Look, taking enjoyment from others’ misfortune is generally seen as bad taste. But in the wacky world of college football, usual social norms are reversed. Adult men are paid millions to coach undercompensated teenagers. Animals, both real and fake, are paraded around as strange types of demi-gods. People camp out for hours and hours out of the back of vehicles just waiting for a 3.5 hour semi-gladiatorial confrontation between groups of young men who represent institutions of higher learning. The whole thing is very eccentric. So it should come as no surprise that as college football fans and followers, we love, love, LOVE schadenfreude. The charm and tradition of college football is completely tied up in the concept of rivalry and the fact that a fan can take almost (if not more) pleasure in seeing their least favorite teams lose as they do in seeing their own team win. It’s just one of those things that make college football unique in the sports’ landscape. The heartbeat of the college football fan’s enjoyment of the sport is intrinsically tied to not only the success of certain teams, but the failure others.
And thus, this past weekend, you could hear cheers in Forth Worth not because their TCU Horned Frogs beat some team called Tarleton State but because the Texas A&M Aggies (whose team catch phrase “Gig ‘Em” is a direct reference to a method of frog-murder) lost to a team that apparently their students didn’t even know existed in the Appalachian State Mountaineers. There were probably some Texas Longhorn fans who took solace not only in a bottle of Jack after their almost-titanic upset of the Alabama Crimson Tide, but also comforted themselves with the tears of Aggies fans. Fans across the nation who despise Notre Dame for, well... being Notre Dame, all become intimately familiar with the Marshall Thundering Herd as they beat the Irish in South Bend. I imagine there were some big Longhorns fans on the Plains of Auburn, Alabama as Texas nearly knocked off the hated Crimson Tide.
And there were even some fans in Gopher-related circles who were proclaiming it the best Saturday in college football history (more on this in a bit)... and it didn’t have much to do with the 62-10 trouncing of the
Eastern Western Illinois Leathernecks.
College football fans love to see their rivals suffer. So, because schadenfreude is such an essential part of the college football fan identity, and because apparently “Schadenfreude” is the title of a song from the musical Avenue Q, this week’s tiers will be based on songs from the musical Avenue Q, which I have not seen or heard and will be purely based on the song titles. Forgive me if I misrepresent the actual meaning of any of these songs but my Google searching of “schadenfreude” didn’t come up with as many results as I was hoping and I was insistent on making it the center of our rankings this week.
(Note: I will not be citing specific ranking systems this year but know that I do examine recent results, current standings, as well as a variety of ranking systems like SP+, FEI, Sagarin, etc. to come up with my rankings, along with inherent bias such as Iowa sucks, Nebraska sucks, Michigan is overrated, etc. Season and conference records next to team’s name, respectively)
The “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” Tier
#1 - Ohio State Buckeyes (2-0, 0-0)
#2 - Penn State Nittany Lions (2-0, 1-0)
#3 - Michigan Wolverines (2-0, 0-0)
All three teams are 2-0. While Penn State has a conference road victory to its name and the Buckeyes beat what appears to be a mediocre-to-bad Fighting Irish team, all three squads have to be enjoying their current positions in life. They want to return to their respective campuses and enjoy their time in college because, if you’re at the top of these power rankings, who wouldn’t want to go back?
The “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Making’ Love) Tier
#4 - Michigan State Spartans (2-0, 0-0)
#5 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-0, 0-0)
More so a reference to the first part of the song title than the second, both of these squads and their fanbases may feel under respected. They may feel the need to voice this opinion loudly to anyone who will listen. Michigan State has long seen itself as a heavily disrespected program. And Minnesota has been trying to change the conference’s and country’s view of its standing in the West for the last several years. Thus far, however, the reason no one has taken either squad too seriously just yet (despite the Spartan’s current #11 ranking) would be because they have yet to face anything resembling quality competition. However, the fashion in which they have handled this competition has given me the confidence to rank them in a tier by themselves (sorry Maryland, I’m not being pulled into your thump-a-bunch-of-bad-teams-at-the-beginning-of-the-season-and-look-like-a-top-40-team trap again) for the time being. For the time being, the fans of these teams can continue to shout about how they should be more highly thought of but it’s hard to say if they’re more like the tier above them or the tier below them. I think there will be a lot of eyes on the game in East Lansing on the 24th.
