With season win total in parentheses, which are made by the real experts and thus provide a good base-line for achievement/expectation.
There is simply too much talent in the state of Illinois to have a win total that low, so little credit for topping it because this should be a program that always looks at 4-8 as a disappointment and not progress.
Notched two good non-conference wins over Florida International and Virginia, both bowl teams, despite just missing bowl eligibility themselves for the second straight season. However, Hoosiers also developed a young and potentially dangerous offensive backfield in Peyton Ramsey and Stevie Scott.
Exceeding your season win total and winning three of your four main rivalry games would typically merit an even higher grade in Iowa City. Except given how close the Hawkeyes were to a special season, you can’t help but feel as if this season was a squandered opportunity, too.
Given everything this program went through, including a tragic player death and one game-week when it literally had three different head coaches, interim coach Matt Canada and the players should be commended.
Finishing 1.5 games above your season win total, against what many thought in the preseason was the toughest schedule in the conference, is usually grounds for an easy A. However, that has to be balanced against finishing the season with perhaps the most embarrassing face plant in modern program history.
MICHIGAN STATE (8)
Finishing a full game behind your season win total usually means disappointment, but they were also hit harder by the injury bug than any other team in the Big Ten. It was ugly at times, but Sparty’s win at Penn State ended up being one of the best conference road wins of the season.
Another program that was devastated by injuries, losing many of its top playmakers. Which is why matching it season win total and reaching a bowl game despite that adversity, and doing so by beating Wisconsin for the axe for the first time in 15 years, makes this the season that helped P.J. Fleck establish his program.
Toughest team to grade. Huskers fan will strongly disagree, because right now Scott Frost tip toes between the raindrops to them. However, Nebraska was 2.5 wins below its season win total. Those same Husker fans arguing against this grade now, would’ve been just as offended at predicting them to go 4-8 back in August. So let’s split the difference. Truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
No program did more with what they had this season, which is why Pat Fitzgerald is a very deserving Big Ten Coach of the Year. Two wins above their season win total plus a division title, with a hobbled quarterback returning from injury, and after losing their best offensive weapon early on, is nothing short of extraordinary.
OHIO STATE (10)
They won the division, and likely the Big Ten title come Saturday. They beat the loftiest expectations in the conference. Yet, they also traveled perhaps the most awkward and at times painful road to get there. Much of this season this seemed like a team looking to be put out of its misery, and then when it was needed most rose up for one of the most impressive displays in all college football this season.
PENN STATE (9.5)
Though 9-3 with the losses Penn State suffered shouldn’t be looked at as all that disappointing at first blush, upon further reflection they just don’t impress much. There’s nothing they really did all that well. Nothing they really did all that poorly. Their body of work is, in a word, meh.
Other than Ohio State, no other Big Ten school had a rockier 2018. Starting the year 0-3, including a home loss to Eastern Michigan, and then rebounding to reach first place in the West Division—including the Boilermakers’ most dominating win against a top two team since 1984. But then they lost three out of four, and almost lost their head coach, before beating arch-rival Indiana in a loser-leave-town match for bowl eligibility for the second straight year.
One of the most putrid offenses in modern Big Ten history. How bad was it? The Scarlet Knights are the first Big Ten team to have the worst total offense among power five conference schools in a quarter century.
From adorning the cover of Sports Illustrated’s preview and the highest preseason ranking in the AP Poll (4th) in program history, to a stunning five loss calamity. And despite having the league’s running back of the year, and its entire offensive line named All-Big Ten, too. These Badgers did something this proud, blue collar program isn’t normally known for—underachieving.