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Pre-Season Power Poll: The Big Ten Goes on Safari

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Your favorite feature is back, and it’s a roaring good time.

Welcome back, loyal readers and false-hearted friends alike! For better or for worse, we’re poised at the precipice of another sure-to-be-disappointing Big Ten season and you’ve clicked your way into the Power Poll, our weekly roundup of Big Ten teams married with a random topic of variable interest to the masses.

How this works: your clever coterie of OTE writers weekly rank (or weakly rank?) the teams in the Big Ten based on the previous week’s performance, or, in the case of this week, based on nothing at all except various whims and fancies. For those of you who are new, you may think that there is some standard method to how we rank teams, but the truth is, there really isn’t. We vote as our hearts desire, and sometimes as our vengefulness moves us. This ain’t science. And face it, you’re all just here for 1) the jokes, 2) the photoshops, or 3) to yell at us in the comments for how we ranked your team.

Anyway, the Big Ten spent its summer far afield from its Midwestern home, and took a trip through the African outback. (Is that the right term? Or is “outback” only in Australia? Please advise.) While there, the crew enjoyed the wonders of nature, the majesty of various beasts, and PJ Fleck challenging a cheetah to a race, because he’s not yet 40 and would like you all to remember that.

Now, I know that safaris and wildlife-adjacent attractions can have some questionable ethical angles, and if you’re ever in a position to see the wildlife of Africa, you should certainly do your due diligence with regards to how you are visiting the place and animals. However, you all have watched Rutgers continue to field a “football team” so let’s not pretend we’re moral exemplars as we read through this list, mmmkay?

So, come along with us as we journey toward a wild start to the Big Ten season.

Lions - Ohio State (#1)

First Place Votes: 10 High: 1 Low: 10

Awww, kittens.
lookiwasthere.com

I mean, you saw this one coming, didn’t you? There’s not much on the plains of Africa that can stop a lion, though I suppose you’d figure a train would have a fighting chance in a collision. But lions and Ohio State are both pretty firmly ensconced at the top of the food chain of their respective ecosystems, and there’s no reason to belabor the point. It’s possible that the Buckeyes’ new non-Urban Meyer coach, Ryan Day, will be The Luke Fickell Experience Redux, and while we can all agree that would be very cool, it’s likely that the Buckeyes can simply out-talent pretty much everyone else, much like the mighty lion has a number of natural advantages for which the other animals can only yearn.

Elephants - Michigan (#2)

FPV: 1 High: 1 Low: 6

I doubt anyone needed a visual guide of what an elephant looks like, but I’m committed to being thorough for you people.
lookiwasthere.com

Elephants and Jim Harbaugh have a lot in common, when you think about it. True, elephants have a certain charm that our friend Jim lacks, but they both tend to draw the eye in whatever space they’re occupying: elephants, because they are enormous, impressive creatures who are lords of their environment, and Harbaugh because he is an enormous(ly) opinionated creature who fancies himself lord of his environment.

Then, there’s the metaphorical parallels. We’ve all heard the phrase “the elephant in the room,” yes? Well, there’s always an “elephant in the room” when it comes to talking about Michigan—no matter how hyped they are by the national media or their coach, the fact remains that they’ve never quuuiiiiiite lived up to what they feel they are capable of/entitled to. And you’d better believe that Jim Harbaugh is as aware of that elephant as anyone.

Hyenas - Penn State (#3)

High: 2 Low: 11

This is pretty close to what that mangy old PSU mascot looks like, actually. Just add a scarf.

Hyenas! Ugly and annoying, yet nevertheless a vital part of the ecosystem, they continue to have a bit of an image problem, something that certainly wasn’t helped by that nasty bit of PR in The Lion King. I’ve mostly chosen this analogy because the ugly buggers look a lot like the Nittany Lion mascot, but a closer look reveals even more similarities.

Hyenas are opportunistic scavengers, though capable of making kills on their own—they’re very good at targeting the weak and worn out (sorry, Rutgers). They’re also brave, not hesitating to see themselves as a lion’s equal, no matter how inaccurate this may be. One hyena enthusiast site says: “we’d forgive you for saying these animals are a little ugly. But they add a wonderful dose of drama and tension to the landscape. It’s never ever quiet when hyenas are around” and damn, if that doesn’t sound a lot like Penn State’s team and fanbase to a T.

Leopards - Iowa (#4)

High: 3 Low: 9

This cat is 1,000 times cuter than any Iowa fan that has ever been born.
lookiwasthere.com

Look, I could belabor this, but you already know where I’m going—a leopard never changes its spots, and Iowa never changes its coach. Or really, its gameplan. Or its athletic director. (Or its cretinous congressional representatives.) (No politics!)

