Michigan State kept Ohio State's championship dreams just out of reach. Photo: USA Today Sports
The Big Ten is full of rich college football history, but the national perception seems to be the Big Ten is history. Another year flew by with the conference's best team during the regular season coming up small on the big national stage. Heck, Ohio State couldn't even come away with the conference championship in 2013. But is the Big Ten really that bad? Here is a quick look back at the 2013 Big Ten football season.
Big Ten at a Glance
When the season started it was a popular belief that Ohio State had the only chance of representing the Big Ten on the grand stage. The Buckeyes had everything in their favor with Urban Meyer coming off a 12-0 season and Braxton Miller receiving some preseason Heisman pub. And for 12 games the Buckeyes were unbeatable, looking like they would be playing their way in to the final BCS Championship game. But Michigan State proved to be kryptonite to Ohio State's championship dreams and the Spartans ended up making as good as a case as any for finishing the season ranked second in the country.
Wisconsin and Nebraska were good but never great, Michigan took another step back under Brady Hoke and Penn State played through their final season with Bill O'Brien as a freshman star blossomed. There was plenty of action in the Big Ten if you looked deep enough but in the end the conference is still left looking up at other power conferences.
Biggest Surprise: Minnesota rallies behind Jerry Kill
Minnesota did take advantage of a favorable non-conference schedule to help get them to a bowl game in 2013, but the Gophers showed plenty of fight in them as their head coach, Jerry Kill, once again battled his recurring seizures on the sideline. This time Kill decided to spend some time off the sideline and watch his team from above while handing the reigns over to his assistants. Minnesota strung together a four-game winning streak in Big Ten play highlighted by wins over Nebraska and Penn State and they nearly ended the season with a win over Syracuse once Kill made an in-game decision to return to the sideline. Minnesota still has work to do, but this program continues to trend upward.
One of these teams went bowling in 2013, but it probably wasn't the one you expected before the season. Photo: USA Today Sports
Biggest Disappointment: Northwestern runs in to a wall
Heading in to the 2013 season the expectations seemed pretty high for Northwestern, depending on who you asked. The Wildcats had become the trendy pick to make a run in the Big Ten after the most successful season in school history the previous season. And things started well for Pat Fitzgerald's team with a 4-0 record heading in to a primetime showdown at home against Ohio State. Northwestern gave the Buckeyes everything they could manage but came up short of the home upset, and the train went off the rails. Northwestern lost their next six games to become ineligible for a bowl trip, including overtime losses at Iowa and at home against Michigan. Injuries shed a spotlight on the biggest concern Northwestern had going in, a lack of depth.
Best Game: Michigan State rallies to knock off Buckeyes for Big Ten title
Ohio State had it all sitting right in front of them. Winners of 24 straight games, the Buckeyes were a 25th win away form playing for a BCS championship against Florida State, but Michigan State showed up in Indianapolis knowing they had what it took to slow down the Buckeye BCS Express. The Spartans trailed Ohio State 24-20 heading in to the fourth quarter, which is when Michigan State thrived. The Buckeyes could not put up any points in the fourth quarter while Michigan State scored two touchdowns to take the lead and put the game away late. Michigan State booked a long awaited trip to Pasadena while Ohio State was left booking a consolation prize trip to the Orange Bowl instead of Pasadena for the Rose Bowl or, perhaps more likely, the BCS Championship Game.
The Big Ten once again had another disappointing bowl season. The conference did win their crown jewel with Michigan State topping Stanford in the Rose Bowl, but the conference ended the season with a 2-5 mark in postseason play. Only the MAC had a more disappointing postseason and the Big Ten easily had the worst bowl season among the power conferences. Ohio State losing to Clemson in the Orange Bowl was the most notable loss of course, but Wisconsin (vs. South Carolina), Iowa (vs. LSU) and Michigan (vs. Kansas State) were all tough pills for the Big Ten to swallow. Nebraska did the conference proud against Georgia for the only other bowl victory. On top of that, incoming Big Ten members Maryland and Rutgers each suffered losses in bowl games played close to home.
Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year: QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Though his Heisman campaign hit the bench early in the season largely due to injury, there was no question who the best offensive player in the Big Ten was in 2013. Any time Miller was on the field the Buckeyes were likely to make something happen. Miller ended his season with 2,094 passing yards and 24 touchdowns to seven interceptions and he added 1,068 rushing yards and 12 more rushing touchdowns. He did that despite missing two games (and pretty much three games) due to injury.
Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year: LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
The Buckeyes also had one of the top defensive players in the conference in 2013 in linebacker Ryan Shazier. Shazier led the Big Ten in tackles for a loss with 23.5, an average of 1.68 per game. In that mix was seven sacks, good for third in the Big Ten. Shazier was every bit as important to the Buckeyes in ability as he was in leadership in 2013.
Big Ten Freshman of the Year: QB Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
Christian Hackenberg was Bill O'Brien's follow-up project to Matt McGloin. Photo: USA Today Sports
This may not be much of a surprise. On the heels of Bill O'Brien crafting Matt McGloin in to a Big Ten leading passer, he had a stud quarterback recruit to work with in 2013 and the production turned out to be fantastic. Hackenberg was third in the Big Ten with 2,955 passing yards and 20 touchdowns and he ended the year with his finest performance of the year against Wisconsin.
Big Ten Coach of the Year: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
It took some time for Michigan State to come together this season. The Spartans started the year looking abysmal on offense but the defense kept things together and allowed for the offense to be a bit of a work in progress. Credit Dantonio and his staff for continuing to plug away until finding something that worked. The patience was rewarded with a team feeling they could do anything they wanted and it showed in the biggest games of the year as Michigan State advanced to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the conference actually had 10 teams.
The Big Ten really is not as bad as it is often perceived to be. The bowl season saw some close games go the other way. Yes, the numbers are not all that great, but it should be interesting to see how the Big Ten stacks up in the coming years. Is Michigan State going to be a program that will manage to represent the conference well on a national stage with routine authority, or did all of the pieces just fall in to place in 2013? Ohio State may have ended on a sour note, but they will continue to be one of the top programs as long as Meyer is in charge. Can James Franklin lead Penn State in to the Big Ten title mix as NCAA probation winds down (two more seasons as of now)? Nebraska and Michigan are always going to be forced to reckon with, but will either find a way to be a legitimate power in the conference and country again soon? The Big Ten would benefit form those three programs kicking things in to high gear sooner rather than later.
Next year the Big Ten adds Rutgers and Maryland. The additions lack any real national appeal and may not figure much in to the national conversation, but it will expand the Big Ten brand presence in lucrative markets. But the Big Ten needs to win football games against the other conferences in bowl games and in the College Football Playoff.