Greetings Gopher faithful! The sample size is slowly growing... As the season progresses, we learn more and more about each Big Ten team. More games gives us more data points, wins, losses, and injuries. Because college football is an ever-changing organism, these things may still never clearly predict the future or correctly illustrate how a good a respective team may or may not be. However, power rankings aren’t often required to be overly scientific. They are often an exercise in fun. I respect the advanced analytics in college football. I acknowledge the semi-legitimacy of the eye test. But at the end of the day, isn’t college football supposed to just be about having fun?
With this in mind, this week’s tiers are defined by songs from Taylor Swift’s new album Lover. I’m not a huge fan or anything but it is always prudent to be caught up on pop culture and the names of the songs fit too well with some Big Ten teams to pass up the opportunity.
Without further ado, I present to you the Week 3 Power Rankings. Do with them 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.
“The Man” Tier
#1 - Ohio State Buckeyes (5th, 4th)
A shutout of a quality Power 5 opponent in the Cincinnati Bearcats (62nd in SP+) preserves the top spot for the Buckeyes. Justin Fields looks very comfortable running the Ohio State offense and the defense is stacked with talent. Despite the coaching transition to Ryan Day, it doesn’t appear that Ohio State is going to slow down anytime soon. The next two weeks probably won’t present much more data to describe the quality of the Buckeyes. A September 28th date in Lincoln with the Cornhuskers will provide further depth into the perceived quality of this squad but as for now Ohio State is the man of the conference.
“You Need to Calm Down” Tier
#2 - Wisconsin Badgers (6th, 7th)
Wisconsin has yet to allow a point this season through two games. They have outscored their opponent 110-0. Johnathan Taylor looks like a surefire invitee to New York for the Heisman ceremony. But SIMMER DOWN NOW Badger fans ... Because the two teams you have played so far are ranked 97th and 124th in SP+. These teams are not quality opponents, they are essentially high FCS-level competition. While they may very well be the top team in the West division, fans from Madison might want to wait to punch their tickets to the College Football Playoff, especially considering they welcome Michigan to Camp Randall next week after a bye and have to travel to Columbus in late October. Division favorites you may be but relax a little until you play a quality opponent.
#3 - Maryland Terrapins (38th, 59th)
In the case of the Terrapins, the tier may reference my personal feelings about the results thus far. Perhaps I have Maryland too high and I need to chill... On the other hand, Syracuse isn’t a scrub (70th in SP+) and they put the absolute hammer on the Orange to the tune of 63-20. Because their first thumping of the season involved a lower tier FCS team (Howard), the metrics don’t love the Terrapins yet and perhaps that illustrates why I should curtail my optimistic ranking. But for the time being, an explosive offense appeals to me more than the teams that comprise the next tier.
“False God” Tier
#4 - Penn State Nittany Lions (10th, 14th)
Penn State found themselves losing 10-7 to the Buffalo Bulls at halftime this past week. They put on the jets in the second half to win 45-13 but the slow start is still a little disconcerting especially in conjunction with the fact that the Nittany Lions only averaged 3.3 yards per carry against a weak (94th in SP+ defense) Buffalo defense. The advanced ranking systems still like PSU quite a bit and they still rank highly on this list but there might be some unsafe idolatry towards the passing game developing in Happy Valley.
#5 - Iowa Hawkeyes (20th, 12th)
I’ll give the edge to the Hawkeyes over the Spartans because of how hard it is to shutout a team, even one that is as low caliber as Rutgers (107th SP+). Additionally, the Iowa offense is far more two-dimensional than in recent memory which begs the question: “What false god has Iowa abandoned ultra-offensively conservative and infinite buyout overlord Coach Ferentz for?” A huge bellwether game awaits Iowa as they travel to Ames to take on their in-state rival Iowa State. This will give us much more insight into the quality of the Hawkeyes than the likes of Rutgers.
#6 - Michigan State Spartans (18th, 22nd)
After an underwhelming debut against Tulsa, the Spartan offense looked better against Western Michigan. They have thus far taken care of business and with the offensive coaching shuffle beginning to bare fruit, they could be poised to shake off the false identify of a team solely defined by the god-like defense and make some noise in the Big Ten East this season. An intriguing matchup with Arizona State in East Lansing awaits.
#7 - Michigan Wolverines (15th, 9th)
Perhaps Coach Jim Harbaugh is a false god when it comes to coaching up a capable and consistent offense. After barely escape Army in double overtime 24-21, the Wolverines have some soul-searching to do. Averaging 2.4 yards per carry against any service academy school is not a good sign for future success. Michigan is stacked with talent on both sides of the ball but more often than not, this fact does not fully manifest itself in on-field results. A huge game looms after the bye in Madison against the not-allowed-a-point-yet Badgers.
“Soon You’ll Get Better” Tier
#8 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (42nd, 32nd)
The Golden Gophers escaped a tough contest away from home against the Fresno State Bulldogs with a thrilling 38-35 double overtime victory. The biggest takeaway from the game was sheer amount of inexcusable (yet fixable) mistakes that were made by the visiting Gophers to try to give away the game to the reigning Mountain West Conference champions. Fans of the maroon and gold sure do hope they fix these mistakes soon so that the Gophers will be better against the likes of Georgia Southern and beyond.
#9 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (52nd, 63rd)
The Cornhuskers blew a 17-point halftime lead to former Big 12 North rival Colorado this past weekend. Despite a quality start by Adrian Martinez at quarterback and a load of offensive talent, Nebraska is still navigating their way through the beginning of the Scott Frost era. While many Husker faithful thought that this process would go into hyper drive this season, it appears they’ll be striving to get better but it may be later rather than sooner.
“Paper Rings” Tier
#10 - Purdue Boilermakers (57th, 76th)
A win against an SEC team is usually a big deal but a double-digit home victory against a retooling Vanderbilt isn’t going to move the needle a huge amount. However, Big Five non-conference wins don’t come around too often so the Boilermakers get a three-place upward bump in the rankings. Despite this fact, the psyche and success of this team currently seem as delicate as paper especially with the news of starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar suffering a concussion.
#11 - Illinois Fighting Illini (73rd, 98th)
Illinois defeated UConn by 8 points this past weekend in Storrs. UConn is ranked 122nd out of 130 in SP+. Their Week 1 victory was over 128th ranked Akron. The 2-0 record the Illini current hold is due to the opponents they have thus far faced being made out of paper.
#12 - Indiana Hoosiers (40th, 36th)
Similarly, Indiana has faced the likes of Ball State (101st in SP+) and FCS Eastern Illinois. While I might be undervaluing the Hoosiers according to their standings in both advanced ranking systems, I’m going to need to see something a little more eye-catching than a 10-point win against a bottom-dwelling MAC team or a sub-par FCS school.
“I Forgot That You Existed” Tier
#13 - Northwestern Wildcats (84th, 40th)
The Wildcats get lumped in here because they had a bye week and therefore fell off the collective radar of college football for a week. I don’t think they’re actually this low in the Big Ten pecking order, but they suited the tier name to a T. This fact in addition to the loss of starting quarterback TJ Green, a 0-1 start, and the uncertainty surrounding the Northwestern offense means that most folks will have forgotten about the Wildcats until their annual “Hey, we just upset a really good Big Ten team and no one was talking about us” Game.
#14 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (107th, 108th)
I think this ranking and tier are pretty self-explanatory when it comes to the Scarlet Knights...