The Big Ten had an eventful 2012, marked by great basketball, lousy football, some messes off the field and lots going on with the business side of things. With that, here are the top 10 Big Ten stories of 2012:
1. The Fall – And Rise – Of Penn State Football. After Sandusky happened in late 2011 … Joe Paterno died. Penn State hired Patriots assistant Bill O’Brien, which was met by a near revolt among some because he wasn’t a member of the “Penn State Family” (which is a good thing). The Freeh Report. The NCAA then gave the Nittany Lions a fate worse than death. Players fled in droves. Jerry Sandusky was convicted of being a monster. Penn State opened the year with two bad losses to Ohio (not State) and Virginia (not Tech). And then something crazy happened: O’Brien’s team pulled together and finished the year by winning eight of its last 10 games.
3. Expansion. Maryland and Rutgers will join the Big Ten in 2014, with another two schools possibly on the way as the college conference landscape dramatically realigned this year. Yet, they may not be on local TV their first year.
4. The Return Of Indiana Basketball. Indiana returned to the Sweet 16 after a long absence and opened the 2012-13 season at No. 1. Even after a loss to Butler, the Hoosiers are ranked sixth headed into the Big Ten season and have signed the fourth-ranked class for next fall. Tom Crean has built something in Bloomington.
5. Big Ten Football. Quite simply, it stinks. Big Ten teams opened the year by losing six of its nine bowl games before following that up with a lousy non-conference performance this fall and a lackluster Big Ten season (not counting the Buckeyes). The seven Big Ten teams are massive underdogs in the bowl games again this year.
6. Wisconsin football. Despite a mediocre regular season, the Badgers thumped Nebraska in the Big Ten title game to earn a trip to their third straight Rose Bowl. Bret Bielema celebrated by taking the Arkansas job. Athletic director Barry Alvarez names himself to coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl – and will be paid handsomely to do so. Wisconsin hires Utah State coach Gary Andersen to replace Bielema.
8. Illinois Athletics. Athletic director Mike Thomas completely cleans house in Champaign, firing the football coach and men’s and women’s basketball coaches in a three-month window. Most notably in 2012, Bruce Weber is fired after his team basically quits on him and misses the tournament (and the NIT) after a strong start. The Illini hire John Groce, who has led Illinois to a No. 10 ranking and a 12-0 record so far.
9. Purdue Football. The Boilermakers fire Danny Hope after a four year 22-27 record (one bowl win) and replace him with Darrell Hazell, who can certainly wear a hat.
10. Indiana Soccer. The Hoosiers win their eighth national soccer title.
Others: Penn State and Michigan go to Final Four in women’s volleyball (both lost in semis). Penn State makes Final Four in men’s volleyball (lost in semis). The Big Ten has five of the top six wrestling programs in the nation (and 10 of top 23). Lots and lots of crime among Big Ten athletes this year, especially in Iowa City.
Please let us know if you think anything is missing.