This year marks the 20th anniversary of Penn State playing football in the Big Ten, though it is actually the 21st season of Big Ten football in program history. Counting years is sometimes funny that way. In any event, to honor the anniversary I wanted to take some time throughout the remainder of the year to take a closer look at some of the top games of the Big Ten Era for Penn State.
Last night I opened things up on Twitter by asking for your quick nominations, and some of the likely candidates were quick to be mentioned. 2005 against Ohio State. The Orange Bowl. 1994 at Illinois. 2008 against Ohio State. 2002 against Nebraska. Pick almost any game from 1994, 2005 or 2012 and it was likely to be mentioned.
In time I'll go through and provide my final ranking of the top 20 games in the Big Ten era, and hopefully we will have fun looking back on those games. For now, here is my quick top five, off the top of my head.
1. 2005 Penn State vs. Ohio State, They Were Wrong
This one has a sentimental memory because it is the first Penn State game my girlfriend (now my wife) ever attended. What an introduction to Penn State football indeed. The game also is well known to be the official announcement to the world that Penn State football was still alive and ticking. It will be tough to knock this game form the top spot in the final top 20, I imagine.
2. 1994 Penn State at Illinois, The Drive
The fate of the undefeated 1994 team appeared to be fading. The Nittany Lions dug a huge hole against an Illinois defense that felt they only needed 21 points to win. We all know how this one ends of course, and it is a virtual lock for a top five spot in the final ranking.
3. 2006 Orange Bowl, Triple overtime battle of icons
I had to work at 6 AM the next morning but it was worth it to see how the magical 2005 season came to an end. Of all the teams to play at Penn State in the Big Ten era, this one in particular was the most inspirational, perhaps until the 2012 season.
4. 1994 Penn State at Michigan
Many people recommended the 1994 blowout of Ohio State, but the week before in Ann Arbor may have been more significant. Third ranked Penn State won a tight one against No. 5 Michigan and ascended to number one in the polls as a result. Of course, the top ranking was short lived, but it marked the first time Penn State had been ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten era.
5. 2005 Penn State at Northwestern
Perhaps more important than the 2005 victory over Ohio State, Penn State's gutsy, late road victory at Northwestern set the stage for what would be a special season.