Let's be honest. Two of the easiest columns to write (and get feedback from your readers) are 1) the power rankings column and 2) the pop culture comparison column. Much like that magical day when somebody got their peanut butter on my chocolate (or did I get my chocolate in her peanut butter?), it was predestined that one day these two great columns would be brought together...
If there's one thing true of Off Tackle Empire, it's certainly that we don't lack for boldness. Instead of covering one or two Big Ten teams, we cover (nearly) all of them. We don't eat just waffles, we eat baffles. Our tailgate recipes don't just involve meat - they involve deep fried meat. And need I even mention Bama's bowl predictions? I didn't think so.
So when we discussed how to present our final power poll of the season, the one that takes into account the results of all the bowl games, we decided we couldn't just do a standard poll. We decided to do it big. And do it with charts. Big. Charts. Oh, yes.
Below in this very special power poll you'll not only see where we ranked the teams after the bowl games were concluded but also what the rankings looked like during the season. Some teams hovered pretty consistently around one point, while others were... well... kind of Zooky. See what I did there?
A special thanks goes out to writer BabaOReally for his contribution of the poll's pop culture analysis.... let's get started...
The Power Poll returns with the final rankings for the 2011 season. I've never noticed a Simpsons-themed Power Poll, so a Simpsons-themed Power Poll it is. Rather than concentrating on the series as a whole, this poll focuses on one of the best episodes of all-time: Season 3, Episode 17: Homer at the Bat. I assume that you have seen this episode; shame on you if you haven't.
This poll is the final one of the season. It is meant to discuss where the teams rank after the bowl games; it is not a preseason ranking (that will come later). First you'll see where we have the team ranked at the season, and then a graph of the team's performance during the year...
So put down your dishes, Don Mattingly, it's time for the Power Poll.
1. Wisconsin -- 116 Points (6 first place votes) -- Montgomery Burns
Mr. Burns brought in some ringers for his softball team, but only one of them (Darryl Strawberry) ended up playing. Wisconsin brought in Russell Wilson, who you could argue was a ringer as well. In the big game, Burns' team won by one run, the slimmest of all possible margins. In the Power Poll, The Badgers won by two points, which is the slimmest of all possible margins.
The story of Wisconsin's season has been one of almost complete power poll dominance, with a dip in ranking roughly corresponding to its Hail Mary losses to Michigan State and Ohio State. But, after falling off the map against those teams, the Badgers regained their position and closed the season out right where they started, at number one.
2. Michigan State -- 114 Points (4 first place votes) -- Darryl Strawberry
Strawberry had a great game and the Spartans had a great season. Despite his nine home runs, Mr. Burns pinch hits for him in the bottom of the ninth with two outs in a tie game. The Spartans felt they were benched in favor of Michigan in the bowl selection. At one point in the game, Bart and Lisa heckle Strawberry and it causes him to shed a tear, much like what happens when commenters on this site troll Spartan fans.
While not the most volatile of teams in the Big Ten this year, Sparty had quite the year in the power polls. The story of most of the season was a quest for respect -- could we acknowledge that MSU was as good as they seemed to be playing? Why did we find that so hard to believe, even as they rattled off victories? MSU reached its high point after week eight, when the last second Hail Mary took down the conference's top dog. Then they shit the bed against Nebraska and dropped precipitously. Sparty would recover, though, and finish out the season just shy of first place.
3. Michigan -- 100 Points -- Homer Simpson
Homer played some pretty good softball in this episode, thanks to his "Wonder Bat". Michigan played some pretty good football this year, thanks to their first-year coach who probably looks more like Homer than any other Big Ten coach. Much like Homer in the big game, Michigan got to play in a BCS bowl, and took advantage of their opportunity. Homer won the big game by taking a fastball to the head, which kind of reminds me of how UM beat Notre Dame at the Big House.
Though they never managed to capture the top spot in the rankings, the Wolverines had quite the season in the power poll. Starting at number eight, they slowly climbed the ranks with impressive victories, though it seemed we were all holding our breath, waiting for Denard to get injured or for the defense to be exposed as a smokescreen. They reached a mid-season low of seventh in week ten, but a good closing run and a bowl victory in the BCS have vaulted them up to the top three.
4. Nebraska -- 88 Points -- Ozzie Smith
Ozzie Smith was a wide-eyed tourist in this episode, and Nebraska seemed like one in their Big Ten season. "What a lifestyle" might refer to the three TVs at Graceland or football season in the Big Ten. It was all great, though, as Smith found out at the Springfield Mystery Spot and the Huskers found out against Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan.
A fixture at the top of the power polls, Nebraska spent the season hurtling between the very top and the mushy middle. Unlike most of the teams in the poll, there was very little gradual change for the Huskers. With every win or loss their ranking would change dramatically. It was almost as though we didn't really know what to make of these newcomers to the conference. In the end, we decided they were good, but not great...
5. Penn State -- 69 Points -- The House Fire
I couldn't think of a character that could compare to Penn State's season. A house fire is as good an allegory for the insanity that the Nittany Lions went through as I could find in this episode.
