The Last Time Each Big Ten Team Won The Conference

By RossWB on August 12, 2019 at 1:45 pm
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© Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The weeks are zipping by and a brand new college football season will be underway before we know it. And SPOILER ALERT: someone will win the Big Ten. But who? Will Ohio State continue their recent mastery of the league? Or will a new face break through and end a Big Ten title drought? We don't yet know who's going to win the league -- but we do know who's gone the longest since tasting Big Ten championship glory. Let's talk about those droughts. 

First things first: the newbies. None of Nebraska, Maryland, or Rutgers have won a Big Ten title since joining the league in 2011 and 2014, respectively. Nebraska came the closest when they made the Big Ten Championship Game as Legends Division champions in 2012. That game did not go well for the Cornhuskers.

DID YOU KNOW: Maryland has actually won a conference championship in football more recently than Nebraska? It's true: Maryland won the ACC outright in 2001 behind a 7-1 record in league play (10-2 overall). Nebraska last won a conference title in 1999, when they went 7-1 in Big 12 action (12-1 overall). (Nebraska did win divisional titles in 2000, 2001, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2012.) In case you were wondering, Rutgers has never won an outright conference championship in football, though they did share a Big East title in 2012. In fairness, though, Rutgers also spend most of the 20th century as an independent. 

On to the droughts, from shortest to longest... 


Most Recent Big Ten Championship: 2018 (outright)

Well, duh. The Buckeyes won the Big Ten last year. They also won it the year before that and again in 2014. They win a lot of Big Ten titles. 


Most Recent Big Ten Championship: 2016 (outright)

The last team other than Ohio State to win a Big Ten championship was Penn State, who beat a 10-2 Wisconsin team in the Big Ten Championship Game. Prior to that, Penn State's last Big Ten title was a championship shared with Ohio State in 2008. 


Most Recent Big Ten Championship: 2015 (outright)

Unfortunately, as Iowa fans, we remember this championship all too well. Iowa was just a few seconds, a few yards, a few stops -- take your pick -- away from going 13-0 in 2015 and winning a Big Ten championship. We all remember what happened next. Sparty also shared a Big Ten title with Wisconsin and Ohio State in 2010. 


Most Recent Big Ten Championship: 2012 (outright)

Wisconsin was the dominant team in the Big Ten at the turn of the last decade, taking advantage of Ohio State regrouping between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer to claim back-to-back-to-back titles in 2010, 2011, and 2012. They won that most recent title despite a 7-5 regular season, thanks to Ohio State (12-0, 8-0 B1G) and Penn State (8-4, 6-2 B1G) both being ineligible for postseason play that year. That 2012 title game was also the aforementioned shucking of Nebraska. 


Most Recent Big Ten Championship: 2004 (shared); 2003 (outright)

While Ohio State has dominated the Big Ten for most of the 21st century, their biggest rivals have been waiting (and waiting, and waiting...) to add to their total of 42, still the most of any team in the league. This year makes it 15 years since Michigan last won a Big Ten championship, which is the longest Big Ten title drought in the history of their program (eclipsing a 14-year gap from 1950 to 1964). Michigan shared that 2004 championship with Iowa thanks to (who else?) Ohio State, who upset Michigan in the regular season finale. Michigan's last outright title came the year before that, in 2003, when they went 7-1 in league play (10-3 overall). 


Most Recent Big Ten Championship: 2004 (shared); 1985 (outright)

Though Iowa has come close to another Big Ten championship over the last decade -- they lost a de facto league championship game to Ohio State in overtime in 2009 and lost an actual league championship game to Michigan State by mere inches in 2015 -- this year marks the 15-year anniversary since Iowa actually claimed a Big Ten championship in football. First year starter Drew Tate and a beastly defense carried Iowa to an improbable (and hugely enjoyable) league title in 2004. Iowa's last outright Big Ten championship came over 30 years ago, back in the magical 1985 campaign. 


Most Recent Big Ten Championship: 2001 (outright)

BAH GAWD THAT'S ILLINOIS' MUSIC! The turn of the century was a weird, weird time in Big Ten play, as we'll see with the next few teams. Illinois has spent most of the 21st century as as punchline, but if you count 2001 as the first year of the new century, then the Illini actually ushered the Big Ten into the new millennium. It's true: Ron Turner led Illinois to a 7-1 record in league play (10-2 overall) and a trip to the Sugar Bowl. Two years after winning 10 games and playing in the Sugar Bowl, Illinois went 1-11 and 0-8 in Big Ten play. That's Illinois football in a nutshell.


Most Recent Big Ten Championship: 2000 (shared); 1995 (outright)

Northwestern made the Big Ten Championship Game last season, which was probably the closest they've come to winning the Big Ten since they shared the league crown with Purdue and Michigan in 2000. As you may recall, the only reason that season isn't their most recent outright Big Ten title is because of Iowa: a 2-8 Iowa team played their best game to that point under Kirk Ferentz and upset the Wildcats in a cold and snowy Kinnick Stadium. Northwestern's most recent outright Big Ten championship is a pretty famous one, as it capped off their memorable 1995 campaign. 


Most Recent Big Ten Championship: 2000 (shared); 1929 (outright)

As noted, Purdue shared the 2000 Big Ten title with Northwestern and Michigan. Like I said before, the Big Ten was very weird at the turn of the century. That 2000 Boilermaker squad, led by passing god Drew Brees and Joe Tiller's revolutionary basketball-on-grass passing attack, went to the Rose Bowl that season. To find Purdue's last outright Big Ten title you have to go back -- way back, in fact. All the way to 1929 (!), when Purdue went 8-0 overall and 5-0 in Big Ten play, winning a Big Ten that actually included just ten teams -- though one of them was the University of Chicago. This year is the 90th anniversary (!) of Purdue's last outright Big Ten championship, and a tweet I saw noting that was what inspired this entire exercise. Going strictly by outright Big Ten titles, Purdue has the longest drought in the league... by a considerable margin. That said, they have managed to share six Big Ten championships since then, including that wacky 2000 title. 


Most Recent Big Ten Championship: 1967 (shared); 1945 (outright)

2000, featuring a Big Ten title split between Michigan, Northwestern, and Purdue was odd, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a weirder Big Ten championship situation than what happened in 1967, when there was a three-way tie for the top spot between the trio of Purdue, Minnesota, and Indiana. No, really. Indiana, led by head coach John Pont and the wonderfully named QB Henry Gonso, went 9-2 overall (6-1 in the Big Ten) and finished #4 in the final AP poll. You have to go back to 1945 and the immediate aftermath of World War II to find the last time Indiana won an outright Big Ten championship. 


Most Recent Big Ten Championship: 1967 (shared); 1941 (outright)

Minnesota was one of the dominant teams of the Big Ten in the first half of the 20th century, but things trailed off for the Golden Gophers after the United States entered World War II and 1967 ended up being their last hurrah. They shared that championship with Indiana and Purdue, with all three teams' conference losses coming against one another (Minnesota beat Indiana, Indiana beat Purdue, and Purdue beat Minnesota). Minnesota hasn't really come close to winning another Big Ten title in the ensuing 52 years. Their last outright Big Ten title came in 1941, under legendary head coach Bernie Bierman, who won five of the seven national championships that Minnesota claims. The Gophers went 8-0 that season and 5-0 against Big Ten opponents. 

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