Every B1G West team's most devastating loss of the Playoff era
Not all losses are created equal.
Some are expected. Some are disappointing. Others are devastating.
They’re the games that make fans ache when they watch highlights. They’re the type of losses that make it hard to even think about anything that has to do with football for a good week/year.
To be clear, we’re talking about devastating losses here. To me, “devastating” implies that there was a reason to have some pre-game expectations. The bigger the implications, the more devastating the loss.
So today, I started off with the most devastating losses of each B1G West team during the Playoff era:
Most devastating loss — 2015 vs. Northwestern at Soldier Field
By my rules of “devastation,” Illinois hasn’t had too many individual games to be devastated by. It’s more like one long stream of devastation.
But let’s single out that 2015 game against rival Northwestern because of what was at stake. All Illinois had to do in 2015 to reach a bowl was win one of its final three games. That proved to be too big a challenge.
Illinois actually lost a lot that day. The Illini lost Chicago (Northwestern got to be Chicago’s team for winning), bowl eligibility and even Bill Cubit lost the interim tag to become the full-time head coach…but he lost his job a few months later after Josh Whitman came in and cleaned house. So yeah, the Northwestern loss was bad even for Illinois’ standards.
Most devastating loss — 2015 B1G Championship vs. Michigan State
I think “L.J. Scott” is a swear in Iowa. If it’s not, it probably should be. It’s safe to say his name is usually used with a few expletives around it (via Big Ten Network):
Even though Iowa still got to play in the Rose Bowl, Scott’s reach was gut-wrenching. Getting that close to a Playoff berth and watching it get snatched away was something that not even Wisconsin could claim. Those type of years don’t come around very often in Iowa City. It would’ve been a storybook way to make the Playoff field. Instead, that final drive and run was like a series of jabs and a haymaker in the 12th round of heavyweight fight.
Having said that, I don’t buy the theory Iowa was too banged up from that B1G Championship to stay on the field in the Rose Bowl. The MSU loss was devastating, regardless of what happened in the Rose Bowl or what could’ve happened in a Playoff matchup.
Iowa fans will never forget that one.
Most devastating loss — 2014 vs. Wisconsin
Of course it was going to be a Wisconsin game.
Losing to your rival in essentially a do-or-die game is as devastating as it gets in the regular season. Minnesota fans remember that all too well back in the 2014 matchup in Madison.
With a chance to earn a B1G West crown and finally get Paul Bunyan’s Axe back, Minnesota couldn’t hold on. The Gophers jumped out to that 17-3 start, only to watch Wisconsin finish the game on a 31-7 run.
It was a tough dose of reality to swallow for Minnesota fans, who had to watch the Badgers play for a conference title yet another time while the axe stayed in Madison.
Most devastating loss — 2016 at Wisconsin
I could’ve easily gone with the 2015 opener vs. BYU. Losing at home on a walk-off Hail Mary is brutal, no doubt. Maybe your pick is the 2015 debacle at Purdue. I can’t argue with that. I went with the 2016 Wisconsin game because of the implications of it.
Remember when Nebraska was ranked No. 7 after that 7-0 start and it could’ve been in the driver’s seat to win the West? All it had to do was beat Wisconsin…in Madison. Unlike 2014, that nearly happened. The Huskers rallied in the fourth quarter forced overtime thanks to Nathan Gerry, but ultimately couldn’t get the stop they needed (via Big Ten Network):
If Nebraska had won that game, it would’ve likely been a top-5 team up essentially two games in the West race. Instead, the Badgers won and eventually rolled to yet another West title. The window for a nationally relevant Mike Riley team closed the following week with the 62-3 demolition at Ohio State.
Still, that Wisconsin game is always the great “what-if” of the Riley era.
Most devastating loss — 2016 vs. Illinois State
Devastating and embarrassing are different things. Sometimes, though, they intersect. That’s the case for that 2016 game against Illinois State, which was about as tough to stomach as any Northwestern game of the Playoff era. Losing 9-7 to an in-state FCS school is rough. Super rough.
It was devastating because of when it happened, too. It was supposed to be a get-right game for the Cats in Week 2 after opening the year by laying an egg against P.J. Fleck’s Western Michigan squad. Instead, Northwestern fans had to feel like the 2016 season was over before it really even began.
Impressively enough, the Cats still finished the year 7-4 with a bowl victory. All was not lost on that miserable day against Illinois State. Oh, and just in case losing to an FCS squad wasn’t bad enough, that loss aged horribly when ISU struggled to reach 6-6.
Most devastating loss — 2017 at Rutgers
Purdue is actually a really tough team to come up with a devastating loss for because it’s not like there have been many reasons to have expectations high in the pre-Jeff Brohm years of the Playoff era. I thought last year’s Rutgers loss was devastating because expectations were actually pretty high, and that was a “how much progress have we actually made” type of game.
Purdue probably wishes it could have that failed 2-point conversion attempt back (via Big Ten Network):
Before that Rutgers game, Purdue had only lost to the defending Heisman Trophy champ in Indianapolis, No. 8 Michigan and at No. 7 Wisconsin. And they were within 1 score of all of those teams in the fourth quarter. The Rutgers loss was the first bad loss of the Brohm era, and it slowed the hype train down.
(For the record, I’m back on the Purdue hype train.)
Most devastating loss — 2017 B1G Championship vs. Ohio State
Wisconsin, despite all of its success in the 21st century, is always good for that one devastating loss. Usually, it comes in the form of a letdown vs. Northwestern or Iowa. In the 2017 regular season, that didn’t happen. A 12-0 regular season was still full of criticism because of the Badgers’ strength of schedule.
What better way to show the Badgers were legit than by beating Ohio State on a neutral site for a conference title?
That proved to be easier said than done. Even though Wisconsin performed much better than many thought, especially in the second half, it wasn’t enough. Once again, the Badgers were left out of the Playoff.
But hey, devastation in December is a whole lot better than devastation in October.