One look back at Big Ten's best BCS era teams

The BCS era is over, and to me that is a very good thing. The era ran 16 seasons stretching from 1998-2013. As a way to celebrate the end of the BCS and with an eye on the first college football playoff after next season, I present to you my 10 best Big Ten teams of the BCS era.

Agree? Disagree? State your case in the comments section below or drop me a note for my mailbag. And if you want a sneak peek at 2014 preseason rankings, I wrote about one I found a little while ago, but it’s still to early to look ahead. Instead, let’s look back with my list.

1. Ohio State, 2002

No one saw the greatness coming in Jim Tressel’s second Buckeye team, as OSU was coming off a 7-5 season. Was Craig Krenzel REALLY a national championship-caliber quarterback? Hey, he did the job—with a huge assist from mercurial running back Maurice Clarett and a monster defense paced by cornerback Chris Gamble and safety Mike Doss. This team mastered the art of winning the close game—13-7 vs. Penn State; 10-6 vs. Purdue; 23-16 vs. Illinois in OT; 14-9 vs. Michigan. And no tilt was closer than the 31-24 double OT national championship game triumph vs. a heavily favored Miami (Fla.) team in the Fiesta Bowl. No Big Ten squad has won it all since.

[ MORE: Watch the full episode of “Big Ten Elite: Ohio State 2002” on BTN2Go ]


2. Michigan State, 2013

This recently-minted Spartans squad was one of the greatest in Big Ten history. Yes, you read that correctly. MSU won every Big Ten game by double-digits, a feat never before accomplished in the conference in the eight-league-game era. Paced by Thorpe Award winner Darqueze Dennard, the defense was dominating, and the offense morphed from pathetic to pretty potent for a 13-1 team that finished No. 3 in the nation.


3. Ohio State, 1998

This was a boffo squad that began the season ranked No. 1 and had national championship material. Joe Germaine quarterbacked the squad to an 11-1 mark that culminated with a win over Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl and a No. 2 ranking. The team featured three No. 1 picks in the 1999 NFL draft in WR David Boston; DB Antoine Winfield; LB Andy Katzenmoyer. The only blemish was a 28-24 loss in Columbus to a Nick Saban-coached Michigan State team on Nov. 7 when OSU was ranked No. 1. Mention of the game to this day elicits groans from Buckeye faithful.


4. Ohio State, 2006

Led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Troy Smith, the Buckeyes went wire-to-wire in the regular season at No. 1, capping it with a victory in the iconic No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown vs. Michigan to finish 12-0 and earn a spot in the BCS title game. Alas, the Buckeyes were dumped by Tim Tebow and Florida in the BCS title game. This was a star-studded roster with players like Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez, Malcolm Jenkins, James Laurinaitis and Nick Mangold, all of whom were first-round draft choices.

[ MORE: Watch Ohio State vs. Michigan from 2006 on BTN2Go ]


5. Iowa, 2002

This team often gets engulfed by the shadow of the Ohio State squad that won the national title in the same season. But make no mistake about it: This Hawkeyes bunch was special, capping an 11-2 season (8-0 Big Ten) with an Orange Bowl loss to mighty USC. Not bad for a team that began the season unranked. Quarterback Brad Banks was the Heisman runner-up. Other studs were tight end Dallas Clark, kicker Nate Kaeding, guard Eric Steinbach and center Bruce Nelson.

[ MORE: Watch Iowa vs. Purdue from 2002 on BTN2Go ]


6. Ohio State, 2007

Coming off a BCS title game loss the previous season, Ohio State opened the 2007 season ranked No. 10 led by players like James Laurinaitis, Vernon Gholston, Marcus Freeman and Beanie Wells. The wins kept piling up, as the Buckeyes opened 10-0 and reached No. 1. Then came a stunning 28-21 loss at home to Illinois that looked to trash Ohio State’s BCS title game hopes. But some crazy upsets on the last weekend of the season opened the door for the Buckeyes to reach the championship game for a second season in succession. Alas, Ohio State fell to LSU in the title game.


7. Wisconsin, 2010

A powerful Bret Bielema-coached squad that was led by John Clay, Lance Kendricks, J.J. Watt and Gabe Carimi, the Badgers lost just one regular-season game as they fell 34-24 at Michigan State on Oct. 2. Wisconsin closed with seven wins before advancing to the Rose Bowl to play No. 3 TCU. The No. 4 Badgers got tripped, 21-19, sullying an otherwise stellar 12-1 season.


