More than trophies are at stake in the Big Ten
One thing’s for sure about the Big Ten. The conference loves a good rivalry and, in most cases, a traveling trophy to go with it.
Big Ten teams have been playing for buckets, bronzed pigs, jugs and more since around the turn of the 20th century. It’s all a part of Midwestern football lore, and there’s nothing like watching jubilant winners sprint to claim their prize when time expires.
It’s in that spirit the conference in 2014 began scheduling rivalry games the final week of the regular season, with five of the seven awarding trophies. Some of the hardware has richer histories than others. A couple of the most time-honored trophies — the Little Brown Jug for Michigan-Minnesota and Floyd of Rosedale for Minnesota-Iowa — are played for earlier in the season.
Interestingly, the grandest rivalry of all — Michigan-Ohio State — has no trophy at all. Maybe the game is so big it doesn’t need one. Nor is there a trophy for the winner between Maryland and Rutgers, perhaps because they didn’t know they were rivals.
So in the name of Paul Bunyan’s Axe, which replaced something called the Slab of Bacon that Minnesota and Wisconsin used to play for, let’s take a look at the real or manufactured rivalries in the Big Ten this week:
Series began: 1897.
Series record: Michigan leads 58-47-6.
Why it’s a big deal: It’s known simply as “The Game” in the Midwest. The Woody Hayes-Bo Schembechler battles of the 1970s are the stuff of legend. The game has decided the Big Ten champion or division winner 22 times and had a bearing on the national championship 13 times since 1942.
Best game: Michigan 24, No. 1 Ohio State 12, 1969. The 15-point underdog Wolverines scored all their points in the first half and intercepted six passes to end Ohio State’s 22-game win streak. The game started the famous Ten Year War between Hayes and Schembechler.
This year: Michigan, with a win, would go to the Big Ten championship game. Ohio State needs a win, plus a Michigan State upset of Penn State, to book a trip to Indianapolis. The winner also stays alive for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Series began: 1890, the most-played rivalry in the FBS.
Series record: Minnesota leads 59-58-8.
Trophy: Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
Why it’s a big deal: Geography. These are border rivals, and they don’t like each other no matter the sport. Three years ago, things almost got physical when Minnesota players surrounded their goal post so Wisconsin’s players couldn’t pretend to chop it down with the Axe.
Best game: No. 3 Wisconsin 14, No. 5 Minnesota 9, 1962. A controversial roughing-the-passer penalty on Minnesota’s Bobby Bell kept alive the Badgers’ winning drive in Madison. Ralph Kurek scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 2-yard run with 1:37 left, and Wisconsin was Big Ten champ.
This year: Wisconsin will clinch a 13th straight win over the Gophers and a spot in the conference championship game with a victory. Minnesota would hit the nine-win mark for the first time since 2003 and deny the Badgers a trip to Indianapolis if Nebraska beats Iowa on Friday.
Series began: 1891.
Series record: Purdue leads 72-40-6.
Trophy: Old Oaken Bucket.
Why it’s a big deal: The schools are 100 miles apart on U.S. Highway 231 in the Hoosier State, so it’s a natural rivalry. The Old Oaken Bucket that is the traveling trophy dates to the mid-1800s and has been the prize since 1925.
Best game: Indiana 19, No. 3 Purdue 14, 1967. In a battle of once-beaten teams, the two-touchdown-underdog Hoosiers beat Bob Griese and the Boilermakers, who had played in the Rose Bowl the previous season. Griese led Purdue to the Indiana 22 in the final two minutes, but the drive stalled, and the Hoosiers went to the Rose Bowl.
This year: Indiana needs a win to become bowl-eligible for the second straight year. Purdue is looking for a positive ending for interim coach Gerad Parker, who took over for the fired Darrell Hazell on Oct. 16.
Series began: 1891.
Series record: Nebraska leads 29-14-3.
Trophy: Heroes Trophy.
Why it’s a big deal: The Hawkeyes are the closest Big Ten opponent to Nebraska.
Best game: Nebraska 37, Iowa 34, OT, 2014. The Cornhuskers trailed 24-7 in the third quarter, but Drew Brown’s 20-yard field goal tied it with eight seconds left in regulation. After Iowa scored on its first possession in overtime, Tommy Armstrong Jr. threw the winning TD pass to Kenny Bell.
This year: Nebraska is going for a 10th regular-season win, doubling its 2015 total, and would be in position to go to the conference title game if Minnesota upsets Wisconsin. Iowa is playing for a best possible bowl.
MICHIGAN STATE-PENN STATE
Series began: 1914.
Series record: Michigan State leads 15-14-1.
Trophy: Land Grant.
Why it’s a big deal: It’s really not, other than the fact both schools were founded in 1855 as two pioneer land-grant institutions.
Best game: No. 14 Penn State 38, No. 25 Michigan State 37, 1993. The Nittany Lions scored three touchdowns in less than five minutes to overcome a 37-17 deficit late in the third quarter on the road.
This year: The Lions, with a win, would go to the Big Ten championship game for the first time if Ohio State beats Michigan.
Series began: 1893.
Series record: 55-49-5.
Trophy: Land of Lincoln.
Why it’s a big deal: This trophy game is a new iteration of the “Sweet Sioux” Tomahawk, which was retired after the 2008 season.
Best game: No. 24 Illinois 38, Northwestern 35, 2011. The Illini came back from a 28-10 third-quarter deficit to win on Nathan Scheelhaase’s 1-yard run with 13 seconds left.
This year: Northwestern becomes bowl-eligible with a win.
Series began: 1920.
Series record: Maryland leads 6-5.
Why it’s a big deal: These are the two schools that expanded the Big Ten’s geographic footprint to the East Coast in 2014.
Best game: Rutgers 41, Maryland 38, 2014. The Scarlet Knights set a school record by coming back from 25 points down to win on the road.
This year: Maryland, which has lost six of seven, would be bowl-eligible with a win. Rutgers is trying for its first Big Ten win.