For the second straight season, the Big Ten has sent a team to the College Football Playoff. How it did so is quite the tale to tell as Michigan State knocked off Michigan and Ohio State on the road without leading for a single second in regulation in either game. The Spartans then capped off their Big Ten championship with a drive for the ages against undefeated Iowa. Of course, Michigan State was only involved in a handful of the top games and moments from around the Big Ten. The Spartans seemed to have plenty of luck on their side. The same could not be said for Nebraska.
Here is a collection of the top Big Ten games from this past fall, including some worthy honorable mentions.
Here are a few Big Ten games worth mentioning that just missed the cut:
Washington State 37, Rutgers 34: For the second straight season, the Scarlet Knights and Cougars played what turned out to be a wild game, but the Big Ten came up on the losing end of this one.
Penn State 37, San Diego State 21: Penn State's Austin Davis rumbled his way for a large man touchdown to help Penn State hold off the eventual Mountain West Conference champs.
Michigan 31, BYU 0: BYU was looking like a solid team this season but had no answers for Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Rutgers 55, Indiana 52: Rutgers was being blown away before putting together a fourth-quarter rally for the ages in Bloomington.
Penn State 31, Maryland 30: Border rivals collided in Baltimore and put on quite an entertaining game. And yes, there were handshakes.
Iowa 10, Wisconsin 6: Defense proved to be the key as Iowa won a key Big Ten West battle.
Northwestern 16, Stanford 6: The season started off with a bang for the Big Ten with Northwestern stunning Christian McCaffrey and eventual Pac-12 champion Stanford in Week 1.
Nebraska in a Losing Effort
Rather than fill up this top 10 list of top games from the Big Ten with a bunch of Nebraska losses, it was important to recognize the many close calls experienced by the Cornhuskers this season. From the Hail Mary by BYU in the season opener to the bizarre ending in Miami profiled in our top ACC games of the season to a one-point loss against Illinois, a two-point loss against Wisconsin and another two-point loss to Northwestern, Nebraska fans were on the edges of their seats all season long and seemingly all the breaks went the wrong way, except for one we will get too shortly.
10. Ohio State 42, Virginia Tech 24 — Sept. 7
The first game of the season for the defending national champions started off with quite a bang as the Buckeyes picked up revenge on the road against the only team to hand them a loss in 2014. Braxton Miller dazzled in his debut as a wide receiver after sitting out the 2014 season with a shoulder injury. Miller scored two touchdowns and had a 53-yard run and Ezekiel Elliott added 122 rushing yards. Cardale Jones passed for 187 yards as the Buckeyes had perhaps their best game of the season until the regular season finale in Ann Arbor.
9. Michigan 48, Indiana 41 (2OT) —Nov. 14
Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock tossed six touchdowns and 440 yards in a double overtime victory at Indiana. The Wolverines and Hoosiers put defense aside and racked up over 1,100 yards of offense in the thriller. Michigan managed to force overtime on the final play of regulation when Rudock completed a five-yard pass to Jehu Chesson to cap a 66-yard scoring drive with a shot at the Big Ten title still on the line at the time. Indiana's Jordan Howard had given the Hoosiers a 34-27 lead just about three minutes earlier with a 24-yard run into the end zone. In overtime, reliable tight end Jake Butt and sure-handed wide receiver Amara Darboh each caught quick touchdowns on the first or second play from scrimmage.
8. Ohio State 34, Indiana 27 — Oct. 3
Indiana had a knack for hanging around with Big Ten contenders this season. A month before going to the wire with Michigan, the Hoosiers gave the defending champs a good scare in early October. Ohio State's offense managed to overcome a sloppy performance with three turnovers and just 13 first downs, but Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott saved his team on the road. Elliott busted out for touchdown runs of 55 yards, 65 yards and 75 yards in the second half to push Ohio State by Indiana. Elliott ended the day with 274 rushing yards in the win.
7. Iowa 27, Pittsburgh 24 — Sept. 19
At the time nobody knew what kind of magical season Iowa was lining up. Pittsburgh was also a bit of a wild card in the ACC Coastal without star running back James Conner, but new Pitt head coach and former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi made Iowa earn the victory. Iowa kicker Marshall Koehn kicked a 57-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Hawkeyes to a win in Week 3, just 52 seconds after Pittsburgh's Tyler Boyd scored a game-tying touchdown.
6. Michigan 29, Minnesota 26 — Oct. 31
A week after being stunned at home by Michigan State (we're getting there, I promise), the Wolverines were once again on the ropes with Minnesota in the battle for the Little Brown Jug. Down 26-21 in the fourth quarter, Michigan needed backup quarterback Wilton Speight to complete a go-ahead touchdown to Jehu Chesson after Jake Rudock was knocked out of the game. This was a game that came down to a goal-line stand by Michigan. With two seconds to play from the one-yard line, Minnesota's Mitch Leidner threw a pass that Brandon Lingen was unable to get his hands on.
