Yes, this Pac-12 Friday headline may be a bit confusing, but since both the Pacific-12 and the Big Ten conferences have chosen to suspend football for Fall 2020, we thought we would explore the Conference of Champions‘ Rose Bowl brethren in honorable fashion as well.
And why not? The B1G—formerly known as the Western Conference, from 1896 to 1952 when Michigan State joined—has a grand and storied tradition, too, just like the Pac-12. So on with the show …
Honorable Mention: 1913 Chicago Maroons (7-0)
What would a list of the best B1G teams in this era be without an entry from the school that left the conference for academic-integrity reasons? Playing a league-only schedule, Chicago outscored opponents 124-27 and never let an opponent score more than 7 points in a single game, tossing three shutouts.
10. 1925 Michigan Wolverines (7-1)
Imagine your only loss is on the road by a 3-2 score, and you have this team from Michigan that otherwise outscored its opponents 227-0 on the season. You wonder how the Wolverines even lost that one game, and Michigan did it against the fifth-best schedule in the country. That loss keeps this team from being one of the best all time.
9. 1926 Michigan Wolverines (7-1)
This Michigan squad also played a very tough schedule—the toughest in the country, actually—but a 10-0 road loss at Navy kept them from going undefeated in a year when the Wolverines outscored everyone else by a 191-28 margin. Those close road defeats really kill a season’s potential.
8. 1932 Michigan Wolverines (8-0)
Don’t worry; this list won’t be all maize and blue. But the Wolverines definitely fielded a lot of top teams in the pre-Associated Press poll era. Against the third-hardest schedule in the country, Michigan went undefeated and outscored opponents 123-13. The Wolverines posted six shutouts in the process. Michigan finished No. 3 in the SRS, by the way.
7. 1932 Purdue Boildermakers (7-0-1)
This squad from the same season—the two schools didn’t play each other, obviously—ranks higher for the sole reason of scoring margin and schedule balance. While Michigan played just three road games, this Purdue team went on the road five times and outscored its opponents 164-42. A road tie at Northwestern was the only blemish on the No. 2 SRS ranking.
6. 1912 Wisconsin Badgers (7-0)
This is the “oldest” team on our list: Playing a Top 10 schedule, the Badgers ran up the score on opponents by a 246-29 margin, posting four shutouts along the way. Ironically, the team that played Wisconsin closest was the one small school on the schedule: Lawrence University. The Badgers only won that game by a 13-0 margin.
5. 1914 Illinois Fighting Illini (7-0)
This team started the season by winning its first four games by a 158-0 margin. Illinois then won its final three games by a mere 66-22 combined score. The schedule was the 12th-hardest one in the country, out of 83 teams at the time. Chicago came the closest in a 21-7 loss in Champaign-Urbana.
4. 1933 Michigan Wolverines (7-0-1)
This Michigan team could be the best one in school history, as it played the No. 2 schedule and finished No. 1 in the SRS rankings by beating its opponents into submission: Only a scoreless tie against Minnesota at home kept the Wolverines from an undefeated season.
3. 1936 Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-1)
We stripped this team of the 1936 mythical national title, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an amazing group. A 6-0 loss at Northwestern, ranked No. 3 at the time, cost Minnesota a chance at greater glories, but the AP title and a No. 1 finish in the SRS are good consolations—even if we didn’t give them the MNC.
2. 1930 Northwestern Wildcats (7-1)
Heading into its final game of the season against Notre Dame, the Wildcats were 7-0 and boasting a 182-22 scoring margin. Alas, November 22 was not kind to Northwestern, as the Fighting Irish won, 14-0. The Wildcats still finished No. 3 in the SRS, while playing the No. 3 schedule overall.
1. 1934 Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-0)
The best B1G team of the pre-AP era outscored opponents 270-38, although those opponents were not always the best ones out there (schedule strength: 25th out of 124). Minnesota posted three shutouts against powerhouse schools: Nebraska, Michigan, and Wisconsin. That says a lot right there, of course.