Michigan experienced arguably its biggest “gut check” loss of recent memory in a 35-14 blowout at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers last weekend, sending them to 2-1 on the season and losing the first game they played in Big Ten conference play.
Since 2011, only two teams have gotten through Big Ten play unscathed and both happened prior to 2015, so it has not happened in a few seasons. Regardless of how you feel about the direction of the Wolverines this year, it is not all that uncommon for the Big Ten champion to suffer some disheartening losses along the way. They key here is how these teams responded to them.
Here is a look at some of the losses that teams that have come out of the conference title game as winners have suffered the last handful of years.
2011 Wisconsin Badgers (11-3 ,6-2 B1G), beat Michigan State 42-39 in title game
37-31 L at No. 15 Michigan State
33-29 L at Ohio State
The Badgers lost road games in back-to-back weeks and responded by throttling everyone in sight the rest of the regular season and beating Michigan State in a rematch in the Big Ten title game.
2012 Wisconsin Badgers (8-6, 4-4 B1G)*, beat Nebraska 70-31 in title game
This season can basically be thrown out because Ohio State went 12-0, yet was ineligible for postseason play. There’s nothing to be taken away from this one. If you want to read up on Wisconsin’s season, feel free to do so here on your own time.
2013 Michigan State Spartans (13-1, 8-0 B1G), beat Ohio State 34-24 in title game
This team didn’t lose in Big Ten play, but received an early-season gut check in the fourth week when they went to Notre Dame and lost 17-13. This was the best team of the Mark Dantonio era (so far).
This team went undefeated in Big Ten play, but had perhaps the biggest gut check loss of them all when Virginia Tech beat them at home by a score of 35-21 in Week 2. From there, they would not lose the rest of the year and beat Alabama and Oregon with third-string quarterback Cardale Jones en route to winning it all.
2015 Michigan State Spartans (12-2, 7-1 B1G), beat Iowa 16-13 in title game, made College Football Playoff and lost to Alabama 38-0
39-38 L at Nebraska
The Spartans could have had a second Big Ten loss if not for the fumbled snap at the end of the Michigan game, but played with fire regardless throughout its CFP and B1G title season. A few short weeks later, the Spartans were sort of screwed at Nebraska when a receiver came back in bounds to catch a touchdown pass, but officials had ruled that he had re-established himself as a receiver. Playoff result notwithstanding, they found a way to get it done through conference play.
2016 Penn State Nittany Lions (11-3, 8-1 B1G), beat Wisconsin 38-31 in title game
49-10 L at Michigan
This the parallel that Michigan fans that still believe in the program are hoping to draw for the rest of 2019. Penn State was 2-2 after a loss to Pittsburgh and then getting spanked in the Big House in Week 4 coming off of consecutive 7-6 seasons under James Franklin. They got healthy and on the right track and did not lose again until the Rose Bowl, a run that included beating Ohio State at home. All it took for them was a few wins after a humbling and embarrassing defeat. Michigan may not deserve the benefit of the doubt to do that as of now, but the Nittany Lions were not seen as likely to pull that off either. We’ll see.
2017 Ohio State Buckeyes (12-2, 8-1 B1G), beat Wisconsin 27-21 in title game
55-24 L at Iowa
55 points surrendered to Iowa? IOWA?! This was another example of a recent loss in Big Ten play by the conference champion that occurred. Earlier in the year, this OSU team lost 31-16 at home to Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners, but other than that they had pretty much rolled everyone else they played this season outside of Penn State and Michigan.
2018 Ohio State Buckeyes (13-1, 8-1 B1G), beat Northwestern 45-24 in title game
49-20 L at Purdue
This was one that had Michigan fans licking its chops for the showdown with the Buckeyes, coupled with the fact that Ohio State needed overtime to beat Maryland 52-51 the week before The Game. Obviously, things went the other way in historic and humiliating fashion when the Wolverines went to Columbus. This was a Buckeye team that had looked shaky at times throughout the year, but still went about its business and had an edge to them.
The last few Big Ten champs have had humbling and embarrassing defeats on the road akin to what Michigan just did in Madison last weekend. The only real hopeful comparable here is Penn State in 2016 because just about every other team experienced its losses as a blip on the radar or something that came out of left field. The Wolverines have some real problems and question marks they need to figure out and the odds are stacked against them to do so, but there is at least some recent history to suggest that bad losses can happen to Big Ten champions.
The most recent two blowouts happening to Ohio State illustrate a mental toughness and two well-coached teams that were able to put their concerns behind them and win the big ones. Michigan has not shown an ability to do that, but what comes next will determine the future.