5. Michigan State 31, Oregon 28 — Sept. 12
An early battle of College Football Playoff contenders lived up to the hype in Week 2. Michigan State let one slip away on the road at Oregon last season but found a way to shut the door on the Ducks this time around. Michigan State's defense seemed to handle Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams well enough with two interceptions. Adams led a fourth-quarter rally for Oregon but the Spartans held strong on Oregon's final possession of the game with a turnover on downs, which allowed Connor Cook and the offense to run out the remaining 59 seconds on the clock. Oregon may have taken a dip in the middle of the season, but the win by the Spartans was and still is a big reason why they are in the Playoff.
4. Nebraska 39, Michigan State 38 — Nov. 7
As mentioned earlier, Nebraska fell on the wrong side of some close calls this season. So go figure the one that went their way came against the eventual Big Ten champions in Lincoln. Nebraska jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter but trailed Michigan State 31-20 entering the fourth quarter. That's when Tommy Armstrong hit his stride. The Huskers quarterback ran for two short touchdowns to help cut the deficit to just five points. Then, following a three-and-out by Michigan State, Armstrong completed passes to Jordan Westerkamp of 28 and 33 yards to quickly move from their own nine-yard line all the way to the Michigan State 30. Armstrong then connected with Brandon Reilly down the left sideline and, for a change, a controversial call by Big Ten refs went Nebraska's way. Reilly appeared to run out of bounds on his own and returned to catch the pass before reaching the end zone, but refs ruled he had been forced out of play. The touchdown stood and the Big Red faithful celebrated as one would expect.
3. Michigan State 17, Ohio State 14 — Nov. 21
You wanted a good defensive battle? You got it with Michigan State and Ohio State slugging it out back and forth in the trenches. Neither quarterback, Connor Cook or J.T. Barrett had much success throwing the football with a combined 135 passing yards. The Spartans neutralized a frustrated Ezekiel Elliott, who carried the football 12 times for 33 yards and a touchdown. Down 14-7, Michigan State scored twice in the fourth quarter while keeping the Buckeyes off the scoreboard. A 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a short touchdown run by Gerald Holmes tied the game at 14-14 early in the final frame, and a 41-yard field goal by Michael Geiger gave the Spartans the win as time expired. The win also gave Michigan State the inside track to the Big Ten Championship Game out of the East Division, as well as an opportunity to make a late push for a Playoff spot.
2. Michigan State 16, Iowa 13 — Dec. 5
You wanted another defensive battle? Well, you got it, again. What was supposed to be the most defensive battle of the conference championship games absolutely delivered on that promise as the Spartans and Hawkeyes brought some of their best defense of the year to Indianapolis. Michigan State, a program more used to the big-game spotlight compared to the Hawkeyes, held Iowa to just 268 yards of offense and forced three turnovers. To its credit, Iowa held down Michigan State nearly as well with just 263 yards allowed before the final drive by the Spartans. What was a battle of field goals changed when C.J. Beathard completed an 85-yard touchdown strike to Tevaun Smith early in the fourth quarter, but the Spartans put together the drive of the year with the game on the line. Driving 82 yards over 22 plays and taking up more than nine minutes off the clock paid off for the Spartans. LJ Scott's second effort at the goal line on third down with 27 seconds produced the game-winning touchdown in a 16-13 victory for Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, and essentially clinched the Spartans' ;spot in the College Football Playoff.
1. Michigan State 27, Michigan 23 — Oct. 17
Before the Ohio State victory and well before the Big Ten championship victory against Iowa, Michigan State needed a little help from the football gods in Ann Arbor in the middle of October to make any of that drama happen and mean anything. And that's exactly what happened, on the road against its rejuvenated in-state rival nonetheless. The Spartans never held a lead in the Big House and Michigan looked to be just seconds away from wrapping up a big signature victory for Jim Harbaugh, one that would have announced Michigan as "back" in the state and in the Big Ten. But Michigan let a 23-14 lead in the fourth quarter evaporate when LJ Scott finished off a quick, 75-yard touchdown drive following a 74-yard pass from Connor Cook to Trevon Pendleton. The touchdown cut Michigan's lead to just two points.
With 10 seconds left on the clock, Michigan was forced to punt the ball from the Michigan State 47-yard line. The punt alone would have eliminated most of the clock, which seemed to favor Michigan with a clean punt. Oh, if only that had happened. The fate of the Big Ten would have been so much different. Instead, Michigan punter Blake O'Neil fumbled the snap and Michigan State's Jalen Watts-Jackson scooped up the loose ball and made a mad dash down the left sideline for the game-winning score as the final seconds ticked away.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)