Tom Brady is back in the Super Bowl on Sunday for the 10th time since 2002, which prompted a question:

What did the Big Ten look like during Brady’s first Super Bowl run?

The answer: A lot different than it does today. 

For the sake of the exercise, let’s use the 2001 football season, which would have concluded just a couple months before Brady’s Patriots took down the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.

The Big Ten Champion in 2001 wasn’t Ohio State or Michigan. Not Iowa or Wisconsin, either. Northwestern? Nope, but getting warmer. 

It was Illinois who at 10-2 won the Big Ten that season. Ron Turner was the Illini’s head coach and Kurt Kittner was the team’s quarterback, throwing for 23 touchdowns while completing 55.3 percent of his passes. Antoineo Harris was the leading rusher with 626 yards. 

Looking throughout the conference, it was a down year for Ohio State and Michigan. The Buckeyes went 7-5 and Michigan went 8-4. Iowa (7-5) was the only other Big Ten program to finish above .500. 

The game as a whole has changed drastically since 2001. Kittner actually led the conference in passing yardage with 2,994 yards. That was 302 yards more than anyone else. For context in today’s game, that yardage would have just barely been good enough for No. 5 in the conference in 2019. 

Kittner’s 23 passing touchdowns also led the league in 2001. In 2019, Justin Field threw for 41. 

Offenses are more effective on the ground, too. Back in 2001, Wisconsin’s Anthony Davis led the Big Ten in rushing with 1,466 yards. Compare that to 2019 when two different running backs — J.K. Dobbins and Jonthan Taylor — both cleared the 2,000-yard threshold. 

Of course, things returned to “normal” pretty quickly. By 2002, Ohio State was an undefeated National Champion and Illinois missed a bowl game. The Illini haven’t won 10 games since. 

Tom Brady remains football’s only constant.