Fans love to debate it: What were the best bowl games in my school’s history? Well, with the postseason on our doorstep, here are my picks for the top three postseason efforts for the 10 Big Ten schools in action this season. Let the debate begin. You can bet there are a lot of Rose Bowl games listed in this post. What makes The Grandaddy of Them All so special?
TOP 3 ILLINOIS BOWLS
1. 1952 ROSE BOWL, Illinois 40, Stanford 7
Stanford led, 7-6, late in the third quarter. But that’s when coach Ray Eliot’s Illini exploded with 34 unanswered points to run away with victory. Illinois was led by RB Bill Tate, who ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns in helping the Illini total 434 yards of offense. This was the Big Ten’s sixth win in a row at the Rose Bowl. The victory also secured national championship recognition for the Illini from one outlet
2. 1964 ROSE BOWL, Illinois 17, Washington 7
Led by Dick Butkus and Jim Grabowski, the Fighting Illini weren’t going to be denied. Playing center and linebacker, Butkus recovered a fumble, picked off a pass and limited the Huskies to 59 yards rushing and 71 yards passing. Grabowski led the way on offense, running for 125 yards en route to earning Rose Bowl MVP honors.
3. 1984 ROSE BOWL, UCLA 45, Illinois 9
A spectacular season ended with a thud, but this trip to Pasadena still was memorable for a Mike White coached Illinois team led by QB Jack Trudeau and DT Don Thorp. It was the school’s first trip to the Rose Bowl since the 1963 season. And this was the first Big Ten ever to beat all nine league foes, as the conference schedule uniquely featured each team playing every other team. Alas, the unranked Bruins jumped on the Illini quickly, taking a 28-3 halftime lead and never looking back. UCLA QB Rick Neuheisel was the game MVP with 298 yards passing and four touchdowns. Illinois had zero yards rushing and Trudeau tossed three picks.
TOP 3 IOWA BOWLS
1. 1959 ROSE BOWL Iowa 38, Cal 12
The victory allowed Iowa to split the national championship with LSU, as Hawkeye RB Bob Jeter led Iowa to the convincing victory over Pete Elliott and Cal. It was the Big Ten’s 12th victory in the last 13 Rose Bowls. This was supposed to be a passing game between Iowa QB Randy Duncan and Cal QB Joe Kapp, but Iowa’s rushing attack dominated. The heavily favored Hawkeyes jumped to a 14-0 edge and kept on rolling while piling up a Rose Bowl record 441 yards rushing with Jeter leading the way with 194 on the ground, including an 81-yard jaunt.
2. 1982 ROSE BOWL Washington 28, Iowa 0
Yes, it was a loss for the Hawkeyes. But just getting to the holy grail of the Rose Bowl was a huge feat for a long-suffering Iowa program that was about to take off under Hayden Fry. Iowa finished with its first winning record since 1961 and was making its first bowl appearance since the trip to the Rose Bowl after the 1958 season. Hawkeye QB Gordie Bohannon committed four turnovers to doom Iowa in the first shutout in the Rose Bowl since 1953, making it 11 wins in the last 13 Rose Bowls for the Pac-10.
3. 1957 ROSE BOWL Iowa 35, Oregon State 19
Forest Evashevski’s Hawkeyes ran away from Tommy Prothro’s Beavers, getting a big effort from QB Kenny Ploen. He hit 9-of-10 passes and ran for 59 yards while tallying the opening touchdown. Iowa never looked back, as the Beavers were hurt by three lost fumbles.
TOP 3 MICHGAN BOWLS
1. 1998 ROSE, Michigan 21, Washington State 16
The Wolverines entered the game vs. Ryan Leaf and Washington State ranked No. 1. And Michigan didn’t disappoint behind Heisman winning CB Charles Woodson in dispatching a Cougar team that was making its first Rose Bowl trip since 1931. The victory capped an unbeaten season and was the Wolverines’ first national championship since 1948 under Bennie Oosterbaan, though Michigan shared the title with Nebraska. Michigan QB Brian Griese was named the MVP of the Rose Bowl, which was in its last year of not being part of the BCS system.
2. 1981 ROSE BOWL, Michigan 23, Washington 6
Bo Schembechler entered the game 0-7 in bowls, prompting writers to crack jokes like: “It’s bowl time, so they’re playing Michigan’s song again. You know, ‘Taps.’ ” Another: “Why doesn’t Bo Schembechler eat cereal for breakfast? He’s afraid he’d lose the bowl.” But Bo buried his bowl demons vs. U-Dub behind a defense that dominated all season. Michigan didn’t yield a touchdown in the last 18 quarters of the regular season and allowed only 10 first-quarter points and three touchdown passes all season. The defense was good enough on this day and got an assistant from game MVP Butch Woolfolk, who ran for 182 yards. The players carried Schembechler off the field on their shoulders, as the Wolverines finished the season ranked No. 4 in both polls.
