Why Indiana still needs five decades of wins to catch Michigan football

As much as Big Ten football is defined by its epic rivalries — where is that Paul Bunyan Trophy now, anyway? — even the conference’s biggest backers can admit there are some that are, well, a bit lopsided.

That actually includes the annual grudge match between Michigan football and Michigan State football; the Spartans have won 10 of the past 14, cutting the Wolverines’ edge to … 33 games (71-38-5). And yet that’s not even close to the conference's most lopsided rivalries, two of which were renewed on Saturday.

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In Ann Arbor, the Wolverines hosted Indiana, which would need to win every game against the Wolverines though roughly 2070 (depending on how 2028’s absorption of half the Big 12 affects the Big 19’s divisional structure) to even the lifetime series. And in College Park, Maryland, the Terrapins hosted Penn State; the Terps ONLY need wins in their next 37 games (depending on Saturday’s result) to pull even with the Nittany Lions. With that in mind, we took a look at the series records for every Big Ten matchup and found seven in which one team has at least a 40-game edge on the other, plus one (dis)honorable mention.

(Note: Penn State/Maryland doesn’t technically clear the 40-game bar, but we’re including it on sheer abysmal winning percentage.)

Let’s dig in on the most lopsided Big Ten football rivalries.

Honorable mention: Penn State over Maryland, 40-3-1

Margin: 37 games.

These two relative newcomers to the Big Ten — the Nittany Lions joined in 1993, the Terrapins in 2014 — had a rivalry that lasted nearly four decades, with independent Penn State facing ACC member Maryland in all but three years (1976, 1981, 1983) from 1960-1993. Yes, the Nittany Lions’ conference membership cleaved this rivalry in two — which is something the Terps were probably glad for, as they won just once over that span (1961, with a tie in 1989). But hey, things went better once Maryland reunited with Penn State, right? Not exactly: Maryland won that first conference game against its new division rival, then lost the next five by an average margin of 36.4 before getting some revenge with a 35-19 victory last year. Which means that, yes, Maryland has more Big Ten wins over Penn State (two) in seven tries than it did in 37 nonconference matchups (one).

Ohio State Buckeyes running back Jordan Hall (7) gets past Wisconsin Badgers safety Adam Hampton (25) and Wisconsin Badgers running back Kyle Zuleger (27) on a late 4th quarter kickoff return in their NCAA football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, October 29, 2011. (Dispatch photo by Kyle Robertson)

7. Ohio State over Wisconsin, 61-18-5

Margin: 43 games.

The Badgers actually started out on top, winning the first three games in the rivalry, from 1913-15, while holding the Buckeyes to just six points total. The record stayed relatively close into the 1950s, with Ohio State taking a 6-13-3 lead. But since Michigan State joined up and officially created the “Big Ten” in 1953, it’s been an O-H-I-O-RROR show for the Badgers: A six-game losing streak, broken by a win and a tie, followed by a 20-game skid, followed by — miraculously! — five wins in seven seasons to open the 1980s. Wisconsin has gotten its licks in, but the Badgers have just one win streak against the Buckeyes since Marty McFly hopped in the DeLorean — 1985, that is — and that’s a two-game run in 2003-04. Since then, Wisconsin has beaten OSU just once (2010) and is riding an eight-game skid that includes three Big Ten title games.

Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara avoids the tackle of Northwestern's Jeffery Pooler Jr. during the first half on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, at Michigan Stadium.

6. Michigan over Northwestern, 59-15-2

Margin: 44 games.

The Wolverines and Wildcats recently added a trophy — named for George Jewett, the first Black football player at both Michigan and Northwestern — to complement the rivalry that dates back to 1892. Based on its history, though, the Wildcats may have a few more years before they get to keep it on their side of Lake Michigan; Northwestern’s last win over U-M came in 2008 (21-14 in Ann Arbor), a seven-game streak for the Wolverines boosted by the Big Ten’s split into divisions. Not that Northwestern was holding its own before the Legends/Leaders/East/West split; since the schools began playing regularly in 1932, Northwestern has had three unbeaten streaks: 1934-37, when they went 3-0-1; 1958-59, when they won twice by a combined 44 points; and 1995-96, when they won twice by a combined seven points. That includes a 19-game losing streak against Michigan from 1966-92 — covering the entire tenure of coach Bo Schembechler in Ann Arbor.

Zach Charbonnet #24 of the Michigan Wolverines runs the ball as Stanley Green #7 of the Illinois Fighting Illini dives for the tackle during the first half at Memorial Stadium on October 12, 2019 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

5. Michigan over Illinois, 71-23-2

Margin: 48 games.

