It was 1953 when the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference first met in a nonconference football game, and it was a good one on a cloudy October afternoon in Durham, North Carolina.
The ACC was an upstart conference in its first year and hoping Duke, its best team, would show up well against a struggling Purdue squad from the first collegiate conference, founded in 1897. With 37 seconds left, backup quarterback Jerry Barger scored on a bootleg run to give Duke a 20-14 win.
Since then, Big Ten and ACC teams have squared off 175 times in regular-season games and bowls. The Big Ten is 101-73-2 all-time, but the ACC certainly has had its shining moments.
There are a total of seven Big Ten-ACC regular-season games this season, most ever in a single year and the result of a confluence of scheduling arrangements made over the past decade.
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Purdue’s 24-17 win over Virginia Tech last week put the Big Ten up 1-0 this year. Virginia visits Maryland on Friday night to open a weekend featuring six matchups between the conferences.
Saturday’s games: Minnesota at North Carolina; Louisville vs. Indiana at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis; Northwestern at Duke; Virginia Tech at Rutgers; and Syracuse at Purdue.
The Big Ten and ACC share commonalities academically and athletically, and geographically when that mattered in college sports.
The conferences’ footprints have been side by side historically, and members of both have proud academic traditions.
In basketball, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge created made-for-TV matchups between the leagues from 1999-2022 for the men and from 2007-2022 for the women. The Challenge ended last season because ESPN no longer has Big Ten media rights.
Friday’s football game between Virginia and Maryland matches old ACC rivals that have met 78 times but not since 2013. Maryland left for the Big Ten in 2014 and has faced former ACC foes five times since, including in three bowls.
Minnesota is playing North Carolina for the first time, and Louisville and Indiana are meeting for the third time but first since 1986. Syracuse and Purdue have split two all-time meetings, including the Orange’s win last year. Rutgers has lost 12 straight to Virginia Tech in a series dormant for 20 years not including a bowl meeting in 2012.
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Northwestern and Duke, both known for academic prowess, have played football against each other often since 1985 in what outsiders derisively call the “Nerd Bowl.” Duke has won four straight in the series and leads it 12-10.
The most high profile recent Big Ten-ACC matchups occurred in the 2021 Sugar Bowl and 2019 Fiesta Bowl, both College Football Playoff semifinals pitting Ohio State against Clemson.
More memorable to old-timers is the Ohio State-Clemson meeting in the 1978 Gator Bowl. That’s the game where, with Ohio State trailing late in a 17-15 loss, Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman intercepted a pass and was shoved out of bounds. When Bauman got up, Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes grabbed Bauman and punched him in the chest. Hayes was fired the next day.
The Orange Bowl has had some great Big Ten-ACC matchups. Joe Paterno’s Penn State beat Bobby Bowden’s Florida State 26-23 in three overtimes in 2006, Florida State beat Michigan 33-32 in 2016 and Wisconsin took down Miami 34-24 in 2017.
The 1979 Gator Bowl, the year after Hayes’ infamous punch, saw seven-point underdog North Carolina beat Michigan 17-15 to hand Bo Schembechler a loss to end a season for the 11th straight year.
It was reminiscent of that Duke-Purdue game in 1953, the first of many times the ACC was able to prevail against the proud Big Ten.
“They’re in the Big Ten and we are in the little ACC,” Carolina quarterback Matt Kupec famously said. “We showed ’em.”