Leopards are pretty cool. Iowa is pretty not.

Hippopotamus - Wisconsin (#5)

Last Place Votes: 2 High: 3 Low: 14

“We will know more about the team after the first game.”
lookiwasthere.com

Hippopotamuses (hippopotami?), besides being whimsically name and kind of a bitch to spell, closely resemble our Northern friends in a number of ways. First, and most obviously, there’s the physical similarities—they’re the third-largest land mammal, and most hippos appear clumsy, blocky, and obese—much like a team and fanbase noted for cheese and beer consumption, and a weird fascination with linemen. However, these looks mask deceptively lethal abilities, and no one in the West has slayed more mediocre teams than Wisconsin, so underestimate them at your own risk.

Nile crocodile - Michigan State (#6)

High: 5 Low: 9

We may actually have found Mark Dantonio’s spirit animal.
lookiwasthere.com

That is one nasty looking critter. He’s not quite as hard to look at as Illinois (you’ll understand when you get there), but still—ye gods, that thing is brutal to gaze upon. The Nile Crocodile (which definitely sounds like something from a kid’s cartoon and infinitely more cutesy than that swamp monster up above should be named) isn’t just hard to look at though—he’ll rough you up in a really unpleasant way. The Nile crocodile’s preferred mode of feasting is to drown its victim, then hold the carcass underwater until is is nice and chewy and decomposed. Mmmmm. This is similar to how it feels to get caught in an ugly rock fight with the stingy Spartans—it’s a long, slow, agonizing affair.

While capable of bursts of energy on the rare occasions it is needed, the Nile Crocodile is generally pretty lethargic, lounging for hours or even days in the sun without moving, which Big Ten fans will recognize as the exact offensive game plan executed by Michigan State last season. Will the Spartan rally for a few more strikes this season? Or will they spend 2019 hanging out in shallows and waiting for something to happen?

Mountain gorilla - Northwestern (#7)

High: 3 Low: 10

lookiwasthere.com

No, gorillas aren’t a traditional safari animal. That’s mostly due to their remote geographic location in Evanston Rwanda and Uganda. However, it’s also partly because they are critically endangered and extremely rare:

there are only about 900 Mountain Gorillas in the wild today, mainly due to loss of habitat and poaching. For this reason they are very well protected and gorilla trekking permits are restricted and expensive. In order to see a gorilla in the wild, you will need to trek deep into the forest for several hours and a sighting is never guaranteed. —lookiwasthere.com

Curiously, 900 is strikingly similar to how many Northwestern fans attend any given Wildcat game. Defenders cite impacts like “small alumni base” and “national alumni diaspora” as reasons for this scarcity, rather than poaching, but one never knows—if one fanbase was likely to go all “The Most Dangerous Game” on each other, it’s probably Northwestern. #richpeoplejoke Still, the majesty of a Northwestern fan in the wild is a sight to behold, making the trip to Evanston a popular one for numerous fanbases in the Big Ten West.

Zebras - Nebraska (#8)

High: 6 Low: 9

The Greatest Fans in Sub-Saharan Africa
lookiwasthere.com

Nebraska has gone 4-8 in each of the last two seasons. 4-8. Those are, by any measure except a Rutgers, very, very bad seasons. And yet, in the opening weekend of the 2019 season, they’ve got a small numeral next to their name. Yes, somehow, this team that has fallen two games shy of bowl eligibility each of the last two years is ranked #24 in the AP Top 25.

This is madness, friends.

True, the Huskers were probably not as bad as their record looked last season. But at the end of the day, they were still 4-8, and a team that finished there has no business in the Top 25 until they’ve you know, maybe won a few games.

How does this relate to zebras? Well, zebras are flashy and cool and really draw the eye and the excitement, but they absolutely can be and are eaten by most of the other creatures on this list.

Grey Crowned Crane - Minnesota (#9)

High: 5 Low: 11

Oh look, a fancy grey duck.
africafreak.com

A momentary glance at this bird tells the casual observer that it has zero chill, a characteristic it shares with the bubbling, frothing, cauldron of excitement that is the Minnesota Gophers football team (lots of metaphors in that sentence, but I’m kind of loving it?) One source says it’s characteristic call is “may hem may hem,” which is exactly what P.J. Fleck would say if he were a bird and therefore unable to verbalize the entirety of “Row the Boat,” but I don’t really hear it. Fun fact: the Grey Crowned Crane is on the flag of Uganda:

Less fun fact: The most noteworthy thing to happen in Minneapolis this summer (possibly) was that the much ballyhooed quarterback race ended days into fall camp due to an injury to Zach Annextad. Instead of Annextad, the much-less-spectacularly-named Tanner Morgan will be helming The Gopher Boat this season. It’s the kind of meh news that would be really hard to get excited about, unless your name is P.J. Fleck and you are EXCITED about EVERYTHING all the time and are pretty sure that this, the third Year Zero (or something like that) is going to be the BEST EVER, unless it’s not.

