As a whole, the Big Ten Conference went through some incredible lows and the highest of highs throughout the 2014 college football season.
Deemed the “death of the B1G,” Week 2 featured major losses such as Ohio State to Virginia Tech, Michigan State to Oregon, Michigan to Notre Dame, and other baffling performances as the conference stumbled right out of the gate.
However, the narrative began to change toward the end of the season when Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes made a late surge to qualify for the first College Football Playoff, taking an unprecedented path to an unlikely national championship win. This, along with the fact that the rest of their Big Ten brethren winning four bowl games—despite being projected to go winless by Las Vegas—presents a new perception to the conference heading into the offseason.
Now entering February—otherwise known as the dark abyss that is the offseason—let’s take a minute from our temporary state of depression to indulge in enjoyable recollection of the Big Ten’s best games from last season.
*Honorable Mention: Northwestern 43, No. 18 Notre Dame 40 (OT)
Though Notre Dame was in the midst of sputtering to four straight losses, anytime you can travel to South Bend and leave with a win is noteworthy. Northwestern was unable to beat Illinois in the regular season finale to become bowl eligible, so this can be considered the Wildcats’ season highlight (next to a home win against Wisconsin).
5. No. 18 Wisconsin 34, No. 19 Auburn 31 (OT)
Significance: No one was giving Wisconsin a chance. And why would they? The Badgers were limping in from that 59-0 embarrassment in the Big Ten Championship Game to Ohio State, and their head coach just randomly decided to up and leave to a perceived downgrade. But even down by three with 2:55 remaining and no passing game to lean on, Barry Alvarez continued to go with what was working: Melvin Gordon. Wisconsin took care of business and won a meaningful Outback Bowl against an SEC West opponent as a six-point underdog.
Game MVP: Melvin Gordon rushed 34 times for 251 yards (7.4 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. Or, in other words, he had an average Melvin Gordon day.
Best Stat: Gordon’s 251 rushing yards are a Wisconsin postseason record; they are also a new Outback Bowl record.
Quote from the Game: “He’s one of the best running backs in the country, hands down,” Auburn cornerback Trovon Reed said. “Before you play a guy, you’re like: ‘You’ve got to show me.’ Today, he showed us that he’s one of the best running backs in the country. Hats off to that guy. He will be a top draft pick.”
4. Indiana 31, No. 18 Missouri 27
Significance: It was the Indiana Hoosiers. On the road. Against the defending SEC East champs. And they won. You can go ahead and throw away the rest of Indiana’s season – it finished 4-8, which almost makes this an even better story – because Missouri went on to win the East again and beat Minnesota in the Citrus Bowl with another 11-win campaign. Could this be the upset of the year? You can certainly make the case.
— Tyler Waddell (@Tyler_Waddell) September 20, 2014
Game MVP: It was a team effort, but workhorse Tevin Coleman averaged 6.9 yards per carry for 132 yards and a touchdown, while also contributing three receptions for 57 yards.
Best Stat: This was the only game throughout the entire season in which Indiana did not turn the ball over once.
Quote from the Game: “We ain’t got nothing figured out,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said after the win. “We’re the same group of bums that played last week. That’s the same bunch of bums this week. We’ll see how we show up next week.”
3. No. 8 Michigan State 42, No. 5 Baylor 41
Significance: Baylor, along with TCU – depending on who you are – was widely considered as a College Football Playoff snub. Though it looked grim late, Michigan State was able to find a way to outscore the Bears 21-0 in the fourth quarter, winning its fourth-straight bowl game and earning its second Top-5 finish in as many years.
Game MVP: Jeremy Langford pounded the Baylor front seven for 162 yards (6.0 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.
Best Stat: OK although Michigan State won the game, you have to give props to Baylor
tight end 390-pound offensive lineman LaQuan McGowan for catching this 18-yard touchdown pass that was thought to seal the deal for the Bears.
Quote from the Game: Baylor kicker Chris Callahan took a nasty hit on a blocked field goal toward the end of the fourth quarter. Here’s what he had to say after the game:
2. No. 4 Ohio State 42, No. 1 Alabama 35
Significance: You could make the argument that this win was sweeter than the national championship for Ohio State. Not only was it Meyer vs. Saban, but the Buckeyes knocked off the King of the SEC with their third-string quarterback in the College Football Playoff semifinals as a 10-point underdog. It was a truly special win for both Ohio State and the Big Ten as a whole.
Game MVP: Are you starting to see a trend here? Ezekiel Elliot took 20 carries for 230 yards – 11.5 yards per carry with a long of 85 – and two touchdowns against a Crimson Tide run defense that now ranks No. 4 in the FBS.
Best Stat: Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith caught a 47-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter; the Buckeyes went 22-0 during Smith’s four-year career when he found the end zone at least once.
Quote from the Game: “Maybe the Big Ten is not that bad,” said Meyer. “Maybe it’s pretty damn good.”
1. No. 4 Ohio State 42, No. 2 Oregon 20
Significance: It’s the Big Ten’s first national championship win since Ohio State last won it in 2002 and the Buckeyes’ eighth in school history. Like its two previous games, Ohio State was an underdog—and that meant bad news for Oregon. Despite falling into a quick 7-0 hole and turning the ball over four times—a death wish for an Oregon opponent—OSU never backed down and proved that it was the best team in the country by outscoring the “top offense” in the country 42-13 for the remaining 57:39.
Game MVP: Ezekiel Elliot continued his ridiculous streak, this time getting his name called 36 times; the sophomore rushed for 246 yards – he had over 200 going into the fourth quarter – and four touchdowns, giving him a total of 696 yards and eight scores the final three games of the season.
Best Stat: We have two: 1. Ohio State is now 6-0 in the underdog role with Urban Meyer as head coach, and; 2. The Buckeyes took out all three Heisman finalists (Melvin Gordon, Amari Cooper, Marcus Mariota) during their three-game stretch for a national title.
Quote from the Game: “We play football for a lot of reasons, for the great state of Ohio, we play for an incredible university—The Ohio State University,” said Meyer. “But most important we play for each other. This is one of the closest teams in football history.”