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Big Ten Power Rankings - Week 1 Edition

The beginning of a new college football season has the Power Rankings as sentimental as the ending of a Pixar movie

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

After a pandemic-induced hiatus, welcome back to the most irrelevant and unnecessary power rankings this side of Al Gore’s greatest invention! Since last year contained as much uncertainty and peculiarity as a Renaissance Fair, this week’s “pre-season” rankings will be based purely off of wild speculation and, in the case of Illinois and Nebraska, a single game. However, sometimes in the Big Ten Conference, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Ohio State Buckeyes are lords of the realm. Rutgers appears to be floundering towards the bottom of the pack. The Big Ten West is just about anybody’s guess. And the fanbases of Michigan and Penn State very likely overrate the quality of their respective squads.

In case you don’t remember (or you have tried to forget), the concept of these power rankings relies on tiers. Every week, those tiers are related to some stupid group of things I come up with like quotes from the Office, Hostess snack cakes, or eponymous laws. Yes, the idea is as dumb as it sounds but since power rankings are generally a dumb exercise, those two things seem to have great synergy. The rankings associated with tier titles you may have many qualms about but the teams’ rankings and tier placement are supposed to be a reasonably educated assessment of a team’s combination of up-to-the-week on-field performance, statistical evidence, and general feel. I am personally a fan of the SP+ metric and will therefore utilize that system as a reference point.

As for the tier titles this week, I couldn’t think of anything overly clever so I will mail it in and use Pixar movies because nothing screams catering to the masses like Pixar movies.

(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 Toy Story Tier

#1 - Ohio State Buckeyes (4th, 2nd)

Routinely praised by fans and critics alike, the Buckeyes are the kings of Big Ten football much like the Toy Story franchise is the golden goose of Pixar Studios. While Ohio State will be replacing a lot of talent on defense and breaking in a new quarterback, it seems as though they’ll do so with the ease and success that the Toy Story franchise had with breaking in new characters. That is to say, it will be done easily and to great profit. Until proven otherwise on the field, Ryan Day’s squad sits alone in the top tier as a threat to the College Football Playoff and to continue their Big Ten winning streak, which currently sits at 21 games.

The WALL-E Tier

#2 - Wisconsin Badgers (6th, 6th)

#3 - Iowa Hawkeyes (16th, 10th)

#4 - Penn State Nittany Lions (10th, 14th)

Some accuse WALL-E of being a boring, pandering, and a too-on-the-nose film of lower quality. Those people don’t understand the finer points of cinema. Much like WALL-E is accused of being boring, finding Wisconsin, Iowa, and Penn State this high in the rankings may be boring as well. While the boredom associated with WALL-E has to do with limited dialogue, Wisconsin and Iowa display their stoicism through quality running games and superlative defenses. This may not be attractive to some but those people must not like wins. I think Penn State was a snake-bitten team last year and the record didn’t truly reflect their skill and quality so I felt compelled to give them the benefit of the doubt for now since the advanced metrics still like them. Fortunately for the power rankings, the Nittany Lions visit Madison this weekend and we’ll know much more about this tier and whether certain squads belong after this weekend.

The Incredibles Tier

#5 - Indiana Hoosiers (28th, 30th)

#6 - Michigan Wolverines (17th, 23rd)

#7 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (24th, 39th)

#8 - Northwestern Wildcats (76th, 41st)

#9 - Michigan State Spartans (51st, 56th)

The members of this tier are of great variety in their perceptions, skills, and outlooks. They remind me of the various super powers of the Parr family from The Incredibles. Widely liked and appreciated, the squads of this tier have a wide swath of outcomes as the season approaches. Some might quibble with Indiana being in this tier but until we have more evidence beyond being the best survivor (non-Ohio State division) in a lost pandemic season, they will be considered a high quality team fighting for position in the conference’s muddy middle. I personally believe due to roster turnover and general luck that Northwestern will have a bit of a dip from last year’s success. In East Lansing, it’s hard to get a finger on what the Spartans will look like as Mel Tucker continues to put his imprint on the program. As so happens, those two programs will face off in Week 1, which will allow a momentary bit of clarity in this crowded tier. And how can we forget the always underachieving Wolverines. They never lack talent or super power potential but they always seem to fall on their faces somehow. Perhaps they are the the Syndrome in this poorly structured metaphor.

The Up Tier

#10 - Maryland Terrapins (38th, 96th)

#11 - Illinois Fighting Illini (81st, 89th)

#12 - Purdue Boilermakers (80th, 72nd)

These three are low with what I believe to be potential for upward mobility in the rankings and thus get associated with the hundreds of balloons that once carried the aging house of the aging Carl Fredricksen. Maryland is a hard team to figure out preseason for a myriad of reasons and the various ranking systems seem to be equally confused as to where to place them. An early quality game hosting West Virginia will provide some early indicators as to what direction they will go from here. Meanwhile, the Illini started off the Bret Bielema era with a victory over Nebraska and while there will be plenty of growing pains in Chambana, perhaps a few more surprise victories will allow for a more favorable ranking than expected throughout the year. Purdue is another hard team to figure due to a crazy season in 2020 (who didn’t have a crazy season) and a lot of injuries. I had no idea where to put them to be honest but feel like they have the talent to move up if positive results come about.

The Good Dinosaur Tier

#13 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (83rd, 112th)

#14 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (97th, 80th)

Much like dinosaurs once ruled the Earth, these programs, albeit during very different eras in the college game, also once ruled college football. For now, they might as well be extinct.