Big Ten Football: Power Ranking the Top 10 Plays of 2012
A bizarre season for Big Ten Football is in the books. And, as usual, a plethora of highlight reel-worthy plays provided fans of the conference with entertainment all year.
The quarterback position in particular is loaded with explosive dual-threat athletes capable of lighting up the scoreboard in a hurry. Names like Nebraska's Taylor Martinez, Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Michigan's Denard Robinson should come to mind.
But it's more than just the signal-callers shining in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin, your 2012 Big Ten Champion, has a dynamic threat in its backfield with running back Montee Ball. The senior is now the FBS record-holder for career rushing touchdowns and will lead the Badgers in the Rose Bowl against Stanford on New Year's Day.
Scroll through the following slides as we power rank the top 10 plays from the Big Ten in 2012.
10. Venric Mark 75-Yard Punt Return TD vs. Penn State
Northwestern running back Venric Mark leads the Big Ten in all-purpose yards. He amassed 75 of them on this play alone.
The junior's punt return (viewable in the video) wasn't even the longest of his 2012 campaign, but it was just a tad sweeter than the 82-yard return he unleashed on Syracuse in the season opener.
The Wildcats are up 21-17 with a minute left in the third quarter against Penn State, and Mark takes it 75 yards to the house. That's how you put a game away.
Never mind that the Nittany Lions' punter booted the ball to the moon. Mark corrals it while backpedaling, shakes a defender and gets up the field in a flash. Perhaps the most remarkable part of the play is how quickly he gets to and up the sideline.
It's no wonder he's racked up 1,310 rushing yards on 6.2 yards per carry this season.
9. Greg Heban Interception Return vs. Purdue
Greg Heban (No. 9) celebrating a Hoosiers touchdown.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Check out the 30-second mark of this video to see perhaps the most irregular play of 2012.
Inside Indiana territory, Purdue quarterback Robert Marve sent a short pass over the middle. The ball, first deflected by a Hoosiers' defender, made contact with three—possibly four—players before falling into the waiting hands of cornerback Greg Heban.
As if he knew exactly how the madness was going to unfold, Heban alertly snatched up the pinball before it hit the ground and returned the interception all the way to the Boilermakers' 15-yard line.
The result didn't prevent Purdue from routing the Hoosiers' 56-35, but the absolute wackiness of the play makes it worthy of watching.
8. Bennie Fowler 13-Yard TD Catch vs. Wisconsin
The timing of this pass-and-catch is what makes it so great.
Down 13-10 in overtime and facing a 3rd-and-8, junior QB Andrew Maxwell fires a pass to WR Bennie Fowler to seal the game and give Michigan State the road win over Wisconsin.
If the play is incomplete, the Spartans are forced to attempt a game-tying field goal to force a second OT. Instead, Maxwell and Fowler—two players who typically disappointed in 2012—put the team on their respective backs and downed the rival Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium.
Maxwell's pass is perfectly placed, and Fowler adjusts his body to a position that prevents the defensive back from making a play on the ball.
7. Braxton Miller 72-Yard Run vs. Nebraska
Braxton Miller is usually good for at least one eye-popping run every time he takes the field.
When you're a 6'2", 210-pound quarterback that can shake defenders like this, it's easy to see why.
Miller went for 186 and a score on the ground in a 63-38 blowout of Nebraska, and the play in the video alone was enough to give Cornhuskers' defenders nightmares.
The only disappointment of this 72-yard scamper was that it didn't end in a touchdown. Miller had plenty more that did. Though I'm not sure he's made an entire defense look as foolish on any run quite like the one here.
If it was a score, it'd be much higher. But even without six points, Miller's fine display of vision, speed and shiftiness made for one hell of a run.
6. Denard Robinson 67-Yard TD Run vs. Ohio State
This list would not be the same if Shoelace wasn't a part of it.
Arguably the Big Ten's most electrifying athlete, Denard Robinson saved one of his best highlights for the Wolverines' biggest game of the year.
