Monday, August 12, 2013
A look at the rivalries: Big Ten
By Josh Moyer
The Big Ten has its share of rivalries, but not all are created equal. Here's a closer look at the best, the worst and the rivalries on the rise:
Top rivalry: Ohio State versus Michigan. We didn't have to think too hard on this one. Few rivalry games currently have the cheapest nosebleeds going for $175 when the stadium seats more than 100,000. Fewer rivalries have their own hour-long HBO-produced documentaries. And of course, only one rivalry earned the top spot when it came to ESPN ranking the century's overall best. (Ali-Frazier finished No. 2, behind OSU-UM.)
Tradition, quality and history makes this rivalry one of the greatest in all of sports. The two teams first met in 1897, have combined for more than 70 conference titles and are both ranked in the top six when it comes to overall program wins. Usually, the only thing stopping one of these teams from heading to the Rose Bowl or another major bowl is just the other team.
Of course, what really makes this rivalry special is how much these teams have historically hated each other. And yes, we do mean hate. The series heated up in 1969 when Bo Schembechler's Wolverines upset Woody Hayes' undefeated Buckeyes -- and Hayes' hatred of all things Michigan wasn't exactly a secret. According to one anecdote, while in Michigan, the coach once refused to fill up his sputtering car with gas because he hated the idea of giving any money to the Wolverine State.
That tradition still continues. Michigan added to the back-and-forth this spring by stamping its footballs with the words "Made in USA/Not in Ohio." So it's pretty clear: This isn't just the best rivalry in the Big Ten; it's one of the best in all of sports.
Rivalry on the rise: There are quite a few worthy selections to choose from, but two immediately spring to mind: Michigan versus Michigan State and Wisconsin versus Nebraska.
The in-state Spartans-Wolverines rivalry is on the upswing because the teams have been more evenly matched in the 2000s -- and it doesn't hurt that the two schools are just about an hour's drive from one another. Since 1999, the Wolverines have only a slight 8-6 edge. Of those 14 contests, eight were decided by one score and at least six could be considered upsets (i.e., unranked MSU beats No. 6 UM 26-24 in 2001, unranked UM beats No. 11 MSU 34-31 in 2005). Also, last year's 12-10 Wolverines victory was decided on a last-second field goal and is a series classic. Michigan won after losing to the Spartans four straight years.
As far as Wisconsin-Nebraska, Cornhuskers fans would love to see the Badgers as their season-ending foe instead of Iowa. These will be the best teams in the 2014 season's West Division, so this new rivalry should soon become an intense one. Wisconsin dominated Nebraska 48-17 in 2011 -- but the Huskers rubbed Wisconsin fans the wrong way when the offense called a timeout with 12 seconds left on the 1-yard line. Nebraska responded in 2012 with a 30-27 win. This rivalry is just getting started and has a lot of potential.
Rivalry fading: Wisconsin-Minnesota. The game for Paul Bunyan's Axe has become less a battle and more a certainty as of late. The Golden Gophers last won in November 2003, two months after current quarterback Philip Nelson celebrated his 10th birthday.
The Badgers have won the last nine meetings by an average margin of 17 points and, put simply, this "rivalry" just isn't very fun to watch. What's left to say? Wisconsin rushed for 620 yards in the last two meetings, Minnesota made just one third-down conversation in the game last season, and Wisconsin has scored on every red zone opportunity in the last four meetings. Minnesota needs to bounce back in a big way to renew interest in a rivalry that traces its roots to 1890 and has had a trophy in place since 1948.