Penn State's top 10 Big Ten games 

One perspective on Penn State's 10 biggest Big Ten games:

— Sept. 4, 1993. The Big Ten era at Penn State is ushered in after 106 years as an independent: No. 17 Penn State 38, Minnesota 20.

— Oct. 29, 1994. The top-ranked Nittany Lions delight a homecoming crowd of 97,079 by pounding No. 21 Ohio State, 63-14. It was the first real sign that not only would they prosper in their new conference, they might just dominate it. The victory gives them a two-game lead in the Big Ten standings, all but assuring a conference title in their second season as a member.

— Nov. 5, 1994. Penn State will go on to a perfect season but might very well have cost itself a national championship due to coach Joe Paterno's act of mercy. With his team No. 1 in the coaches poll and leading at Indiana 28-7 in the fourth quarter, Paterno inserts his reserves. The Hoosiers storm back for 22 largely meaningless points, pulling to 35-29 on a last-minute Hail Mary pass.

"It's a long season in the Big Ten," defensive lineman Chris Mazyck said. "You just can't blow everybody out. When you're up by 30 points, you don't want your starters injured."

The score is enough to influence voters and drop the Nittany Lions a spot in the poll, where they would stay the rest of the season. Nebraska, chief beneficiary of Paterno's largesse, climbs to No. 1 and stays there, beating No. 3 Miami in the Orange Bowl to clinch the national title.

After Penn State completes a 12-0 season with a 38-20 win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl, it marks the fourth time that a Paterno team has a perfect record and doesn't win a national title.

"Who said we didn't win a championship?" Paterno says after the bowl win. "The media said we didn't win a championship. We think we won a championship."

— Oct. 19, 1996. Ahead 20-14 at Beaver Stadium at halftime, the Nittany Lions can muster only four first downs and 76 total yards in the second half of a 21-20 loss to Iowa. In a year in which every Big Ten team has at least a loss, Penn State's two losses in the span of three weeks keeps it from capturing its second Big Ten championship.

"Our defense played a great 60 minutes," Paterno says. "But obviously our offense did not have it in the second half for whatever reason."

— Oct. 6, 2001. Is this the end of the Paterno era? Michigan hangs a 20-0 home loss on Penn State and drops the Nittany Lions to 0-4, their worst start ever. They've been outscored 95-31 and held scoreless in the first halves of three of those games.

In addition, there are a drumbeat of off-the-field problems.

"It's tough to take," Paterno says. "There isn't anything in my life anymore except my family and my football. I think about it all the time."

The loss to Michigan is Penn State's first home shutout since 1965, when Paterno was still an assistant coach under Rip Engle.

"I hate to walk off the field after getting licked. I haven't been used to it, and I don't want to get used to it," Paterno said. "Winning can be a habit, and losing can be a habit."

— Oct. 20, 2001. In an otherwise dismal season, there's a bit of good news for Paterno and Penn State.

A 38-35 victory over Northwestern gives Paterno his 323rd victory, matching Paul "Bear" Bryant's Division I-A record for all-time wins.

A week later, Penn State beats Ohio State 29-27 to allow Paterno to eclipse Bryant's mark. It's part of a late surge in which the Nittany Lions salvage the season by winning five of six to finish 5-6.

— Nov. 6, 2004. Perhaps the on-field low point for Paterno in his 46-year career as Penn State's head coach. A 14-7 home loss to Northwestern is the Nittany Lions' sixth in a row, all in Big Ten play. It drops their record to 2-7. And it touches off a firestorm of criticism, most of Paterno's detractors saying he has to step down because the 77-year-old is out of touch with his players and no longer in control of his program.

A column in the student newspaper suggests that Paterno — known for his generosity to the school and his players — was being selfish by staying.

"This season is simply about him proving to himself that he can do what he could 20 years ago. There doesn't seem to be a great concern for others," the columnist wrote.

With rumors flying that he's on his way out, Paterno said the losing skid has caused him to doubt himself.

"Yeah, I get shaky once in a while," Paterno says. "I would be less than honest if I told you I didn't. That doesn't mean that I lose faith."

Two wins to close the season mute some of the uproar, although a segment of fans still feel a change is in order.

— Nov. 19, 2005. It took just two seasons for the Nittany Lions to win their first Big Ten title, leading some to think that maybe the transition to conference play would be an easy one. But it took 11 more years for a second one.

After piling up four losing seasons in a five-year span, Paterno is vindicated as fifth-ranked Penn State captures a share of its second conference title, winning at Michigan State 31-22 in the regular-season finale. Michael Robinson passes for a TD and runs for another and Alan Zemaitis has three interceptions.

"I've been around a lot of good football teams and I've been in a lot of locker rooms where we've felt pretty good about what we had done," Paterno said shortly after his players hugged and laughed and celebrated on the field. "The kids are the ones that are all fired up and they should be, because they went through all that junk — the losing years, everyone doubting them and they got together and went to work. They're the guys that should be happy."

Many at Penn State had called for Paterno's ouster after the run of bad teams and bad luck. His players couldn't be happier to prove the detractors wrong.

"He's worked so hard," Robinson says. "He stayed with us. People told him to retire. Now look at him. Nobody's saying to retire and no more 'Joe Must Go' websites. None of that. I'm just so happy for him."

— Nov. 8, 2008. Paterno's last, best chance for a national championship falls apart in Iowa.

Daniel Murray, who hadn't made a field goal since the season opener, kicks a 31-yarder with a second left to give the Hawkeyes a stunning 24-23 upset of the third-ranked Nittany Lions. Shonn Greene rushes for 117 yards and two touchdowns, and Ricky Stanzi bounces back from an interception and a fumble to lead the Hawkeyes on their game-winning drive, which came after Daryll Clark threw just his third interception of the season. Penn State, which came in at 9-0, was third in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.

"We need to keep our heads up. We can still have a heck of a year," says Paterno, who coaches from the press box and uses a cane because of a sore leg and hip.

Still, the Nittany Lions go on to an 11-2 record, winning a share of the Big Ten title with Ohio State.

— Oct. 29, 2011. No one knew at the time, but a 10-7 win over Illinois is Paterno's last.

With 1:08 left, a touchdown run by Silas Redd gives the 21st-ranked Nittany Lions the lead. They get the win when Illini kicker Derek Dimke's 42-yard field-goal attempt bounces off the right upright as time expired.

"We were very fortunate," Paterno said. "That darn ball bounced off the goal post when it could have bounced any other way it would have been overtime."

It was Paterno's 409th, and final, victory — and broke a tie with Grambling State's Eddie Robinson for the most in Division I. Within a few days, a sex scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky explodes, costing several key administrators their jobs. Paterno, who says he regrets not doing more to prevent the alleged assaults, is fired over the telephone on Nov. 9.

By Jan. 22, 2012, he is dead at 85.


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