Top 12 Big Ten Football Teams of the BCS Era

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Athlon Sports ranked the best Big Ten teams of the BCS era.

<p> Top 10 Best Big Ten Teams of the BCS Era</p>

The BCS just put a bow on its 15th season of action and Athlon has dissected the numbers and reviewed the tapes of all six BCS conferences in order to rank the best each league has had to offer. Which Oklahoma team was the best of the decade? Which Florida team was the toughest to stop? How do you rank the Florida State teams of the late '90s? Which Miami team was the best? How about those loaded USC teams? Alabama vs. Auburn?

The debates will rage on for decades, but here is Athlon's two cents. Here are the Top 12 Big Ten teams of the BCS Era (1998-present):

Note: "First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks

1. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2002 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Jim Tressel
Championships: Big Ten Co-Champs, Fiesta Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: Ranked No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense (13.1 ppg) and No. 3 nationally in rushing defense (77.7 ypg), this was the first team in NCAA history to finish 14-0
Award Winners: Maurice Clarett (Big Ten Freshman of the Year), Mike Doss (Big Ten Co-Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Mike Doss (2nd, 2003), Will Smith (1st, 2004), Chris Gamble (1st, 2004), Michael Jenkins (1st, 2004), Mike Nugent (2nd, 2005)

The team that never gave up began the season ranked No. 13 in the nation and slowly grinded their way to the No. 1 spot in the final standings. The Buckeyes beat five ranked teams, including the Big East's No. 2 team of the BCS era, en route to the 2002 National Championship. Behind gritty play from quarterback Craig Krenzel and a freshman school rushing record from Maurice Clarett (1,237 yards), the Bucks found themselves as heavy underdogs to defending national champs Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. Yet, the staunch Buckeye defense and two key touchdowns (and one great forced fumble/recovery) from Clarett gave Ohio State its sixth consensus national championship. The much-debated passing interference penalty also will go down in history as one of the more controversial plays — even if it was the right call. This Ohio State team sent an NFL-record 14 players to the league in the 2004 draft (five were selected in 2003 and three in 2005). This is the only Big Ten team to have claimed a BCS National Championship making them the top Big Ten team of the BCS Era.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes, 1998 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: John Cooper
Championships: Big Ten Co-Champs, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: The Buckeyes lost five total turnovers (four fumbles) and surrendered 19 unanswered points in home loss to Michigan State.
Award Winners: David Boston (Sugar Bowl MVP), Joe Germaine (Big Ten Co-Off. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: David Boston (1st, 1999), Antoine Winfield (1st, 1999), Andy Katzenmoyer (1st, 1999), Joe Montgomery (2nd, 1999), Ahmad Plummer (2nd, 2000), Nate Clements (1st, 2001), Ryan Pickett (1st, 2001),

The most talented team to play under John Cooper had the National Championship rings already sized in the preseason. Ohio State began the year atop the polls and rolled to an 8-0 start before giving away a late 15-point lead to Michigan State — and a chance at the national title. Despite crushing Iowa and Michigan to finish the year with one loss, Ohio State just missed a chance to face Tennessee in the BCS National Championship game. After handling Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl, the Buckeyes finished No. 2 in the polls.

3. Penn State Nittany Lions, 2005 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Joe Paterno
Championships: Big Ten, Orange Bowl
Key Stats: Tamba Hali led the Big Ten in sacks (0.92 pg), PSU finished seventh nationally against the run (93.0 ypg) and never allowed a team to reach 30 points all season.
Award Winners: Michael Robinson (Big Ten Off. Player of the Year), Paul Posluszny (Bednarik Award, Butkus Award), Tamba Hali (Big Ten Def. Lineman of the Year), Joe Paterno (AP, Home Depot, Walter Camp, AFCA National Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Tamba Hali (1st, 2006), Levi Brown (1st, 2007), Paul Posluszny (2nd, 2007)

Led by star quarterback Michael Robinson and stellar defensive tandem Tamba Hali and Paul Posluszny, the Penn State Nittany Lions were one play from making quite a ruckus in the BCS standings with an undefeated season. After starting 6-0 with convincing wins over ranked Minnesota and Ohio State, the Nittany Lions allowed Chad Henne to connect with Mario Manningham on the final play of the game in Ann Arbor - costing PSU a chance to challenge USC and Texas for title game rights. Penn State rolled through the rest of its schedule, including an impressive 35-14 win over top-15 Wisconsin. The Orange Bowl win over Florida State was the school's first BCS bowl win.

4. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2006 (12-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Jim Tressel
Championships: Big Ten
Key Stats: The fourth highest scoring team in program history (450 pts), Troy Smith led the Big Ten in passer efficiency (161.91). Finished in top three in the league in 15 of 17 tracked NCAA team stats.
Award Winners: Troy Smith (Heisman Trophy, Davey O'Brien, Big Ten Off. Player of the Year), James Laurinaitis (Nagurski Trophy)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Ted Ginn Jr. (1st, 2007), Anthony Gonzalez (1st, 2007), Vernon Gholston (1st, 2008), Beanie Wells (1st, 2009), Malcolm Jenkins (1st, 2009), James Laurinaitis (2nd, 2009), Brian Robiskie (2nd, 2009)

The Ohio State Buckeyes began the 2006 season as the team to beat — and proved it by going wire-to-wire as the nation's No. 1 ranked team. Troy Smith became only the third quarterback in league history to throw for at least 30 touchdowns (Drew Brees, Kyle Orton) and claimed the Heisman Trophy as he led the Buckeyes to an undefeated regular season that was capped by a thrilling 42-39 win over No. 2 Michigan. In its third game against the No. 2-ranked team, the Buckeyes offense never knew what hit them as the Florida Gators pressured Smith all game long. Poor coaching, poor preparation and poor execution in one game cost the Buckeyes the national championship.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2012 (12-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: Big Ten Leaders
Key Stats: Led the Big Ten in scoring at 37.2 points per game, Braxton Miller was second in total offense and fifth in rushing in the Big Ten. Carlos Hyde led the league in scoring at 10.2 points per game.
Award Winners: Braxton Miller (Big Ten Off. Player of the Year), John Simon (Big Ten Def. Player of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A

In Urban Meyer's first season, the Buckeyes were left to wonder "what if" after a perfect season. One year after going 6-7 and losing in the Gator Bowl to a mediocre Florida team, the Buckeyes, led by super star Heisman candidate Braxton Miller, won every game they played including road wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State, and home victories over Michigan and Nebraska. Was this team an elite OSU roster that would have been able to compete against either Notre Dame or Alabama? Odds are no, however, the current BCS system is set up to put No. 1 and No. 2 into the BCS title game and if Ohio State had been eligible, there is little doubt it would have faced the Fighting Irish in Miami instead of the Crimson Tide

6. Wisconsin Badgers, 1998 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Barry Alvarez
Championships: Big Ten Co-Champs, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Dayne rushed for a current BCS bowl record 246 yards and four touchdowns against UCLA.
Award Winners: Ron Dayne (Rose Bowl MVP), Barry Alvarez (Big Ten Coach of the Year), Tom Burke (Big Ten Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Ron Dayne (1st, 2000), Chris McIntosh (1st, 2000), Jamar Fletcher (1st, 2001), Michael Bennett (1st, 2001), Chris Chambers (2nd, 2001), Wendell Bryant (1st, 2002)

Craig James began bowl season by claiming this was "the worst team to ever play in the Rose Bowl." With five first-round picks, an extraordinary offensive line, the conference's top defensive player, an eventual Thorpe Award winner and the NCAA's all-time leading rusher/Heisman Trophy winner, it is safe to say he was sorely mistaken. Ron Dayne set BCS bowl records for yards (246) and touchdowns (4) and carries (27 - which he broke himself the next year) in the 38-31 Rose Bowl win over the favored UCLA Bruins. Wisconsin's only loss came in Ann Arbor to the 10-3 (7-1) Wolverines.

7. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2007 (11-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Jim Tressel
Championships: Big Ten
Key Stats: Led the nation in scoring defense at 12.8 ppg. Led the nation in pass defense at 150.2 ypg. Led the Big Ten in seven of 17 tracked NCAA team stats.
Award Winners: James Laurinaitis (Butkus, Big Ten Def. Player of the Year), Vernon Gholston (Big Ten Def. Lineman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Vernon Gholston (1st, 2008), Beanie Wells (1st, 2009), Malcolm Jenkins (1st, 2009), James Laurinaitis (2nd, 2009), Brian Robiskie (2nd, 2009)

With road wins over ranked opponents Michigan, Penn State and Purdue to go with a home win over ranked Wisconsin, Ohio State found itself in its second straight BCS national title game. A late home loss to eventual Rose Bowl rep Illinois and to LSU in the championship game were the only blemishes on a season that started 10-0.

8. Wisconsin Badgers, 2011 (11-3, 6-2)
Head Coach: Bret Bielema
Championships: Big Ten
Key Stats: Russell Wilson set NCAA record for single-season passing efficiency (191.78) and NCAA record for consecutive games with a TD pass. Led the Big Ten in rushing offense, scoring offense, total offense and turnover margin. Montee Ball tied Barry Sanders' all-time single-season TD record with 39.
Award Winners: Russell Wilson (Big Ten QB of the Year), Montee Ball (Big Ten Off. Player of the Year, RB of the Year), 
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Kevin Zeitler (1st, 2012), Peter Konz (2nd, 2012)

This team was literally inches away from a 12-0 regular season as the Michigan State Hail Mary barely crossed the goal line and Braxton Miller's last-minute heave was this colse to being an illegal forward pass. That said, this team still went on to win the Big Ten in dramatic fashion in the conference title game and played tooth and nail with the high-flying Oregon Ducks. Russell Wilson posted the greatest single season by a Badgers quarterback in history and was a third-round pick who led the Seahawks to the playoffs as a rookie. The records, the overall talent, the statistical production and the entertainment value makes this team one of the best Wisconsin squads of all time. 

