More on traumatic losses in the Big Ten
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Good responses so far on recent traumatic losses for Big Ten teams, so kudos to you guys. It's not a big surprise, since often these kinds of losses stick with fans more than the coaches or players. A couple of users brought up the Appalachian State-Michigan game, but while that was one of the biggest upsets in college football history, it doesn't really qualify as a traumatic loss. Michigan still went on to a New Year's Day bowl game and won it, so there wasn't a prolonged and total letdown. The real traumatic losses ruin a season, or keep a program down for multiple seasons.
Let's take a look:
Bryce from Arlington, Texas, writes: I was at the 1999 PSU vs Minn game. Watching that kick split the uprights as time expired was the most memorable moment for me inside Beaver Stadium. After crushing Arizona in the opener that season, the LaVar Leap, all 100,000+ were already smelling Roses and thinking National Champs. Then the Minn Hail Mary 4th down conversion, followed by the game winning kick. The only thing more impressive than 100,000 fans on their feet screaming, is 100,000 in dead silence. The students didn't know what to to. We just sat there. Everyone was crying. Seriously, EVERYONE was choked up. It was so deathly silent, you could hear the Minn players celebrating on the 50 yard line. That game set up 2 more losses and eventually was the precursor to those terrible seasons in the early 2000s. That kick eventually led to the Joe Must Go chants in the following years. And those early 2000 seasons may be in the back of (Graham) Spanier's mind as these contract talks seem to be going south. In all the PSU games I've experienced, that moment of humility is far more memorable than any of the triumphs.
Greg from Boston writes: I was at the PSU-MINN game and was in the stands for 20 minutes after in disbelief (along with a few thousand students, some of which had bus tickets to N.O. already). The pass of which you speak actually, if memory serves me, went through Derek Fox's hands into the receiver's. Also, on the FG attempt it looked like Lavar (Arrington) was going to block it as he got elevated but went through his outreached hands. Sometimes, at night, I still scream "knock it down" in my sleep...
Adam Rittenberg: Bryce and Greg, thanks for sharing those memories. Great stuff. I went back and checked, and according to the New York Times game recap, Cockerham's fourth-down pass deflected off Ron Johnson and Derek Fox. It was still a mind-boggling completion, and a crushing loss for Penn State. Arrington was a freak, and it would have been fitting if he had blocked the game-winning attempt.
Alex from Peoria, Ill., writes: Being an Illinois fan, it's hard to forget two different games that really hurt the orange and blue in recent years, at least in my eyes. In 2000, Illinois came in ranked 17 (in the USA Today poll) and Michigan was number ten coming into Memorial Stadium. The Illini had stunned the maize and blue the year before in the big house and Michigan was looking for revenge. The Illini were leading pretty covincingly in the fourth quarter, and then the refs came along. The stripes called two fumbles on Illinois that were seen with replay to both be wrong along with calling Anthony Thomas down when he had in fact fumbled. The Illini went on to lose the game. Later, in the week after the game, the conference admitted their mistake with the officiating and Illinois was allowed to keep their ranking but it was too late compared to what Illinois could have done without this stinging loss. The other one that sticks out in my mind is when OSU traveled to Memorial Stadium in 2002 during their undefeated national title season. Illinois clawed back to force overtime on the last play of the game with a last-second field goal. OSU scored in overtime to go up seven, and then the Illini scored on a Walter Young touchdown, or did they? The ref called Young out of bounds on the play and the Buckeyes won, but once again, as the replay showed, a Big Ten official blew a call late in the game. So Illinois may have not won this game eventually in OT, but who can say they wouldn't have had a chance if it went into a second overtime. Can you see any bitterness resonating for me as I call up these events? I believe it was hangover games like these that stung enough not only in Champaign but also in the Big Ten offices in Park Ridge to be the first major college conference to use replay.
Adam Rittenberg: Alex, excellent stuff here. I forgot about the game in 2000. After starting 3-0, Illinois dropped six of its final eight games to miss a bowl and end the momentum it generated from the previous season, when it reached the MicronPC.com Bowl (remember that one?). The Illini turned it around the next season and won the league, so the trauma was limited to 2000. As for the 2002 game, the Illini were 4-6 coming in, hardly a juggernaut. But they had won three of their previous four games, including a road win against Wisconsin that I covered. Illinois bounced back after the Ohio State game to beat Northwestern, but the next four seasons brought only eight wins. Ouch.
Ross from Iowa City writes: Iowa's 2006 loss to Indiana. They rebounded from the disappointing prime-time loss to Ohio State by blasting Purdue the next week, then came to Bloomington and jumped out to a 14-0 lead before eventually choking it off and losing. They lost their next eight B10 games in a row (over the 2006 and 2007 seasons) and the program has basically been in a funk the entire time. As a proud fan and alum, I certainly hope things turn around this year.
Adam Rittenberg: Ross, thanks for bringing up the Indiana game, though I know it's painful for you. Iowa was still 5-1 after the Purdue win and ranked No. 15 going to Bloomington. The Hawkeyes were up 21-7 before Indiana rallied behind freshman quarterback Kellen Lewis. As much as this game began a downward spiral for Iowa, it served as a springboard for Indiana, which posted its biggest upset since 1987, when it knocked off No. 9 Ohio State.
Daniel from Minneapolis writes: October 10, 2003, was a heartbreaker for me like none other. #20 Minnesota entered the game hoping to end a 14-game losing streak against Michigan, stretch its record to 7-0, and put itself in the Big Ten title race. Entering the 4th quarter, the Gophers led 28-7, only to see Michigan outscore them 31-7 in the 4th quarter. Instead of potentially heading for a January bowl game, Minnesota ended up 10-3, making yet another appearance in the Sun Bowl.
Adam Rittenberg: Daniel, another good choice. I actually remember watching this game at a bar in Mount Pleasant, Mich., the night before covering the Northern Illinois-Central Michigan game. The place was pretty electric as Michigan rallied back, but I kept thinking, 'Not again.' The Gophers still reached a bowl game, so the game didn't completely doom them, but with a chance to migrate from mediocrity, they caved. The next year, Minnesota went to Ann Arbor at 5-0 and ranked No. 13, lost 27-24 and dropped five of its final six regular-season games.
Eric from Evanston writes: i think you overlooked one, if not the most traumatic losses in big 10 history. granted, bowl implications weren't really on the line, but the michigan state comeback at ryan field in 2006 is easily the most depressing NU loss i have ever had to bear. and i've seen a lot of NU losses.
Adam Rittenberg: Eric, a terrible loss, yes, but Northwestern wasn't really going anywhere in 2006, so the hangover effect was tough to gauge. As complete a collapse that was
, it did give NU some confidence on offense behind quarterback C.J. Bacher, who made his first career start after learning he got the nod the day before the game. Bacher had aced a written test to beat out Andrew Brewer.