NCF Nation: Craig Krenzel
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.
Here's a look back at 10 moments that stand out:
1. The Game pits No 1. vs. No. 2 -- Nov. 18, 2006: The Big Ten had the national stage all to itself as its premier rivalry pitted college football's top two teams, No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan, at Ohio Stadium. A day after the death of coaching legend Bo Schembechler, the Buckeyes and Wolverines met in the most anticipated regular-season game ever. Ohio State won, 42-39 and earned the right to play in the BCS National Championship Game.
2. The Flag -- Jan. 3, 2003: It was the most famous -- or infamous -- call of the decade, a pass interference penalty on Miami's Glenn Sharpe that gave Ohio State new life in overtime at the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes went on to tie the game and win in the second overtime for the Big Ten's only national championship in the aughts.
3. JoePa passes The Bear -- Oct. 27, 2001: Joe Paterno became college football's all-time winningest coach as Penn State rallied from a 27-9 deficit to beat Ohio State 29-27 at Beaver Stadium. Paterno's 324th career win pushed him past Paul "Bear" Bryant for the record.
4. Iowa wins bowl on final play -- Jan. 1, 2005: In one of the most exciting bowl game finishes ever, Iowa's Drew Tate found Warren Halloway for a 56-yard touchdown with no time remaining as the Hawkeyes stunned LSU 30-25 in the Capital One Bowl. LSU had taken a 25-24 lead with 46 seconds left before Tate's heroics.
5. Big Ten announces expansion plans -- Dec. 16, 2009: For the first time, the Big Ten publicly announced it would explore the possibility of expansion. More football coaches and athletic directors were behind the movement than ever before, and the league felt that the "time is right" to seriously look into a hot-button issue.
6. Starks' fumble return against Purdue -- Oct. 16, 2004: Purdue entered the game ranked No. 5 nationally and boasted the Heisman Trophy frontrunner in quarterback Kyle Orton. The Boilers led 17-14 late in the fourth quarter when Orton, running for a key first down, lost the ball. Wisconsin's Scott Starks recovered and raced 40 yards for a touchdown. Purdue never recovered that season.
7. Spartans win in Clockgate -- Nov. 3, 2001: Michigan State beat archrival Michigan 26-24 as Jeff Smoker found T.J. Duckett in the end zone with no time remaining. Many believe the Spartans shouldn't have had a chance to run the final play, as the clock could have expired before Smoker spiked the ball on third down.
8. Deaths of Walker and Hoeppner -- June 29, 2006 and June 19, 2007: The Big Ten tragically lost head coaches Randy Walker (Northwestern) and Terry Hoeppner (Indiana). Walker died suddenly of a heart attack weeks before training camp, while Hoeppner lost a battle with brain cancer almost exactly one year later.
9. Michigan beats Penn State on final play -- Oct. 15, 2005: Penn State's quest for a perfect season and a national championship ended on the final play at Michigan Stadium. Chad Henne found Mario Manningham for a 10-yard score as Michigan handed Penn State its only loss.
10. Krenzel to Jenkins on fourth down, Nov. 9, 2002: Ohio State's national title hopes teetered as the offense faced fourth-and-1 with less than two minutes left against Purdue. On a call that surprised everyone, Craig Krenzel threw to Michael Jenkins for a 37-yard touchdown as the Buckeyes rallied for a 10-6 win and went on to the championship.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Greetings from the banks of the Olentangy, where the stadium JumboTron is showing Ohio State's national championship win over Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. Craig Krenzel was a beast in that game.
This has been the first true carnival-like atmosphere I've seen this season. Ohio State fans followed Jim Tressel's advice and wore scarlet to the game. The parking lots surrounding the stadium are filled with scarlet and some blue-and-white. Several members of the Cleveland Glenville High School football team, which produced Ted Ginn Jr. and other Buckeyes standouts, were milling about one of the parking lots. Brutus the Buckeye also was making the rounds. And for the second time this season, I was recognized outside a stadium, this time by a Penn State fan who said he reads the blog daily.
OK, onto the game.
First, the all-important weather report. The forecast calls for chilly temperatures (45-53 degrees) throughout the game, but thankfully no rain. Most of the wet stuff cleared out of here last night, though it wasn't a fun flight from Chicago.
Penn State enters the game 8-0 and ranked No. 3 in the BCS standings. The Nittany Lions have won all eight games by 14 points or more and rank among the top 25 nationally in rushing offense, total offense, scoring offense, rushing defense, total defense, scoring defense, pass defense, turnover margin and kickoff returns. In other words, this might be the most complete team in the country. We'll find out tonight.
Ohio State comes in at 7-1 and ranked No. 9 in the BCS standings. The Buckeyes have won five straight since their disastrous loss at USC and played by far their best game of the season last week at Michigan State. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor hasn't lost as the starter, and running back Chris "Beanie" Wells seems to be getting stronger after missing three games with a right foot/toe injury. The defense also has stiffened in the last two games, rising to 12th nationally in points allowed and 10th in yards allowed.
And finally, here are some things I'll be watching tonight:
Quarterback play and pressure: Both Pryor and Penn State's Daryll Clark haven't looked like first-year starters so far. Neither has lost a game and both engineered big wins on the road. Pryor seems to welcome pressure, whether it was the be-a-man challenge from Wells before the decisive drive at Wisconsin or teammates speculating about a two-quarterback system last week. The freshman's ability to limit mistakes and keep his cool will loom large tonight. Clark has brought a swagger to the huddle and answered questions about his passing ability (152.7 quarterback rating). But Ohio State is the best defense he's seen this season, and his poise on the road will be tested.