Also, Peej wishes he had that bird’s hair.

Giraffes - Purdue (#10)

High: 5 Low: 12

They’re both Old Gold and even when you see them in person, it’s a little surreal, like seeing Purdue field an actual football team after years of virtual non-existence. Also, both Purdue and giraffes hate Nashville, though for different reasons...

Ostrich - Indiana (#11)

FPV: 2 (I don’t know, WSR and Stew were making some weird point) High: 1 Low: 12

There are more ostriches grouped in this photo than there are Indiana football fans left in the wild. :(
Jared Willis @ medium.com

Ostriches have a surprising number of things going for them. One ostrich egg can make an omelette for about ten people, which is hella efficient. They are the world’s largest and heaviest bird. They’re one of the world’s fastest animals. They only have two toes (this one is actually kind of creepy to me.)

But ostriches have some drawbacks too. For one, they can’t fly, which seems like a pretty big bummer for any sort of avian creature. For another, even though they’re fast, they look awkward AF when they move:

And third, they’re ugly and frankly unsettling to look at, the poor things. These shortcomings all have their parallels in the University of Indiana football team, which is, at times, very hard to watch. But the biggest parallel is that of the myth of the threatened ostrich burying its head in the sand until the danger passes it by, refusing to face reality head-on. In truth, there’s no burying—rather, the ostrich lays on the ground stretched out, playing dead and hoping that the threat will pass by without noticing it. Tragically for Hoosier fans, this is the exact same tactic employed by their football team when it is faced with any terrifying situation, like coming within range of winning a competitive football game.

Fun fact: Indiana’s QB this year is named Michael Penix, Jr. and I think we just all need to celebrate that.

Wildebeest - Maryland (#12)

High: 4 (???) Low: 12

Wildebeest (wildebeesties?) are a particularly inspired choice for our friends from the mid-Atlantic. First of all, “wildebeest” is incredibly fun to say—go on, try it! I know you want to. Similarly, one of the only things Maryland has going for it is a unique and fun-to-say mascot (even if a terrapin is only a fancy turtle at the end of the day.) “Wildebeest Terrapin” sounds like some kind of artisinal lunch dish served on a toasted fig leaf or something, or maybe the name of a color of paint that sells for $150/gal.

The second thing they have in common is that most people can’t readily picture what, exactly, a wildebeest is... the same way most of us still can’t readily figure out how, exactly, Maryland fits into things around the Big Ten. But you know, good luck in the East and everything, you guys.

Maribou Stork - Illinois (#13)

Last Place Votes: 3 High: 2 Low: 14

That... is hard to look at.
AfricaFreak.com

Functionally, there’s little likeness between the Maribou Stork, which picks the bones of already dead things, for it is usually the Illini’s fate to be the pickee, not the picker. This bird is of course often found in the wild, but has recently moved into towns to hang out near dumps, fish markets, and slaughterhouses—so oh my god, Illinois, please stop this analogy in its tracks before it gets truly grim.

However, there is a great deal of similarity between how damn hard it is to look at this bird and how hard it is to watch Illinois’ peculiarly hapless brand of football. Truly, the mug on that bird is one that only a mother could love. Illinois football in its current incarnation is a team that only Thumpasaurus could love, and honestly most of the time, he’s pretty iffy on the whole thing.

Carcass Being Eaten by a Lion - Rutgers (#14)

LPV: 8 High: 13 Low: 14

This image contains sensitive or violent content
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Yes, that’s the Rutgers we all know and love.

Was this low-hanging fruit? Most definitely. Is it also the perfect analogy for Rutgers football? Most definitely. They are terrible, and will lose the fight with not only the lions of the Big Ten, but with pretty much every other animal on this list.

Since we’re accused with absolutely no merit of only ragging on Rutgers, here is a thing Rutgers is good at: they are slaying with their locker room dance routine. My favorite part is when the big guy wanders through—it me.

Anyway, it’s the beginning of the season and I’m feeling benevolent. Your regularly scheduled Rutgers bashing may now resume.