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Monday, January 14, 2013
Big Ten's best moments from 2012

By Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten had a mostly forgettable season in 2012, and most are anxious to turn the page to 2013. But the fall did provide some memorable moments around the league.

Here are a few …

Miller's mastery: Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller put himself on the Heisman Trophy radar with dazzling moves and long runs, but his most memorable play covered only a yard. Facing third-and-goal, Miller looked like he would be stopped on a zone-read play, but he executed a video game-like juke, scooted past Penn State All-Big Ten linebacker Gerald Hodges and leaped into the end zone for the touchdown. The score gave Ohio State a 21-10 lead, and the Buckeyes went on to win 35-23.

Barry's back: After Bret Bielema surprisingly left Wisconsin for Arkansas three days after winning the Big Ten championship game, the Badgers needed a coach for the Rose Bowl, and the seniors knew where to turn. They asked former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez to lead the team, and Alvarez quickly agreed. Alvarez provided several great moments during his month as coach, including a ridiculously entertaining news conference in which he delivered the quote of the year in the Big Ten: "I won't use a search committee. Most search committees use me." The return tour culminated with Alvarez strolling the sideline at the Rose Bowl, just like old times.

Le'Veon Bell
Le'Veon Bell's hurdle was one of the few bright spots in Michigan State's season.
Penn State punctuates season: Few expected much from Penn State after a turbulent summer that brought severe NCAA sanctions and a mini exodus that included star running back Silas Redd. But first-year coach Bill O'Brien and a steadfast senior class kept the team on track. Following an 0-2 start, the Lions won eight of their final 10 games to finish in second place in the Leaders division. The season culminated in an emotion-charged senior day in State College, as Penn State honored the seniors on the stadium facade and the Lions outlasted Wisconsin 24-21 in overtime. Fittingly, kicker Sam Ficken, whose struggles led to Penn State's Week 2 loss at Virginia, hit the game-winning field goal from 37 yards out.

Roundtree to the rescue: Michigan found itself in serious danger of dropping its first home game under coach Brady Hoke as it took possession at its own 38-yard line with no timeouts and 18 seconds left. Needing a field goal to tie Northwestern, quarterback Devin Gardner heaved the ball downfield toward senior receiver Roy Roundtree, who amazingly faced only single coverage. The pass appeared to be too far, but Roundtree battled defensive back Daniel Jones, tipped the ball in the air and then made an amazing catch at the Northwestern 9-yard line. Michigan went on to win in overtime and keep alive its hopes for a Legends division title.

Buckeye backups rise: Ohio State recorded the sixth undefeated, untied season in team history, but it wouldn't have happened without some huge performances from little-used players against Purdue. The Buckeyes were on the ropes, trailing Purdue 22-14 with 47 seconds left, no timeouts and the ball at their own 39-yard line. Quarterback Miller was in the hospital getting his neck examined. Backup quarterback Kenny Guiton led the offense downfield and found a diving Chris Fields for a touchdown with three seconds left. Fields' first touchdown grab set up a 2-point conversion, and Ohio State went on to win in overtime.

Ball becomes touchdown king: Montee Ball's senior season didn't start off well, as the Wisconsin star was the victim of an assault this summer and struggled in September. But Ball provided his typical late-season surge and put up excellent numbers in Big Ten play (1,168 rush yards, 16 TDs). He set several records down the stretch, none more significant than the NCAA's all-time touchdowns record, which he secured on a first-quarter scoring run Nov. 24 at Penn State. Although he didn't make it back to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, he won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back.

Osborne leads Nebraska out of tunnel: Tom Osborne announced his retirement as Nebraska's athletic director in September, and the team honored its living legend before its final home game Nov. 17 against Minnesota. Osborne, who coached the Huskers from 1973-97, joined the team for its famous tunnel walk and led the Huskers onto the field before an adoring crowd at Memorial Stadium. Although Osborne certainly isn't going anyway, the emotional tribute allowed Nebraska fans to recognize him one final time.

Northwestern's bowl bonanza: Bowl games are no longer rarities for Northwestern, but the program's inability to win a bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl cast a shadow over its recent accomplishments. The Wildcats finally got the bowl monkey off of their backs by thumping Mississippi State 34-20 on Jan. 1, setting off an emotional celebration for Pat Fitzgerald and his players. In a jubilant locker room the team tore apart the stuffed monkey that had symbolized its postseason futility. The victory gave Northwestern just its third 10-win season in team history, and made Fitzgerald the program's all-time winningest coach (50 victories).

Bo knows: After Ohio State humbled his Nebraska team Oct. 6 in Columbus, coach Bo Pelini calmly delivered a statement that would carry the Huskers to a Legends division title. "We need to win out," Pelini said. "We have six weeks. And we need to win the next six football games. Get to Indianapolis." And indeed they did, as Nebraska shook off the blowout loss and became Team Comeback, rallying to beat Northwestern and Michigan State on the road and Penn State at home. The Huskers embraced the urgency of the situation and made it to Indianapolis for the league title game.

Le'Veon's leap: Michigan State didn't have many memorable moments, and neither did the Big Ten during nonleague play, but Spartans star running back Le'Veon Bell provided one in the season opener against Boise State. The 6-foot-2, 237-pound junior hurdled a Boise State defender on Michigan State's third play from scrimmage, delighting the Spartan Stadium crowd. It became somewhat of a signature move for Bell, who racked up 266 yards on a whopping 44 carries against the Broncos in the first of many workhorse-like performances this season. Michigan State won the game 17-13, giving the Big Ten one of few solid nonleague victories.

Iowa's Weis-man: Like Michigan State, Iowa fell short of expectations this season and struggled to generate offense. And like the Spartans, the Hawkeyes could hang their hat on a big, bruising ball-carrier, although one few anticipated would do much this season. Fullback Mark Weisman, a walk-on who transferred from Air Force, announced himself with a 113-yard, three-touchdown performance in a Week 3 win against Northern Iowa. Weisman racked up 623 rush yards and eight touchdowns during a brilliant four-week stretch before being slowed by injuries.