Big Ten: Alan Branch

Big Ten teams of the decade

January, 20, 2010
1/20/10
9:00
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Unlike the lists for top players and top moments from 2000-09, I had an easier time identifying the top 10 Big Ten squads from the most recent decade. For starters, the Big Ten produced only one national champion and six BCS bowl winners, all but one of which made the top 10 (actually 11). You won't see any three-loss teams on the following list, and 10 wins was the minimum criteria for selection.

Bowl victories counted, but I also put a lot of emphasis on how a team performed during Big Ten play. This is, after all, the Big Ten blog.

Here they are:

1. Ohio State 2002: The only Big Ten squad to win a national title during the aughts tops the list. Ohio State rode a ferocious defense, a clutch quarterback (Craig Krenzel) and a dynamic freshman running back (Maurice Clarett) to a 14-0 record and its first national title since 1975.

2. Penn State 2005: If not for a Michigan touchdown on the final play at the Big House, Penn State could have been playing for a national title. The Nittany Lions still went on to an 11-1 finish and an Orange Bowl championship as Big Ten MVP Michael Robinson led the way at quarterback.

3. Ohio State 2006: No Big Ten team this decade looked more dominant than these Buckeyes, who steamrolled their way through the Big Ten behind Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith. Ohio State outlasted No. 2 Michigan in a shootout at The Shoe, but lost its mojo before the national title game against Florida. Despite an ugly final result, this team was a juggernaut.

4. Iowa 2002: Only three teams went undefeated in Big Ten play this decade, and the 2002 Hawkeyes were one of them. Quarterback Brad Banks came out of nowhere to become the Heisman Trophy runner-up, while Dallas Clark, Bob Sanders and others helped the Hawkeyes to a share of the league title and road wins against both Penn State and Michigan.

5. Michigan 2006: LaMarr Woodley, Alan Branch and Leon Hall led one of the decade's top defenses as Michigan won its first 10 games, allowing just 13.3 points per contest. The Wolverines ended the year with losses to Ohio State and USC but boasted three All-Americans and several impressive wins.

6. Penn State 2008: Much like Ohio State in 2006, the Nittany Lions were dominant for much of the year, as a dynamic and experienced offense put up points in bunches. Penn State scored 38 points or more in seven of its first eight games. A last-second field goal kept Penn State out of the national title game, but the Lions claimed their second Big Ten championship in four years.

7. Ohio State 2009: Teams are usually remembered by how they finished, and this group got better as the season progressed. Ohio State wasn't much fun to watch in September or October, but a November surge and a very impressive Rose Bowl win against Oregon completely changed the buzz around this squad. Few Big Ten defenses this decade were better than the 2009 Buckeyes.

8. Ohio State 2007: In a season where nothing went according to plan, the Buckeyes surged out of the gate with 10 consecutive wins. A stunning upset loss to Illinois seemed to end Ohio State's national title hopes, but a truly wacky season put the Buckeyes back in the spotlight, where they lost to LSU. The national runner-ups certainly deserve a spot on the list.

9. Iowa 2009: If this were a list of teams not for the faint of heart, these Hawkeyes would be at the top. Every week seemed to bring new drama, and Iowa constantly faced doubts about its success. The truth: This team wasn't far away from an undefeated season and a trip to the Rose Bowl, and it silenced the critics with a very impressive performance in the Orange Bowl against Georgia Tech.

T-10. Wisconsin 2006: The Badgers didn't win any Big Ten titles this decade, but their best team deserves a spot on the list. BCS rules kept Wisconsin from the big bowls, but Bret Bielema's first squad was one of only three Big Ten teams to win 12 or more games in a season this decade. The Badgers finished fifth and seventh in the final polls.

T-10. Ohio State 2005: I just couldn't leave a team that finished fourth in the final AP poll off of this list. The Buckeyes' only losses came against national champion Texas and Orange Bowl champ Penn State, and they finished with an impressive win in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame.

Others considered: Iowa 2004, Ohio State 2003, Illinois 2001, Michigan 2003, Iowa 2003, Ohio State 2008.

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