Ranking Big Ten's most-tortured football fans

Everybody gets bugged by something or another

Published: June 25 2013 | 3:38 pm - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 5:03 pm in
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I swiped this premise from Sports on Earth, which ranked the NBA's 30 most-tortured fan bases.

You may disagree with my rankings. Incredible, I know. If you care enough to do so, post your own rankings in the comments section. The more, the merrier.

Now then, here is my ranking of Big Ten football's most-tortured fans, from least-to-most:

12. Ohio State

Now, I know there is still the residue of extreme torture from Jim Tressel getting fired for the grievous NCAA violations under his watch. And there had to be a lot of frustration in Ohio when the Buckeyes went 12-0 last season and had to watch the bowls from home because of NCAA probation.

But, OSU is back to being the bully of the Big Ten and the probation is over. " target="_blank">Hard times, as Yoko Ono once sang, are over.

11. Northwestern

What's to be tormented about? No, the Wildcats haven't won a Big Ten title since 2000. But they had 10 wins last season including their first bowl win since 1948.

Recruiting seems to be going better and better for Pat Fitzgerald. This season's schedule is tough, but the returning talent is good. It's a program with four winning seasons out of the last five. Expectations are being met and then some. For now.

10. Wisconsin

The head coach wins three straight Big Ten titles and bolts for ... Arkansas? No worries. Badgers fans weren't head-over-heels in love with Bret Bielema. I think Bielema will look better in Cheeseland as time goes by. At least his record will.

By the way, if you haven't read this story about Bielema at Grantland.com, give it a look.

Folks, Wisconsin has been to the last three Rose Bowls. What Big Ten fan base wouldn't take that at almost any time in history?

But UW lost all three, so there is some definite torture there. How new coach Gary Andersen gets the Badgers back to Pasadena any time soon is a good question. Wisconsin did lose six games last season, you know.

9. Nebraska

I wonder if Cornhusker fans will agree with this ranking. From the other side of the Missouri River, we see records of 9-4, 10-4, 10-4, 9-4 and 10-4 the last five years. That's consistently good.

But it's also consistently nowhere-to-be-found in BCS bowls or the Top Ten, and they have high standards from Omaha to Ogallala. Losing back-to-back Capital One Bowls by double-digit margins isn't what Husker fans have in mind. Getting destroyed 70-31 by Wisconsin in the league's championship game isn't what they have in mind.

However, the Huskers had the hardest schedule in the Big Ten the last two years. They go into this year with reason for optimism, and optimism isn't torment.

Here are five signs Bo Pelini is maturing as the Huskers' coach.

The Huskers are going with black uniforms when they play UCLA on Sept. 14.

8. Michigan

The Wolverines were near the top of Big Ten torment for a little while. Rich Rodriguez's three years produced a 15-22 record and nothing but aggravation. Brady Hoke starts his third year in Ann Arbor, and the frustration is more about the past (no Rose Bowl since 2006) than the present.

But Michigan did lose to Ohio State last year, and the torment factor will never be minimal when that's the case.

Wolverine quarterback Devin Gardner says his team will beat Ohio State this year. So there's that.

7. Michigan State

It looks like the Spartans are fading back into Michigan's shadow, and driving MSU's torment rating higher. But not necessarily.

After four straight wins over the Wolverines -- a series-high for MSU -- Michigan nicked the Spartans last year. In addition, Mark Dantonio's men followed two straight 11-win seasons wih a 7-6 mark and a 3-5 Big Ten record.

But this is a stable program, to say the least. Those five conference losses were by a total of 13 points, and none by more than four. Which is kind of incredible. But that was the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl the Spartans were in last year, not one of the good bowls they'd gotten accustomed to visiting.

Spartans Coach Mark Dantonio senses a sense of resolve on his team.

6. Iowa

The Hawkeyes are 19-19 since they won the Orange Bowl three seasons ago. They were 4-8 last season. They lost their last six Big Ten games. They have two winning Big Ten seasons out of the last seven.

This ranking would be lower, but there's plenty of torment elsewhere. Plus, put a little history on this. Orange Bowl. Not that long ago. That's like a crazy dream to a few of the fan bases listed after this.

5. Penn State

It's hard to find a proper fit for the Nittany Lions' fan-torment. The way the program was torn asunder and the university was disgraced by the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the way the university failed to adequately respond created an unprecedented torment.

From a purely football standpoint, though, last season was satisfying. The Nittany Lions cobbled together eight wins, including one over eventual league-champ Wisconin in the season-finale. The team itself is still competitive.

If we're talking disgrace and heartache, of course Penn State is No. 1 in fan-torment. But for strictly football results, the frustration is merely staying home during bowl-season. The Bill O'Brien era has generated pride, not self-loathing.

The first over/under posted for Penn State victories this year is 8.5.

4. Illinois

This is a weird program. It's been a football foot-wipe for a long time, yet it rose up and made a Sugar Bowl trip in 2001 and a Rose Bowl appearance in '07.

The present is pretty grim, perhaps grimmer than anyone else in the league. But the Illini at least have some memories of being on national stages.

Tim Beckman's program did get a big boost last week when quarterback Wes Lunt announced he was transferring to Illinois from Oklahoma State.

3. Purdue

Never great, never awful. That's Purdue football in the last decade. The four-year run of Danny Hope ended last year with a 6-6 regular-season record. Hope got fired, and the Boilermakers endured a 58-14 Heart of Dallas Bowl savaging by Oklahoma State. What a postseason experience that must have been.

Purdue's last four bowls have been the Heart of Dallas, the Little Caesars, the Motor City (before it was renamed the Little Caesars) and the Champs Sports. Those were "rewards," as coaches like to call bowl trips.

Darrell Hazell is the new coach, and the rebuilding is underway. Rebuilding = torment.

Hazell certainly did good work at Kent State. He recently landed a recruit that had previously been committed to Michigan in 6-foot-9 offensive tackle Denzel Ward.

2. Minnesota

The Gophers got to a bowl last season, though it was the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

That's the good news. The bad news is they haven't been to a Rose Bowl since 1961 and haven't shared a Big Ten title since 1967.

Minnesota hasn't been to a good bowl since Hubert Humphrey was vice president.

The Gophers went to the Music City Bowl in 2002, 2004 and 2005. They went to the Insight Bowl in 2006, 2008 and 2009. That's why the Big Ten has shaken up its way of doing business with the bowls, to ensure the same team doesn't keep going to the same bowl.

Jerry Kill's program is improving. Like I said, they went to a bowl last year. But in a pro market, Gopher football fans don't feel significant. They do feel tormented.

Kill recently got perhaps his best recruit since he arrived at Minnesota when center Connor Mayes of Texas committed to the Gophers. The trick is to keep that commitment solid for the next eight months.

1. Indiana

Better times may be near. The Hoosiers showed marked improvement in Kevin Wilson's second year as head coach, going from 1-11 to 4-8. A bowl may be just around the corner, and the team has somehow scheduled itself eight home games this season, all of which appear winnable.

But it will take some lightning to jar Indiana people into caring about this program. The Hoosiers have had one winning season since 1995, one bowl game in the last 20 seasons. That makes for a lot of empty seats, a lot of apathy.

And when you factor in losses of 83-20, 59-7 and 62-14 to Wisconsin the last three years, a lot of torment.

But next year at this time, look for Indiana to be replaced at the top (bottom?) of the fan-torment list.
 
 

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