Big Ten Football: Top 5 Games from 2013 Season
If the 2013 season will be remembered for anything in Big Ten country it will be remembered for the amount of close games, insane finishes and upsets that occurred.
Few, if any, saw what transpired this season happening. If you had Michigan State winning a Big Ten title, Northwestern finishing with just one conference win and Ohio State losing two straight games when you did your preseason predictions, congratulations.
However, getting to all of that took some amazing games, thrilling finishes and historic upsets to happen. There were so many of them, narrowing down the list was not easy at all.
Heartbreak, moments of pure joy and plays that made you want to watch over and over again all were put into consideration. What transpired in the mental Rolodex reminded me that for all the hate the Big Ten received, it provided the country with some of the best games to take place in 2013-14 as well.
Come on inside and re-live the five greatest games in the Big Ten this past season.
This list wasn't easy to come up with at all, considering the various and amazing candidates, so before anyone gets ticked that their favorite team or game didn't make this list, here are the honorable mention games.
Big Ten Championship: Michigan State vs. Ohio State: Two 17-point comebacks and a game that nearly rivaled the very first for intrigue, anyone?
Notre Dame vs. Michigan: This was Devin Gardner's coming-out party against a really good defense, except it was also followed up by two awful performances. The Wolverines won 41-30 thanks to Gardner's gutsy performance.
Michigan State vs. Notre Dame: 17-13 was the final score and forever and ever the Spartan faithful will claim the game was stolen from their team. Oh, and it also leaves many wondering "what if" they had won over the refs and the Golden Domers too.
Iowa vs. Ohio State: This was the third tough game the Buckeyes played in Big Ten play, but the Hawkeyes appeared to be the ones to give the knockout punch, up 17-10 at the half and taking any counterpunch the Buckeyes gave them. Eventually Miller and Hyde took over and OSU won by 10, but it was a great battle for the vast majority of this game.
Michigan vs. Penn State: OK, yes this game went to four overtimes and all that jazz, but damn was overtime brutal on the eyes or what? Seriously, that was an affront to everything football. The comeback, game-tying touchdown drive by Christian Hackenberg was amazing to say the least. However, that overtime keeps it off the list.
Wisconsin vs. Ohio State: These two teams have played classic games over the last four years and this was another one of those games. Ohio State punched UW in the mouth to open the contest, but the Badgers settled down and made it a game until the dying moments. It was also the game where we saw a glimpse of Joel Stave being a capable quarterback from time to time, throwing for 295 yards and two touchdowns. In the end it just wasn't enough, and Braxton Miller's four touchdown passes won the game.
5. Nebraska vs. Minnesota
Nebraska came in to this game as the No. 24 team in the country and were a 10.5-point favorite over a Minnesota Golden Gophers team that had never beaten the Huskers. As the saying goes, there's a first time for everything, and on October 26 that's exactly what happened in TCF Bank Stadium.
Don't let the 34-23 score fool you, this game was a close one until Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson put his second rushing touchdown in to the end zone with just 48 seconds left.
Minnesota came in at 6-2 and 2-2 in conference play, losing big to contenders Michigan and Iowa already on the season. Not much of a chance was given to the Gophers in this one (yes, I really picked 37-17 Huskers).
Yet they came out and pounded the Huskers into submission. Minnesota racked up 430 yards of total offense and 271 yards on the ground.
However, it was one pass play that made the biggest difference in the game. With the Gophers down 10-7 in the second quarter, Philip Nelson hooked up with Derrick Engel for a 33-yard touchdown pass to put them up 14-10.
It was a rare Nelson TD pass (he finished the year with just nine), and it also put his Gophers up for good in the contest.
What made this game even more impressive is that it was the return of Taylor Martinez from a turf toe injury. It was also the final time we would witness Martinez taking snaps in a Huskers uniform.
Even his return wasn't enough to stop the Gophers, though, as Martinez finished the day 16 of 30 for 139 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
It also marked the first sign that Minnesota wasn't just going to fold like it did the year before against good competition in the Big Ten.
Minnesota would end the regular season 8-4, and this game was a major building block for the program.
4. Wisconsin vs. Arizona State
Wisconsin went into the desert in Tempe., Ariz., and came out losers in what would be coined "the Debacle in the Desert."
How so? Well, we won't go into too many boring details, but we'll let the video speak for itself. One thing that may be a bone of contention for some is that Wisconsin still needed to make that field goal.
It was a 30-yard attempt from the middle of the field
However, what many don't remember is just how good the rest of this game was. At no point was either team down by more than one score, and most don't remember that it took a mid-fourth-quarter comeback by Arizona State to even take the lead.
There was Marion Grice scoring four rushing touchdowns on just 88 yards. Then there was Melvin Gordon's 80-yard touchdown rush to open the third quarter and make it 21-13 Badgers.
What may have been the most lost part of this game, thanks to how it finished, is the drive put together by Joel Stave to even get the Badgers in position to potentially win.
