The Big Ten loves football (at least for the most part), and it’s home to some of the premier rivalries in all of college sports. Some are especially heated on the gridiron, and there can be some serious stakes involved for the competitors.
It’s also an old conference with tons of old rivalries, but they’re not all currently scolding hot or churning out close contests with massive consequences. Sure, Michigan-Minnesota has a great story behind it and a long history, but is it one of the best Big Ten football rivalries right now? No way.
So, let’s take a look at the best Big Ten football rivalries right now, in no particular order.
Best Big Ten Football Rivalries Right Now
Michigan – Michigan State: 71-38-5
For most of this rivalry, Michigan has dominated its in-state counterpart, and both schools developed a bit of a complex about it. The tables have turned since 2008, and the Spartans are 10-4 against the Wolverines since Lloyd Carr left power.
This has amped up the intensity of the rivalry that much more. Trash talk is rampant, before, during, and after the games, and as Michigan State has elevated nationally, the impact of this matchup’s result has had division, conference, and national title implications.
Michigan-Michigan State is also one of the most quotable rivalries in the sport, let alone the Big Ten. From “little brother” to “pride comes before the fall” to “the disrespect” to “little sisters,” there are so many classic lines and moments from this rivalry, and that’s just from not even the last 15 years. And it’s also not to mention what’s happened on the field (“OH HE HAS TROUBLE WITH THE SNAP” anyone?). Plus, the Paul Bunyan Trophy is legendary.
This is definitely one of the best Big Ten football rivalries right now, and it might be the best.
Ohio State – Penn State: 22-14-0
Ohio State has been the dominant force in the Big Ten East since the division’s inception, but Penn State has been one of its most annoying foils in the division, an extension of some of the troubles the Nittany Lions caused the Buckeyes in the 2000s before the league expanded to 12 and 14 teams.
Yes, Ohio State has won the last five, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. The 2017and 2018 contests were instant classics, and Penn State has provided resistance in the games since then, even if futile. In 2016, Penn State pulled off one of the marquee moments of the decade by toppling Ohio State in dramatic fashion, and the Nittany Lions ruined a couple of Buckeyes seasons in the 2000s.
This rivalry doesn’t have the same longevity or health as some of the others on this list – if Ohio State continues to keep Penn State bay by multiple possessions for another few years, this matchup will lose some luster. But right now, it still brings national attention, white-out crowds, and massive divisional and conference implications.
Purdue – Indiana: 74-42-6
Now, hear me out: I know these teams aren’t generally battling it out for a shot at the playoff, let alone a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game. But in college sports, it’s not all about the rankings and championships. It’s also about hotly-contested games between teams that absolutely loathe each other, plus with this one coming at the end of the year and both programs more often struggling to become bowl eligible than anything else, this one has decided the bowl fate of one or both of the programs on many occasions.
Indiana and Purdue have never seen eye to eye. Sure, the rivalry is bigger in basketball, but it pours over into football, too. Any time the Hoosiers and Boilermakers share a space to compete against one another, it’ll be fierce – it doesn’t matter what it is.
Purdue has had a strong hold on the football portion of the rivalry throughout history and won all but four of its annual games against Indiana from 1995 through 2012. It’s been a different story since, though, with the Hoosiers claiming five of the last seven matchups between the programs. The last four games in this series have been decided by one possession, including a double-overtime thriller in 2019, and it has delivered some stellar drama during my lifetime, even during Purdue’s reign in the 2000s (who could forget 2007?).
Add in the Old Oaken Bucket, and you’ve got one of the best Big Ten football rivalries right now.
Michigan – Ohio State: 58-51-6
You obviously could not make this list without The Game.
One of the marquee rivalries in all of North American sports, let alone Big Ten football, Michigan-Ohio State is rich with history, high stakes, and most importantly, lots and lots of hate. The Wolverines own the all-time series, but Ohio State has owned the present, winning against its arch rival eight-straight times and losing just once to Michigan since 2004.
To some, Ohio State’s recent control has lessened the rivalry, but even if that’s true to some extent, it’s not even close to enough to keep it from being one of the best in the conference. Though the Buckeyes haven’t lost to Michigan much, they’ve had to squeak some of those victories out, and there have been some massive implications at times, too.
The 2016 and 2006 games in particular are two of the most famous in the rivalry’s history, both with direct consequences in the race for a national championship. This year’s edition figures to be another massive one with it potentially directly determining who represents the Big Ten East in the conference title game and offers a direct path to the College Football Playoff (some more has to be worked out before all that, but it’s possible).
There’s too much behind Michigan-Ohio State to leave it off this list, and that’ll be the case in 10 years even if OSU wins all of the games in between. It’s just too deep.
Michigan – Penn State: 15-10-0
While Ohio State has more or less held firm atop the Big Ten for about 20 years, Michigan and Penn State have developed some nastiness on that tier right below.
It’s only been since the Big Ten East began that this rivalry started to become more recognized, but it had already been forming for years before then. In the four games played between them from 2002 through 2007, all were determined by seven points or fewer, though Michigan won them all, including the well-known Mario Manningham game-winning touchdown game in 2005. The contests in 2013 and 2014 were heated, too, and now the last three iterations of this series have been decided by small margins.
The outcome of this one has had conference and national implications, and the sport’s treatment of Jim Harbaugh and James Franklin weirdly mirror each other, offering another interesting angle to this budding rivalry. Both schools are more focused on hating Ohio State, and Michigan has Michigan State to worry about it, but during the week when the Wolverines and Nittany Lions clash, it’s become quite the affair.