3. 1965 ROSE BOWL, Michigan 34, Oregon State 7
The Wolverines ended a 14-year bowl drought with a convincing victory over the Beavers. Michigan hadn’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1951, and the year before had finished seventh in the Big Ten and no higher than a tie for fifth under Bump Elliott. So this was a breakthrough for the program and helped set it in motion for a dominating run that began in the late 1960s and carried on for the next 30 years. The Wolverines broke open a close game in the second half behind the play of Rose Bowl MVP Mel Anthony.
TOP 3 MICHIGAN STATE BOWLS
1. 1956 ROSE BOWL, Michigan State 17, UCLA 14
The Spartans entered the game No. 2 in the nation and were tabbed national champs by one outlet following the victory. Michigan State won a close game thanks to a run of three consecutive penalties vs. the Bruins that ultimately set up the Spartans with a game-winning 41-yard field goal attempt with seven seconds left in the contest. Ironically, it was the first field-goal attempt of Dave Kaiser’s career. And he delivered. In addition to MSU winning a national crown, this game was noteworthy because if featured two of the most racially integrated teams in the nation with six African-Americans on UCLA and seven on Michigan State.
2. 1988 ROSE BOWL, Michigan State 20, USC 17
This is the last time the Spartans have played in the Rose Bowl. And it’s a good memory. Ironically, these teams opened the season vs. each other, with the Spartans taking a 27-13 decision in East Lansing. The rematch in Pasadena was a defensive battle. MSU LB Percy Snow took game MVP honors by notching 17 solo tackles, as the Trojans committed four turnovers. After USC tied the game, 17-17, in the fourth quarter, Spartan K John Langeloh nailed a game-winning 36-yard field goal with four minutes remaining. The Big Ten had lost 16 of the previous 18 Rose Bowls.
3. 1954 ROSE BOWL, Michigan State 28, UCLA 20
Biggie Munn announced his retirement prior to the game, which may have motivated the Spartans in their first Rose Bowl appearance. This also was Michigan State’s first official season in the Big Ten. The school had joined in 1950 but didn’t play a full schedule until 1953. The Bruins raced to a 14-0 lead before the Spartans battled back. And with the game tied, 20-20, Michigan State’s Billy Wells ran back a punt 62 yards for a touchdown and the winning score. And Wells was named MVP of the Rose Bowl for his efforts.
TOP 3 NEBRASKA BOWLS
1. 1996 FIESTA BOWL, Nebraska 62, Florida 24
This was the second national title salvo in a dominating mid-1990s run by Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers annihilated Steve Spurrier’s “Fun ‘N’ Gun” offense en route to ruling the college football world for a second season in a row. The Gator defense had minimal success, too, in this national championship contest between No.1 Nebraska and No. 2 Florida. This game not only provided Nebraska with its second national title in succession, it also provided the school with one of its most iconic plays. In the third quarter, Husker QB Tommie Frazier kept on an option, shook off four Gator tacklers and stormed for a 75-yard touchdown run that epitomized Nebraska’s dominance in the 1990s.
2. 1971 ORANGE BOWL, Nebraska 17, LSU 12
Bob Devaney’s Nebraska squad was fortunate to be in a spot to win the national title, as No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Ohio State lost to open the door for the Cornhuskers. And the Huskers didn’t disappoint, rallying from a 12-10 fourth-quarter hole to prevail over the Bayou Bengals. Nebraska QB Jerry Tagge finished a 67-yard drive with a goal-line plunge that capped victory and brought the Huskers their first national championship.
3. 1995 ORANGE BOWL, Nebraska 24, Miami 17
Tom Osborne had come so close to winning national titles, often seeing them slip away in Orange Bowl losses (Remember the 1983 loss to Miami?). But not this time. The Cornhuskers delivered Dr. Tom his first crown, punctuated by two fourth-quarter touchdown runs by FB Corey Schlesinger. The defense then finished the job with a pair of sacks and an interception. This was the first title in a dominating run by Nebraska, which won again the next season and also claimed a share of the crown after the 1997 season in what was Osborne’s final year.
