Eschewing the usual drivel that is expelled in this section of the Power Rankings, let’s get specific in our introduction. Despite the general chaos and uncertainty surrounding the national landscape, the two Big Ten Division races are starting to take formative shape. And as the fates would have it, the weekend of All Hallows’ Eve has three massive matchups that will have heavy implications on the ultimate winner on both sides of the conference.
Following Penn State’s shocking loss to the Illini, the East is now a three-horse race between Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan, who all stand at 4-0 in the conference. It would seem that the winner of their round-robin matchups will prevail, although one should note that all three of the front-runners still have to play the aforementioned Nittany Lions. Further clarity in this race will reveal itself after Saturday’s marquee matchups which include Michigan traveling to Michigan State to battle for the Paul Bunyan trophy and Ohio State hosting Penn State. If Coach Franklin’s crew somehow rebounds from the embarrassment that transpire in Happy Valley this past weekend and beat the Buckeyes (don’t hold your breath), the paragraph above will have to be reconsidered.
In the West, with their loss at home this past weekend to the Wisconsin Badgers and based on future opponents, it’s relatively safe to say that Purdue has been eliminated from the race. The same cannot be said about Wisconsin, despite underwhelming throughout the season thus far. Their Halloween weekend matchup in Madison with Iowa looms incredibly large. A matchup that is very likely to look like the pile of humanity from the Battle of the Bastards of Game of Thrones fame, whoever can remove themselves from the muck long enough to claim more points than their opponent will surely be in the divisional race down to the final weekend of the season.
For our tier topic this week we turn to a TV show I hold near and dear to my heart. Seinfeld recently appeared on Netflix for the first time in the streaming service’s history and I was inundated with texts from various friends because those who know me know that I am a bit of a Seinfeld aficionado. And I have begun my own slow chronological re-watch of the series that I have probably seen at least a dozen times. So for our tiers, we’ll use secondary characters from Seinfeld because if I did the main ones, it would be depressing to put Jerry as the bottom tier’s representative.
(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 Kenny Bania Tier
#1 - Ohio State Buckeyes (1st, 3rd, last week #1)
They’re the best, guys! The best! Power rankings can be a hostage to the moment and such was the case when the Buckeyes dropped an early season matchup to the Ducks at the Horseshoe and moved them down the ranks. While that result seems to get stranger and stranger by the week, there are a lot of 2014 vibes around this team as its Death Star offense continues to blow up Big Ten defenses like the planet Alderaan. Their underlying metrics, as well as margin of victory over the last several weeks, leave me with no alternative but to elevate them to their own tier at the top. They are by far and away the most impressive team and haven’t had a lackluster conference result to date. Because outside of the Oregon game, the first half of their schedule was more of a soup than a meal, the back half provides a variety of far more hearty and meal-like challenges including tricky away games in Lincoln and Ann Arbor as well as home games against Penn State and Michigan State. It is very possible I’ll once again have egg on my face, but for now, the Buckeyes reign supreme in the Big Ten heartland.
The Newman Tier
#2 - Michigan Wolverines (7th, 4th, last week #3)
#3 - Michigan State Spartans (21st, 26th, last week #4)
While Newman is the ultimate nemesis of Jerry throughout the duration of his run on the show, this tier name works in two ways. First, Newman is known as, “an enigma wrapped in a Twinkie” as Jerry so eloquently puts it when Elaine is pondering if there’s more to Newman than meets the eye. Both of these teams, though undefeated, haven’t really proven themselves against a truly elite opponent. Sure, Michigan won in Madison and Michigan State has four road victories over middling opponents, but their offenses both seem slightly lackluster or at least not nearly strong enough to take them to competitive heights against the likes of Ohio State. Additionally, Newman convinces Kramer to take part in a bottle deposit scheme, the ultimate destination of which is the state of Michigan... and since both of these teams have been tiered together and come from the Great Lakes State, the match seemed appropriate.
The David Puddy Tier
#4 - Wisconsin Badgers (7th, 19th, last week #6)
#5 - Iowa Hawkeyes (19th, 10th, last week #5)
#6 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (23rd, 36th, last week #7)
#7 - Penn State Nittany Lions (10th, 15th, last week #2)
#8 - Purdue Boilermakers (40th, 35th, last week #8)
Elaine’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, who would sometimes oscillate between unflappable calm and moments of fiery passion, perfectly encapsulates this group of teams seemingly capable of anything. Penn State was once a presumed equal to Ohio State and challenger for the East Division crown. They just lost to Illinois at home while scoring 18 points in a game that went nine overtimes (and were docked heavily in the power rankings). Nothing screams on and off like those kind of results. Toss in teams that experienced a home loss to Purdue (Iowa), a home loss to 2-5 Bowling Green (Minnesota), a putrid offense but stellar defense (Wisconsin and Iowa), and the generally uneven Boilermakers and you have yourself a hot and cold tier of teams desperately trying to hold on in the West Division race. The following weeks will indicate if, like David Putty’s move from mechanic to car salesman, any of these teams can rise up from this tier to higher heights and make their claim to the divisional crown.
The Jackie Chiles Tier
#9 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (20th, 27th, last week #9)
#10 - Indiana Hoosiers (56th, 74th, last week #11)
#11 - Maryland Terrapins (33rd, 90th, last week #10)
#12 - Illinois Fighting Illini (87th, 72nd, last week #14)
Jackie was often known for his extensive vocabulary (a satirical partial homage to Johnnie Cochran) and usually making a lot of bluster about what normal people would perceive as nothing. The same could be said for these teams (and sometimes their fans... COUGH Nebraska COUGH), who have made a lot of noise but ultimately have come up with little to show for it. Nebraska’s advanced statistics are still quite favorable but a 1-4 conference record just isn’t going to cut it. Indiana had some high aspirations in the preseason but those have been quelled by an impossibly hard schedule (Indiana’s 5 losses have all been to teams in the top 21 of SP+). Maryland, as they are wont to do, had people chirping with early non-conference success, only to ultimately sputter in conference. And Illinois has sandwiched some really bad showings in between victories over Nebraska and Penn State. They might be gaining Year 0/1 momentum under Bret Bielema but they may not even go bowling. For all parties involved, there’s a lot of talk but it seems like they are destined for more public humiliations in their future.
The Uncle Leo Tier
#13 - Northwestern Wildcats (79th, 86th, last week #12)
#14 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (65th, 77th, last week #13)
Nothing is more uncomfortable and off-putting than Uncle Leo grabbing your arm and pulling you in to a conversation about his son Jeffrey. And so it is for watching these two teams in the bottom tier of our power rankings. While Northwestern emerged victorious from the head-to-head matchup between these two teams in Evanston this past weekend, that is currently the only conference win between the two. Despite the advanced statistics indicating these teams aren’t total tire fires, there doesn’t seem much of a reason to put either one anywhere else on the list. No matter how many times these teams say, “Hello!,” I don’t foresee them moving up anytime soon.