On the eve of the 2014 Big Ten Championship, Ohio State Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer called himself a nut job.
He said he walks around the day before games staring at players’ eyes. Even when they thought he wasn’t watching them, he was. He wanted to to make sure they were well prepared, hydrated and properly rested. When it came to sleeping the night before a big game, forget about it.
“At this point in my career, I enjoy it,” Meyer said then, “but it’s not easy.”
The next day, Meyer enjoyed one of the easiest days of his career. The Buckeyes routed Wisconsin 59-0 at Lucas Oil Stadium. Everyone knows the rest of the story. A playoff berth, a Sugar Bowl victory and a national championship followed.
As the 2017 championship approaches, again matching Ohio State (10-2) and Wisconsin (12-0) in Indianapolis, a sense of déjà vu surrounds the Buckeyes. Could they see another backup quarterback lead them to victory? Could they use a victory over the Badgers to sneak into the playoff again? Those questions will be answered this weekend.
First, here’s a look back at that 2014 game and the other five Big Ten title games held since 2011, when the conference started playing a championship game:
Best finish: Michigan State beat Iowa 16-13 in 2015 on LJ Scott’s 1-yard touchdown run with 27 seconds to play. Two Iowa defenders grabbed Scott at the 1-yard line. He still powered his way into the end zone. The teams combined for five field goals until the fourth quarter when both teams finally got in the end zone.
Best game: In Ohio State’s first appearance in the title game in 2013, the Buckeyes fell behind 17-0 to Michigan State, scored 24 straight points to take the lead and gave up 17 points in the last 18 minutes to lose 34-24. The defeat was the first of the Meyer era and cost the Buckeyes a spot in the final BCS championship game.
Biggest comeback: Penn State trailed 28-7 with one minute left in the first half last season and outscored Wisconsin 31-3 the rest of the way to win 38-31.
Best defensive play: In the 2013 game, Michigan State’s Denicos Allen stopped Braxton Miller for a 1-yard gain on 4th-and-2 at the Michigan State 39-yard line with just under six minutes to play. The Buckeyes trailed 27-24 at the time.
“It was my call,” Meyer said after the game. “I wanted to put the ball in the hands of our best player, Braxton. We usually run that play a lot. We ran it to the boundary. I knew they’d pressure us. Thought he might be able to come out the other end of it.”
Best rushing performance: Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott ran 20 times for 220 yards in the 2014 blowout of Wisconsin.
Best receiving performance: Penn State’s Saeed Blacknall caught six passes, two for touchdowns, for 155 yards last season.
Best passing performance: Penn State’s Trace McSorley threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns last season against Wisconsin.
Best all-around performance: Wisconsin’s Montee Ball scored four touchdowns in 2011, including the game-winner with 3:45 to go, in a 42-39 victory over Michigan State.
Best performance in first career start: Cardale Jones completed 12 of 17 passes for 257 yards with three touchdowns against Wisconsin in 2014.
“I played with confidence,” Jones said, “because of the confidence my teammates had in me, the confidence my coaches had in me, my family, close friends and Buckeye Nation.”
Biggest upset: Unranked Wisconsin beat No. 12 Nebraska 70-31 in the 2012 title game. Wisconsin became the first five-loss team to play in the Rose Bowl.
“We failed,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “We failed to win a championship. That was the goal coming in, and didn’t get it done. I apologize for it. I apologize to the football team. I apologize to the coaches, the fans, like I said, everybody associated with it. Because at the end of the day, it falls on me. I’m the one responsible for it. We didn’t get it done.”
Career achievement award: Michigan State’s Connor Cook won the Grange-Griffin Most Valuable Player Trophy for his performances in the 2013 and 2015 championship games.