Special teams: This is a truly fascinating component of tonight's game. Tressel coaches special teams better than arguably any coach in the country, and the Buckeyes are always solid in the third phase. But it's hard not to give Penn State the edge with senior return man Derrick Williams, who ranks fifth nationally in kick return average (32.2 ypr). The Lions also boast one of the nation's top kickers in senior Kevin Kelly. The team that prevails in special teams likely will be the one walking away with a W.
Offensive line play: Several pundits have targeted Penn State's offensive line as a potential weakness. I just don't see it. The Lions rank sixth nationally in sacks allowed, and their primary running back (Evan Royster) averages 7.7 yards per carry and 111.6 yards per game. Ohio State's front seven will provide a stern challenge, but Penn State's veteran line should be up for it. The Buckeyes offensive line certainly stepped up last week, but this group has underperformed most of the season. Lions defensive Aaron Maybin will be tough to contain, and the Buckeyes need big games from tackles Alex Boone and Bryant Browning.
Intangibles: The stat has been stated throughout the week, and its bears repeating: Penn State has never won at Ohio State as a member of the Big Ten. These current players have nothing to do with that streak, but it could play a role. Ohio State hasn't played a home night game since 2005, when it fell to Texas. But the Buckeyes are 6-1 in home night games since 1959.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Here's a look at 10 players who earned the title of "Captain Clutch" during their Big Ten careers:
Anthony Carter, WR, Michigan [1979-82] -- Carter was only a freshman when he played a part in one of the greatest plays in Michigan history, hauling in a 45-yard touchdown pass as time expired to beat Indiana in 1979. The wideout/return man had 37 touchdown receptions in three seasons.
Kerry Collins, QB, Penn State [1991-94] -- Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, and Collins made his mark the next year. He led the Nittany Lions to a 12-0 record, which included three road victories (Michigan, Indiana, Illinois) by seven points or fewer.
Ron Dayne, RB, Wisconsin [1996-99] -- The NCAA's all-time rushing leader made his mark in big games, winning back-to-back Rose Bowl MVP awards after rushing for 246 yards and 200 yards in Badger victories. Dayne also had a 246-yard effort in his first bowl appearance, a Cotton Bowl win against Utah.
Bob Griese, QB, Purdue [1964-66] -- Griese's near-flawless performance in Purdue's upset of No. 1 Notre Dame in 1965 stands as one of the greatest in team history. The next year he led the Boilermakers to their first Rose Bowl appearance and a 14-13 win against USC.
Brian Griese, QB, Michigan [1994-97] -- After coming off the bench to rally the Wolverines past Ohio State in 1996, Griese cemented himself as a clutch quarterback the next season. He led Michigan to a 12-0 record and a national championship, winning five games by 10 points or fewer, including a 21-16 triumph over Washington State in the Rose Bowl.
Jim Harbaugh, QB, Michigan [1983-86] -- Considered by many to be the best quarterback in school history, Harbaugh led Michigan to a 27-23 win against Nebraska in the 1986 Fiesta Bowl. He won four games by three points or fewer as a senior.
Nile Kinnick, RB, Iowa [1937-39] -- The stadium is named after him for a reason. Kinnick did it all for Iowa, including a 63-yard punt that pinned No. 1 Notre Dame at the 6-yard line in a 7-6 Hawkeyes win in 1939.
Craig Krenzel, QB, Ohio State [2000-03] -- He took heat for his arm strength, but no one could question his late-game toughness. The two-time Fiesta Bowl MVP led Ohio State to a national title in 2002 with his arm and his legs.
Chuck Long, QB, Iowa [1981-85] -- A dramatic fourth-down touchdown run against Michigan State kicked off a memorable 1985 season for the Hawkeyes and Long, who many believe should have won the Heisman Trophy. Two weeks later, Long rallied Iowa past Michigan.
Mike Nugent, PK, Ohio State [2001-04] -- Record-setting kicker was nearly unshakable under pressure. He kicked game-tying and game-winning field goals to beat Purdue in overtime in 2003, and his game-winning 55-yard kick against Marshall stands out in an otherwise forgettable 2004 season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Some of you probably saw the headline and spilled coffee all over your pants. He must have amnesia, you're thinking. Didn't he watch the last two national title games?
True, Ohio State was anything but clutch in back-to-back center-stage flops, especially after entering the 2006 championship as a heavy favorite. But I like to look at the larger picture, and in the last few seasons, no Big Ten team has consistently been better under pressure than Ohio State.
Since 2002, the Buckeyes are 25-7 in games decided by 11 points or fewer. The team's 2002 national championship run was defined by close victories, as quarterback Craig Krenzel & Co. claimed eight games by 11 points or fewer -- the final four contests by a touchdown or less. From Will Allen picking off Michigan's John Navarre near the goal line to seal a win in 2002, to Mike Nugent repeatedly connecting on pressure-packed kicks, to Krenzel's Fiesta Bowl heroics against both Miami and Kansas State, the Buckeyes have come up big over and over. Oh, and they've beaten Michigan four consecutive times and six times in the last seven years. Performances like those in what is always the biggest game on the schedule qualifies as clutch.
Ohio State's crunch-time poise has dipped a bit since 2003, and last season's home loss to Illinois raised some red flags. But Heisman Trophy contender Beanie Wells consistently makes big plays in big games. If quarterback Todd Boeckman solidifies his clutchness (is that a verb?) during a tough road schedule this fall, Ohio State will be back in the national title mix.