Robinson's 67-yard run wasn't enough to get Michigan a road win over the rival Buckeyes, but did give them a third quarter lead of 21-17 at the time.
No. 16's breakaway speed is nothing we haven't seen before. But watching the 6'0", 197-pounder absorb simultaneous blows from opponents and carry on to the end zone is remarkable. The guys at Big Lead Sports break it down in slow motion here.
That's determination right there.
5. Akeem Shavers 73-Yard TD Run vs. Indiana
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Another way to display sheer determination is by delivering a powerful stiff-arm on a touchdown run.
Purdue running back Akeem Shavers scored three touchdowns in a four-and-a-half-minute span against Indiana, with a 73-yard TD catch going down as the most exciting of them all.
Fast forward to the 1:50 mark in this video to take in the beauty.
Notice how Shavers managed to dodge a diving defender while stopping another in his tracks with a masterful stiff-arm at the same time. Now that's what you call beast mode.
The Boilermakers' rout of Indiana provided several highlight-reel plays, but Shavers was responsible for the finest of them all.
4. Jamal Turner Game-Winning TD Catch vs. Spartans
Michigan State was the beneficiary of one clutch play on this list, but the Spartans were victimized on the more impressive of the two.
With six seconds remaining and down 24-21, Nebraska receiver Jamal Turner hauled in a five-yard TD pass in the corner of the end zone just prior to stepping out of bounds.
The Cornhuskers could have played it safe and sent the game to OT with a field goal, but instead opted to throw toward a receiver who'd not caught a TD pass in his collegiate career.
Although it was a low-risk throw with no chance of an interception, it was mighty clutch of the sophomore wideout to come up with the winning catch. Martinez's pass was pretty nice, too.
Without that play, the Huskers' season could have unfolded much differently.
3. Montee Ball 57-Yard TD Run vs. Nebraska: B1G Championship
Forgive me for my great appreciation of stiff-arms, but I think you'll find this play worthy of the No. 3 spot as well. Especially considering the stage it came on.
The Badgers embarrassed Nebraska for 60 minutes in the Big Ten Championship, but Montee Ball's thunderous 57-yard TD run in the third quarter must have served as the Cornhuskers' single most disappointing moment in the 70-31 blowout loss.
Jump to the 3:33 mark of the video to get a look.
Not only did Ball begin the run with a mind-blowing spin move that juked a defender out of his pants, he pancaked another right as he zeroed in on the end zone.
Ball finished the game with 202 yards and three TDs on the ground. What a beast.
2. Roy Roundtree 53-Yard Catch vs. Northwestern
It doesn't get much more clutch than this.
Good reaction skills are a valuable asset in football, and Michigan receiver Roy Roundtree has them.
Down three points with only seconds remaining, the Wolverines needed to get from their own 38-yard line into field-goal range in a hurry. QB Devin Gardner launched a prayer 53 yards down the field, and only after the ball was tipped by a defender did Roundtree snatch it out of midair.
The miraculous catch allowed Michigan to send the game to OT and eventually come away with a 38-31 victory.
Random? Yes. But the clutchness cannot be doubted, as an incomplete pass sends Michigan to defeat.
The defender that tipped it couldn't possibly have imagined any other outcome.
1. Taylor Martinez 76-Yard TD Run vs. Wisconsin: B1G Championship
It came in a losing effort, but Taylor Martinez's memorable 76-yard TD run in the Big Ten Championship Game was by far the best play the conference has seen in 2012.
The quarterback spent so much time scrambling in the backfield, nine seconds had vanished from the clock before he even crossed the line of scrimmage.
Ten seconds after that, Martinez crossed the Badgers' goal line, making it a 14-7 game.
Never mind that the Huskers' D couldn't stop a thing, this run topped any play of the day—and the year. Martinez's ability to escape defenders and eventually turn on the jets to finish the 19-second play in the end zone is mind-boggling.
At one point, Martinez had himself backed up to his own 9-yard line, making the outcome even more remarkable.
Astonishing. Jaw-dropping. Mind-blowing. Describe it how you will, this play was the best of 2012.