TOP 3 NORTHWESTERN BOWLS
1. 1949 ROSE BOWL, Northwestern 20, Cal 14
This was the Wildcats’ first bowl berth—and to date the program’s only postseason victory. Led by future pro baseball star Jackie Jensen, Cal was heavily favored under coach Pappy Waldorf, who was Northwestern coach from 1935-46 before leaving to coach the Golden Bears. The Wildcats needed a disputed touchdown by FB Art Murakowksi, whose fumble while hitting paydirt is ruled a touchdown despite photographic evidence that says otherwise. Frank Aschenbrenner earned Rose Bowl MVP honors retroactively.
2. 1996 ROSE BOWL, USC 41, Northwestern 32
When Gary Barnett took the Northwestern job, he promised to “take the purple to Pasadena.” And he delivered. But USC was too much, with a pair of Brad Otton-to-Keyshawn Johnson touchdown strikes dooming Northwestern. Johnson finished with 12 catches for a Rose Bowl-record 216 yards to earn game MVP honors. The Wildcats got 110 yards rushing and three touchdowns from RB Darnell Autry and 336 yards passing from QB Steve Schnur. But it wasn’t enough for a program making its first postseason appearance since the 1949 Rose Bowl.
3. 1997 Citrus Bowl, Tennessee 48, Northwestern 28
The Wildcats won the Big Ten for a second season in a row but were relegated to the Citrus Bowl where they encountered superstar Tennessee QB Peyton Manning. And he was too good, throwing for 408 yards and four touchdowns. Prior to the game, several Northwestern players came down with the flu, including star RB Darnell Autry. The Wildcats kept it close in the first half, but the Volunteers overwhelmed Northwestern in the second half with their athletic ability, speed and depth.
TOP 3 OHIO STATE BOWLS
1. 2003 FIESTA BOWL, Ohio State 31, Miami 24 2 OTs
Facing a Miami team that was riding a 34-game winning streak with a roster loaded with myriad future NFL players like Willis McGahee, Antrel Rolle, Andre Johnson, Jonathan Vilma and Kellen Winslow Jr., among others, Ohio State was supposed to have little chance to win this national title matchup. But the Buckeyes relied on a strong defense to carry them through a double-overtime thriller that many call one of the best games in college football history. There were great back-and-forth exchanges, a controversial pass-interference penalty and an epic final stand by the Ohio State defense to give the Buckeyes’ their first national title since 1968.
2. 1969 ROSE BOWL, Ohio State 27, USC 16
Behind the play of “super sophomores” like QB Rex Kern, the game’s MVP, No. 1 Ohio State capped an unbeaten season and national championship with a convincing triumph over No. 2 USC. Heisman winning USC RB O.J. Simpson rambled for 171 yards rushing, but the Trojans were undone by five turnovers. This was the first Rose Bowl since the 1963 edition to pit No. 1 vs. No. 2 and was the first Granddaddy of Them All to feature two unbeatens. It also would be Woody Hayes’ final national title.
3. 1955 ROSE BOWL, Ohio State 20, USC 7
This was Woody Hayes’ first Rose Bowl. And he and the Buckeyes delivered in sloppy conditions to secure a share of what was the first split national championship in college football annals. And it was Hayes’ first national crown, and it came in some of the worst conditions in Rose Bowl annals. Ohio State shared the national championship with UCLA, which wasn’t allowed to play the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl because of the “no repeat” rule. Ohio State was led by QB Dave Leggett, the game MVP, and RB Hopalong Cassady, who would win the Heisman the next season.
TOP 3 PENN STATE BOWLS
1. 1987 FIESTA BOWL, Penn State 14, Miami 10
This battle between No. 1 Miami and No. 2 Penn State with the national championship on the line is considered one of college football’s iconic games. The Hurricanes rolled into the contest looking unbeatable and in the midst of a dynasty. Penn State? It looked more pedestrian and was a decided underdog. But the Nittany Lions turned in a stellar defensive performance, picking off Heisman winning QB Vinny Testaverde five times en route to pulling off the remarkable upset and winning its second national championship in four seasons despite being out gained, 445-162.
2. 1983 SUGAR BOWL, Penn State 27, Georgia 23
The national championship was on the line with No. 1 Georgia battling No. 2 Penn State. And after coming close a number of times, including a heart-breaking 14-7 loss to Alabama in the 1979 Sugar Bowl, the Nittany Lions finally won the national title for Joe Paterno. Penn State was fueled by RB Curt Warner, who out gained Heisman winning RB Herschel Walker, 117-103. QB Todd Blackledge also had a strong game, hitting 13-of-23 passes for 228 yards with a touchdown. It was his 47-yard touchdown pass to Gregg Garrity that sealed the game with the Bulldogs threatening late after rallying from a 20-3 first-half deficit.
