In a matchup that received almost 50% more votes than any of the the other three, the 12-seed 2018 Nebraska Cornhuskers erased a big deficit, rallying to advance to the second round. Who can say what can explain such high voter turnout? Disgruntled Mike Riley supporters? Insecure Iowa fans? Whatever the explanation, congrats to Nebraska for pulling off the huge upset.]
(6) 2004 Indiana Hoosiers 3-8/1-7 vs. (3) 2016 Rutgers Scarlet Knights 2-10/0-9 (1-10 vs. FBS)
Gather round people. Let me tell you about Gerry DiNardo’s final season in Bloomington, subtitled: How to Record Multiple Wins Over Ranked Foes and Still Hugely Disappoint. This was the season DiNardo had been building toward. The offense was stocked and the Big Ten in a down year. The stars had aligned, or so it seemed.
Why they were better than you think: A blowout over Central Michigan (Hi, Chip Kelly!) and a road win over #24 Oregon (Indiana jumped out 23-0) had Indiana off and running early. Indiana also picked up a late October win over #24 Minnesota (in front of the smallest home crowd in decades). Notre Dame transfer Matt LoVecchio had an efficient senior campaign, especially throwing to future 3rd rounder draft pick Courtney Roby, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis was around to tote the rock.
Why they were worse than you imagine: Green-Ellis averaged 3.4 ypc (and transferred after the season). Oregon ended 5-6, and Indiana went 1-8 after that win. While there were only 2 losses by 20+, with a weak Big Ten, the 3-5 Hoosiers fumbled away any bowl chances by blowing a 4th quarter lead in the last minute vs. fellow entrant 2004 Illinois, which was the Illini’s only conference win. Then the next week Indiana blew a 4th quarter lead at home vs. Penn State, giving Penn State their first Big Ten win after starting 0-6. All that was left was playing for pride, and the Old Oaken Bucket. Indiana lost 63-24.
Infamous for the back-to-back 78-0 and 58-0 losses to the then #2 Ohio State Buckeyes and then #4 Michigan Wolverines, you may be wondering how Rutgers fell all the way to a 3-seed. What signs of life did Rutgers show? Well, grab a magnifying glass (or microscope) and let’s take a look.
Why they were better than you think: Rutgers spotted New Mexico a 21-0 lead, got up off the mat, and outscored them 37-7 the rest of the way. The Lobos went 9-3 against teams not named Rutgers! They lost a tiebreaker to represent the Mountain division in the MWC championship game (which, to Minnesota fans, makes them division champs). Also, Minnesota needed a last minute FG to avoid falling at home to Rutgers, and the Scarlet Knights led Indiana 24-13 in the 3rd quarter and only lost by six. They also were tied with the Iowa Hawkeyes 7-7 in the 4th quarter.
Why they were worse than you imagine: There’s no way to sugar-coat going scoreless through almost half of you conference season and losing four games by a combined 224-0. Take away the 52 point outburst in the FCS game, and we’re talking 12.4 ppg. They averaged fewer than 10 ppg in conference play despite putting up 59 combined in back-to-back games. The 2016 Big Ten East was very good, but you can’t look at these scores and imagine any way that Rutgers was better than terrible.
Who was worse?
This poll is closed
(10) 2011 Minnesota Golden Gophers 3-9/2-6 (3-8 vs. FBS) vs. (2) 2005 Illinois Fighting Illini 2-9/0-8
Jerry Kill’s first season went better than Tim Brewster’s, but that doesn’t mean that are no similarities. Kill did begin to leave his tough-minded imprint on the squad and they showed a willingness to struggle hard to move forward. Which is good, because they struggled a lot, and very rarely forward.
Why they were better than you think: The season began with a hard-fought 19-17 loss to a USC squad that finished the season #6 in the nation. It ended with a 27-7 blowout of bowl-bound Illinois. In between was an impressive 4th quarter comeback from 21-10 down against Iowa, which won back Floyd of Rosedale.
Why they were worse than you imagine: Losing at home to 4-9 New Mexico State. Losing to North Dakota State. Powerhouse or no, that’s an FCS loss. And it’s not as if Minnesota showed steady improvement throughout the season. The win over the Illini was Illinois’s sixth straight loss and Ron Zook was fired the next day. Four conference opponents beat the Gophers by 27+ including a 58-0 annihilation in Ann Arbor. Welcome to the Big Ten, Jerry.
The Illini went 2-30 in B1G play from 2003-2006. Please just read that sentence again. This was Ron Zook’s first Illinois squad and while they didn’t grab a 1-seed like the 2003 Illini, they may be just as capable of a Final Four appearance. There are a couple of positives if you look beneath the surface, so let’s take a…screw it. I mean, read that first sentence again.
Why they were better than you think: The 2005 pre-Big Ten Rutgers Scarlet Knights went 7-5 and made a bowl. And Illinois beat them on opening day erasing a 27-7 deficit to win in OT! They built on that by drubbing San Jose State. They had a 4th quarter road lead against #15 California. Pierre Thomas was the Raheem Mostert of the 2000’s!
Why they were worse than you imagine: Whatever happened in the 4th quarter at Strawberry Canyon, it was fierce. Cal outscored Illinois 21-3 and that was the end of the Illini being competitive. The next week was a 61-14 loss to the not-good-enough-to-make-a-bowl Michigan State Spartans, and it didn’t get any better. Illinois had two B1G losses by 17, and “only” lost 36-13 to fellow entrant 2005 Indiana. Maybe the nadir was the MSU game. If not, it was probably trailing 56-3 at halftime to admittedly resurgent Penn State Nittany Lions. But maybe it was losing 40-2 (scoring 2 points in a game is never not hilarious) to Ohio State. Then again, maybe it was heading to West Lafayette and the 2-6/1-5 Purdue Boilermakers and leaving with a 37-3 loss. Who can say?
