Photo provided by Michigan State athletics
Some may have considered the 2015 season a banner year for the Big Ten.
Although no one from the conference claimed a national championship, six teams won 10 games and finished ranked in the final AP Poll. The conference was decided on this day five years ago in a thriller as a late touchdown lifted Michigan State past undefeated Iowa in the Big Ten Championship, 16-13.
Setting the Stage
The consensus was that a College Football Playoff berth was on the line as the Spartans and Hawkeyes met in Indianapolis on Dec. 5, 2015. Michigan State was 11-1 and ranked No. 5 in the country. The lone blemish for the Spartans had been a 1-point loss to Nebraska.
Iowa was 12-0 and ranked fourth in the country. The Hawkeyes had won five games by eight points or less.
Through three quarters, neither team had scored a touchdown. Iowa led 6-3 at halftime, but let an opportunity slip away late in the first half when Michigan State’s Demetrious Cox intercepted quarterback C.J. Beathard in the end zone.
Michael Geiger hit a pair of field goals in the third quarter to put Michigan State in front, 9-6. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Iowa scored the game’s first touchdown when Beathard hit Tevaun Smith on an 85-yard scoring strike.
Following an exchange of punts, Michigan State took over at its own 18-yard-line with less than 10 minutes to play. The Spartans proceeded to put together a drive for the ages.
The drive lasted 22 plays and included 17 runs — most of them to running back L.J. Scott. Michigan State had converted four third downs on the drive when it faced 4th-and-2 from the Iowa 5-yard-line.
Quarterback Connor Cook had converted a pair of those third downs with his arm, but with the game in the balance, used his legs to keep the Spartans alive. Two runs by Scott later and Michigan State faced 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard-line.
Scott, a freshman, had carried 21 times in the contest, but the last yard would be the toughest. On the game’s decisive play, Scott went slightly to his right. After evading the first defender, the Michigan State back took on a pair of Iowa players head on.
With other Hawkeyes trying to pile on, Scott reached the ball across the goal line with just 27 seconds remaining. The call was a touchdown.
Iowa was unable to make anything happen on the final drive. For the second time in three years, Michigan State was champions of the Big Ten.
The victory for Michigan State would send the Spartans to the College Football Playoff for the first time. Unfortunately for Michigan State, it was blanked by eventual national champion Alabama, 38-0.
Iowa managed to earn a New Year’s Six berth as well. The Hawkeyes were also blown out, falling to Stanford in the Rose Bowl, 45-16.
To this day, the contest is tied for the closest Big Ten Championship game ever. It’s the only top-5 match-up in the history of the Big Ten Championship. It happened on this day five years ago.