So I usually try to talk in generalities about the national landscape of college football in the introduction but let’s narrow our focus. Since we have seen seven weeks, and teams have all played at least half of their games, we’re drawing from a legitimate sample of results now. And while some of the statistics can still be a bit wonky, the hallowed “eye test” does start to hold a little more water than it did after, say, three weeks.
I try to balance the eye test with on-field results and underlying statistics to correctly tag whether a team is trending upward or downward in the Big Ten pecking order. And since I’m not an expert, merely an armchair “writer” with limited time to break down what I am seeing, I get a lot of “feel” related things wrong. I was wrong, or at least I think I was wrong, in thinking that any team other than Ohio State could have a realistic claim to the best team in the conference and not putting more of an emphasis on team balance. An elite defense and paltry offense can only take you so far (looking at you, Iowa and Wisconsin). An elite offense and so-so defense can make you susceptible to an upset (thanks a lot Buckeyes).
In any case, we are half way through the season and you are halfway through having to read this weekly pathetic excuse for college football analysis and power rankings! It’s a win-win! In honor of being “halfway there” to the finish line of the college football regular season, tiers will be named after Bon Jovi songs from their album Slippery When Wet. I don’t know many Bon Jovi songs, I’m not a fan of Bon Jovi, and in no way is this an endorsement (or un-endorsement) of their music. I just run with the first thing that pops into my head that isn’t completely insane (well... scratch that last part... it was the first thing that popped into my head).
(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 “Let It Rock” Tier
#1 - Ohio State Buckeyes (2nd, 3rd, last week #2)
#2 - Penn State Nittany Lions (6th, 6th, last week #3)
#3 - Michigan Wolverines (8th, 4th, last week #4)
#4 - Michigan State Spartans (21st, 24th, last week #5)
With the exception of Penn State, the teams in this tier are allowed to “let it rock” for at least one more week as they all stand undefeated in conference play. The two Great Lakes State schools will face off on Halloween weekend it what will surely indicate which of those is a serious contender for the division crown. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes rested this past week and prepare to continue to lay waste to the rest of the conference after the bye week as they travel to Bloomington this weekend. These teams have shown little weakness, outside of a lack of quarterback in the middle of game in the case for the Nittany Lions. Though the offenses of the Wolverines and Spartans do leave something to be desired, they have passed every test thus far, even if those tests haven’t been overly difficult. For the time, they get to enjoy the top tier with those recognized by the advanced stats as the cream of the crop.
The “Wanted Dead or Alive” Tier
#5 - Iowa Hawkeyes (16th, 9th, last week #1)
#6 - Wisconsin Badgers (7th, 21st, last week #6)
#7 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (28th, 39th, last week #8)
#8 - Purdue Boilermakers (38th, 34th, last week #12)
The very muddy middle gained a new member this week, though I suppose they always belonged with their Big Ten West brethren. Iowa’s offense was dead on arrival this weekend in Iowa City as they dropped a clunker to the Boilermakers. While the visions of the College Football Playoff should now be safely removed from the heads of Hawkeye fans, the division still remains within reach. Joining the Hawkeyes in their attempts to find an offense, dead or alive, are the Badgers, who still somehow sit in the top ten in overall SP+ despite an offense that is only offensive to one having the “pleasure” of watching it. Meanwhile, Purdue skyrockets up the rankings both here and in the AP Poll. It remains to be seen if this is warranted, though winning in Kinnick is nothing to scoff at (just ask Gopher fans). Minnesota has found a way to claw back into the conversation despite the conference’s worst loss on the season. However, by currently being ranked 34th in efficiency in offense and defense by SP+, perhaps their balance can prevail in this murky portion of mediocre West competitiors.
The “Livin’ on a Prayer” Tier
#9 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (23rd, 31st, last week #7)
#10 - Maryland Terrapins (29th, 91st, last week #9)
#11 - Indiana Hoosiers (46th, 54th, last week #11)
The hopes and dreams of these three teams are currently living on a prayer. As Nebraska continues to lose close and their fan base continues to spiral in their vortex of delusions, Maryland players continue to drop like flies and Indiana’s schedule continues to churn like the relentless meat grinder that it is. The result is a tier of bottom-middle teams that have capable parts but their hopes for a bowl are living on life support. Interestingly, Maryland has the strangest differential between SP+ rating and FEI rating, which can be traced partially to the fact that FEI removes games against FCS opponents and Maryland’s advanced resume up to current day rest heavily on their absolute decimation of Howard. It will be interesting to see what the Terrapins look like on the road after a bye week against a decent opponent. Meanwhile, Indiana will play it’s fourth top-ten team in five games as they will likely be offered on the alter of Brutus when the Buckeyes come to town. Nebraska’s prayers for a break have been answered, as they are on bye.
The “You Give Love a Bad Name” Tier
#12 - Northwestern Wildcats (82nd, 88th, last week #13)
#13 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (62nd, 70th, last week #12)
#14 - Illinois Fighting Illini (95th, 93rd, last week #14)
All three of these teams have given Big Ten football a bad name this season. Rutgers’ goal this season has been to make me look bad for having the audacity to move them up after beating three bad teams and starting the season 3-0. After losing to the seemingly helpless Wildcats, they have now found themselves back where it seems they always belonged in the bottom tier of the conference. Illinois continues to slog through their first season under Bret Bielema with very little indication they deserve a different spot in these rankings. A big matchup in Chambana awaits between the two bottom-dwellers, with the Scarlet Knights’ very slim bowl hopes and the Illini’s pride on the line.