Which is more memorable: a touchdown pass on the game’s final play that lifts your team to victory or a heartbreaking field goal that stuns your squad? Which stays with you longer?
Most great games feature a back-and-forth struggle between two good teams with a memorable conclusion. Often the game features a rivalry with something more at stake than just a result. Many times the game boasts an epic comeback, a statistical record or a major upset. Since 2002, the Big Ten has featured games filling every one of the categories.
Which are the best? That’s a question with a purely subjective answer. Your joy is another man’s pain. Your team’s great last-second field goal is your opponent’s kick-to-the-gut loss. Here’s an attempt to define the 10 (in true Big Ten math) best Big Ten games of the last decade.
Here are numbers 12-7.
12 (tie). Oct. 8, 2011: Nebraska 34, Ohio State 27
One week after Wisconsin pulverized Nebraska 48-17 in the Cornhuskers’ Big Ten debut, Ohio State led Nebraska 27-6 early in the third quarter. All the pomp and circumstance with Nebraska’s Big Ten home debut arrival quickly faded into head shakes and laughter. Then, Nebraska got rolling with an epic comeback, the greatest in school history.
Linebacker Lavonte David had a strip-and-score to ignite the rally, and Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez played one of his best games to lead the Cornhuskers to 28 unanswered points. The victory provided a major exhale for Husker Nation that the Big Red could compete in the Big Bad Ten.
12. (tie) Oct. 21, 2006: Michigan State 41, Northwestern 38
OK, neither team was any good. They combined for three Big Ten wins that season, including one against each other. But a great game usually involves a great comeback. This was the greatest comeback in college football history.
The Spartans trailed 38-3 midway through the third quarter. Michigan State rallied furiously and was aided by a pair of interceptions. The first thwarted one Northwestern threat while the second led to the game-winning touchdown. It was Michigan State’s only Big Ten win that season and both teams finished 4-8. But it was a comeback for the ages.
11. Oct. 24, 2009: Iowa 15, Michigan State 13
The hard-hitting battle boasted nothing but field goals until late in the fourth quarter when Michigan State converted a hook-and-ladder and followed with a long touchdown pass. Iowa rallied with a last-minute drive that concluded with a touchdown strike from Ricky Stanzi to Marvin McNutt on the game’s final play. Iowa stayed undefeated at 8-0 in a magical season.
10. Oct. 30, 2004: Michigan 45, Michigan State 37 (3OT)
Michigan trailed their cross-state rival 27-10 with less than seven minutes left in regulation. Michigan cut the deficit to seven with a field goal, a successful onside kick followed two plays later with a touchdown pass. Michigan WR Braylon Edwards caught two leaping TDs in the fourth quarter to send the game to OT and then hauled in the game-winning score in the third overtime. Edwards finished with 11 catches for 189 yards.
9. Nov. 6, 2010: Michigan 67, Illinois 65 (3OT)
The highest-scoring game in league history was contrary to every stereotype about the Big Ten. It featured two high-powered offenses matching one another score for score and the defenses were mere spectators.
Michigan and Illinois combined for 1,237 yards and 58 first downs. Illinois rushed for five touchdowns, while Michigan ran for four. Both Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase and Michigan counterpart Denard Robinson threw for three TDs. The game finally ended when Scheelhaase’s 2-point conversion pass fell incomplete in the third OT.
8. Nov. 10, 2007: Illinois 28, Ohio State 21
The Illini earned its first win over a top-ranked team in 51 years. Illinois kept the ball for the final eight minutes of the game, converted on a four-and-inches from inside its own 40 and ended Ohio State’s 20-game conference winning streak. Ohio State still advanced to the BCS Championship Game and Illinois earned a Rose Bowl nod. Both teams were blasted in those bowl games.
7. Nov. 8, 2008: Iowa 24, Penn State 23
Penn State was 9-0, ranked third nationally and had a chance to secure a BCS title game shot for legendary (and since disgraced) coach Joe Paterno with wins in its final three games. Penn State twice built double-digit leads and was ahead 23-14 in the fourth quarter. Iowa rallied with a touchdown and a last-second field goal that send Kinnick Stadium into a frenzy. Penn State won its final two afterward, still earned a share of the league title and the Rose Bowl slot. The win sent Iowa to 13 straight victories and the Hawkeyes were arguably the Big Ten’s best team by season’s end.
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