9. Michigan Wolverines, 2006 (11-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Lloyd Carr
Championships: None
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing defense at an astonishing 43.4 ypg, LaMarr Woodley (0.92 spg) and team (3.23 spg) led the Big Ten in sacks.
Award Winners: LaMarr Woodley (Ted Hendricks, Lombardi, Big Ten Def. Player of the Year/Lineman of the Year), Jake Long (Big Ten Off. Lineman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Leon Hall (1st, 2007), David Harris (2nd, 2007), LaMarr Woodley (2nd, 2007), Alan Branch (2nd, 2007), Jake Long (1st, 2008), Chad Henne (2nd, 2008)

This Maize and Blue team started 11-0, including a 41-17 thumping of No. 2 Notre Dame, before losing by three on the road against the nation's No. 1 team,  Ohio State, on the final weekend of play. With three consensus first-team All-Americans (Hall, Long, Woodley), this team went as high as No. 2 in the polls before losing out on a title chance to Florida. Thirteen players from this team were selected in the 2007 and 2008 NFL Drafts including the '08 No. 1 overall pick, Jake Long.

10. Iowa Hawkeyes, 2002 (11-2, 8-0)
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz
Championships: Big Ten Co-Champs
Key Stats: Marked first time in school history Iowa won 11 games. Highest scoring team in Iowa history (484 points). Brad Banks led the nation in passing efficiency (157.12).
Award Winners: Kirk Ferentz (Walter Camp Coach of the Year), Brad Banks (Davey O'Brien), Nate Kaeding (Lou Groza), Dallas Clark (John Mackey)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Dallas Clark (1st, 2003), Eric Steinbach (2nd, 2003), Bruce Nelson (2nd, 2003), Robert Gallery (1st, 2004), Bob Sanders (2nd, 2004)

Stacked with NFL talent, the Hawkeyes posted the best record in school history — including tying eventual national champ Ohio State at 8-0 for the Big Ten co-championship (they didn't play each other that year). An offense led by Heisman Trophy runner-up Brad Banks (and Fred Russell) scored more points than any team in Iowa history. Road wins at Penn State and Michigan highlighted a season that ended in defeat at the hands of Heisman winner Carson Palmer and USC in the program's first-ever BCS bowl (Orange).

11. Wisconsin Badgers, 1999 (10-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Barry Alvarez
Championships: Big Ten, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Ron Dayne became the NCAA's all-time leading rusher at 6,397 yards (7,125 counting bowls), finished No. 3 in the nation in rushing as a team (279.5 ypg), led the league in scoring at 35.6 ppg.
Award Winners: Ron Dayne (Heisman Trophy, Doak Walker, Maxwell, Walter Camp, Rose Bowl MVP), Brooks Bollinger (Big Ten Freshman of the Year), Chris McIntosh (Big Ten Off. Lineman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Aaron Gibson (1st, 1999), Ron Dayne (1st, 2000), Chris McIntosh (1st, 2000), Jamar Fletcher (1st, 2001), Michael Bennett (1st, 2001), Chris Chambers (2nd, 2001), Wendell Bryant (1st, 2002)

Following its Rose Bowl championship the previous season, the Badgers started 2-2 thanks to a shocking loss to Cincinnati on the road and five-point home defeat to Michigan. Wisconsin never lost again, beating five ranked teams to finish as Rose Bowl champs, including a road destruction of No. 12 Ohio State and home beat down of No. 11 Michigan State. Ron Dayne became the NCAA's all-time leading rusher in late October against Iowa, and claimed the Badgers' second Heisman Trophy. Dayne set the current BCS bowl record for rushing attempts with 34 (for 200 yards) in the Rose Bowl win over Stanford.

12. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2010 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Jim Tressel
Championships: Big Ten Co-Champs, Sugar Bowl
Key Stats: The highest scoring team in OSU history (504 pts), Led the Big Ten in rushing (96.7 ypg), passing (165.5), total (262.2) and scoring (14.3 ppg) defense while leading the conference in turnover margin (+1.15).
Award Winners: Terrelle Pryor (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Cameron Heyward (1st, 2011), Mike Adams (2nd, 2012)

The only loss the Buckeyes experienced in 2010 was a 31-18 defeat in Camp Randall to the 11-1 co-Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers. This team was loaded with NFL talent all over the offense and topped a ranked Miami and Iowa teams along with crushing rival Michigan. Ohio State also defeated an SEC team for the first time in school history with a Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas. Obviously, this season carries with it a large asterisk, as the entire season was later vacated. (The 2009 Buckeyes just missed making this list).

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