Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Top Big Ten moments from 2010
By Adam Rittenberg
It's time to look back at some of the top moments from the 2010 Big Ten season. I struggled to get this down to just 10, but here are the moments that made the cut.
Joe Paterno is the only FBS coach with 400 wins.
1. JoePa wins No. 400: It took a little longer than expected, but Penn State gave coach Joe Paterno his 400th career victory in dramatic fashion. The Lions rallied from a 21-0 halftime deficit and mounted the biggest comeback of the Paterno era to beat Northwestern 35-21. Beaver Stadium remained full as almost everyone stuck around to witness an unforgettable postgame ceremony honoring JoePa.
2. Little Giants: Mark Dantonio made the call of the year to help Michigan State beat Notre Dame in overtime Sept. 18. Rather than attempt a potential game-tying field goal, the Spartans went with "Little Giants," a fake where punter/holder Aaron Bates passes to a (hopefully) open receiver. Tight end Charlie Gantt sneaked behind Notre Dame's defense, caught the ball and trotted in for the game-winning score.
3. Pryor's fourth-down scramble: Ohio State's run of five consecutive Big Ten titles was in serious jeopardy in a Nov. 20 game against Iowa. The Buckeyes trailed 17-13 late in the fourth quarter and receiver DeVier Posey had dropped a wide-open pass in the end zone, setting up fourth-and-10. But quarterback Terrelle Pryor scrambled 14 yards for a first down and Ohio State went on to record the game-winning score moments later.
4. Runaway Robinson: Michigan's Denard Robinson had a record-setting start to the season, and his signature play came Sept. 11 at Notre Dame. Late in the first half, Robinson shot through a gap and raced 87 yards for a Michigan touchdown. It marked the longest run in Notre Dame Stadium history as Robinson broke his own record for Big Ten quarterback rushing. Robinson also led Michigan's game-winning touchdown drive in the closing minutes.
5. Gilreath's opening statement: Special teams plays largely defined Wisconsin's run to the Rose Bowl, and Gilreath made a huge one to open an Oct. 16 game against No. 1 Ohio State. The senior receiver returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown as Camp Randall Stadium quaked. The return set the tone for Wisconsin's 31-18 win, its first against a top-ranked team since 1981.
6. Divisions set, division names decried: The Big Ten revealed its new division alignment on the eve of the regular season, and for the most part the league received praise for its efforts. It was a very different story in December when the Big Ten revealed its new division names, Legends and Leaders, which failed to connect with fans and brought an onslaught of criticism.
7. Spartans win one for Dantonio: Dantonio was supposed to return to Spartan Stadium on Oct. 2 after recovering from a heart attack that took place following the Notre Dame win, but a blood clot forced him back to the hospital. Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell guided the Spartans to a huge win against Wisconsin, make several gutsy play calls along the way. After the game, Dantonio spoke to the team through a cell phone in the locker room. Michigan State showed incredible composure during Dantonio's absence.
8. Bittersweet end for Persa: Few players in the country meant more to their teams than quarterback Dan Persa did to Northwestern, a fact underscored Nov. 13 and in the weeks that followed. Persa led a furious fourth-quarter rally against Iowa and fired the go-ahead touchdown pass with 1:22 left. He also ruptured his Achilles' tendon on the play, ending his season. Although Northwestern held on to beat Iowa 21-17, the Wildcats weren't the same without Persa, dropping their final three games.
9. Bowl heroics from Hyde, Thomas: I'll combine two huge moments into one as Big Ten defenders made game-saving plays in bowls. Iowa's season appeared headed toward a fitting end before cornerback Micah Hyde picked off a pass and raced 72 yards for the winning touchdown against Missouri in the Insight Bowl. A week later, Ohio State defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, one of five suspended players allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl, recorded the first interception of his football career at any level to preserve a Buckeyes' win against Arkansas.
10. Wisconsin trounces Hoosiers: Wisconsin's 83-20 pasting of Indiana on Nov. 13 became one of the more talked-about games of the Big Ten season. Some contended that Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema ran up the score, a common criticism of Bielema this fall. Those who actually studied the game saw it more as a culmination for Wisconsin's record-setting offense, which produced three 1,000-yard running backs.