Hey, maybe it’s just the Land of Lincoln? Michigan worked out its issues on the state from 1967-91 — again, covering Schembechler’s time with the Wolverines — seemingly every year, going 23-1-1 over that span. The lone loss for U-M: A 16-6 … um, what’s the opposite of “thriller”? … snoozer against a Rose Bowl-bound Illini squad. Still, it wasn’t the quality of his opponent that had Bo ranting after the game: “The is the worst place in America to play," Schembechler said in Champaign. "It's said the administration here doesn't take the bull by the horns. It's unfair. This is the worst place in the conference, and the administration doesn't do a thing about it. Maybe after they've won here for a while." Still, to the Illini’s credit, they do have a win streak against the Wolverines this century: a pair of 25-point blowouts in 2008-09.

Michigan Wolverines linebacker Cameron McGrone (44) tackles Indiana Hoosiers running back Stevie Scott III (8) during the first quarter of the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Memorial Stadium on Nov 7, 2020 in Bloomington, Indiana.

4. Michigan over Indiana, 59-10-0

Margin: 49 games.

If there was a game that signaled how brutal 2020 was going to be for the Wolverines, it was their Week 3 38-21 loss to the Hoosiers on Nov. 7 in Bloomington. It was Michigan’s first loss to Indiana in 25 tries, following the Hoosiers’ previous most recent win, in 1987 and also in Bloomington. The location, of course, was one of several excuses Schembechler offered for the loss, along with the refs (again, of course): “If you are a good football team you have to overcome all those adversities. A crowd that doesn’t understand football, ruining your communications. An officiated game like that one. It was terrible,” Then again, maybe Bo had a point: Indiana hasn’t won in Ann Arbor since 1967, the first game between the two squads after a six-year hiatus (despite being in the same conference).

T2. Ohio State over Northwestern, 64-14-1

Margin: 50 games.

In the matchup of arguably the two ends of the Big Ten’s academics-vs.-football spectrum, the Buckeyes’ dominance isn’t exactly a surprise; they won the first five by a combined 179 points from 1913-17, after which the “rivalry” took a decade off. The Wildcats have just three win streaks against the Buckeyes: 1929-31, when they held OSU to eight points over three games; 1940-41, when they held OSU to 10 points; and 1962-63, which included the only matchup between the two as top-10 foes — No. 8 Northwestern, led by future Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian, upset No. 6 Ohio State, 18-14, in 1962. A couple weeks later, the Wildcats ascended to No. 1; it’s been all downhill from there, with two Northwestern wins (1971, 2004) over OSU since.

Michigan's Gemon Green defends a pass against Minnesota in the second half at TCF Bank Stadium, Oct. 24, 2020.

T2. Michigan over Minnesota, 75-25-3

Margin: 50 games.

It’s hard to believe there was a time when the Gophers had a strangle hold on the “Little Brown Jug” — the trophy that dates back to a 1903 matchup between the schools. But Minnesota actually won nine straight from 1934-42 (though the Gophers’ final three wins in the run were by a combined 10 points). Since then? Minnesota has had only one other win streak in the rivalry, taking four straight from 1960-63. Minnesota has won the Jug six times since, but Michigan has won it back each time; the most recent exchance game in 2014-15, when Minnesota beat Brady Hoke’s Wolverines, 30-14, only to surrender the trophy to Jim Harbaugh’s squad on Halloween 2015. Michigan has won three straight in the matchup since, aided by divisional breaks in 2016, ’18 and ’19.

Ohio State Buckeyes running back TreVeyon Henderson (32) fights through Indiana Hoosiers defensive back Noah Pierre (21) and defensive back Marcelino McCrary-Ball (9) on his way to scoring a touchdown during the NCAA football game at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. Ohio State won 54-7.

1. Ohio State over Indiana, 78-12-5

Margin: 66 games.

How dominant have the Buckeyes been in this one? Since Michigan State joined the conference in 1953, OSU has failed to beat Indiana just four times – and two of those were ties (1990, and 1959’s 0-0 banger). That makes the stretch from 1987-90 even more impressive for the Hoosiers, with back-to-back wins (by a combined 55 points) in 1987-88, a four-point loss in 1989, and a 27-all tie. Indiana has lost 27 straight since, including a 54-7 stomping in Bloomington on Oct. 23.

Contact Ryan Ford at Follow him on Twitter @theford.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan football vs. Indiana: one of the Big Ten’s lopsided rivalries