As we wrap up the final weekend of Big Ten football, we’re reminded that there’s only one thing better than beating your rival.
That, of course, is beating your rival in back-to-back years.
It’s not enough just to trade victories in a series, volleying back and forth like Northwestern and Rutgers quarterbacks trading interceptions. No, true bragging rights — and truly inflicting misery on your rivalry — requires at least two wins in a row. One is a fluke. Two is a streak. That’s why it was so momentous when the scales in one of the conference’s biggest rivalries finally tipped hard to one side.
We’re referring to, of course, the Golden Gophers taking down the Badgers for the second straight game for the first time since 1993-94. Yes, thanks to a streak of 14 straight losses in The Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, Minnesota’s last winning streak in the rivalry came so long ago that not only was current Gophers coach P.J. Fleck not coaching, he wasn’t even in high school. (QB Tanner Morgan, naturally, had just committed to the Gophers.) Still, Fleck gets to take credit for the two most recent wins — "I know that's what I was hired to do," he told reporters Saturday — without taking hits for three losses in four years before this streak.
But, hey, you probably thought we meant that rivalry in Columbus? Sure, it got all the Big Noon Saturday eyeballs, but at least the Wolverines had back-to-back wins in the series this century. Well, almost this century: 1999 and 2000, better known as W.T.B and A.T.B — With Tom Brady and After Tom Brady. (Though maybe there’s a better term in Latin.)
The college football landscape has changed a lot since then, though. For example, the headline in the [not-Freep] the day after Brady's 1999 win was “Brady ignites U-M rally” after the senior passed for 150 yards. The next year, Drew Henson passed for 303 yards in U-M's win over OSU and couldn't crack the main headline. Huh, maybe — to borrow Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh’s “biblical” way of thinking — it was a loaves-and-fishes thing for Our QB, Hallowed Be Thy Sixth-Round Pick. Then again, J.J. McCarthy picked up 189 of his 263 yards against the Buckeyes on just three passes, so check back with us in 22 years or so for some perspective.
And then there’s the Illini, who knocked off the Wildcats in back-to-back seasons — that’s a double dose of the Land of Lincoln Trophy, don’cha know? — for the first time since 2010-11. Though that wasn’t the most impressive back-to-back performance in Evanston. No, that honor goes to Illinois’ Sydney Brown — who, as the identical twin of running back Chase Brown, knows a little something about going back-to-back. The defensive back nearly single-handedly knocked off the Wildcats thanks to back-to-back drives in the third quarter in which Brown first scooped up a fumble by QB/NASCAR driver Cole Freeman and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown, then, eight plays later, picked off Freeman and returned it 33 yards for another touchdown. (Brother Chase, meanwhile, had just one touchdown — and he had guys blocking for him the whole time.)
There’s a couple other schools — Maryland and Purdue — that finally broke through with their first two-game rivalry streaks in a while on Saturday as well. But while we look up the longest back-to-back dry spell from Saturday’s grudge matches — oh, look, it’s Penn State, which hasn’t beaten Michigan State football in back-to-back seasons since 2008-09! — let’s run through the Misery Index, from least miserable to most in Week 13:
14.Michigan: W, 45-23, over Ohio State
Record: 12-0, 9-0 Big Ten. Last week’s ranking: 7.
Kalel Mullings went from linebacker to running back to quarterback this week when he tossed a nifty jump pass to tight end Luke Schoonmaker for a key third down in the third quarter. Mullings is the ninth Wolverine to attempt a pass this season, though there’s no word on whether he’ll be part of Harbaugh’s annual offseason quarterback competition.
U-M GRADES:Wolverines saved best for last in beatdown
13. Purdue: W, 30-16, over Indiana
Record: 8-4, 6-3. Last week: 11.
While we’re on daunting streaks, the Boilermakers are facing one at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday: No West Division squad has ever won the Big Ten title game, dating back to the current setup that began in 2014. Of course, there’s a bigger question for Purdue as they return to Indianapolis for the first time since 2014: Does the World’s Biggest Drum still fit through the Lucas Oil doors?
12. Nebraska: W, 24-17, over Iowa
Record: 4-8, 3-6. Last week: 4.
There’s a new sheriff in Lincoln, as the Huskers of Corn announced an eight-year deal for former Temple, Baylor and Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule. Sure, he took the Owls to back-to-back bowls, the Bears to the Sugar Bowl and the Panthers to, uh, two separate three-game losing streaks — we’re writing this in Detroit, so that might be the most impressive thing of all — but now he faces his toughest task: Beating Wisconsin for the first time since September 2012.
11. Minnesota: W, 23-16, over Wisconsin
Record: 8-4, 5-4. Last week: 1.
