Athlon looks back on the 10 best and most important games of 2013.
The 2013 college football regular season had distinct and unique character. The No. 2 team in the nation didn’t lose every weekend like in 2007. And one player didn’t captivate the nation like Cam Newton in 2010 or Johnny Manziel last season.
Every major conference race — and some of the smaller ones as well — came down to the final weekend, and, in some cases, the final moments of the final game. It was a season to remember for college football fans. In the Big Ten, one team dominated the league for all but one quarter — when Michigan State put the pedal down in the Big Ten title game to win the championship.
So that is what Athlon Sports is going to do. For some, this will be a stroll down memory lane while others may develop reoccurring nightmares. Here are the Big Ten's most entertaining and pivotal games of the 2013 season.
1. Ohio State 42, Michigan 41 (Nov. 30)
Most years, The Game is the most important and most anticipated matchup in the Big Ten season. This fall was no exception despite the Michigan Wolverines having very little to play for when these two met in Week 14. The two archrivals went back and forth for 60 minutes delivering body blows with big plays and long drives. From start to finish, this appeared to be an even match — much more so than anticipated. In the fourth quarter, Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde delivered on a long touchdown drive that gave the Buckeyes a touchdown lead with only minutes to play. Not to be outdone, Devin Gardner and the Michigan offense — playing its best game of the season — drove right down the field to score what appeared to be the game-tying touchdown with 32 seconds to play. With nothing really to lose, Brady Hoke went for two in dramatic fashion but was thwarted when Gardner’s pass was intercepted at the goal line. The 110th meeting between these college football powerhouses was arguably the most dramatic
2. Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24 (Dec. 7)
With the Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl berth on the line for the Spartans and a BCS National Championship berth hanging in the balance for Ohio State, these two locked horns in Lucas Oil Stadium in the Big Ten title game. The Spartans jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead only to watch the Buckeyes come storming back with 24 unanswered points to take the lead late in the third quarter. But Sparty responded in a big way, scoring the game’s final 17 points to snap Ohio State’s 24-game winning streak, knock OSU out of the BCS title game and earn a trip to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1987. It was probably the best-played conference championship game of the season.
3. Ohio State 40, Northwestern 30 (Oct. 5)
The peak of the Wildcats' season came when they were 4-0 and ranked No. 16 in the nation — and unbeaten Ohio State was coming to town. Northwestern held a lead for most of the first and second quarters and all of the third quarter. But the Buckeyes never went away and the two traded touchdowns in dramatic fashion in the final period. Carlos Hyde’s breakout performance featured 26 carries, 168 yards and three touchdowns in the final 19 minutes of play. The Buckeyes survived what many pointed to in the preseason as the pivotal upset alert of the season. Ohio State would stay unbeaten until the conference championship game while Northwestern wouldn’t win another game until its finale.
4. Nebraska 27, Northwestern 24 (Nov. 2)
It may not have been the best or most important game of the Big Ten season but it certainly had the most exciting finish. The Ron Kellogg III to Jordan Westerkamp Hail Mary will go down in Big Ten lore as one of the most famous plays in conference history. The Wildcats jumped out to a 21-7 lead halfway through the third quarter but the Huskers came storming back to tie the game entering the fourth quarter. With 1:20 to go, the Cats took a lead on a field goal and then stopped Nebraska at midfield with one play to go. Bo Pelini’s prayers were answered when Westerkamp snatched the tipped heave out of the air to score his first career touchdown — and keep Nebraska’s Big Ten title hopes alive for one more week.
5. Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 24 (Sept. 28)
A game between the top two rushing teams in the Big Ten doesn’t normally feature quarterback play but that is what happened when these two rivals met early in the season. Braxton Miller returned after missing two games to throw a career-high four touchdown passes while Wisconsin’s Joel Stave threw for a career-high 295 yards (since broken) to keep his team in contention. Both running games were held in check as both teams posted season lows in rushing yards. In the end, Ohio State was too much and the Buckeyes outlasted the Badgers in the most critical Leaders Division game of the season.
