Big Ten Football: Best and Worst Moments of the BCS Era

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistDecember 31, 2013

Big Ten Football: Best and Worst Moments of the BCS Era

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    The final installment of the BCS is upon us, and the college football world is ready to spring headlong into the new College Football Playoff next season.  

    But as we mark the end of the BCS era over the coming week, we thought it might be fitting to take a look back and take stock of all the moments—both good and bad—the Bowl Championship Series has provided the Big Ten Conference.

    From national championships to disappointing and embarrassing defeats, the Big Ten has seen it all in the BCS.  We've put together the five best and five worst moments for the Big Ten during the roller coaster ride we call the Bowl Championship Series.

No. 5 Worst: 2013 Rose Bowl Game

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    We'll get things started with our No. 5 worst BCS moment for the Big Ten.  For this, we've selected the 2013 Rose Bowl Game, where Wisconsin lost to Stanford, 20-14.

    A pretty impressive showing by Wisconsin against Pac-12 champion Stanford in the Rose Bowl doesn't seem like a likely candidate for a spot on a "worst" list, but there are a few things that stand out about this particular Rose Bowl Game.

    This, the 99th Rose Bowl Game, was the first time any five-loss team had been invited to play.  Ever.  Wisconsin was also unranked, even after winning the Big Ten title.

    And how did Wisconsin win that Big Ten title?  

    Certainly not by being the best team in the Legends Division.  The Badgers actually finished third in the Legends Division standings, but thanks to Ohio State and Penn State both being ineligible for postseason play, Wisconsin found the mother of all back doors into the Big Ten title game.

    A stunningly lopsided victory over Nebraska meant that Wisconsin would, for the third straight year, play in Pasadena representing the Big Ten.  And Wisconsin promptly lost all three of those games.

    For the Big Ten, it was only the fourth time—and first since the BCS expansion in 2007—that the conference failed to earn two invitations to the BCS.

    With all of those dubious distinctions rolled up together, it's starting to become clear why the 2013 Rose Bowl Game earns a spot.

No. 5 Best: 1999 and 2000 Rose Bowl Games

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    If we're going to beat up on Wisconsin for repeated losses in the Rose Bowl Game, we should probably take the opportunity to praise the Badgers for helping to not only calm the misgivings of Big Ten fans about the BCS, but do so while bringing home Rose Bowl titles.

    After the split national championships in 1997 between Michigan and Nebraska, the BCS began following the 1998 season.  

    With tradition playing a major part in college football, Big Ten fans were rightfully wary of any system that could take the conference's champion out of the Rose Bowl Game—for any reason.  After all, what's a Rose Bowl Game without a team from the Big Ten?

    Luckily for the Big Ten, and the BCS, the stars aligned in the first season to allow Wisconsin, the Big Ten co-champions, to face off against UCLA, the Pac-10 champions.  The same thing happened the following season when Wisconsin, this time winning the conference outright, faced off against Pac-10 champion Stanford.

    Wisconsin won both of the games and instilled a sense of faith in the BCS across Big Ten country.

No. 4 Worst: 2002 Rose Bowl

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    The 2002 Rose Bowl Game between the Miami Hurricanes and Nebraska Cornhuskers makes our list at the "No. 4 Worst" spot even though the game didn't actually have a Big Ten participant.

    The 2002 Rose Bowl Game served as the BCS National Championship Game following the 2001 season, and for the first time since 1946, the Big Ten was left out.  It was also the first time in which the game (as played by college teams) didn't feature a team from the predecessors of today's Pac-12 Conference.

    Instead, Nebraska—a future Big Ten member—earned a trip to the title game as the No. 2 team in the nation (although the Huskers did not win the Big 12 title that season).  Nebraska lost to Miami, the Big East champs, 37-14.

    The Big Ten's champion, Illinois, ended up putting forth an underwhelming performance against LSU in the Sugar Bowl, losing 47-34.

    This year also marked the second consecutive season in which the Big Ten did not send two teams to the BCS.

No. 4 Best: 2014 Rose Bowl / 2014 Orange Bowl

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    We're going to put the upcoming 2014 slate of BCS games at our "No. 4 best" spot, although it could climb higher—or fall completely off a similar list—depending on the outcomes.

    While Michigan State's win over Ohio State in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game denied the Buckeyes a chance to play for the BCS title, it was probably a good thing for the Big Ten as a whole.  Why, you might ask?

    Ohio State was sure to remain in the at-large BCS picture even with a loss, while it's far from certain that MSU could have claimed the same.  

    Coupled with Wisconsin's loss to Penn State during the last week of the regular season, Michigan State's win over Ohio State guaranteed the Big Ten two berths in the BCS this year.

    The two matchups are also pretty compelling.

    Both Michigan State and Stanford have stout defenses, and if you're a fan of good, old-fashioned Big Ten smashmouth, big boy football, this game should suit you quite nicely.  For Ohio State, the Orange Bowl pits the Buckeyes against a team that is one of the ACC's perennial contenders.

    Clemson's early season loss to Florida State all but sealed the Tigers' BCS title fate, but don't think for a moment that Clemson isn't eager to erase the ugly memory of the 2012 Orange Bowl 70-33 loss to West Virginia. 

No. 3 Worst: 2009 Rose Bowl Game

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    At the time, Penn State winning the since-vacated 2008 Big Ten title seemed like vindication for Joe Paterno and his Nittany Lions.  

    A program thought to be dying only a few years earlier was back on top of the conference, and the future looked bright in Happy valley.

    While a 38-24 loss to USC isn't necessarily the end of the world, looking back, it was the first sour note in what became a cacophonous symphony of disaster for the program.