8. Wisconsin, 1999

This team was fueled by big Ron Dayne, who ran for 1,834 yards en route to becoming the all-time leading rusher in major college history and winning the Heisman Trophy. The Badgers finished 10-2 overall and 7-1 in Big Ten, winning their last eight games after opening the season 2-2. Wisconsin finished No. 4 in the nation after topping Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

[ MORE: Watch the full 2000 Rose Bowl with Wisconsin vs. Stanford on BTN2Go ]


9. Wisconsin, 1998

A talented Badger club led by Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Tom Burke, Ron Dayne, Aaron Gibson and Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin surprised by running to an 11-1 season that was capped by a Rose Bowl triumph vs. UCLA. The Badgers opened 9-0 and rose to No. 8 in the nation before a 27-10 loss at Michigan. Craig James infamously called Wisconsin the “worst team to ever play in the Rose Bowl.” After knocking off the Bruins, Barry Alvarez said: “Well, I know we’re at least the second worst.” Touche. Wisconsin ranked No. 5 at season’s end.

[ MORE: Watch the full 1999 Rose Bowl with Wiscosnin vs. UCLA on BTN2Go ]


10. Michigan State, 2010

This squad went 11-2 overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten to share the Big Ten title with Wisconsin. Things could have been even better if not for a loss to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. Remember that the lone regular-season loss was at Iowa. Still, MSU finished No. 14 after reaching as high as No. 5 with Kirk Cousins and Greg Jones leading the way. This was the first of a current four-season run of excellence for Mark Dantonio’s program that has seen the Spartans win two league titles, post a double-digit victory total three times and win a Rose Bowl.

[ MORE: Watch the full Michigan State vs. Notre Dame game on BTN2Go ]


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.


Your Opinion?
Show Comments (29 Comments)
Don on 1/16/2014 @ 1:30pm EDT Said:

2010 Michigan State is on this list over 2005 Penn State? Or even 2005 Ohio State? You’ve got to be kidding me.

dfvc on 1/16/2014 @ 1:31pm EDT Said:

2009 Iowa? Killed unstoppable Georgia Tech

Mike on 1/16/2014 @ 1:36pm EDT Said:

How can you leave off 2005 Penn State? 11-1 overall (only loss was to Michigan, the controversial game that had 2 seconds added back to the clock, giving UM 1 final play to win the game).

PSU won the Orange Bowl that year and finished #3 in the country.

Don on 1/16/2014 @ 2:04pm EDT Said:

Mike – 2010 MSU finished with 2 losses and ranked #14. That’s obviously superior to PSU’s 2005 season. /sarcasm

Skip on 1/16/2014 @ 2:20pm EDT Said:

No 2009 Iowa? The list is flawed without it.

Tim on 1/16/2014 @ 3:39pm EDT Said:

2006 Michigan was far better than 2010 MSU, come on now

Derrin on 1/16/2014 @ 3:41pm EDT Said:

(Sarcasm) there weren’t enough OSU teams on that list…

Steven on 1/16/2014 @ 4:11pm EDT Said:

1997 Michigan Wolverines – National champs – Heisman Trophy winner

Trent on 1/16/2014 @ 4:22pm EDT Said:

Nice troll Dienhart. I’m guessing you got really tired around 6 or 7 and just mailed the rest in so you could take a nap.

Steve Dailey on 1/16/2014 @ 4:48pm EDT Said:

The 1999 UM team had two losses. Both close. One to a very good MSU team the other two a decent Illinois team. They beat a top 10 ranked Alabama team in the Rose Bowl. The 2010 MSU team was among the most overrated in recent conference history. After playing a light non-con schedule they were blown out on the road against Iowa, Then were crushed in the bowl against Alabama.

Ian on 1/16/2014 @ 5:39pm EDT Said:

2006 Michigan is equivalent to the 2002 Iowa team. Went 11-2 with losses at #1 Ohio State and USC in a BCS bowl. Allowed 43 rushing yards per game, by far the best in the country – and that was after OSU and USC had success running against them.

