Most of the time when I have done these thus far this season, something mundane happens in my very dull daily routine to make me think of an interesting idea for a topic to use in the tiers. This week, that hadn’t happened. So I started to rank and arrange the teams without any idea of where I was going to go with it. As fate would have it, there appeared before me seven tiers (at least this is how I believe these teams are currently tiered, as always its pretty subjective). And thus the ideas were bountiful. There are seven deadly sins, seven continents, seven games in the most important of our sporting event finals (at least in the United States), and Seven, is of course, the proposed name of George Constanza’s hypothetical child.
But the first thing that came to my mind were the seven things I have been fascinated with ever since I heard their collective title: The Seven Wonders of the World. Now more commonly recognized as The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World because the concept has since been co-opted for modern creations, natural landmarks, and a myriad of other items, these constructions of classical antiquity, as identified by ancient Greek poet Antipater of Sidon, always held a spot of preoccupation in my young mind. And so it is these structures we will use to tier our Big Ten teams this week.
The Big Ten has the most undefeated teams remaining of any major conference (four). Some might say that is because of weak schedules for some of those teams (Minnesota and to a much lesser extent Penn State). And while there remains a very strong College Football Playoff contender at the top of the conference in Ohio State, who continues to destroy anything in its path, the bottom of the conference is showing why, as a whole, the Big Ten gets a bad rep with some folks in the media and general public. But enough introduction, hope in your time machine and join me on a journey to antiquity and behold the wonders of the B1G!
(Do with these rankings what you will. SP+ rank and FEI (Fremeau Efficiency Index) rank is provided next to each team. Click these links for more information on SP+ and FEI. FEI hasn’t been updated to reflect games past Week 6.)
The Great Pyramid of Giza Tier
#1 - Ohio State Buckeyes (1st, 2nd)
Immovable, spectacular, ubiquitous, and the only Wonder still standing today. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Pyram-- er I mean the Ohio State Buckeyes. The parallels are obvious. Despite a bye week, Ohio State climbed to the top of the SP+ ratings. They have the talent and statistical profile to be considered the best team in the country by many outlets. They are the cream of the Big Ten crop. After a brief detour to Evanston this Friday evening for what will almost assuredly be a massacre, the Buckeyes will test their meddle against the Badgers in a huge game in Columbus. Based on their seemingly permanent perch at the top of these rankings, I predict pain for the Badgers.
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia Tier
#2 - Wisconsin Badgers (4th, 5th)
#3 - Penn State Nittany Lions (6th, 10th)
The 39-foot tall statue comprised of ivory and gold built to honor the king of the gods represents two teams that, if not for Ohio State, would proudly sit atop the conference with perfect records and impressive resumes. Both teams tend to conjure allusions of thunder when they play, whether it be their rushing attacks or their top ten defensive SP+ rankings (2nd for Wisconsin, 10th for Penn State). However, tests still await these squads and their seeming invincibility will be tested. Will they be destroyed much like the Statue of Zeus was in the 5th century AD? Only time will tell.
The Colossus of Rhodes Tier
#4 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (17th, 33rd)
#5 - Iowa Hawkeyes (21st, 12th)
#6 - Michigan Wolverines (13th, 22nd)
#7 - Michigan State Spartans (27th, 25th)
This tier is crowded, much like the sea port of ancient Rhodes. While the Colossus was a spectacular sight that towered above the harbor, it stood on tenuous ground and was eventually destroyed by an earthquake in 226 BC. In this case, that tenuous ground could either be an easy starting schedule (Minnesota) or a sputtering offense (Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State). The Gophers have surged up the power rankings due to their overall improved play after their bye week and the margin of victory they have displayed without a dependency on opponent turnovers. Meanwhile, the other three teams have played some higher quality opponents, lost to said opponents but have maintained the ability to whoop up on weaker ones. I would argue 5-7 are essentially interchangeable at the moment until we see more data. But those three teams are so similar in their strengths and weaknesses (all top ten in SP+ defensive rating), it wouldn’t make much sense not to tier them together and treat them, for the moment at least, synonymously.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria Tier
#8 - Indiana Hoosiers (25th, 42nd)
#9 - Northwestern Wildcats (62nd, 62nd)
#10 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (44th, 75th)
These three teams, much like the beacon that the great lighthouse of antiquity was for sailors, can see a light in the darkness that is their current conference records. Indiana has a quality statistical profile and a slightly easier stretch of schedule coming up (at Maryland, at Nebraska, Northwestern). Northwestern, whose offense has completely disappeared off the face of the Earth much like a trireme of ancient seafaring, have the light of knowing they can be competitive against good teams based on their performance against Wisconsin in Madison. This will come in handy as they host Ohio State and Iowa in their next two games. Nebraska has the hope of knowing they are not fully healthy. Despite poor offensive performances in the last three games (8 points per game), they have been decimated by injuries to their most important play-makers. These may be false hopes and this tier could very well continue to crumble like the lighthouse did by various earthquakes throughout the second millennium but there remains a speck of light in the fog that is the vigors of the Big Ten schedule.
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus Tier
#11 - Purdue Boilermakers (51st, 78th)
#12 - Maryland Terrapins (43rd, 79th)
One of two of the “lesser” known wonders, this tier is comprised of lesser known teams. While they may have appeared to be grand early on, they have been destroyed on multiple occasions as was the Temple of Artemis. Purdue just blew the doors off of Maryland in West Lafayette this weekend so putting them in the same tier seems counter-intuitive but their seasons as whole entities are quite similar. At one point in time (preseason for Purdue, after Week 2 for Maryland) both teams were receiving very likely unwarranted hype and optimism based on too-small sample sizes. They have advanced statistical profiles buoyed by their more successful conference-mates and appear to be fighting for bowl eligibility for the rest of the season. The Temple of Artemis was entirely rebuilt twice. Will these talented but flawed teams be able to wreck another team’s season or disintegrate like the Ephesian wonder had by 401 AD?
The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus Tier
#13 - Illinois Fighting Illini (74th, 93rd)
As I’m sure you know, a mausoleum is a tomb. The one at Halicarnassus was built for Mausolus (the word mausoleum, which has now come to be used for an above-ground tomb, is derived from his name ), a satrap in the Persian Empire and his sister-wife (yeesh) Artemisia II of Caria. I’m fairly certain the Illini faithful in Urbana-Champaign are constructing a similar mental mausoleum for both the 2019 Illinois football season and the Lovie Smith tenure. Despite a moderately respectable contest with a befuddling Michigan squad this past weekend, this team is DOA and associating the word wonder in any way with the Fighting Illini was a stretch but... here we are.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon Tier
#14 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (97th, 124th)
The actual existence of the Hanging Gardens remains unresolved to this day. The same could be said about the Rutgers football program...