J.T. Barrett and Ohio State were on both ends of some of the conference's top games this season
The 2017 Big Ten football season ran the full gamut from traditional, defense-oriented slugfests to high-scoring shootouts. The conference has maintained its longstanding identity of physical, smash-mouth football while at the same time integrating more modern concepts, thus cultivating an entertaining style.
This 21st Century Big Ten provided some of the most spectacular finishes of the college football season, headlined by some of the best individual performances of the campaign.
15 Best Big Ten Games of 2017 Regular Season
15. Michigan State 17, Iowa 10 — Sept. 30
Like rock hitting rock, the cross-divisional showdown between Iowa and Michigan State was a ground-and-pound affair with hard hits and physical play on the line defining the pace. Michigan State's defense stood strong against Iowa running back Akrum Wadley, allowing him just 30 yards and holding the Hawkeyes below a yard per carry as a team. The Hawkeyes' defense was just as tough against the Michigan State rushing attack, but quarterback Brian Lewerke's two touchdown passes made the difference.
Remarkably, all three touchdowns came in the game's first 16:45.
14. Purdue 31, Indiana 24 — Nov. 25
Purdue clinched its first bowl bid in a half-decade and won the Old Oaken Bucket at the same time, but it wasn't easy. The Boilermakers built a 31-10 lead over rival Indiana early into the fourth quarter, but had to weather a late Hoosiers rally.
Richard Lagow's two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter gave Indiana hope, but Markell Jones' 217 rushing yards and Elijah Sindelar's two touchdown passes proved too much for Indiana to overcome.
13. Rutgers 14, Purdue 12 — Oct. 21
Rutgers' narrow escape against Purdue was not an exciting game in the traditional sense. It certainly wasn't pretty for the Scarlet Knights, mounting just 217 yards of total offense. But with stout defense when it was most needed, Rutgers scored a huge win for the trajectory of the program under second-year head coach Chris Ash.
The victory marked Rutgers' first conference winning streak since joining the Big Ten, and was the second in a three-out-of-four span for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers rose to the occasion late when Purdue scored its only touchdown of the game in the final minute, and head coach Jeff Brohm opted to go for the two-point conversion and win. The attempt was stymied to preserve the victory.
12. Michigan 27, Indiana 20 — Oct. 14
Indiana football has won against Michigan just nine times ever, and the Hoosiers are winless against the Wolverines since 1987. Michigan appeared headed for another easy win in 2017, building a 13-0 lead in the first half of a sluggish game.
Indiana kept pace, but never seemed like it was really threatening — until a Peyton Ramsey touchdown pass to Whop Philyor late in the fourth quarter and a quick, forced punt gave the Hoosiers possession with a drive to force overtime. Indiana got overtime, but no more. For a few minutes, however, 30 years of bad luck nearly came to an end.
11. Wisconsin 33, Northwestern 24 — Sept. 30
The top two finishers in the Big Ten West met early in the season, before Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor had established himself as one of the premier ball carriers in the nation. His two-touchdown performance against a solid Northwestern defense helped establish his reputation, but this game is more noteworthy for a stretch in which the Badgers did not score.
Wisconsin got a field goal early in the fourth quarter, followed shortly thereafter by a Natrell Jamerson pick-six that put the Badgers ahead, 31-10. It looked like smooth sailing from them, with Northwestern's offense rendered ineffective all game. But two Clayton Thorson touchdown passes over less than two minutes of game time set up an onside kick opportunity for the Wildcats. Paul Chryst made the decision to punt from the Northwestern 35-yard line on the ensuing possession — and on this day, punting was winning. A sack for a safety staved off the rally bid for the Badgers.
10. Ohio State 31, Michigan 20 — Nov. 25
The Game has provided countless unforgettable moments, upsets and assorted other entries into college football lore. Michigan building a 14-0 lead early against a heavily favored Ohio State gave this year's edition the look of one more such entry. But this game became memorable for the introduction it provided Dwayne Haskins to the nation.
Haskins threw just one incompletion in relief of an injured J.T. Barrett, giving Ohio State enough of a passing attack to supplement a potent ground attack. The Buckeyes' defense strapped in after the initial slow start and shut the Wolverines down. Ohio State's win was its 13th in the last 14 against its bitter rival.
9. Iowa 55, Ohio State 24 — Nov. 4
This one wasn't a great game in the traditional sense; one typically hears or reads that terminology and associates it with wildly competitive contests that feature dramatic finishes. Iowa thoroughly dominated Ohio State from start to finish, dominating the Buckeyes in all facets.
