Goodness gracious, it’s Rivalry Week!!! Prepare to tuck in and enjoy a feast of food on Thursday and then a feast of the the newest editions of many a-storied rivalry that make college football so great. You can kick it all off with the delightfully named Egg Bowl Thanksgiving Night and conclude it with a high stakes Bedlam Series game Saturday evening. In between, perhaps you’ll consume the 2021 edition of the War on I-4 or watch some Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. There is nothing that encapsulates the pageantry, fandom, and overall ludicrousness of college football quite like Rivalry Week.
There’s the names of the games themselves, like 100 Miles of Hate, or the trophies awarded to the winner of the game, like the Old Oaken Bucket. These rivalries are full of colorful stories, long-held grudges, and great entries of seasons past. Seasons are won and lost during Rivalry Week, because nothing says torture like waiting an entire year to get another shot at beating your most hated opponent.
Fortunately, for us in the Big Ten, the stakes are even higher. The Big Ten East will be on the line when Ohio State travels to Ann Arbor for the latest edition of The Game. And the Big Ten West is still up for grabs between three teams: Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. As the days dwindle to zero until these important and season-defining games commence, I thought about the countdown being done by fanbases across the Midwest. And whenever I hear the word countdown, I think of the absurd song by Europe, The Final Countdown (as well as Gob Bluth moonwalking across a stage with a dagger in his mouth). Thus, the tier groups were decided. POWER RANKINGS BY ICONIC GLAM METAL BAND SONGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Aren’t you glad this is almost over?...)
(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 The Final Countdown by Europe Tier
#1 - Ohio State Buckeyes (2nd, 2nd, last week #1)
#2 - Michigan Wolverines (4th, 4th, last week #2)
The Big Ten season has seemingly been counting down to this game. While pre-season pundits weren’t as high on the Wolverines (they started the season unranked in the AP poll), as soon as Michigan emerged from Madison on October 2nd unscathed, every calendar from Columbus to Ann Arbor has had November 27th circled in triplicate. Everything is on the line for these two teams. The Big Ten East crown. A chance at the College Football Playoff. And, perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to beat their most hated rival on the biggest stage college football has to offer on Thanksgiving weekend in the 11 AM time slot on FOX.
For poetic purposes, let’s group these two hated rivals together and put them at the top. On paper, this will be the most challenging game the Buckeyes have played all year. The four best teams on their schedule (Oregon, Penn State, Purdue, and Michigan State) all visited the Horseshoe. While they have the shiny advanced metrics and obscene offensive statistics against lesser foes, a loss to the defensively staunch Wolverines would eliminate any chance at the CFP for Ohio State. Michigan hasn’t defeated their hated rival to the south in eight tries. Coach Jim Harbaugh has never defeated the Buckeyes (0-5) and hasn’t really even come close in recent years, with an average margin of defeat of 19 points in the five contests. These teams’ respective fan bases will undoubtedly, “Never be the same agaaaaaaaain,” after this one.
The Rock You Like a Hurricane by Scorpions Tier
#3 - Wisconsin Badgers (6th, 7th, last week #3)
#4 - Iowa Hawkeyes (18th, 29th, last week #5)
#5 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (23rd, 35th, last week #7)
#6 - Purdue Boilermakers (54th, 21st, last week #8)
With the exception of Purdue, who is included because they have proved their meddle against high quality teams all season, these teams are still in the hunt for the West division title. The ramifications of the results of their two games (Iowa at Nebraska and Wisconsin at Minnesota) will rock the West standings like a hurricane. And the three teams battling for the title all like to pound the rock, that is to say, they are forced to attempt to run the ball down opposing teams’ throats because of other offensive inefficiencies. Due to the fact that they all have defenses that rank in the top 16 in the nation according to SP+ (Wisconsin 2nd, Iowa 3rd, Minnesota 16th), they find themselves in the hurricane that is the final weekend in the Big Ten West. So despite the fact that all three teams’ passing games resemble the detritus and destruction left over after a hurricane passes through a coastal area, they have everything to play for this weekend.
The Nothing But a Good Time by Poison Tier
#7 - Michigan State Spartans (34th, 38th, last week #4)
#8 - Penn State Nittany Lions (12th, 14th, last week #6)
While both of these teams may be better than some in the tier above, unfortunately for Spartan and Nittany Lions fans, the rest of their season is nothing but a good time. No accolades to be had, no titles to be won, and no real rivals (LOL Land Grant Trophy) to be played in the final week of the season. Just a good time and opportunity to go to a warm-weather bowl game and soak up some sun.
The Pour Some Sugar On Me by Def Leppard Tier
#9 - Illinois Fighting Illini (77th, 67th, last week #9)
#10 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (33rd, 25th, last week #11)
#11 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (82nd, 78th, last week #10)
#12 - Maryland Terrapins (70th, 90th, last week #12)
Really, the only way to tolerate the seasons of these teams, with the possibly exception of an interesting Year 1 for Bret Bielema at Illinois, is to put some sugar on it, close your eyes tight, pinch your nose, and swallow the results as fast as you can. While, yes, the metaphor is a stretch, imagine if you are a Cornhusker, Scarlet Knight, or Terrapin fan. Sure, Nebraska has a big rivalry game left against Iowa but their season has been a nightmare. Rutgers started with promise in year 2 of the Schiano Era: Redux Edition, but have faltered against any competition with a pulse. I suppose they’ll be scrapping for bowl eligibility against Maryland. Hmmm, the more I think about it, this weekend is actually pretty meaningful for all four teams. Illinois will battle for Land of Lincoln supremacy, Nebraska will battle for corn supremacy, and Rutgers and Maryland will have a death match for bowl eligibility. Perhaps Week 13 will be the sugar on top of a s*&$ sandwich of a 2021 season for these teams. Pour it on!
The Dream On by Aerosmith Tier
#13 - Northwestern Wildcats (99th, 100th, last week #13)
#14 - Indiana Hoosiers (87th, 96th, last week #14)
While both of these teams will have hardware on the line this week (Land of Lincoln trophy and Old Oaken Bucket, respectively), they can continue to dream about being relevant in the Big Ten for another off season (or century in the case of Indiana). Knowing Northwestern, they may very well be standing atop the Big Ten West next year at 5-4 after some catastrophically bizarre season as they are wont to do after laying an enormous egg the season before. As for the Hoosiers... well, they may as well just dream on.