The “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” Tier
#6 - Purdue Boilermakers (1-1, 0-1)
#7 - Indiana Hoosiers (2-0, 1-0)
#8 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-0, 0-0)
#9 - Maryland Terrapins (2-0, 0-0)
#10 - Illinois Fighting Illini (2-1, 0-1)
These are all teams that are having various levels of success beating up on bad competition while also coming off less impressive seasons last year compared to the teams above them. There’s a fine line between these teams being really good (possibly Purdue who may have just lost to a good Penn State team... time will tell) or really bad (possibly any of the other four teams in this tier). The amount of real data from this group makes it hard to differentiate between real on-field success and cupcake-induced empty record calories. There’s a fine line in the Big Ten between threatening the upper third and knocking on the door of the lower third.
The “It Sucks to Be Me” Tier
#11 - Northwestern Wildcats (1-1, 1-0)
Northwestern had me all excited about a neutral-site victory over Nebraska and perhaps I read too much into that without realizing that beating the Huskers was a task that an little ol’ Sun Belt team could accomplish. So it sucks to be me when thinking that Northwestern was on its way to a magical even-year season. It also sucks to be Evan Hull, who despite a fantastic overall game for the Wildcats (65 rushing yards, 213 (!!!) receiving yards, 2 total touchdowns), fumbled while about to score the potential game-tying touchdown in the waning minutes of the game against the Duke Blue Devils. While a home lose to a Power 5 team isn’t necessarily a death sentence on the season, I felt the Evanston squad deserved to be called out for getting my and their fans’ hopes up in Week 0, just to take a week off, and then drop the ball literally and figuratively in Week 2.
The “Schadenfreude” Tier
#12 - Wisconsin Badgers (1-1, 0-0)
#13 - Iowa Hawkeyes (1-1, 0-0)
#14 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (1-2, 0-1)
Amusingly enough, there were a couple more options available for the names of this tier including “It Sucks to Be Me” and “Special”. But, of course, it had to be “Schadenfreude”. Combining the fact that the three other members of the vaunted “Quadrangle of Hate” all lost in embarrassing fashion, Notre Dame stumble against Marshall, and the Gophers put on an offensive clinic the likes of which have rarely been seen around Dinkytown, there were proclamations out of Gopher nation that stated, “This was the best Saturday in college football history!”
While we are not here to debate the validity of that statement, the amount of schadenfreude available to Minnesota fans from this past Saturday will surely go unmatched anytime soon. Iowa’s offense continues to look like something from the 1890s, only this time it meant that they lost to their hated in-state rival and sent their fans into a frenzy about various decisions pertaining to coaching staffs and family members, which are things that have been most unfortunately (or fortunately depending upon your perspective) obfuscated in Iowa City. Meanwhile, the Badgers lost to a seemingly harmless Power 5 opponent at home despite outgaining the Washington State Cougars by nearly 150 yards. There’s a bit of an identity crisis brewing in Madison and the consistency that has reigned for so long east of the Twin Cities appears that it might be headed for a bit of a bumpy season.
And lastly, there are the Cornhuskers. They made Georgia Southern looked like the Pony Express SMU teams of the early 1980s giving up 642 yards of total offense including 233 yards on the ground at 7.8 yards per carry in a 45-42 loss in Lincoln. Now, this could have just been a traditional having-a-good-laugh at a division rival schadenfreude but combine the 1-2 start with a fanbase so deluded of their place in the 2022 college football landscape that there were 9-3 predictions in the preseason, the media’s strange obsession with attempting to make the Huskers relevant again (for example, Kirk Herbstreit picking them to win the Big Ten West), and the bizarre worship of prodigal son Scott Frost, it made the final game of his Brewster-esque tenure in Lincoln all the more delicious. While Frost is no longer employed by his alma mater, this year could still be full of opportunities for additional schadenfreude for those who enjoy seeing the Nebraska program fail and their fanbase continue to consume itself with self-importance and delusion reminiscent of a black hole swallowing light itself.