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The Big Ten's Best College Football Games of 2018

The Big Ten's Best College Football Games of 2018

The Big Ten's Best College Football Games of 2018

Northwestern and Purdue went to the wire on Thursday, Michigan State rallied on Friday to beat a Utah State bunch that earned a final Top 25 ranking, and Penn State combined with Appalachian State for an overtime thriller that was one of the Big Ten's best games of 2018.

And that was just Week 1.

The first week of the 2018 season set the tone for an exciting season, which ended in fitting fashion. Ohio State's Rose Bowl victory gave the Big Ten bragging rights in the biggest bowl game of them all. From that enthralling first week to the season finale, the 2018 campaign had no shortage of memorable moments for the Big Ten.

10 Best Big Ten Games of 2018

10 (tie). Iowa 27, Mississippi State 22 – Jan. 1, 2019

Much was made all season of Mississippi State's outstanding defense, but the Bulldogs had little answer for Iowa wide receiver Nick Easley. Easley caught eight passes for 104 yards with two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score late in the third quarter, to give the Hawkeyes nine wins for just the second time in the 2010s.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Mississippi State
College Football Rankings: Iowa Football

The win also marked Iowa's first bowl victory against an SEC opponent since routing South Carolina in the Outback Bowl a decade earlier.

10 (tie). Ohio State 28, Washington 23 – Jan. 1, 2019

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Washington
College Football Top 25 Rankings: Ohio State

The 2017 and '18 editions of the Rose Bowl Game approached the magic of the 2006 Rose Bowl — the greatest college football game played in modern times. So, when the 2019 installment came down to an onside kick in the final seconds, it still didn't live up to its two predecessors.

Blame (or credit) Ohio State building a 25-point lead in the third quarter and appearing headed for a massive blowout. Washington rolled off three straight touchdowns in the fourth quarter to force the finale, but it almost never felt in doubt. Either way, Dwayne Haskins throwing for three touchdown passes provided an ideal ending to Ohio State's season; the Buckeyes accomplished their mission of sending head coach Urban Meyer out with a win; and the victory marked the Big Ten's first in the Granddaddy of 'Em All in five years.

9. Northwestern 31, Utah 20 – Dec. 31

Utah appeared headed to an easy 16th win in its last 17 bowl appearances when it jumped ahead of Northwestern, 20-3, at the Holiday Bowl. Then came the third quarter.

NCAAF Top 25 Rankings: Utah
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Northwestern generated six turnovers, including four in a raucous third quarter that saw the Wildcats score 28 points — a mark matching Barry Sanders and the 1988 Oklahoma State Cowboys for most in a Holiday Bowl period. The win marked Northwestern's third straight in the postseason.

8. Purdue 38, Iowa 36 – Nov. 3

Jumping out to a two-score lead in the second quarter, Purdue held Iowa at arm's length for much of this Big Ten West Division showdown. Every Hawkeyes score preceded a Boilermakers answer, usually a David Blough touchdown pass (he had four on the afternoon).

College Football Rankings: Iowa Football
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But after failing to cut the deficit any closer than four or five points in the second and third quarters, a pair of drive-capping, goal-line touchdown runs from Mekhi Sargent gave Iowa a one-point lead in the early fourth quarter. The Hawkeyes' defense forced a punt, but could not capitalize on the ensuing possession. That set up Purdue for one of the most brilliantly executed final drives of the season.

The Boilermakers squeezed 11 plays and more than four minutes of possession out of a drive that began at the 50, moving deep into Iowa territory and setting up for Spencer Evans' game-winning field goal as time expired.

7. Penn State 45, Appalachian State 38 – Sept. 1

Eleven years to the day that Appalachian State stunned Michigan in the Big House, the Mountaineers threatened to claim another Big Ten upset to its impressive legacy. Trace McSorley wasn't ready to let that happen.

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College Football Top 25 Rankings: Penn State

McSorley passed for the game-tying touchdown with just 15 seconds remaining, adding to the two rushing scores he notched earlier in the game. Penn State survived in Week 1 what turned out to be a Top 25-caliber matchup per season-ending rankings.

6. Michigan State 21, Penn State 17 – Oct. 13

Michigan State dominated almost every offensive category in its visit to Penn State: 34:12 possession to 25:48; 25 first downs to 14; and a slight yardage edge of 418 to 397. And yet, the Spartans led for all of 19 seconds.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Penn State
College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan State
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That's all Michigan State needed in this upset, which spent more than 59 minutes either in a tie, or with Penn State ahead by just a single score. Michigan State ultimately capitalized on Penn State's inability to put the game away when quarterback Brian Lewerke found Felton Davis on a touchdown score with just 19 seconds remaining. The touchdown made the difference.

