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Big Ten Power Rankings - Week 3 Edition

Everything is a mess, including these rankings

NCAA Football: Iowa at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Week 2 of the college football season was a bit of a mess. Usually, it takes a few more weeks (I’m thinking somewhere around Week 6 or 7) before the “fun” of college football reveals itself. But the 2021 season waiting less than a fortnight before it became intriguing. Perhaps this portends to a repeat of the mystical 2007 season that saw several unlikely programs (Kansas, Missouri, South Florida, Rutgers, West Virginia, just to name a few) reach for the stars yet ultimately fall short. Or perhaps it will be a mere blip in an other wise vanilla season that ends with the Tide rolling across the college football landscape with familiar also-rans trailing just behind Big Al, Saint Nick, and the frenzied denizens of Tuscaloosa. We’ll have to continue tuning in to find out.

As for the Big Ten, well, let’s just say that things have changed a bit. Expectations at the top are morphing rapidly for various programs, for better and worse. Bottom dwellers are showing their true colors. Middle tier teams are finding their identities. Newer coaches are solidifying their programs. Things are changing and things are staying the same. You’ll see that as a recurring theme throughout the year because as much as we’d like to think the collective we is always evolving and improving, our primordial instincts always seem to kick in eventually.

Since things are a bit murky, a bit muddy, and a bit of chaos was introduced this past weekend, this week’s tiers will be labeled with mess-related synonyms. Yes, this is a stretch and yes, this gimmick is quickly getting super lame. But thus is one’s fate when you happen to wander into the most non-sensical power rankings on the interwebs.

(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 Quandary Tier

#1 - Iowa Hawkeyes (15th, 5th, last week #3)

#2 - Penn State Nittany Lions (7th, 9th, last week #2)

#3 - Ohio State Buckeyes (5th, 4th, last week #1)

The quandary title works on several levels here. One, it’s a really dope word, perhaps the coolest and most accessible in everyday conversation. Two, it fits the pathetically molded theme I have created for this week’s rankings. Third, as a Gopher fan, I find myself in the “head vs. heart” and “on-field results vs. realistic future performance” quandaries of the mind and soul. Iowa has the best on-field resume of just about any team in the country at this exact moment in time. Two ranked wins. One on the road. Both wins were incredibly convincing. The defense, especially the secondary, looks top tier. The offense looks like a cogent capitalistic complement to said defense. I personally believe it would go against logic and consistency to not rank the Hawkeyes first in a Power Rankings this week. Additionally, the Nittany Lions dominated a mildly respectable MAC team on the back of an excellent road win. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes played one good half against a possibly mediocre Minnesota team and lost at home to a very talented, very good Oregon team who was missing their best defensive player. That doesn’t warrant holding on the top ranking let alone being tiered by themselves. It is quite possible that Ohio State may have some adjusting to do on defense after losing so many starters and talent during the offseason that will hold them back from their usual heights.

The Quagmire Tier

#4 - Michigan Wolverines (6th, 7th, last week #5)

#5 - Wisconsin Badgers (8th, 10th, last week #4)

#6 - Michigan State Spartans (33rd, 43rd, last week #6)

#7 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (49th, 40th, last week #7)

This tier is so named because it is a mess figuring out what these teams are and how to rank them. Wisconsin laid an egg against Penn State. Michigan is the perennially overrated darling who at least has a Power Five win to their name and a nasty looking defense to boot. Michigan State is still rehabilitating their image from the last two years but has a conference road win and no problem with their cupcake. And Minnesota is frustratingly inconsistent thus far and their advanced metric are on life support. I honestly don’t know what to make of any of these teams because their results so far are either inconclusive or it involved a team of little to no consequence. Thus, it is a quagmire of thought and ranking, a bogged down mess in the muddle middle of Midwest college football.

The Chaos Tier

#8 - Maryland Terrapins (26th, 82nd, last week #8)

#9 - Indiana Hoosiers (46th, 48th, last week #9)

#10 - Purdue Boilermakers (42nd, 41st, last week #10)

I will consistently bang the drum about these three teams being complete wildcards from week to week. Maryland has skyrocketed in SP+ in the first few weeks but on-field all they did was participate in their seemingly annual destruction of the Howard Bison. None of these teams have provided solid proof of belonging in the tier above just yet but it does seem complete possible the two tiers will be on a collision course for a “super” tier of mediocrity, pending upcoming game results. Surely, these three teams will directly contribute to conference, and possibly, nationally implicated chaos during this college football season.

The Predicament Tier

#11 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (72nd, 77th, last week #12)

#12 - Northwestern Wildcats (87th, 62nd, last week #11)

The predicament I reference in this tier is two-fold. One, is Rutgers now a non-tire fire? Two, is Northwestern rounding into all defense, no offense bad year form? The former is a predicament for folks like myself who relied on jokes at the expense of Rutgers for so many years to carry their garbage power rankings post. The latter is a predicament for those of us that appreciate a non-prehistoric college football offense.

The Mare’s Nest Tier

Tied - #13 - Illinois Fighting Illini and Nebraska Cornhuskers (85th, 102nd, last week #13 and 31st, 60th, last week #14, respectively)

I cannot in good mind upgrade the Cornhuskers over the Illini until they accumulate a Power 5 win of some kind due to the head-to-head loss. Beating up on scrubby teams at home does nothing for me in terms of wanting to move Nebraska up the ranks. But Illinois’ performance against Virginia was so disheartening that I had to move them down in a way. Thus a tie. The tier’s title was a fascinating term I found in research for words to describe a mess. Apparently “mere’s nest” is an idiom that, back in the 16th century, to ‘have found a mere’s nest’ meant ‘to have discovered something amazing.’ Now, back in the present day, one of the idiom’s meanings is ‘a complex or difficult situation or a muddle’. Nebraska thought it had discovered something amazing in Scott Frost as coach. It appears that the more modern definition is more befitting the Nebraska program these days. Meanwhile, the Fighting Illini appear to be headed towards quite the muddle of a first season under Bret Bielema, which was to be somewhat expected of any sane college football pundit.