While we’re on the topic of streaks, pour one out (or empty a bag of “Gushers”) for Mohamed Ibrahim, whose streak of 100-yard games on the ground — which dated back to Jan. 1, 2019 and lasted 19 games — came to an end with just 70 yards against the Badgers. Ibrahim’s last game without reaching 100 yards came Nov. 30, 2019; the same year Minnesota’s starting quarterback — Athan Kaliakmanis, not Morgan — was a sophomore … in high school.
10. Illinois: W, 41-3, over Northwestern
Record: 8-4, 5-4. Last week: 6.
Bret Bielema is the first Illini coach to win his first two “Battle for the Hat” games at the school since John Mackovic did it in 1988-89. “I couldn’t be more excited about this team,” Bielema told the Chicago Sun-Times, “where we’re at but, more importantly, where we’re going.” He obviously hasn’t checked out the latest bowl projections.
9. Maryland: W, 37-0, over Rutgers
Record: 7-5, 3-5. Last week: 8.
It was a milestone for the Terps, as their shutout of the Scarlet Knights was the first for the program in Big Ten play, covering 74 previous conference games. "One of the things I really liked was just seeing the mental intensity of how we played a week ago against Ohio State,” coach Mike Locksley said, “then being able to carry it over."
8. Penn State: W, 35-16, over Michigan State
Record: 10-2, 7-2. Last week: 12.
Saturday’s win gave Nittany Lions coach James Franklin his fourth 10-win season in Happy Valley. Just 17 more to go to tie Joe Paterno…
7. Michigan State: L, 35-16, to Penn State
Record: 5-7, 3-6. Last week: 2.
IF there was one silver lining in Saturday’s loss, it’s that the Spartans won’t have 17th-year Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford to kick them around any more; he added four passing TDs to his total, giving him 13 against MSU in his career, the most of any foe, and more than he has against Michigan and Ohio State combined.
MSU GRADES:Considering who's missing, not that bad
6. Northwestern: L, 41-3, to Illinois
Record: 1-11, 1-8. Last week: 5.
After Cole Freeman turned the ball over five times Saturday, coach Pat Fitzgerald brought in someone named “Jack Lausch,” who, per Northwestern tradition, went 4-for-8 for 68 yards, and we’re pretty sure coach Fitz is using the same three guys and a random-name generator.
5. Wisconsin: L, 23-16, to Minnesota
Record: 6-6, 4-5. Last week: 10.
Really sporting of interim head coach Jim Leonhard to lower expectations for next year’s coach. After the Badgers whiffed on their final drive Saturday with four penalties in five plays to move back from the Golden Gophers’ 5 to their 30, Leonhard told reporters: “It can’t end the way that it ended. It got really sloppy there. It’s unfortunate. It’s frustrating to walk off the field that way after sitting there at first and goal at the 5-yard line and plenty of time to take our shots." Good luck to the guy inheriting that mess … Jim Leonhard.
UPDATE: It turns out Leonhard was NOT the Badgers' next coach. The school poached former Ohio State assistant Luke Fickell from Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon.
4. Indiana: L, 30-16, to Purdue
Record: 4-8, 2-7. Last week: 14.
After a knee injury knocked out quarterback Dexter Williams II, former starter Connor Bazelak took over and continued his not-particularly mobile ways, losing 13 yards overall on five carries. It was his 11th game this season finishing with negative rushing yards (which, yes, includes sacks, by weird NCAA fiat) — and just one short of tying the 21st-century Big Ten mark of 12 games, set by Indiana’s Richard Lagow in 2016 and Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook in 2017. (Bazelak broke 0 yards in just one game, finishing with 1 yard on four carries against Rutgers on Oct. 22.)
3. Rutgers: L, 37-0, to Maryland
Record: 4-8, 1-8. Last week: 3.
Forget “Keep Choppin’,” they’re gonna call Greg Schiano “The Shredder” if he keeps getting his rear handed to him by turtles.
2. Iowa: L, 24-17, to Nebraska
Record: 7-5, 5-4. Last week: 13.
The Hawkeyes have averaged a paltry 255.4 yards a game on offense this season, just less than 45 yards a game worse than the previous low under head coach Kirk Ferentz, 300.3 in 1999 (his first season in Iowa City). The good news: Iowa still has a bowl game to pump up that average — 840 yards or so should do it. Is it too late to get Michigan State on the schedule?
1. Ohio State: L, 45-23, to Michigan
Record: 11-1, 8-1. Last week: 9.
Buckeyes QB C.J. Stroud sure didn’t sound like someone who’s coming back for another shot at the Wolverines, telling reporters afterward, "People are going to say I never won The Game, and I understand. People are going to say I never won the Big Ten championship, I understand. When it comes to that, I just have to eat it."
But don’t worry, C.J.: If you end up with the Lions next April, you’ll have plenty of other never-won championships to eat, too.
2022 BIG TEN MISERY INDEX
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Big Ten Misery Index: Michigan flashes back to days of Tom Brady