Study: Common factors in the last 5 Big Ten champions

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Monday June 12, 2017

How do you win the Big Ten? Take a look at what the last five league champions have done against Big Ten opponents:

*(Note: 2012 Wisconsin went 4-4 in B1G play and reached the title game because Ohio State and Penn State were banned from postseason play, so they skew the data a bit)

- The league runs through Ohio State. Urban Meyer only has one B1G title, but the 2013, ’15 and ’16 champions beat the Buckeyes. (Ohio State beat Wisconsin in 2012). Meyer is 40-3 against Big Ten opponents. All three losses were to the league champ.

- Four of the past five champions won games with multiple starting quarterbacks — and 2016 B1G West champ Wisconsin did, too. Ohio State won the 2014 title with a third-string QB.

2015 Michigan State: Connor Cook / Tyler O’Connor
2014 Ohio State: JT Barrett / Cardale Jones
2013 Michigan State: Connor Cook / Andrew Maxwell
2012 Wisconsin: Curt Phillips / Danny O’Brien

- All five teams finished in the top 4 in turnover margin in B1G games.

- Three teams finished in the top 2 in scoring in B1G games, and MSU’s teams finished 4th (2015) and 5th (2013).

- The 2016 Penn State team was quite an outlier. They were in the middle of the league in most statistics, but they scored and hit a LOT of big plays. Their 48 total plays of 30-plus yards and 30 plays of 40-plus yards were both No. 3 nationally.

- The Nittany Lions were also a huge second half team. In the first halves, they were outscored 223-194, but in the second halves/OT, they outscored the opponents 332-133.

- 2015 Michigan State and 2016 Penn State didn’t lead many stats, but they won the close games, a combined 8-1 record in one-possession B1G games

2015 MSU:
24-21 win vs. Purdue
31-24 win at Rutgers (winning TD in final minute)
27-23 win at Michigan (won on final play)
39-38 loss at Nebraska (blown 12-point lead in final 2 minutes)
17-14 win at Ohio State (won on final play)
16-13 win vs. Iowa (winning TD in final minute)

2016 PSU:
29-26 win vs. Minnesota (overtime)
24-21 win vs. Ohio State (blocked FG for TD with less than 5 minutes remaining)
38-31 win vs. Wisconsin (trailed 28-14 at halftime)

- What’s in store for 2017? Penn State returns its entire staff and 16 starters, including QB Trace McSorley. Ohio State brings back J.T. Barrett with a new offensive coordinator in Kevin Wilson. Michigan has the fewest returning starters in the nation with five. Wisconsin has 15 returning starters, and QB Alex Hornibrook will be a sophomore.

See CoachingSearch’s 2017 offseason studies

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News,, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to