The Wildcat-less Big Ten finished the bowl season with a discouraging 4-5 record. However, they were only two terrible officiating jobs against two of their best teams from finishing 6-3. Whatever, I’m not salty at all. Either way, the season is now officially over for the conference, so we can finally conclude who was the best, who was the worst and who was in between.
1. Ohio State (13-1, 10-0)
This story of this game was exactly what I expected in my playoff preview. Ohio State had more overall talent and outplayed the defending national champions for nearly the entire game, but somehow lost 29-23 when seemingly every bad break, either self-inflicted or ref-inflicted, went against them. It was a full embodiment of Ohio State’s “Clemson Curse.”
Some of you are probably glad to see the Death Star of the Big Ten fall, others are probably disappointed that the Big Ten representative couldn’t win on the national stage and bolster the league’s reputation. Either reaction is fine, but it’s clear that this was yet again the best football team in the Big Ten.
2. Penn State (11-2, 7-2)
Penn State out-dueled the frisky Memphis Tigers 53-39 in the Cotton Bowl, and is a serious threat to Ohio State’s crown next year. They were one of the youngest teams in the country and are bringing back loads of talent in the fall of 2020. Watch out.
3. Wisconsin (10-4, 7-3)
This was the most “Wisconsin” season ever. Go under the radar in preseason only to storm out of the gates and generate national buzz? Check. Inexplicable mid-season loss that submarines any national title hopes? Check. Lose twice to a program that simply has way more player-by-player talent than you? Check. Prove in a rematch with that team that you honestly could compete with anyone in the country? Check.
Lose the Rose Bowl and any chance at national respect? You already know.
4. Minnesota (11-2, 7-2)
Even thought they beat a highly regarded Auburn team 31-24, they remain at 4th because a) Wisconsin absolutely dominated them in one of the program’s most important games ever, and b) I don’t think they’re a “better” team than Penn State, as that upset was more a result of seizing the moment than proving your overall dominance.
Still, this was one heck of a season from P.J. Fleck’s squad.
5. Michigan (9-4, 6-3)
Admittedly UM put up a much more valiant effort against Alabama than I predicted, losing 35-16 after leading at halftime and giving up a meaningless last-minute touchdown. Michigan was very good and can’t slide behind Iowa after dominating the Hawkeyes’ offense earlier in the season.
However, the Wolverines were nowhere near as good as the national media projected (shocking, I know), and Shea Patterson overthrew so many receivers in the Citrus Bowl that I wondered if he thought he was getting bonus points for it.
6. Iowa (10-3, 6-3)
Just like the Badgers, this was a very typical “Iowa” season. It lost three close games to teams with superior talent, had a very stout defense, pulled an upset over a top-ten ranked Big Ten team and finished with a 49-24 romp over USC.
7. Michigan State (7-6, 4-5)
Michigan State not only won but covered the spread in a 27-21 win over Wake Forest, who was one of the best teams in the ACC. Tells you something about the disparity between the overall depth in each conference.
8. Indiana (8-5, 5-4)
Why’d Indiana move behind Michigan State? It went 8-0 against teams with losing records, and 0-5 against teams with winning records, capped off by blowing a 13-point lead with under five minutes to go to Tennessee in the Gator Bowl, ending all chances of #9WINDIANA. Good season, but not a great team.
9. Illinois (6-7, 4-5)
This was the best season for the program since 2014, and that’s something Illini fans should be proud of. However, it also tells you just how downtrodden the program is when its best season in a long time finished with a three-game losing streak, which included losses to the worst NU team of the decade and losing 35-20 to Cal in the Redbox Bowl. HAT.
10. Purdue (4-8, 3-6)
Nothing against Eli Karp and his ranking of Nebraska over Purdue in last week’s Big Ten power rankings, I just think the Boilermakers should be ahead because both teams were the same level of mediocre during the final stretch of the season, and Purdue won head-to-head. It is what it is.
11. Nebraska (5-7, 3-6)
See Purdue above. (Also LOL, Nebraska finished with a losing record again).
12. Northwestern (3-9, 1-8)
Northwestern is where it deserves to be after its worst season of the Fitz era. The key is not letting it happen again, or else the program could head on a very dangerous path. Can’t let it happen.
13. Maryland (3-9, 1-8)
Thank you for being worse than Northwestern this year.
14. Rutgers (2-10, 0-9)
Here’s to a new Schiano-led decade!