Fighting the hangover loss

July, 16, 2008
7/16/08
4:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I was checking out the recent mailbags from SI.com's Stewart Mandel and saw several items about traumatic losses -- the type of games that seem to linger not just for a day or a month, but potentially years.

The discussion started when a fan brought up Purdue's loss to Wisconsin in 2004. To recap: Purdue entered the game 5-0 and ranked fifth in the country, had the Heisman frontrunner in quarterback Kyle Orton and held a 17-7 lead with eight minutes left on its home field. Wisconsin scored to get within three points, and then Badgers cornerback Scott Starks returned an Orton fumble for the game-winning touchdown. Purdue wound up losing four straight games. The Boilers went 5-6 the following year and haven't gotten back to such a national pedestal since. Unfortunately for Purdue fans, the Wisconsin game qualifies as a perfect example of a traumatic loss, one with a damaging hangover effect.

Here's a look at some other traumatic losses involving Big Ten teams in recent years. You can let me know some of the ones I missed.

Michigan State at Michigan, 2005 -- The Spartans might need their own list of traumatic losses, but this one stands out. Michigan State entered the game 4-0, ranked No. 11 and surging behind an offense averaging 49 points a game. Michigan came in at 2-2 but knocked off its in-state rival, 34-31, in overtime on a Garrett Rivas field goal. Things only got worse for Sparty the next week in Columbus, as coach John L. Smith went nuts on ABC after his team had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown with no time remaining in the first half. Michigan State dropped six of its final seven games and went 4-8 the next fall before Smith was fired.

Minnesota at Penn State, 1999 -- Nittany Lions fans, avert your eyes. Penn State was 9-0, ranked No. 2 nationally and had its sights on the national title. Minnesota came in at 5-3, with all of its losses coming by five points or fewer. Trailing by two in the closing minutes, Minnesota faced fourth-and-16. Quarterback Billy Cockerham's pass deflected off Ron Johnson's hands into those of Arland Bruce for a first down. The incredible conversion set up Dan Nystrom's 32-yard game-winning field goal, and the Gophers prevailed, 24-23. Penn State lost three of its final four games that season, and then went 10-13 during the next two seasons. The Lions had just one winning campaign between 2000-2004.

Northwestern at Iowa, 2000 -- Northwestern came in ranked No. 12 and still had a shot at reaching its second Rose Bowl in six seasons. But Iowa, which finished 3-9 that season, stacked the box with eight or nine defenders and shut down the Wildcats' dynamic offense in a 27-17 win. Northwestern, which averaged 38.6 points that year, put up just three in the first half. The loss cost NU the Rose Bowl and provided a blueprint for teams to defend the no-huddle spread. Though Rashidi Wheeler's death the following August undoubtedly impacted the 2001 season, Northwestern went 8-18 after the Iowa loss before stabilizing in 2003.

Illinois vs. LSU, 2001 -- It's a bit unfair to include a bowl since it's the final game of a season, but the 2002 Sugar Bowl marked the last relevant game Illinois would play in some time. The surprising Big Ten champions came in ranked No. 7 but got steamrolled by Rohan Davey (444 pass yards, 3 TDs, 4 rush TDs) and LSU, losing 47-34. Things then turned ugly for Illinois, which never built off its title and went 13-45 from 2002-2006.

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