Two days ago was the 25th anniversary of the theatrical release of my all-time favorite movie: The Shawshank Redemption. As a kid growing up, my parents had a rule that you weren’t allowed to watch rated-R movies until you were 17. At about 7 AM the morning of my 17th birthday, I was on my basement couch watching Frank Darabont’s directorial debut after years of hearing my father rave (rather insensitively if you ask me) about the movie’s many qualities.
In honor of the movie based on a Stephen King novella, this week’s Big Ten Power Rankings will be tiered according to quotes from the Tim Robbins-Morgan Freeman feature that forever changed the way I looked at movies and to this day is worth countless re-watches (very unlike any football game that Rutgers is involved in).
So grab your rockhammers, secret money ledgers, and Rita Hayworth posters and journey with me through the Big Ten. I present to you the Week 5 Power Rankings.
(This past week saw five of the 14 Big Ten teams on byes so there wasn’t as much additional data to work with as usual. 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 had yet been updated after Week 4 results as of time of posting.
The “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Tier
#1 - Ohio State Buckeyes (2nd, 5th)
#2 - Wisconsin Badgers (5th, 7th)
As much as I hate to do it, thus far this season, Wisconsin has earned a place in the tier with Ohio State. While I still think Ohio State is the superior squad, these two teams have the hope of making the College Football Playoff. While they meet in Columbus later this season in a game where the Buckeyes will be favored, if not heavily, the Badgers could still very well run the table from there on out and try their mettle in a likely repeat contest in the Big Ten Championship Game. While it disgusts me to my core, these two teams have hopes to compete for bigger and better things. Andy gave Red hope and the quality of these two teams, both by their record and advanced metrics, give them hope for highly successful seasons.
The “These prison walls are funny. First you hate ‘em, then you get used to ‘em. Enough time passes, gets so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.” Tier
#3 - Penn State Nittany Lions (11th, 17th)
#4 - Iowa Hawkeyes (29th, 13th)
#5 - Michigan State Spartans (20th, 23rd)
These teams are institutionalized to win the only way they know how. In most cases, that means some ugly, defensive football. While the passing attacks of Iowa and Penn State are respectable, that doesn’t mean that their wins haven’t been ugly (Iowa State for Iowa, Pitt for Penn State). And in the case of Michigan State, they have the highest ranked defense in the country according to SP+ but the 87th ranked defense. For better or worse, these teams have identities that have allowed them to stay in the second tier of the conference. Much like how some inmates just get used to Shawshank, perhaps these teams’ fans will need to get used to winning ugly. They probably aren’t going to stray from those identities any time soon. Their respective coaches have institutionalized these fan bases to accept wins in any and all aesthetic forms.
The “Get busy living or get busy dying.” Tier
#6 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (51st, 34th)
#7 - Michigan Wolverines (26th, 8th)
#8 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (35th, 56th)
The teams in this tier need to decide, starting this week, what kind of season are they going to have. Are they going to get busy moving up the standings? Or are they going to roll over and die? Minnesota needs to win a tricky away game to assert themselves in conference play after skepticism abounds from close non-conference wins. Michigan needs to find an offensive identity and decide whether to pack it in for the season and prepare to fire their coach or buckle down, use the ample amount of talent at their disposal, and get to work fixing their season. Nebraska needs to make a statement as the Buckeyes come to town. Will they just be a doormat for the conference’s baddest bully and continue their trajectory of relative conference irrelevance? Or will they get busy living as true contenders for the Big Ten West crown with a shock victory?
The “Nothing stops. Nothing! Or you will do the hardest time there is. No more protection from the guards...” Tier
#9 - Northwestern Wildcats (93rd, 42nd)
#10 - Purdue Boilermakers (72nd, 77th)
As the Warden threatens Andy because he dared discuss the crooked finances they are both wrapped up in, he insists that Andy shut up or pay the consequences. And because of their schedules, Northwestern and Purdue are very much being punished with no signs of it stopping anytime soon. The Wildcat offense is abysmal (126th in SP+ out of 130!!!! WOOOOOOF!) and the Boilermakers appear banged up after a difficult non-conference schedule that left them with a 1-2 record, several injuries to key players, and more questions than answers. The load doesn’t lighten up for either of the two teams in the coming weeks. Northwestern faces trips to Wisconsin and Lincoln in consecutive weeks, only to follow it up with home games against Ohio State and Iowa. Meanwhile, Purdue welcomes Minnesota to West Lafayette before traveling to University Park to face the Nittany Lions. Neither of these teams appears as if they will be getting protection from the guards anytime soon. Their hard times lay ahead just like a trip to The Hole.
The “The funny thing is, on the outside, I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook.” Tier
#13 - Indiana Hoosiers (32nd, 46th)
#12 - Maryland Terrapins (34th, 64th)
#13 - Illinois Fighting Illini (68th, 95th)
Bear with me on this one. But much like Andy had to go to prison to become a crook (by laundering money for the corrupt Warden), these teams had to get into the season a few games for us to fully understand their quality. In the case of Indiana and Maryland, these are teams that can destroy the dregs of FBS/FCS but thus far, they can’t handle upper level competition. I honestly felt bad about ranking Illinois 13th again after they competed with Nebraska at home but I couldn’t quite put them above Maryland, who at least has beaten a Power 5 team in Syracuse, and Indiana, who got smashed by Ohio State but looks much better in the advanced ratings systems. Over time, its likely the true spots of these squads will be shown.
The “Rehabilitated? It’s just a bulls*** word. So go ahead and stamp your forms, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a s***.” Tier
#14 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (105th, 110th)
The last few sentences pretty much sum up how the Big Ten feels about the Scarlet Knights at this point in time...