Really, the only things one can be certain of so far this year is Georgia’s defense, and that Texas and Michigan are, in fact, not back. Beyond those absolutes, its hard to comprehend what we are seeing on a week-to-week basis.
The day before Halloween provided several key Big Ten showdowns. Wisconsin defeated an impotent Iowa in Madison, giving the Badgers control of their own destiny in the Big Ten West and pushing Minnesota to the top spot in the division (for now). Michigan continued to lose the big one, this time to in-state rival and surprisingly still undefeated Michigan State. And Ohio State was less than impressive against a Penn State team coming off a loss to Illinois and with a banged up quarterback. While the Buckeyes still remain undefeated in Big Ten play, their performance against a weary Nittany Lion squad may speak more to their tenuous national title aspirations. However, since uncertainty seems to stretch across all conferences during the 2021 season, it should come as no surprise that things wouldn’t go so easily for Ohio State.
Six Division I teams remain undefeated heading into Week 10. Raise your hand if you had Wake Forest in your NCAA Football Eliminator Pool? The Demon Deacons are joined by the aforementioned Georgia Bulldogs and Michigan States Spartans, the Cincinnati Bearcats, the University of Texas - San Antonio Roadrunners (MEEP!!! MEEP!!! PEOPLE), and the fraudulent Oklahoma Sooners as the only teams with unblemished records. A crazy mixture of traditional powers and wily outsiders. With the release of the first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings, apparently winning all of your games doesn’t mean what we think it means. UTSA is unranked. Cinncinati, despite a top-10 road victory, ranks 6th behind 1-loss teams Alabama, Oregon, and Ohio State. And Wake Forest sits at 9th.
But here, the Big Ten reigns supreme. Some squads have moved up, some squads have moved down, and some just can’t be understood on a week-to-week basis (Illinois... I don’t get it...). Due to the chaotic nature of this past weekend, and the fact that this week’s rankings fell into four tiers, I have decided to use the infamous Four Horseman of the Apocalypse as tier titles. Surely it isn’t the end of the world as we know it but the 2021 college football seasons continues to gallop one with the titanic force of the dreaded Biblical steeds.
(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 White Horse of Conquest Tier
#1 - Ohio State Buckeyes (1st, 3rd, last week #1)
#2 - Michigan State Spartans (14th, 20th, last week #3)
These are the only two teams who have thus far successfully completely conquered their given conference schedules. While Michigan State has had several close calls and Ohio State’s schedule is backloaded with the Spartans and archrival Michigan waiting at the end, for the time being, we will put these two at the top. The advanced metrics still don’t love the Spartans but what are we to do about it as the keep on winning? One could argue they have more quality Power 5 wins than any team outside of Athens, Georgia and the CFP committee certainly thinks highly, ranking Mel Tucker’s squad 3rd. With away games in West Lafayette and Columbus to contender with, as well as the last game of the season against a Penn State team that will likely have nothing to lose. Questions remain despite the victorious conquerors reigning for the time being.
The Black Horse of Famine Tier
#3 - Michigan Wolverines (5th, 4th, last week #2)
#4 - Wisconsin Badgers (6th, 9th, last week #4)
#5 - Penn State Nittany Lions (11th, 15th, last week #7)
#6 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (17th, 25th, last week #6)
#7 - Iowa Hawkeyes (18th, 21st, last week #5)
The mostly muddy upper portion of the Big Ten West plus a few Eastern powers that are stumbling after recent results are all hungering for something. Michigan has had a dearth of wins over rivals during the Harbaugh tenure. Wisconsin and Iowa’s offenses are starving for yards and points. Minnesota is starving for running back depth. And Penn State seems like they’re hungry to have that game back from last week. All these teams have a famine of some kind. Whether its appealing offenses, the forward pass, or wins that actually matter, these teams are of decent quality but they all seem to be missing something essential that would make them and their respective fan bases whole. Now, with this being said, two of these teams still control their own destiny (Minnesota and Wisconsin) in their divisional race, technically Michigan is still in the hunt for the East, and Penn State can play a spoiler to the top teams. But there’s just something about all of these teams that leaves you wanting more, that leaves your hungry and not completely satisfied.
The Red Horse of War Tier
#8 - Purdue Boilermakers (46th, 31st, last week #8)
#9 - Maryland Terrapins (40th, 87th, last week #11)
I’m going to be straight with you. I could think of no way to associate war with these two teams. This was kind of an odd-team out scenario. While Purdue has wins against Iowa and Nebraska under its belt, I didn’t think it deserved to be in the above tier with the rest of the upper tier of the West. Maryland has beaten two Big Ten teams that have a single conference win between them but they also don’t seem to fit with the dreaded bottom tier. Neither of these teams really seem to fit with the other groups, thus, they are placed together and with a tier name that doesn’t really suit them at all. But when you are reeling to come up with tier topics and you decided to make it solely on the fact that there were four tiers (and my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle knowledge is a little rusty), you are left with one odd-ball group. Maryland has been known to incorporate a lot of obnoxious red into their uniforms, which often leads to the death of any non-native Marylander’s cornea that happen to gaze upon it... let’s just go with that for now.
The Pale Horse of Death Tier
#10 - Indiana Hoosiers (61st, 82nd, last week #10)
#11 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (24th, 29th, last week #9)
#12 (tie) - Illinois Fighting Illini (82nd, 73rd, last week #14) Northwestern Wildcats (84th, 91st, last week #12) Rutgers Scarlet Knights (69th, 75th, last week #13)
Death to conference wins for Indiana. Death to coaching tenures for Nebraska. Death to making any sense out of the remaining bottom three teams. Trying to understand all five of these teams throughout the year has been the death of me and my rankings. I thought the Pale Horse was apropos.