The games have all been played, but Big Ten bowl season isn’t over until we hand out a fresh batch of awards for the conference’s performance in the past few weeks.
The league, traditionally known for its defensive battles, didn’t exactly live up to that reputation during a 5-5 run through the bowl schedule. In seven of the 10 games, which included good and bad blowouts, the winner scored at least 35 points. The high-scoring affairs did provide some excitement and even a bit of a drama during a national bowl season that could have used a few more close contests.
Here’s a look back at some of the most notable plays and performances from this year’s postseason:
Best offensive performance: Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott left school on a high note with four rushing touchdowns in a BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame. The junior ran for 149 yards on 27 carries. After unloading some frustration in late November, Elliott aveaged 6.4 yards per touch on his 57 carries in his final two games as a Buckeye. That type of dominant performance will have folks in Columbus wondering for a long time what could have been if he saw more action against Michigan State -- a 17-14 Buckeyes loss.
Best defensive performance: Wisconsin’s Jack Cichy missed the first half of the National Funding Holiday Bowl, but still managed to lead the Badgers with nine tackles. A third of them came on one series, when Cichy sacked USC quarterback Cody Kessler on three consecutive plays. It’s hard to imagine a more dominant accomplishment for a linebacker. Cichy played a big part in holding the Trojans’ stacked offense at bay during the second half of a 23-21 win.
Carry the Flag Award: After getting beat up by Alabama and Tennessee, the Big Ten needed a big win to back up the idea that the league is closing the gap on the mighty SEC. Michigan delivered in a big way, drubbing SEC East champ Florida, 41-7, for its 10th win of the year. Jim Harbaugh may have rankled many of his conference colleagues throughout 2015, but he started 2016 by representing the Big Ten well down in Orlando, Florida.
Biggest offseason boost: Nebraska coach Mike Riley needed some positive vibes in Lincoln after finishing his first year with only five regular-season wins. Knocking off a brand name team in UCLA and finding an offensive formula that seemed to work gave the Cornhuskers a reason to be a bit more optimistic through the winter. Four different players scored rushing touchdowns after the Nebraska staff stuck with the run, even when the Bruins built a first-half lead.
Most entertaining bowl: The Pinstripe Bowl between Indiana and Duke ended up being the shootout many had hoped it would be when the matchup was set. The lead changed hands seven times between these two traditional basketball powerhouses. Duke took the final upper hand in overtime when Indiana kicker Griffin Oakes’ 38-yard field goal attempt was ruled wide right. The final play provided some controversy and captured the attention of the college football-watching world to kick off the Big Ten’s bowl schedule.
The Aptonym Award: It’s been a few years since fans cheered for someone named Alex Rodriguez at Yankee Stadium in cold weather. Indiana running back Alex Rodriguez changed that when he scored a go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter for the Hoosiers. No word yet on if Pinstripe Bowl officials tested him for any illegal substances after that show of power near the Yankee Stadium outfield wall.
Best bowl-worthy trick play: Bowl season is a time for play-callers to get creative, and Florida looped every trick it could find into the same play to score its lone touchdown against Michigan. The play started with a deceptive direct snap to running back Kelvin Taylor, which was followed by a reverse to wide receiver Antonio Callaway , who threw an underhand pass to quarterback Treon Harris in the end zone. It almost made up for the disastrous fake field goal the Gators attempted on the previous drive. (Honorable mention: Kevin Hogan’s fake fumble that led to Stanford’s fifth touchdown of the game.)
Best pre-bowl moment: The week of activities leading up to most big bowl games often produces some laughs or touching moments. This year we got our last dose of Cardale Jones’ plus-sized personality during media day at the Fiesta Bowl. Jones took over the microphone and quizzed several of his teammates on their NFL futures and their thoughts on “DJ 1-2,” who was reportedly in charge of music selection on the bus ride that morning. We’ll miss you, Cardale.