6. Penn State 43, Michigan 40 (4OT, Oct. 12)
The Legend of Christian Hackenberg, should he continue on his meteoric career path, began with this four-overtime thriller in Happy Valley. He led his team down the field with two long improbable completions in the final 30 seconds to tie the game at 34 at the end of regulation. In four overtime periods, both teams had multiple chances to win but couldn’t capitalize on numerous field goal tries. Eventually, Bill Belton scored on a two-yard touchdown run to end the longest game in Penn State history with a win over then-No. 18 Michigan.
7. Michigan 41, Notre Dame 30 (Sept. 7)
It’s bizarre to think that the word “Heisman” was tossed around after Devin Gardner’s performance against Notre Dame. Wearing No. 98 for the first time, Gardner threw for 294 yards, rushed for 82 and accounted for five total touchdowns (six if you count the one he gifted the Irish in his own end zone) in a win over then-No. 14 Notre Dame. The game was the national spotlight game of Week 2 and set a record for largest crowd in NCAA history with 115,109 attendants.
8. Michigan 27, Northwestern 19 (3 OT, Nov. 16)
Northwestern’s heart-breaking season continued in rare fashion when Michigan came to town and walked away with a three-overtime win. The Wolverines' kicking unit sprinted onto the field and got a 44-yard, game-tying field goal attempt off with one second left in regulation to send the game to extra time. The two teams then traded touchdowns in the first overtime and field goals in the second before Devin Gardner scored from five yards out.
9. Arizona State 32, Wisconsin 30 (Sept. 14)
In one of the most bizarre endings to a game in any conference this year, Arizona State walked away winners while Gary Andersen’s squad stood stunned on the field in Sun Devil Stadium. The refs mishandled a game-ending situation that would have given Wisconsin a short game-winning field goal attempt. Instead the clock inexplicably ran out on the Badgers, giving Arizona State a big non-conference win and the Big Ten one of the most memorable and infamous losses in league history.
10. Minnesota 42, Indiana 39 (Nov. 2)
In a back and forth shootout for the ages, these two middle-of-the-pack Big Ten teams gave fans an epic showdown in Bloomington. For three quarters, the Golden Gophers showed why they were one of the Big Ten’s best stories, taking a 35-13 lead early in the second half. But Indiana came storming back to score four unanswered touchdowns over the final two quarters to take a 39-35 lead with just over five minutes to play. On the ensuing drive, Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson completed the best pass of his career when he connected with freshman tight end Maxx Williams for a 50-yard touchdown. However, the drama wasn’t over, as Indiana marched inside Minnesota’s nine-yard line needing only a field goal to tie. But the Hoosiers pounced on a juggled Indiana pitch to end the game in dramatic fashion. The loss eventually cost Indiana a trip to the postseason.
Just missed the cut:
11. Nebraska 23, Penn State 20 (OT, Nov. 23)
Huskers kicker Pat Smith made three clutch late field goals to top Penn State.
12. Nebraska 17, Michigan 13 (Nov. 9)
An ugly but dramatic game ended on an impressive Nebraska TD drive in the final minutes.
13. Ohio State 34, Iowa 24 (Oct. 19)
Iowa played valiantly in The Shoe before Ohio State pulled away in the final quarter.
14. Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 13 (Sept. 21)
A painful and controversial early-season loss cost MSU a trip to the BCS title game.
15. Penn State 24, Illinois 17 (OT, Nov. 2)
Christian Hackenberg worked his late-game magic in yet another PSU overtime affair.
Best of the rest:
16. Penn State 31, Wisconsin 24 (Nov. 30)
17. Iowa 24, Michigan 21 (Nov. 23)
18. Iowa 17, Northwestern 10 (OT, Nov. 2)
19. UCF 34, Penn State 31 (Sept. 14)
20. Minnesota 34, Nebraska 23 (Oct. 26)
21. Michigan 63, Indiana 47 (Oct. 19)
22. Northwestern 37, Illinois 34 (Nov. 30)
23. Northern Illinois 30, Iowa 27 (Aug. 31)
24. Wisconsin 27, BYU 17 (Nov. 9)
25. Navy 41, Indiana 35 (Sept. 7)