A shortened season delivered plenty of memorable action in the Big Ten
The Big Ten football season was in jeopardy as late as September, but the conference made up for lost time in a less-than-two-month sprint to the finish line. Some of the most exciting games of the 2020 season came from the Big Ten, as well as a national championship contender.
From the emergence of surprise teams, to breakout individual efforts, the season that almost wasn't provided plenty of memories.
10 Best Big Ten Games of 2020
10. Ohio State 49, Clemson 28 — Jan. 1 (Sugar Bowl/College Football Playoff Semifinal)
The theme of this top 10 focuses primarily on exciting, close games. The 2021 Sugar Bowl never felt competitive and, at halftime, was on pace to match the historical depantsing Clemson took against West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl.
But for Ohio State to emphatically stomp its way to the Big Ten's first National Championship Game appearance since the first Playoff, exact revenge for last season's postseason classic between the two teams, and reject Dabo Swinney's No. 11 ranking of the Buckeyes in the Coaches Poll all deserves recognition.
9. Rutgers 27, Maryland 24 (OT) — Dec. 12
The Big Ten's two newest members have not made much noise since joining the conference, but the 2020 season showed glimpses of both potentially breaking out in the near future. Their late-season matchup provided one of the most raucous fourth quarters of 2020, with Maryland scoring more than half of its total points in the period and Rutgers rallying from blowing a lead.
Artur Sitkowski channeled John Elway on the final drive of regulation, leading the Scarlet Knights from their own 18-yard line to give a chip-shot field goal that forced overtime.
8. Iowa 26, Nebraska 20 — Nov. 27
When Iowa and Nebraska were paired upon the Cornhuskers' arrival in the Big Ten, there was something about the "rivalry" that felt forced. Not the case any longer. Iowa and Nebraska seem to have forged genuine animosity in the past decade, despite the Hawkeyes' dominance of the series — in fact, Iowa winning every matchup since 2015 has only added fuel to this Thanksgiving weekend series.
This year's installment is the kind of game that goes down in rivalry history. A struggling Nebraska team played some of its best football of the campaign in taking a 20-13 lead in the early third quarter. But Iowa's defense locked down and secured the win, fittingly enough, with Chauncey Golston's sack-strip of Adrian Martinez.
7. Minnesota 34, Purdue 31 — Nov. 20
An argument can be made that this game checks in too high based on its controversial finish. However, the questionable pass-interference flag that impacted the conclusion of this nail-biter certainly made it one of the most memorable games of a unique season.
6. Rutgers 37, Purdue 30 — Nov. 28
Perhaps flying under the radar on Thanksgiving weekend, Rutgers-Purdue was one of the most fun contests in any conference during the 2020 campaign. The Scarlet Knights' revamped offense was on full display, keeping pace with an uptempo Purdue attack that has been the program's signature under Jeff Brohm.
Rutgers gave up 30 points to the Boilermakers in the first two-plus quarters but rallied with a combination of aggressive defense, ball-control offense behind the surprising breakthrough play of quarterback Johnny Langan, and a special teams kick-start from Aron Cruickshank's kickoff-return touchdown.
5. Ohio State 22, Northwestern 10 — Dec. 19 (Big Ten Championship Game)
The final score might belie just how intense the 2020 Big Ten Championship played out. In the Urban Meyer/Ryan Day era of Buckeyes football, few programs have been able to slow down the Ohio State offensive juggernaut. For 45 minutes, however, Northwestern dragged the Buckeyes into an old-school rock fight.
Ohio State needed nine fourth-quarter points to get a cushion away from the Wildcats' upset bid. Earnest Brown IV nearly stole the spotlight from Justin Fields in this one.
4. Maryland 45, Minnesota 44 (OT) — Oct. 30
Friday night football is still something of an experiment for the Big Ten, but the 2020 season's volume of excellent games to usher in the weekend might assuage some concerns about the non-traditional kickoff. One of the conference's first Friday nights of the COVID-19-impacted campaign ranks among the crazier contests of 2020.
Maryland trailed by 17 points heading into the fourth quarter, but Taulia Tagovailoa led the Terrapins on a staggering comeback that culminated in overtime. For Minnesota's blown, three-score lead to bottom out with a missed PAT was oddly fitting.
3. Michigan 48, Rutgers 42 (3OT) — Nov. 21
Rutgers is winless against Michigan since the hire of Jim Harbaugh, losing the 2015-19 matchups by a combined 229 points. Depending on perspective, the 2020 installment going three overtimes is potentially indicative of Harbaugh's early magic wearing off, but that fails to give proper credit to how dramatically improved Rutgers was in Greg Schiano's return.
The Scarlet Knights forced extra frames in dramatic fashion, with Aron Cruickshank scoring on a Noah Vedral pass (and Vedral running in the two-point conversion) in the final minute. Michigan's missed field-goal attempt in the first overtime seemingly set the stage for a Rutgers win that wasn't meant to be.
2. Indiana 36, Penn State 35 (OT) — Oct. 24
From the time it joined the Big Ten in 1993 to 2013, Penn State never lost to Indiana. The Hoosiers came into the 2020 matchup winless against James Franklin-coached teams and appeared destined for a seventh straight loss when the Nittany Lions took an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter.
But Michael Penix Jr. led Indiana on a drive for the ages, going 75 yards and scoring a touchdown and two-point conversion to force overtime, where Penix again accounted for eight points to score the win.
1. Ohio State 42, Indiana 35 — Nov. 21
1988: That's the last time Indiana beat Ohio State. In 2020, the Buckeyes extended the streak — and it looked like it was going to be easy. Ohio State poured on a 35-7 lead in the early third quarter and closed the period with a Shaun Wade pick-six to make it a three-touchdown gap heading into the fourth.
Indiana's fourth-quarter response was nearly one of the most remarkable comebacks in recent college football history, with a pair of Michael Penix Jr. touchdown passes and a stop at Indiana's seven-yard line nearly setting the stage for overtime. It was one of the best and most exciting games of the 2020 season, and tops in the Big Ten.
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.
(Top photo courtesy of @ADreyPhotos)