The Badgers' final drive started with 1:36 left on their own 36-yard line. Seven plays and 68 yards later the Badgers were in perfect position to score, if only not robbed by Pac-12 officials to end the game.
Bizarre finish and a loss for a Big Ten team not withstanding, this was one of the best games to be played by a Big Ten team in 2013-14.
Many Badger fans will forever wonder "what if" following this debacle. Could the Badgers have gotten momentum and won the Big Ten? Would a win have gotten them in to a BCS bowl game?
One could play the "what if" game forever, but the truth is this game won't be, and shouldn't be, forgotten, no matter how the finish went down.
3. Northwestern vs. Nebraska
On its face, this game was one no one was likely to care about. Yet it ended up providing one of the single best finishes in a Big Ten conference game this season.
Northwestern came in to Lincoln, Neb., with memories of its last trip fresh in the mind, winning 28-25 over the then No. 9-ranked Huskers. It also came in to the game searching for its first Big Ten win of the season.
Nebraska came in on the heels of its loss a week before to Minnesota, and staring back-to-back embarrassing defeats in the face, Ron Kellogg III and Jordan Westerkamp forever entered Huskers lore.
Most people will remember the final play and rightfully so, but they forget just how miraculous the comeback was and how telling the loss was for Northwestern.
After allowing an early touchdown to the Huskers, Northwestern's Treyvon Green went off. He would score three unanswered touchdowns in the first half alone, putting the Wildcats up 21-7.
Green finished the game with 149 yards and three touchdowns on just 19 carries, but it wasn't enough.
Nebraska tied the game up with 7:10 left in the third quarter on an Avery Moss interception return for a touchdown.
However, it was the final few minutes of the game that everyone will remember because it was simply insane. After no scoring happened for nearly a quarter-and-a-half, Northwestern found itself deep in Huskers territory thanks to a Tyler Scott interception and 29-yard return that put the Wildcats at the Huskers 7-yard line.
Northwestern couldn't find a way to punch the ball in, and with 1:20 left, Jeff Budzien knocked home a chip shot 21-yard field goal to put the Wildcats up 24-21.
Then the Huskers found a way to give themselves a Hail Mary prayer of a chance, and the rest is history.
It was perhaps the wildest finish of the season (without the refs playing a part), and it would've remained that way except for one other contest to come.
2. 2014 Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Stanford
Winning the Rose Bowl has been a tough go for the Big Ten in the past 10 tries, but that changed this season thanks to Michigan State.
It also helped that the game was perhaps the single best-played football game of the season too. Both offenses and defenses came to play, and it literally came down to a spectacular defensive play to seal the deal for the Spartans.
Stanford went up 10-0 and 17-7 in the first half, and it appeared heartbreak was on the menu for the Big Ten team once again.
Only Connor Cook found a rhythm and led the Spartans back in this one. He finished the game as the Offensive MVP thanks to throwing for 332 yards and two touchdowns.
It all started when Cook brought the Spartans within striking distance at 17-14 with 28 seconds left in the first half.
The ballgame would be tied up right out of the half thanks to a 38-yard field goal from Michael Geiger, and MSU had all the momentum swinging its way.
It was the fourth quarter that made this game memorable, though, as both teams nearly missed and connected on chances to win this game.
Michigan State made it three unanswered scores when Cook connected with wide receiver Tony Lippett for a 25-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-17.
Stanford was held to a field goal in the final five minutes and then the most unlikely of heroes, Kyler Elsworth, did his best LaVar Arrington impression and stuffed Stanford's Ryan Hewitt on 4th-and-1 to seal the game.
This was a classic slugfest between two great teams on both sides of the ball and a game befitting of the 100th Rose Bowl game too.
1. Ohio State vs. Michigan
If you love defense, and living in Big Ten country my entire life it's clear there are plenty that do, this game was a pure affront to anything defense.
However, it was also everything you could want in a rivalry game. It was a back-and-forth battle from start to finish, the big names showed up big, the two teams brawled and ejections occurred, but most importantly it came down to the final seconds.
With his team down 42-41 following a 2-yard touchdown pass from Devin Gardner to Devin Funchess, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke decided to end the game right then and there.
There were just 32 seconds left and neither defense had been able to stop the other offense (a combined 1,129 yards should be all you need to know). Hoke called for a 2-point conversion and the rest is history.
It failed miserably, as OSU was all over the decision to pass in the pocket, and the Buckeyes ran their winning streak to 24 games on their rival's field.
Ohio State put up 393 yards on the ground, with Braxton Miller accounting for only 153 yards and running back Carlos Hyde going for 226 yards.
However, it was Michigan winning the yardage battle, going for 603 yards—451 of which came off the arm of Devin Gardner.
Just how good was this game? Every score was a touchdown, and the game had four ties and just one lead change. It was that lead change that made all the difference, as Ohio State took its first lead with just 1:05 left in the third quarter.
In a rivalry that's seen its share of controversy and classic games, this one will be remembered for some time.
*Andy Coppens is the lead writer for Big Ten football. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.