However, this was a top Big Ten game both for the oddity of it, and the implications it had on the national landscape. Iowa's defense got to J.T. Barrett for four interceptions, while Nathan Stanley erupted for five touchdown passes. J.K. Dobbins was held in check, but Akrum Wadley had a huge day. This was certainly one of the most memorable games of 2017, and most important, as the loss effectively denied the Buckeyes a berth in the College Football Playoff.
8. Maryland 51, Texas 41 — Sept. 2
Maryland suffered through a tough 2017 season, finishing just 4-8. Quarterback injuries piled up for the Terrapins — an unfortunate, recurring problem for the program in recent years — and the epidemic proved especially frustrating this season. That's because in the opening weekend, with Tyrrell Pigrome behind center and healthy, the Maryland offense looked downright explosive.
The Terrapins piled up 482 yards of offense, including 263 on the ground, tarnishing the debut of Longhorns head coach Tom Herman.
7. Michigan State 14, Michigan 10 — Oct. 7
Ever since Michigan running back Mike Hart's "little brother" comment about rival Michigan State in 2007, Michigan State has won eight of the last 10 meetings. This year's encounter marked the eighth victory in the Spartans' decade of dominance, and was the quintessential Mark Dantonio-era game.
Michigan State stifled Michigan's offense, limiting the Wolverines to 2.6 yards per rush, then capitalized with three interceptions as Michigan attempted to pass. That was all the opening Brian Lewerke needed, as his two touchdowns made the difference in this "sibling" rivalry.
6. Northwestern 39, Michigan State 31 (3OT) — Oct. 28
Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson delivered on a pair of big scoring strikes in the third overtime — a 22-yarder to Flynn Nagel and a two-point conversion to Cameron Green — to give the Wildcats their third win over the Spartans in their last four tries.
Thorson came out on top of a surprising quarterback battle, though Michigan State's Brian Lewerke went off for a remarkable 445 yards and four scores , including a TD pass to Felton Davis III with just 25 seconds remaining that forced overtime.
5. Nebraska 25, Purdue 24 — Oct. 28
In what was an otherwise forgettable 2017 season for Nebraska football, quarterback Tanner Lee delivered at least one memorable moment. Lee's two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Tyler Hoppes and Stanley Morgan Jr. — the latter of which came with just 14 seconds left — rallied the Cornhuskers from down 12 points early in the period.
Lee put up 431 yards in the win, carrying the load on a day that the Nebraska rushing attack was ineffective.
4. Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 21 — Dec. 2
The two benchmarks for consistency in the Big Ten over recent years met in the conference championship game just once since its inception in 2011. That 2014 encounter was a one-sided romp for Ohio State, which became a crucial stepping stone to the first College Football Playoff championship. The Buckeyes again hoped to step over a few teams back into the playoff at the Badgers' expense again — but undefeated Wisconsin wasn't ready to let it happen.
Despite falling behind 21-7 in the second quarter, Wisconsin battled and chipped away, making it just a three-point game after scoring a touchdown in the early part of the fourth quarter. That final period was old-school Big Ten football, with big and physical defenses setting the tone and not sparing an inch. Ohio State ultimately came out ahead, holding Wisconsin out of the end zone in a slugfest.
3. Iowa 44, Iowa State 41 — Sept. 9
The rivalry matchup for the CyHawk Trophy has a... let's say less-than-favorable reputation among outsiders. Low scores in recent years have shaped perception about this early-season series, but the 2017 edition defied preconceptions.
Hakeem Butler's 74-yard touchdown reception looked like a game-winner for Iowa State — until Akrum Wadley went 46 yards on a reception to force overtime. Ihmir Smith-Marsette's reception in overtime sealed the win in an exciting shootout.
2. Penn State 21, Iowa 19 — Sept. 23
Iowa running back Akrum Wadley might have stolen the show in this prime-time encounter, had it not been for Saquon Barkley (above, right). The Penn State running back's 211 rushing yards outshined Wadley's 150 yards of total offense, but it was quarterback Trace McSorley who stepped into the spotlight at game's end.
McSorley led the Nittany Lions on a 65-yard drive in 1:42 and found Juwan Johnson with zeroes on the clock to deliver one of the season's most dramatic finishes.
1. Ohio State 39, Penn State 38 — Oct. 28
From start — Saquon Barkley running the opening kickoff back for a touchdown — to finish — J.T. Barrett going Hero Mode to lead an Ohio State comeback — the de facto Big Ten East championship game had it all.
Penn State took control early on the road, but the Nittany Lions were locked into a chess match with a Buckeyes defense that dared Trace McSorley to beat it. With Barkley limited, Ohio State chipped away. Barrett's fourth quarter was one for the ages, as he threw for three touchdowns, including the game-winner to Marcus Baugh with less than two minutes remaining.