The Big Ten Championship Game will turn eight years old this Saturday. Since the Big Ten changed its divisions from Leaders and Legends to East and West in 2014, fans have been treated to some classics and some stinkers.
Saturday’s matchup spurs national surprise and maybe not as much national interest as past championship games. However, they play the games for a reason, and most matchups Indy has seen have been respectable. I thought it would be fun to rank the Big Ten Championships of the East/West era and project where this one will place among them when it’s over. So, let’s get to it.
5. 2014 - No. 6 Ohio State 59, No. 11 Wisconsin 0
Yuck. Ohio State needed to run up the score to have any shot at the College Football Playoff, and it did. Sounds unpleasantly familiar.
4. 2018 - No. 6 Ohio State 33, No. 21 Northwestern 20 (prediction)
This game lacked the ranked eye-candy and storylines that other Big Ten Championships boasted. People looked at the matchup and did a double take when they see Northwestern was playing Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes. The ‘Cats would be a feel-good story to reach the Rose Bowl for the casual football fan, but they are not a team people are flocking to watch. Ohio State had to convincingly beat feisty Northwestern to give itself any hope of leapfrogging Oklahoma for the final playoff spot. It dominated in yards and was comfortably in control for the entire game, even though the Wildcats wouldn’t let it break away until late when the Buckeyes went up by three scores midway through the fourth quarter. Not the magic NU fans were hoping for, but it certainly put the ‘Cats on the map of the college football world. Nothing about this game was especially notable for a conference championship, and only one team had an opportunity to make National Championship noise.
3. 2017 - No. 8 Ohio State 27, No. 4 Wisconsin 21
A top-10 matchup produced what fans expected. Wisconsin was going for the perfect season and a CFP spot, while two-loss Ohio State was hoping to sneak into the final four if it thrashed the Badgers like it did three years prior. Just six days removed from knee surgery, tOSU quarterback J.T. Barrett threw for two scores and made just enough timely plays to secure the victory, but it was the defense that came up large. The Badgers had trouble all game finding the end zone, and when they did, there was a delay to repair the field. Neither team made the playoff, and the absence of notable drama besides it being a one-possession contest in the fourth quarter lands this B1G Championship at number three.
2. 2016 - No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31
There was an outside chance for either of these then-two-loss teams to make the CFP if it won the Big Ten. After being down 21 (!) points in the first half, Trace McSorley led the Penn State offense on four consecutive touchdown drives en route to 384 passing yards and four touchdowns. Both the Wisconsin offense and defense sputtered after establishing such a large cushion, and Penn State stopped Wisconsin running back Corey Clement on a fourth-and-1 to seal the comeback victory. The Nittany Lions did not make the CFP, but they did play in an epic Rose Bowl game. This game could have topped MSU-Iowa if the game was more competitive throughout and not almost two separate games in which one team dominated each.
1. 2015 - No. 5 Michigan State 16, No. 4 Iowa 13
This game had all of the storylines going in. Either team would secure a College Football Playoff berth with a win. Iowa, a defensive stalwart, was the unlikely undefeated, and it was a classic, once-every-five-years overachieving season for Kirk Ferentz. Michigan State had veteran signal-caller Connor Cook, and Mark Dantonio turned in another fine coaching job. The majority of the game was darn boring, with Iowa leading 6-3 at half, but things got spicy in the second. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Iowa quarterback CJ Beathard hit Tevaun Smith on an 85-yard touchdown to regain a 13-9 lead. It was one of the game’s only showings of explosive offense. Michigan State would then take the ball and methodically dissect a gassed Hawkeye defense for over nine minutes, culminating in a game-winning LJ Scott touchdown plunge with 27 seconds remaining. The game for stretches was not entertaining, but the magnitude of a CFP play-in game plus fourth quarter drama put this game atop the list. Michigan State wanted Bama, and oh did it get it.