No. 3 Best: 2000 Orange Bowl

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    "Hello, football world.  My name is Tom Brady."

    The 2000 Orange Bowl could be called many things—Michigan's first BCS win, the first BCS game to be decided in overtime, a rare loss for Alabama in a BCS game.

    But it could also be called Tom Brady's coming out party.  

    The Michigan quarterback guided the Wolverines in one of the more competitive and entertaining games in the BCS, a game in which Michigan knocked off the SEC Champion Crimson Tide 35-34 in overtime.

    The only black mark during this game?  The fact that Alabama lost on a failed PAT kick in overtime.

    Still, anytime a Big Ten team can claim a BCS bowl win over the SEC champs is a good day, right?

No. 2 Worst: 2008 BCS National Championship Game

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    Ohio State returned to the BCS National Championship Game for the second straight year in 2008, and luckily for the Buckeyes, they didn't see Florida standing on the other side of the field.

    The Buckeyes had their fill of the Gators over the past 12 months.  

    In the 2007 BCS National Championship Game, Ohio State was absolutely dominated by Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators, 41-14.  Just three months later, Ohio State's men's basketball team lost to Florida in the NCAA Championship Game, 84-75.

    Ohio State did, however, face another opponent from the SEC.  

    This time, LSU was the recipient of a bid to play in the title game, becoming the first (and only) team in BCS history to make it to the national championship game with more than one loss during the regular season.

    Despite being the No. 1 team in the nation and jumping out to a 10-3 first quarter lead, Ohio State couldn't keep LSU in check.  The Tigers used a 21-point second quarter to secure a 24-10 halftime lead before going on to defeat the Buckeyes, 38-24.

    At this point, it really began to appear as if the SEC had the Big Ten's number.

No. 2 Best: 2010 Rose Bowl Game / 2010 Orange Bowl

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    When the Big Ten receives two BCS berths, it's always a good thing for the conference.  When those two Big Ten teams both win against some of the nation's top teams, it's even better.

    That's exactly what happened in 2010 when Ohio State defeated then-No. 7 Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game and Iowa defeated then-No. 9 Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

    Even though a team from the Big Ten didn't win a national championship this time around, two BCS bowl wins is certainly worth recognizing as one of the conference's high-water marks during the BCS era.

No. 1 Worst: 2007 Rose Bowl / 2007 BCS National Championship Game

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    If Big Ten fans feel a little slighted by the BCS, you really shouldn't blame them.  

    In 2006, Ohio State and Michigan got together for their annual grudge match in one of sports' all-time greatest rivalries.  But this time, things were a little different.

    Over the decades, people had become accustomed to seeing a Michigan-Ohio State game have a direct impact on the Big Ten title.  

    But what was so special about this installment was the fact that both teams were not only 11-0 heading into the game, but Ohio State was ranked No. 1 in the nation while Michigan was ranked No. 2.

    In a hard-fought game that saw Michigan's comeback effort fall just a few points short, Ohio State edged into the BCS National Championship Game.  Immediately, talk began to center on what should happen to Michigan.  Should the Wolverines—clearly one of the best teams in the nation—get another shot at the Buckeyes?

    Most Big Ten fans said, obviously, yes.  After all, the alternative was a one-loss Florida squad that had lost to a two-loss Auburn team.  Michigan's only loss was on the road to the undefeated and undisputed No. 1 team in the nation, Ohio State.

    SEC and Florida fans, of course, railed against the moronic possibility of seeing a rematch in the title game.  Michigan had its shot, right?  Why would we want to see that game again?

    The BCS agreed, and Florida—not Michigan—played for the national title.

    It's probably important to note at this point that those same SEC fans who thought the idea of a Big Ten rematch in the title game in 2007 was so stupid were the same SEC fans who relished in the "obvious" choice to have Alabama and LSU meet in a rematch in the 2012 title game.  Apparently irony and hypocrisy aren't big concepts across Dixie.

    The controversy may have had another, more disastrous impact.  Both Michigan and Ohio State lost their respective BCS bowl games.

No. 1 Best: 2003 Fiesta Bowl

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    The true high-water mark for the Big Ten during the BCS era probably came following the 2002 season.  

    The 2003 Fiesta Bowl was the chosen national championship game for the season, and Ohio State finished the regular season as co-champions of the Big Ten along with a perfect 13-0 mark.

    In the days before the separate "BCS National Championship Game," it was nearly impossible for more than two conferences to receive multiple BCS berths in any given season.  

    This time around, it was the Big Ten and Pac-10 that were given the honor of placing two teams in the Bowl Championship Series (as Iowa completed a perfect Big Ten schedule, having lost only a single non-conference game to rival Iowa State).

    In the Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State faced off against the Miami Hurricanes, the defending national champions and a team that had won its last 34 games.  Two traditional powerhouses, battling in a national championship game: the 2003 Fiesta Bowl was everything the BCS was supposed to be.

    And what a game it was, too.  Ohio State fell behind in the first quarter only to rally and take a 14-7 lead into halftime.  With a slim 17-14 lead after the third quarter, Ohio State was held scoreless in the fourth, but allowed just three Miami points, sending the game to overtime—the only BCS title game to go beyond regulation.

    In the first overtime, Miami, up by seven, appeared to stop Ohio State on fourth down.  

    But a late pass interference call gave the Buckeyes new life, allowing them to tie the game and send it into a second overtime.  Ohio State scored a touchdown in the second extra period, and held Miami on fourth down, securing the first—and only—BCS national title for the Big Ten.