Putting a bow on the Big Ten season

January, 14, 2009
1/14/09
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The end result wasn't what most Big Ten fans had in mind, but 2008 still brought plenty of intrigue around the league. Before putting the season to bed, here are some moments that stick out in my mind.

Terrelle Pryor takes over -- Pryor came to Ohio State with unparalleled hype as the nation's No. 1 recruit, but most expected him to sit out most of the season. Everything changed after the USC loss, and Jim Tressel's decision to start Pryor in Week 4 marked a significant shift for a program that usually sticks with its seniors. Pryor had some growing pains along the way, but he also showcased incredible talent and the potential to take Ohio State a long way in the years to come.

Joe Paterno keeps on winning -- Despite a bum hip that needed to be surgically replaced in November, Paterno gutted his way through the season and proved once again that he knows exactly what he's doing. Despite spending the final nine games in the press box, including the Rose Bowl, Paterno helped Penn State to a co-Big Ten title and won Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. The 82-year-old signed a three-year contract after the season and will be back in 2009.

Holy Toledo -- Michigan had never lost to a MAC team in 24 tries, but this season was anything but ordinary in Ann Arbor. The low point for Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines undoubtedly arrived Oct. 11, when a subpar Toledo team came into the Big House and beat Michigan 13-10. Michigan went on to lose a school-record nine games, posted a losing season for the first time since 1967 and missed a bowl for the first time since 1974.

The collapse at the Coliseum -- The most anticipated game of the season turned into a disaster for the Big Ten and Ohio State, which got steamrolled 35-3 by USC. Ohio State couldn't stop Mark Sanchez, committed uncharacteristic errors and didn't score a touchdown for the first time since 1996. The loss reinforced the perception that Ohio State struggles in big games, a reputation the Buckeyes helped restore in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Murray kicks Penn State out of title game -- Penn State seemed destined for a date in the BCS Championship Game until it ran into an inspired Iowa team on Nov. 8 at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes rallied from a 9-point fourth-quarter deficit and won the game in the final seconds on a 31-yard field goal by Daniel Murray, an Iowa City native who had lost his starting job seven weeks earlier. Head coach Kirk Ferentz went back to Murray in the clutch, a decision that paid off.

Coordinators take off -- The Big Ten had no head-coaching changes this year, but several of the league's top assistants left following the season. Illinois offensive coordinator and chief recruiter Mike Locksley left to become New Mexico's head coach. Minnesota lost both of its coordinators, as Mike Dunbar stepped down and Ted Roof left for the defensive coordinator spot at Auburn. Michigan defensive coordinator Scott Shafer resigned after only one season.

Another bowl flop -- The league needed a boost in the postseason after dropping four consecutive BCS games and four Rose Bowls. Instead, the Big Ten's national perception took another blow as the conference went 1-6 in bowl games. Despite a dominant Outback Bowl win by Iowa and encouraging performances from Ohio State and Northwestern, the Big Ten lost two more BCS games and another Rose Bowl.

Rodriguez sounds off -- His comments were largely misrepresented, but Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez didn't do himself any favors during a Nov. 17 news conference. Speaking about outlandish comments on fan message boards, Rodriguez said, "You almost want to tell them, 'Get a life.' There's a whole lot bigger problems. Look at the economy." Though the comments weren't directed at Michigan's fan base, they made headlines around the Big Ten and added to the woes for the first-year coach.

Northwestern's Smith stuns Minnesota -- No play symbolized Northwestern's renaissance on defense more than Brendan Smith's 48-yard interception return for a touchdown with 12 seconds left to beat Minnesota 24-17 on Nov. 1. Defense was the story for Northwestern during a 9-4 season, as first-year coordinator Mike Hankwitz revolutionized one of the conference's worst units. Smith's return also signaled the beginning of the end for Minnesota, which dropped its final five games after a 7-1 start.

Dantonio gets rewarded with new deal -- Mark Dantonio's stock is on the rise at Michigan State, and the university rewarded him before the Capital One Bowl with a restructured contract. Dantonio's salary raise puts him on par with other Big Ten coaches, and he will receive a $2 million bonus if he's still coaching Michigan State on Jan. 15, 2016. The Spartans have made upgrades in facilities and recruiting, and if they can keep Dantonio, they'll consistently be in the mix for league titles.

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