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Numbers you don't mess with in the Big Ten

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Why college football jersey numbers matter

ESPN college football reporter Adam Rittenberg explains the significance of college football's most recognizable and revered jersey numbers.

Syracuse recently announced plans to un-retire its famous No. 44 jersey for special circumstances. That prompted us to look at what numbers are most untouchable -- or well-known -- for each Big Ten team.

Some teams have jersey numbers that should never be worn again. Some don't. But not all numbers are created equally. Here's the digits that matter most for Big Ten teams:

Illinois: Nos. 50 and 77

There will never be another Galloping Ghost, and no one else could run up and down the field wearing No. 77 quite like Red Grange. Dick Butkus' No. 50 is also retired; you go ahead and try to ask him for it.

Indiana: No. 32

Running back Anthony Thompson's No. 32 is the only jersey number the Hoosiers have retired in any sport. He was a two-time winner of the Silver Football as Big Ten MVP in 1988 and 1989.

Iowa: No. 24

Nile Kinnick is an Iowa treasure. The stadium is named after him. And his No. 24 will never be worn again.

Maryland: No. 94

The Terrapins have retired three numbers. The most famous is probably Randy White's No. 94. He's a member of both the college and pro football halls of fames.

Michigan: No. 1

The Wolverines have retired five numbers, and they have brought them back out again for select current players as part of their "Legends" series. That's a great way to bring attention to the former stars' legacies. The No. 1 jersey, though, has only been worn by 12 players, most recently wide receiver Devin Funchess last year. All-American Anthony Carter popularized the number for star Wolverines receivers. The "Old 98," worn by Tom Harmon and embraced the last two years by Devin Gardner, is also pretty special.

Michigan State: No. 78

Don Coleman's No. 78 has been out of circulation since 1951, following his senior season. And for good reason, as Coleman was the school's first unanimous All-American, the first African-American assistant coach for the Spartans and the first African-American from Michigan State to make the College Football Hall of Fame.

Minnesota: No. 72

Bronko Nagurski was a unique two-way player, even for his era, and no Golden Gopher could pull off his No. 72 with quite as much style.

Nebraska: Nos. 20 or 60

Take your pick here. Is it Tom "Train Wreck" Novak's No. 60, which has been in mothballs since all the way back in 1949, or does the distinction belong to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers' No. 20, which briefly returned so his son could wear it for the Cornhuskers? Neither choice is the wrong one.

Northwestern: No. 30

Otto Graham's No. 48 remains iconic for the Wildcats, as is Pat Fitzgerald's No. 51. But both remain in use. The only number currently off limits is the No. 30 worn by Rashidi Wheeler, who died during a preseason workout in 2001.

Ohio State: No. 45

The Buckeyes have put seven numbers out to pasture, and perhaps so as not to run out of jersey possibilities, recently decided that all honorees from Troy Smith and his No. 10 on will be "enshrined" -- meaning they can still be worn. Anyway, Archie Griffin's No. 45 is hard to top since he is the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner.

Penn State: No. 22

The Nittany Lions did not retire a single number until 2013, when Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti's No. 22 got the honor. But current running back Akeel Lynch will get to wear that number until his career is over.

Purdue: Nada

The Boilermakers have never retired a football number. You would think Bob Griese's No. 12, Drew Brees' No. 15 and Rod Woodson's No. 26 would be prime candidates.

Rutgers: No. 52

The team has retired one number: 52 to honor Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed in a game and has become arguably the program's top ambassador since.

Wisconsin: No. 83

The Badgers have six retired numbers, including Heisman winners Alan Ameche (No. 35) and Ron Dayne (No. 33). In 1994, Wisconsin retired the No. 83 of Allen Shafer, who died 50 years earlier from injuries incurred in a game. He was only 17.