Who was worse?
This poll is closed
(12) 2018 Nebraska Cornhuskers 4-8/3-6 (3-8 vs. FBS) vs. 2006 Illinois Fighting Illini 2-10/1-7 (1-10 vs. FBS)
Fresh off their shocking upset of 2014 Purdue, the Huskers look build on their momentum and surge into the Sweet 16. Unfortunately for Nebraska, even though there aren’t any good teams in this tournament, they don’t get a chance to play Bethune-Cookman again, either.
Why they were better than you think: They finished the season 4-2, 3-2 in conference play. A 53 point cannonade against P.J. Fleck’s boat rowers. 54 points against Illinois. Even the vision-damaging 9-6 win over Sparty was (for our purposes) impressive, coming as it did against a (Redbox) bowl-caliber opponent. I’m sure Nebraska was primed for a big 2019 with so much momentum heading into the offseason.
Why they were worse than you imagine: 56-3 until garbage time against Michigan. Home losses to Troy and Colorado. There’s no shame in losing to the division champ, your 2018 Northwestern Wildcats. However, maybe we should talk about blowing a ten point lead in the last six minutes, and allowing a 99-yard two-minute drive. Not everybody can wave goodbye to a 98.2% win probability. Just enough heart to erase a 15 point 4th quarter deficit to Iowa. Just bad enough to watch it go by the boards via another last minute drive surrendered. If your defense gives up 30+ eight times, then you can do damage here, no matter the seed.
This team was the tail end of the aforementioned 2-30 B1G run, but it was clear at points in 2006 that brighter times were likely ahead. That didn’t stop this team from being pretty bad, but even a quick look shows that they were on the upswing.
Why they were better than you think: Yes they only had one FBS win, and, yes, it was over fellow entrant 2006 Michigan State. Still it was a road win over a team that entered the game 3-1. They also jumped out 21-3 over a Wisconsin Badgers team that finished 12-1, taking a lead into the 4th quarter. Frankly, the defense was downright solid. Their 26.8 ppg ranked 91st, but that had more to do with the -15 turnover margin. Illinois outgained opponents by 35 ypg and held opposing offenses to 3.3 ypc.
Why they were worse than you imagine: They still finished the season on a seven-game losing streak. 17.5 ppg against FBS competition is going to burden any defense. They were spared having to play Michigan. A backfield of Pierre Thomas and Rashard Mendenhall (5.2 ypc as a team) should be able to average more than 19.6 ppg, but the team 42.2 comp. % probably explains that. Further, Illinois gave up eight non-offensive TDs to opponents. In a close game, don’t sleep on the possibility of a turnover or special teams miscue seeing them through to the next round.
Who was worse?
This poll is closed
(8) 2009 Michigan Wolverines 5-7/1-7 (4-7 vs. FBS) vs. (1) 2007 Minnesota Golden Gophers 1-11/0-8 (1-10 vs. FBS)
This version grabbed more wins than the maligned 2008 Wolverines, but the Big Ten record was worse. Further, this team built expectations with their 4-0 start. (Hey Wolverine fans, do you remember Tate Forcier getting a upper-corner spot on the Sports Illustrated cover following the Notre Dame win?) With that build up, the late-season Wolverines may be disheartened enough to pull the upset over the 1-seed Gophers.
Why they were better than you think: Again, the 4-0 start looked nice. Who says no to a last second win over Notre Dame? A 4th quarter comeback against Indiana to start the Big Ten season? And then, at 4-0, ranked #22, you erase a 14 point 4th quarter lead @ rival Michigan State? Rich Rodriguez has this team pointed in the right direction!
Why they were worse than you imagine: Wait. Why do you need a 4th quarter comeback to beat Indiana? That game was in the Big House??? And then you lost to Sparty in OT anyway. Fellow entrant 2009 Illinois beat you by 25 points? The 63-6 win over FCS Delaware State only makes the rest of October/November all the more embarrassing. Delaware State? I guess Michigan wasn’t going to lose at home to Toledo again. Good job. Good effort. This team was three minutes away from a winless Big Ten season.
The 2007 Iowa Hawkeyes missed a bowl game because they lost their season finale at home to a 5-7 Western Michigan team. Iowa averaged 18.5 ppg, good for 111th out of 120 teams in FBS that year. THAT is how bad of an offense, and how uninspired of an effort, it took to be the ONLY FBS team not to hang 30 on this Gopher squad. The Big Ten ranked 6th in terms of conference SRS in 2007, but against Minnesota, everybody looked like the ’07 Patriots.
Why they were better than you think: Their three FBS non-conference opponents all made (middling) bowl games. Minnesota was entertaining, averaging over 400 yards of offense a game, and breaking 30 six times. Eric Decker put himself on the map with 900 yards and 9 TDs. The season ended with two one-score losses in rivalry games (21-16 to Iowa, 41-34 to Wisconsin). Two one-point OT defeats mean this team had the potential to record multiple victories.
Why they were worse than you imagine: I mean, if you have four non-conference games and none of them are Power 5 teams, you really should be able to at least go 2-2, right? Maybe don’t spot Bowling Green a 21-0 lead, or fall behind Florida Atlantic 35-14. The defense allowed 519 ypg, and that’s keeping in the FCS game, and Iowa’s lifeless 296 yard performance. Hard to get off the field giving up 5.7 ypc.
Who was worse?
This poll is closed