3. 1995 ROSE BOWL, Penn State, 38, Oregon 20
In just its second season in the Big Ten, Penn State advanced to the league’s crown jewel event as the first Big Ten team to go unbeaten in league play since Ohio State in 1968. The Nittany Lions entered the game ranked No. 2 and thinking national title vs. a Ducks team that was making its first Rose Bowl appearance since 1958. RB Ki-Jana Carter—the Heisman runner-up–set the tone by running 83 yards for a touchdown on the Nits’ first offensive play en route to 156 yards on the ground. And they never looked back in the school’s first Rose Bowl since 1923. Nebraska went on to claim the national title, as this was the fourth Joe Paterno team to go unbeaten and not win the national title.
TOP 3 PURDUE BOWLS
1. 1967 ROSE BOWL, Purdue 14, USC 13
Led by QB Bob Griese, the Boilermakers hung on for victory vs. USC in Purdue’s first Rose Bowl appearance. The Trojans scored a late touchdown and opted to go for two points and the win. But George Catavolos intercepted the conversion pass and the Boilermakers held on for victory behind coach Jack Mollenkopf. Purdue DB John Charles was named game MVP, while Griese hit 10-of-18 passes for 139 yards with Perry Williams scoring both of Purdue’s touchdowns on short runs.
2. 2001 ROSE BOWL, Washington 34, Purdue 24
Fueled by the passing of QB Drew Brees, the Boilermakers ended a long Rose Bowl drought that dated to the 1966 season. Washington led, 20-17, entering the fourth quarter. But that’s when the Huskies took over and outscored the Boilers, 14-7, to close the game with game MVP Marques Tuiasosopo leading the way for Washington. Brees passed for 275 yards and two scores, but it wasn’t enough, as the Huskies dominated the second half with 331 yards (245 on the ground) while holding the ball for 23:29.
3. 1998 ALAMO BOWL, Purdue 37, Kansas State 34
While the win over Tennessee in the Bluebonnet Bowl in 1979 capped the lone 10-win season in Purdue annals, no Boiler bowl game can top the drama and excitement of this meeting with Kansas State. The Wildcats entered the game ranked No. 4, seeing a shot at playing for the national title dashed with an upset loss in the Big 12 title game. The Boilermakers came in unranked. Didn’t matter. Drew Brees led Purdue to the improbable victory with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Jones in the waning moments. Brees finished with 230 yards passing but got a big assist from an attacking Boilermaker defense led by E Rosevelt Colvin, who shared game MVP honors with Brees.
TOP 3 WISCONSIN BOWLS
1. 1994 ROSE BOWL, Wisconsin 21, UCLA 16
Brent Moss powered the Badgers to victory in the school’s first Rose Bowl since 1963, as Wisconsin was beginning an ascent under Barry Alvarez after he took over a moribund program in 1990. Moss ran for 158 yards and two scores to earn game MVP honors in the school’s first bowl since 1984. Wisconsin also was fueled by six UCLA turnovers. Badger QB Darrell Bevell ran 23 yards for the deciding score in the fourth quarter on a day when the Rose Bowl was drenched in red-clad Wisconsin fans who had waited years for this day.
2. 1999 ROSE BOWL Wisconsin 38, UCLA 31
The foe and the venue were familiar, as these schools met four years earlier in the Rose Bowl. RB Ron Dayne tied a Rose Bowl record with four touchdowns to lead the Badgers to victory, beating a UCLA team led by QB Cade McNown that was poised to play for the national championship until losing its season finale at Miami (Fla.). The theme of the day was offense, as the squads combined for a Rose Bowl record 1,035 yards with Badger QB Mike Samuel passing to balance Dayne’s powerful runs.
3. 2000 ROSE BOWL, Wisconsin 17, Stanford 9
Wisconsin became the first Big Ten team to win back to back Rose Bowls. And Ron Dayne earned Rose Bowl MVP honors for a second season in a row during a season in which he also won the Heisman Trophy. Dayne was only the third player to win two Rose Bowl MVP honors, and the first Big Ten player to turn the trick. Dayne, who became the all-time leading rushing in NCAA Division I-A annals this season, finished with 200 yards rushing vs. Stanford. The Badgers trailed, 9-3, in the third quarter before a Dayne touchdown run put Wisconsin up for good vs. Tyrone Willingham’s Cardinal.
Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com. Find all of his work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow Dienhart on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his RSS feed.