TheSportsNotebook’s review of the post-Woody & Bo era of the Big Ten continues today with a look back on the top stories of 1992 Big Ten football…
MICHIGAN TIES ONE ON
Michigan football was at the peak of its power in the modern era and the Wolverines easily won an outright conference title. Even though Desmond Howard, their Heisman Trophy-winning receiver from 1991, had moved on, Michigan was still loaded.
The offensive line had second-team All-Americans at guard in Steve Everitt and Joe Cocozzo. Rob Doherty at offensive tackle was All-Big Ten. This offensive line paved the way for the explosive Tyrone Wheatley who led the league in rushing and was named the Big Ten MVP.
Elvis Grbac was in his fourth year as the starting quarterback, both efficient and explosive. He had a future NFL wideout in Derrick Alexander as his primary target. There were great players at each level on defense, from tackle Steve Hutchinson to linebacker Steve Morrison to Corwin Brown at the corner.
No one could beat the Wolverines. Although in this pre-overtime era of college football, there were plenty of ties. Michigan tied Notre Dame in the season opener. The Wolverines tied Illinois and Ohio State to conclude the season. Michigan won all the rest. They claimed their fifth straight Big Ten title, with four of those championships being outright.
WISCONSIN UPSETS OHIO STATE
Ohio State started the season slowly, a reason that Michigan had the Rose Bowl bid already in hand by the time of the season finale in Columbus. The most damaging loss to the Buckeyes came in Camp Randall on the first Saturday of October.
Barry Alvarez was in his third year at Wisconsin and after a 5-6 season in 1991, the Badgers were hoping to get a bowl bid. This was an Ohio State team that had future #1 overall NFL draft pick Orlando Pace on the offensive line. The quarterback was the man who today is the face of college football–Kirk Herbstreit.
The Buckeyes took a 10-3 lead at halftime, but the Badger offensive line got settled in and put together long drives in the second half. Brent Moss rushed for 80 yards. Wisconsin pulled a 20-16 upset.
JUST MISSING BOWL GAMES
The biggest disappointment for the Big Ten was that only three teams qualified for bowls. Three others came up just short, finishing at 5-6…
*Wisconsin was the most notable. That win over Ohio State wasn’t quite enough. The Badgers were 5-5 going into their season finale against Northwestern. Trailing 27-25, UW was driving for a game-winning field goal before a fumble ended their hopes. Barry’s bowl breakthrough would have to wait another year.
*Indiana was 5-3 and looked ready to get another bowl bid for their consistent head coach, Bill Mallory. Instead, the Hoosiers lost their last three games, including a 13-10 loss at Purdue in the finale. The Boilermakers were not a good team, finishing 4-7. But they had the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in Jeff Zgonina. They had the Old Oaken Bucket. And they had deprived their biggest rival of a bowl. As four-win seasons go, that’s about as good as it gets.
*Michigan State took on a tough schedule and lost non-conference games to both Notre Dame and Boston College. The Spartans lost to the Big Ten’s three bowl teams, Michigan, Ohio State and Illinois. All that could have been survived, but a season-opening loss to Central Michigan could not. Sparty finished 5-6.
It’s worth noting that Iowa finished 5-7, but that’s not as close to a bowl as it would be today. The rules of the time required a team to finish over .500, meaning 6-6 would not have qualified.
WHEATLEY RUNS WILD
There wasn’t a lot of quantity for Big Ten fans during bowl season. Even quality was lacking, as Illinois lost to Hawaii and Ohio State fell to Georgia. But the Rose Bowl made the season. Michigan played Washington in a rematch of the 1991 game.
This was a big game for the Wolverines. Critics could point out that they had failed to beat the three most notable teams on their schedule (Notre Dame, Illinois, Ohio State). So while no one was beating Michigan, this was a program that needed a big W. Defeating Washington, who had shared the national championship a year earlier, would certainly qualify.
The game was a shootout. Michigan trailed 21-17 at the half. Wheatley came out in the third quarter and ripped off an 88-yard touchdown run to get the lead back. The Huskies responded with ten unanswered points. Wheatley ran in from 24 yards out and tied the game 31-all.
The Wolverines had the last word. Grbac threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass. Wheatley finished with 235 yards on the ground. Michigan won 38-31 and finished #5 in the final polls.