5. Purdue 49, Ohio State 20 – Oct. 20

The unspoken, agreed-upon definition of a "best game" is one with a thrilling finish, either like a back-and-forth prizefight or via torrid comeback. Such games are memorable because they're memorable, and sometimes have far-reaching consequences.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Ohio State
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Purdue's blowout win over Ohio State was an almost wire-to-wire throttling. The comeback on which many waited never came. However, the result was so unexpected and had such far-reaching consequences, it's certainly one of the most important games of the 2018 season.

By virtue of the lopsided decision, Ohio State was effectively eliminated from the College Football Playoff conversation. Meanwhile, Rondale Moore set the bar high for what is at least two more years of a great college football career to come. He caught 12 passes for 170 yards with two touchdowns.

4. Michigan 20, Northwestern 17 – Sept. 29

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College Football Top 25: Michigan

Michigan's come-from-behind win over Northwestern was an exercise in eating the dinosaur. While Pat Fitzgerald's team became experts of sorts in erasing large deficits over just a few minutes, Jim Harbaugh's Michigan squad used the better part of three quarters to chip away at a 17-point deficit.

The Wolverines didn't get on the board until 9:14 left in the second quarter, on the first of two Karan Higdon touchdown runs. His score came with Northwestern holding a 17-0 lead. Higdon's touchdown bookended a pair of Quinn Nordin field goals in the third quarter.

Between Higdon's touchdowns was a masterful defensive performance from Michigan. Chase Winovich made three tackles for a loss, Kwity Paye made two sacks, and the Wolverines denied Northwestern a single point over the game's final 42 minutes and change.

3. Northwestern 34, Nebraska 31 (OT) – Oct. 13

Northwestern made a habit of winning games in unusual fashion during its 2018 campaign. None was more unusual than the Wildcats' rally from two different double-digit margins in the fourth quarter against Nebraska.

Nebraska's college football logo
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The Cornhuskers, off to an 0-5 start under first-year head coach Scott Frost, were desperate for their first win. And building a 28-14 lead on Maurice Washington's touchdown run in the fourth quarter, it appeared they were going to get it. Northwestern answered, but Nebraska went ahead by 10 with 5:41 to go, then held the Wildcats to a field goal on the ensuing possession.

That's when things got crazy. A Cornhuskers punt was down at the 1-yard line, textbook special teams. Northwestern had two minutes to go 99 yards — and did it. Clayton Thorson passed for a staggering 455 yards in the win, Northwestern's first at home. The comeback provided a spark from a lackluster start for the Wildcats to win the Big Ten West.

2. Ohio State 52, Maryland 51 (OT) – Nov. 17

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College Football Top 25 Rankings: Ohio State

Ever watch a film from the Fast and Furious franchise and find yourself shaking your head in disbelief at how utterly preposterous it is? Yet, you can't turn away from the pulse-pounding excitement and unrelenting action?

Such was the late-season showdown between Ohio State and Maryland. The Buckeyes came to College Park needing a win to preserve their Big Ten title hopes, but the Terps delivered an unexpected haymaker in the early going to go ahead by two scores.

Ohio State answered, with Dwayne Haskins further solidifying his Heisman case, passing for more than 400 yards. But J.K. Dobbins stole the show with more than 200 rushing yards. Ohio State had answers, but Maryland continued to counter-punch behind Anthony McFarland's astounding 298 yards on the ground.

Maryland proved it could score on Ohio State's defense, which explains the decision to go for a would-be, game-winning two-point conversion. But after hitting all the right notes on offense all afternoon, the final play went disastrously, and Ohio State escaped.

1. Ohio State 27, Penn State 26 – Sept. 29

Ohio State-Penn State has cemented its status as something of a rivalry with a run of classic games in the last few years. As the two benchmarks of the Big Ten recently, winning the past three conference championships combined, the Buckeyes' and Nittany Lions' midseason showdowns have turned into de facto elimination games.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Penn State
College Football Top 25 Rankings: Ohio State

And they've been played with appropriate urgency, manifesting this year with a wild, fourth-quarter rally for visiting Ohio State. Dwayne Haskins helped build his Heisman Trophy case in Happy Valley with touchdown passes of 47 yards to Binjimen Victor, and 24 yards to K.J. Hill, both with under seven minutes to play and the Buckeyes trailing.

The two touchdowns elevated Ohio State from a 12-point deficit to a one-point win, sealed when the Buckeyes' defense came up with a huge stop.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.