Penn State performed a Michigan-like rise throughout the season. We were all initially a bit skeptical, and an early season loss to Alabama with a squeaker win over Temple sent them down to the doldrums of the conference poll. But as the defense carried the team to within striking distance of the conference championship game their ranking rose too. But, a sputtering end and lackluster bowl performance have settled PSU squarely into the mushy middle.
6. Iowa -- 65 Points -- Jose Canseco
The Hawkeyes could have used some help from Canseco in their off-season training regimen. Say what you will about steroids, but they could have helped Iowa players build muscles without getting rhabdomyolysis. Canseco misses the game in the episode because he is helping a woman whose house is engulfed in flames. Ricky Stanzi would do the same, that is one thing we can all be sure of.
Iowa was one of those teams this year that we struggled with. We knew they were a middling team with the possibility of occasional brilliance, but more often than not we just couldn't quite figure out where within that 6-9 range they should be ranked. The result was a shuttling back and forth for much of the season, until they achieved some consistency at number six towards the end of the season.
7. Purdue -- 59 Points -- Ken Griffey, Jr.
Danny Hope is addicted to the two-quarterback system much like Griffey is addicted to nerve tonic. The two-QBs led to inconsistent play this season, which isn't quite as bad as the gigantism that Griffey suffers from at the end of the episode.
Kind of like Iowa, Purdue struggled with questions of how good they were during the season. Unlike the Hawkeyes, the Boilermakers found themselves in the bottom trenches of the conference for most of the year almost by default. For much of the season, we weren't even sure if they'd manage to be bowl eligible. Then they somehow pulled it out, beat an underhyped MAC team, and ended up with a little more respect than they started with.
8. Ohio State -- 55 Points -- Don Mattingly
The Buckeyes had a down season due to the tattoo scandal, which led to multiple suspensions and the loss of Tressel and Pryor. If Tressel would have just kicked the players off of the team, like Mr. Burns did to Mattingly (due to his sideburns), they may have had more success.
Oh, Ohio State. How far you have fallen. The Buckeyes started out at number two, a pre-season contender for the conference crown despite all the off-season turmoil. Then it quickly became apparent that Luke Fickell just wasn't quite up to the job. A brief rise followed victories over Illinois and Wisconsin, but OSU would soon return to the cellar...
9. Northwestern -- 47 Points -- Wade Boggs
Boggs gets knocked out by Barney after an argument over "England's Greatest Prime Minister". Northwestern, the fancy private school of the conference seems like they might care enough about Pitt the Elder to take a beating over it. Just like Boggs lost in the barroom brawl, Northwestern always loses their bowl games.
Soooo... about that Dan Persa for Heisman campaign.... Northwestern started out in the middle, got as high as the top of the mushy pile, and then fell down to the bottom from which they struggled to leave. It wasn't exactly the best year for the Wildcats, though they did make a bowl again. And lost. Again. Perhaps the only surprising thing about Northwestern is who they ended up ranking just one spot above in the final poll...
10. Illinois -- 36 Points -- Mike Scioscia
Scioscia really enjoyed working at the plant, much like the Illini enjoyed the first half of their season. By the end of the episode, he is in the hospital with radiation poisoning. By the end of the season, Illinois had lost 6 of 7 and fired their coach (who sometimes acted as if he had radiation sickness).
Yes, despite winning their bowl game, Illinois managed to finish behind Northwestern in the final power poll rankings. Guess that's what happens when you go 7-6 the hard way...
11. Minnesota -- 21 Points -- Roger Clemens
Clemens was hypnotized into behaving like a chicken, which is how Minnesota played for much of the year. Of course, they still managed to beat Iowa. Also like Minnesota, Clemens has a had it pretty rough over the past few years, with all of the HGH and whatnot.
And now we're almost to the end of our power poll. The Gophers were one of three teams that spent the season fighting it out for the honor of worst team in the conference. Some surprising victories and strong efforts in defeats got the Gophers up to third worst in the conference a few times, but in the end they eked out a place just above the very bottom... A place that is occupied by...
12. Indiana -- 10 Points -- Steve Sax
"I hear there's a lot of unsolved murders in New York City." The Hoosiers were unanimous picks for last place, and, if such a vote was taken, Steve Sax would be the unanimous choice as the worst "star" player in the episode. The softball team may have gotten better when he was arrested by the Springfield PD. Smithers states that Sax is looking at six consecutive life sentences at the end of the episode, which is probably what some Indiana fans feel they are serving.
Perhaps the only surprising thing about Indiana's travels in the power poll this year were that they didn't spend the entirety of it mired in last place. They actually got as high as tenth at one point! Though it now seems that the Hoosiers are once again good at throwing balls into baskets, it seems like it'll be quite a while before they can dream of bowl eligibility and seeing the post-season in football. If only Cody Zeller could throw a spiral...
Well there you have it. Our last power poll of the 2011-2012 football season and a wrap-up of where we were during the year. Get your fill this week, 'cause it's going to be quite a while before the poll resurfaces...