the Big Game managed to put up one scoreless quarter and have a total of 5 of the 8 box score numbers be zero, this September affair in Evanston saw the Wildcats go up 7-0, surrender 21 points in the second quarter and then have a scoreless second half. Six scoreless frames in the box score, two totally scoreless quarters. Anything the NFL can do, the Big Ten can do better.
This was also a more back-and-forth game; while the Rams’ win probability topped out at 61.7% in the first quarter with no score, Northwestern at one point had a 76.8% win probability. The drama is just higher in the Big Ten.
10: Penn State 20, Rutgers 7
The Nittany Lions’ win probability never dipped below 92.2% even as their offense sputtered along with a dismal 4.9 yards per passing attempt and 3.6 yards per rush. McSorley’s 17 for 37 for 183 yards, 2 touchdowns and one pick was a much more impressive stat line than Tom Brady’s 21 for 35 for 262 yards and a pick. McSorley actually managed to throw touchdowns, lacked the luxury of Rob Gronkowski and Unstoppable Playoffs Julian Edelman, and ran for four more yards than Todd Gurley.
Gio Rescigno went 2 for 8 for 28 yards. Had he put up this line in Super Bowl LIII, he would have been the only quarterback not to turn the ball over.
9: Northwestern 24, Illinois 16
This extremely dumb game featured Pat Fitzgerald taking out his starters at halftime and not putting them back in, even when Illinois got the ball back down 8. Northwestern won this game without really trying, yet it still felt like a better faith effort than what the Rams and Patriots put on last night. A.J. Bush would have been the Super Bowl MVP with his 281 passing yards and 56 rushing yards.
8: Michigan 21, Michigan State 7
Oh, you want to talk about punters? Rams punter Johnny Hekker was absolutely robbed of the Super Bowl MVP award last night. He landed five of his nine punts inside the Patriots’ 20, and one of the four he didn’t was a Super Bowl record 65-yarder from the shadow of his own end zone.
Will Hart and Tyler Hunt, however, punted a combined nineteen times for over 800 yards. The Super Bowl didn’t have even close to that much offense. Even the sublime punting work in last night’s game can be seen every week in the Big Ten.
7: Northwestern 14, Iowa 10
This game had basically the same first half as Super Bowl LIII, with a 3-0 Hawkeye lead the score to start the third quarter. Clayton Thorson threw two picks to his own 42 yard line, which is precision the NFL didn’t deliver. This cornucopia of shitty football was still much better than the Super Bowl, and it sent Northwestern to the Big Ten Title game, where they’d lose 45-24 to Ohio State in a more watchable game than the Super Bowl.
6: Iowa 23, Maryland 0 AND Michigan State 24, Maryland 3
These were basically the exact same game. In neither game did either quarterback throw for 100 yards. What these boring, three-score blowouts have in common is that their halftime shows featured Big Ten marching bands instead of Maroon 5, a Spongebob tease, Travis Scott and Big Boi (because Art Garfunkel wasn’t available or something), and therefore the advantage goes to these games in terms of watchability.
5: Michigan State 14, Rutgers 10
This game had a component the Super Bowl lacked: a true and heartfelt bitter rivalry between the two teams. Scarlet Knights and Spartans alike wake in the morning with nothing on their mind but what they can do today to increase the odds of winning the Spartgers game. Super Bowl LIII was at its most competitive during a stretch in the 3rd quarter where it was a 3-3 game. The chess match that was Spartgers 2018 saw the teams claw for field position through a scoreless third quarter with a 7-7 score.
The decisive moments were actually somewhat dramatic, with a go-ahead touchdown and a game-sealing interception being the final blow instead of a field goal to go up 13-3.
4: Iowa 13, Iowa State 3
You wanna see how 13-3 is done, NFL? Look no farther than Iowa State’s Super Bowl!
Unlike last night’s debacle, both teams led during El Assico.
3: Northwestern 18, Rutgers 15
Drama was all over this game, even as Art Sitkowski somehow managed 2.61 yards per attempt on 31 passes despite completing fifteen of them. It was still a better quarterbacking performance than was seen in the Super Bowl, and it really showcased unbelievable punting. The Super Bowl record of 65 yards for one punt was set last night. Each punter in Northwestern-Rutgers had a punt of 70 or more yards.
2: Nebraska 9, Michigan State 6
Like the Duke-Northwestern game, this one had two consecutive scoreless quarters. The Midwest struggles harder. After a field goal got MSU on the board early, forty minutes of scoreless gameplay ensued. Both quarterbacks combined for 291 yards and completed about 40% of their passes. At least inclement weather (snow with high winds) can be blamed for this defensive chess match; Super Bowl LIII was played indoors.
1: Oregon 7, Michigan State 6
The RedBox Bowl may have gone through the whole first half without any points, but holy hell at least something interesting happened in the last four minutes of the game.
I’d rather watch a four-screen array with the RedBox Bowl, the M00N Game, the Auburn-Mississippi State 3-2 game and Penn State beating Illinois 38-33 in basketball than watch another game like Super Bowl LIII.