Big Ten football: My 10 favorite moments from this season
It’s been a year, that’s for sure. While every college football fan is hoping for a much smoother 2021, there were still some incredible, memorable moments from 2020. Here are my 10 favorites from the Big Ten:
10. Bret Bielema returns to the Big Ten
Come on home, coach. The rest of the football world doesn’t deserve you!
In all seriousness, it’s great to have the former Wisconsin head coach and Iowa lineman back in the B1G with Illinois after stops at Arkansas and in the NFL. He is a proven winner in this conference, an Illinois native and at a program that could be a force in the West. I’m excited to see how this one turns out.
9. David Bell’s game-winner vs. Iowa
I lived in Indiana while Bell starred for Warren Central High School in football and basketball, so I’ve followed him for years. It’s neat to see that translate into being one of the best players in the Big Ten. Every week, the sophomore was must-see TV — whether he was catching the game-winning TD in the upset over Iowa or going for 9-122-1 against Illinois the next week. He finished with 8 receiving TDs in 6 games while averaging 8.8 catches and 104.2 receiving yards per contest.
8. Keith Duncan does Nebraska dirty again
The Iowa kicker will be one of the guys I miss most from this crop of B1G players. Kirk Ferentz has loosened the reins considerably as time has gone on and that has enabled some of his players’ personalities to shine — perhaps none more than Duncan. He called out Nebraska for being more worried about growing mustaches than winning football games, then backed it up with 4 field goals in the Black Friday win. That was one year after he blew kisses to the Nebraska sideline after kicking the game-winner.
7. Graham Mertz’s ridiculous debut
Everyone wondered what would happen if Wisconsin actually had a big-time QB, so when Mertz threw for 5 TDs against Illinois on the opening night of the B1G season, it was one of those “Wow!” moments. Unfortunately for the Badgers, a lack of continuity due to COVID and injuries plagued Mertz and a promising squad for most of the season. But the arrow is still pointing up for Mertz, the highest-rated QB recruit for Wisconsin in the modern era. The next few years are going to be fun.
6. Rutgers wins!
Let’s be real: Rutgers hasn’t had an easy time in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights have been an automatic win for league opponents for years. So when they broke a 21-game losing streak in the Big Ten in Greg Schiano’s first game in his return as head coach, it was a special moment. And to force 7 turnovers while doing it, well, is something no one envisioned.
5. Trey Sermon goes nuts in Big Ten Championship Game
I can’t remember at what point I knew I was witnessing something truly special. It could’ve been this one pictured below, or, like, 10 others.
Ohio State wins the Big Ten Championship, defeating Northwestern 22-10.
Trey Sermon finished the game with 331 rush yards.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 19, 2020
Ohio State fans were legitimately nervous against Northwestern, which is a credit to the Wildcats. But in the end, Sermon’s school-record 331 rushing yards propelled Ohio State to the conference title and CFP berth.
4. Michigan State shocks everyone by upsetting Michigan
Led by an Ann Arbor native, no less. Linebacker Antjuan Simmons and the Spartans were a 25-point underdog, but they shocked rival Michigan. Many, including yours truly, hopped aboard the Michigan hype train after its dominating win over Minnesota, but Michigan State put Wolverines fans out of their misery nice and early this season with the 27-24 victory at the Big House.
Michigan fell off the map, winning only 1 game the rest of the season, but at the time, this was like when LSU beat Florida — just stunning.
3. Fighting Rece Davises
I think most of the country was completely unaware of Joey Galloway’s comments, but when Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald did his postgame interview after the Wildcats beat Wisconsin, he went viral.
Pat Fitzgerald refers to his team as the "Fighting Rece Davises" after the win over Wisconsin, in response to ESPN's Joey Galloway saying earlier in the week that Northwestern "has a bunch of Rece Davises running around." pic.twitter.com/P7CLfYHkdd
— Matt Clapp (@Matt2Clapp) November 22, 2020
College football can be a little predictable sometimes — Oh, Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State are in the CFP again? — so we need to celebrate when a non-blueblood has this type of season. Northwestern is loaded with 2-star and 3-star recruits, so when it is able to win the West, hang with Ohio State and roll Auburn in a bowl game, that resonates.
2. Michael Penix, Indiana shock Penn State
Everything about this ending was remarkable. Michael Penix Jr. changed the course of the Big Ten by reaching out for the pylon on the 2-point conversion in overtime. This game propelled Indiana into being a top-10 team, which is not something that anyone outside Bloomington saw coming. It also derailed what was supposed to be a terrific season for Penn State, as the Nittany Lions wound up starting 0-5 after starting the season in the top 10.
— Jeff Rabjohns (@JeffRabjohns) October 24, 2020
1. Ohio State routs Clemson
The Big Ten caught a lot of heat all season long. Some of it was deserved for the way it handled the pandemic, but some of it was dumb — like David Pollack’s proclamation that the Big Ten was really bad. Dabo Swinney ranked Ohio State 11th before the game.
That’s why it was a bit of vindication to see Ohio State blow the doors off Clemson. After being a punchline all season, the conference needed it.
Ohio State needed it, too. After the way 2019 ended with a crushing loss to Clemson, the Buckeyes got the revenge they had waited for. And it was redemption for Justin Fields, who finally topped frenemy Trevor Lawrence.