Dave on 1/16/2014 @ 5:52pm EDT Said:

The 2005 Penn State team season was vacated bc of the NCAA sanctions…I’m assuming that is why it is not on the list

Matt on 1/16/2014 @ 6:45pm EDT Said:

There weren’t enough OSU teams on that list…(NOT sarcasm)

Doug on 1/16/2014 @ 7:10pm EDT Said:

Tim, nice joke, the 2010 MSU team would have beaten down the 2006 Michigan team.

Nuss for Governor on 1/16/2014 @ 7:26pm EDT Said:

Sorry Doug, but Michigan didn’t get drubbed by 42 points by one of Saban’s worst teams at Bama. that MSU team had an easy schedule and lucked in a lot of close games

Gary on 1/16/2014 @ 7:46pm EDT Said:

2002 Iowa would have thumped 2002 Ohio State had they played. A Big Ten championship game setup came years too late.

Mark White on 1/16/2014 @ 8:14pm EDT Said:

Penn state should not even be considered.

Doug on 1/16/2014 @ 9:02pm EDT Said:

sorry nuss, baba would have been in the national title game except for blowing a 4TD lead vs Cam Newton. don’t think it was a horrible bama team, anyways, michigan was losing to a horrible ole miss st team with september heisman winner denard, you’re right msu had an easy schedule, they played michigan.

    Don on 1/16/2014 @ 9:41pm EDT Said:

    Alabama had 2 losses before they played Cam Newton & Auburn that year. They weren’t going to the title game even if they hadn’t blown that lead against Auburn.

Matt on 1/16/2014 @ 11:55pm EDT Said:

I agree with the selection of top teams on your least. However, I would remove 2010 Wisconsin and 2010 Michigan State and replace them with 2005 Penn State and 2006 Michigan. 2009 Iowa could make a strong case as well.

Dave on 1/17/2014 @ 9:15am EDT Said:

I assume Penn State was not even considered due to the NCAA “Experimental” sanctions???

Matt on 1/17/2014 @ 9:17am EDT Said:

Penn State probably isn’t eligible after vacating those wins. 2006 Michigan ? Really? They got DESTROYED by USC in the Rose Bowl. If we’re throwing MSU out for the loss to a very good Alabama team – then we’re throwing Michigan out for that terrible loss against USC. 2009 Iowa probably deserves to be on the list, they did get upset by Northwestern – but it was close. They lost a close game against Ohio State too – before winning the Orange Bowl.

Doug on 1/17/2014 @ 11:52am EDT Said:

Don, you are correct, but even if that was not one of Saban’s best team, at 10-3 they were still better than probably any big ten team that year. Nuss can say MSU had an easy schedule in 2010, but in 2006 Michigan lost to the only 2 good teams they faced…

LJohnson on 1/17/2014 @ 12:18pm EDT Said:

Replace 2010 Wisconsin and 2010 MSU with the 2011 versions of each and I think it’s a good list.

David on 1/17/2014 @ 12:55pm EDT Said:

It is startling that no Michigan or Penn State team is on the list. For the good of the BIG10, those two programs need to rebound.

    Don on 1/18/2014 @ 8:11am EDT Said:

    David – How 2010 MSU is on this list over 2005 Penn State is a mystery to me. Heck, 2008 PSU is at least as good as 2010 MSU.

    Matt – I agree with you about 2012 OSU. Correction on your last sentence: 2002 Iowa was also undefeated in conference play.

Matt on 1/17/2014 @ 1:40pm EDT Said:

2012 Ohio state? Brand new coach, coming off a terrible season, then going undefeated? They would have made the championship that year…defeating Alabama would’ve been a big if, but as far as bcs era teams go, you HAVE to have them somewhere on the list, even if it’s just at 10! The only other teams to have an undefeated conference schedule on this list were 2002 and 2006 Ohio state…

James Crawford on 1/17/2014 @ 3:37pm EDT Said:

Well, we all know that the bottom line of Ohio State’s BCS history s roughly the same as the bottom line in the Denver Bronco’s NFL Play-Offs / Super Bowl history…good, but really not THAT good.

Bob on 1/17/2014 @ 4:07pm EDT Said:

@Doug – Michigan destroyed Notre Dame at ND Stadium when the Irish were the #2 team in the country. They also handily defeated Wisconsin, who ended up 12-1 and ranked #7/#5. But hey, don’t let the facts get in the way of your narrative.