Honestly, I thought ‘Bama would be immune to the uncertainty that has terrorized ranked teams thus far in the 2021 College Football Season. The football gods just laughed at my naivety and chaos reigned in College Station last Saturday night much like it had in various college locations across the country for the first seven weeks of the season. Not only were there upsets but there were close games galore. If you are a fan of the craziness of college football, including that which occurs during games and in online forums, the 2021 season is for you. While we are on the precipice of massive change for the sport as it has been known for decades, 2021 might just be the last gasp of an old ideal. I suggest everyone who is a fan of the “way things used to be” treasure this season for all its worth. In the mean time, I will continue to try to make sense of the Big Ten in the only fashion I know how: non-sensical, erratically formatted, and illogically composed power rankings.
Since mid-October is upon us, what better way to get into the Halloween season than to use popular Halloween Trick-or-Treat tropes to tier the teams of the Big Ten. Sadly, Halloween falls on a Sunday this year and we’ll miss the golden opportunity for the spookiest night of the year to coincide with a full day of college football during one of the most tumultuous years the sport has seen in the 21st century. Alas! What could have been!
(Do with these rankings what you will. SP+ rank and FEI (Fremeau Efficiency Index) rank is provided next to each team, respectively. Click these links for more information on SP+ and FEI. The previous week’s position in these pointless power rankings follows those two superior metrics.)
The King-Size Candy Bar Tier
#1 - Iowa Hawkeyes (16th, 6th, last week #1)
#2 - Ohio State Buckeyes (2nd, 3rd, last week #3)
#3 - Penn State Nittany Lions (6th, 7th, last week #2)
#4 - Michigan Wolverines (8th, 4th, last week #4)
#5 - Michigan State Spartans (15th, 23rd, last week #5)
The Holy Grail of all adolescent Trick-or-Treat sojourns was the King-size candy bar. Didn’t matter what it was but if you came across a house doling those bad boys out, the news would spread far and wide like wildfire and the proprietors of the property would elevated to the highest status childhood neighborhood imagination allowed. These teams — at least for now — have their eyes set on the ultimate king-size candy bar in Indianapolis come December. Four of the five are undefeated in conference play with the fifth dropping an away game to Hawkeyes this past weekend with the final result no doubt influenced by the injury to their starting quarterback.
Despite SP+’s hesitancy to elevate the Hawkeyes to its AP Poll levels, as well as the fact that everyone and their mother knows Kirk Ferentz’s squad is winning ugly and their offense is more questionable than a Jon Gruden email server, they still have the overall results, unblemished record, and decent supporting metrics to give them the top slot.
While I hate to do it, the Buckeyes look to have shaken off their early season stumble to Oregon with great offensive aplomb and look every bit the juggernaut on that side of the ball we expect them to be. In this season of chaos, they still have the world in front of them and with their talent and somewhat favorable schedule going forward, I see no reason why they can’t once again compete for the #1 spot in these rankings if the Hawkeyes were to show signs of weakness.
Michigan continues to hang around mostly due to the fact they haven’t lost. Winning consecutive games on the road in the Big Ten is no easy feat and despite a ho-hum offense, the Wolverines deserve to be a part of this tier until the loss column begins to populate itself.
Though Michigan State is still searching for a marquee win, they continue to win with consistency and reasonable margins as they march up the advanced metric rankings as well. Due to this climb, I have bumped them to this tier because having three conference wins under your belt and two of your three big games of the season at home will put you in the mix for the division.
The Small Bag of Candy Tier
#6 - Wisconsin Badgers (10th, 23rd, last week #6)
#7 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (22nd, 33rd, last week #7)
#8 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (39th, 52nd, last week #8)
#9 - Maryland Terrapins (21st, 73rd, last week #9)
#10 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (62nd, 70th, last week #10)
#11 - Indiana Hoosiers (59th, 64th, last week #11)
#12 - Purdue Boilermakers (54th, 50th, last week #12)
You know what I’m talking about? Some houses would present to the masses individual bags filled with a decent number of fun sized treats. This strategy I imagine has met an all-time high in implementation due to the on-going pandemic and the more sanity aspects of its distribution. But you never knew what you were getting in those bags until you got home and dumped them out, right? Well, this very large group of teams feels the same way. You may find a treasure or two in the bag, but you never know what the heck was going to come out of it.
Wisconsin has finally met an end to its assembly-line like offense. For the first time in what feels like a millennium, they have an extremely questionable offense and despite the elite defense, they haven’t looked the part of a team worthy of divisional consideration. A win against the hapless Illini does nothing to dissuade this prognosticator from becoming more and more doubtful of their season outlook. An All Hallows Eve Eve matchup with the Hawkeyes in Madison looks more and more like their Super Bowl.
There is no doubt that Nebraska has drastically improved since its Week 0 debacle in Chambana, but how much can you really reward a team for losing close against good competition? They have a poor 1-3 conference record but their advanced metrics having gradually improved. The underlying stats say they are a team on the rise, now they just have to learn how to win a close game.
The rest of the teams were either out of action this past week on bye or had results that didn’t really change their outlook or standing in this tier. Honestly, I need more data to understand if there is another tier to be found in this soggy middle of the conference. Perhaps our own beloved Gophers can use a cushy mid-season schedule to rise up the ranks? Or will Nebraska continue its upward trajectory with an actual win against a non-Northwestern Big Ten foe... Tune in this Saturday to find out!
The Toothbrush/Apple/Popcorn Ball Tier
#13 - Northwestern Wildcats (82nd, 88th, last week #13)
#14 - Illinois Fighting Illini (95th, 93rd, last week #14)
Even if apples or popcorn balls can be fine foods to consume in a vacuum, they were never the goal of trekking for miles and miles in an unnecessarily elaborate costume with excessive face paint. The goal was to collect as much candy as humanly possible. These non-candy hand outs were the nadir of Trick-or-Treat scavenging and often led to teepeeing escapades for those neighborhood members foolish enough to try to sell the subdivision youth on the benefits of Oral-B’s new and improved bristles.
Sadly, the Land of Lincoln populates the bottom tier of these rankings and very well might continue to do so for the foreseeable future. For Northwestern, in years where their offense disappears completely and their defense isn’t top-10 nationally elite, this is what happens. For Illinois, they can continue to say that it’s the first year of a new coaching tenure but that will do little to comfort the populace of Chambana, who haven’t seen truly competent football since the end of the Bush administration. Wildcat and Illini fans must feel as if they’ve been handed a Honeycrisp in their Halloween candy carriers of choice.