Last Saturday, I was attending my first Husker volleyball game with my mom since 2019, and I was blathering on about my amazing Power Polls for this year, basically begging her to be proud of me in spite of not producing grandchildren.* It’s not everyone who can write over 4,000 words about the 19th century AND Big Ten football, after all, and I want her to respect the peculiar skill set she spawned into society.
Anyway, I mentioned that I wanted to do something fall-themed this week, and she immediately said “Pumpkin spice!” I thought that was a very good idea, and am pretty surprised we haven’t covered that one before. This feature hasn’t always been helmed by a Basic 30-something woman who greets September with offerings of mums and decorative gourds, so maybe it isn’t that surprising. But it is now, and so we are pumpkin spicing the shit out of this Power Poll. Buckle up, because the air is about to be suffused with the scent of cinnamon and nutmeg.
*This was a joke, she’s never once pressured me in this regard, because BRTMom is awesome.
1. Penn State - Pumpkin Spice Wine Tumbler
First Place Votes: 12 High: 1 Low: 5 Last Week: +0
I have questions. This product is specifically advertised as a “wine tumbler,” presumably for those who can’t sit through their kid’s soccer games without their rosé. But while I can’t rule out the existence of pumpkin spice wine in this day and age (edit: yup), the collision of wine and pumpkin spice seems to be one of clashing beverage enthusiasms. You could put the pumpkin spice latte into this little tumbler—but who is only drinking 9 oz. of coffee?
No, what’s really going on here is that the Venn diagram of women who think that wine drinking is a personality and that loving pumpkin spice is a personality is a circle. They also love Joanna Gaines an unhealthy amount, and have been a part of an MLM in the past decade. Their coffee tumblers have a cloying slogan about how much they love wine. Their bedrooms have “vintage” signs (made in China) that say “Love You More” in curly script, even though they definitely had a screaming match with their husband Derek about the essential oils budget before bedtime last night.
Why does this remind me of Penn State? Because like the pumpkin spice and wine aficionado, they too can make an entire personality out of something that isn’t really that special. Oh, your uniforms are plain and traditional with no names on them? Wow, super cool, Hailey! Omigod, your ice cream is like so good you like literally die when you eat it? Great story, Kaitlyn! You’re the best (maybe) in the Big Ten in Week Four? That is cray-maze-balls, Lauren! Nevertheless, in view of some of the pumpkin spice atrocities you’ll see on this list, the tumbler isn’t really that bad. And in light of some of the atrocities in the Big Ten, well, Penn State isn’t too bad either.
2. Ohio State - THE Pumpkin Spice Latte
FPV: 5 H: 1 L: 7 LW: +0
Back in 2003, a little company called Starbucks came up with a nifty idea—a fall-themed coffee drink! People sure liked the peppermint mocha around Christmas time, and there wasn’t a bevy of pumpkin spiced products on the market (2003 was a different world in oh-so-many ways). Starbucks may have only ever been good for mediocre coffee, but they sure knew their way around marketing—and the Pumpkin Spice Latte became their all-time greatest win, garnering $100 million in revenue a year by 2015.
The PSL—as it is known to its enthusiasts—is a decent product that rears its head every fall to great fanfare and attention. Supported by a massively rich corporation, it wants for no promotional opportunity, and infiltrates the consciousness of millions. It alone is responsible for every other item on this list—the true imitators, and the bizarre derivatives alike.
The OSU—as it is known to its enthusiasts—is a good product that rears its head every fall to great fanfare and attention. Supported by a massively rich television corporation and wealthy boosters, it wants for no promotional opportunity, and infiltrates the consciousness of millions of hardworking Americans who just wanted to watch Illinois take on Northwestern, for some reason, but are instead bombarded with ads for The OSU’s next game. Even though it is ranked #2 on this list, there’s a sense that that’s merely a temporary situation—this is The PSL and The OSU’s world, and the rest of us are just living in it.
3. Iowa—Pumpkin Spice SPAM
H: 2 L: 7 LW: -1
Is this a meaner pumpkin spice analogy than #3 Iowa deserves? Probably. On the other hand, Iowa put up only 54 rushing yards and was 4/13 on third down against Colorado State, a team which only weeks ago got its ass handed to it by South Dakota State (the Jackrabbits had 462 total yards, 124 of which were rushing, if you were curious—and I’m sure you were.) Also, they are Iowa. Consequently, Pumpkin Spice SPAM it is.
There’s an argument to be made that this should be Minnesota, as the SPAM Museum is located in Austin, Minnesota. (In fact, several of my students stopped there en route to a conference last week, and brought me back a new coffee mug emblazoned with a SPAM can, and yes, I was truly touched. They also stopped at the original Menards, because you simply cannot out-Midwestern these kids.) But Minnesota has earned far worse honors this week, and so the pork-loving Iowegians have the pork-adjacent Pumpkin Spice SPAM for themselves.
Weirdly, Pumpkin Spice SPAM was a hit and upon its limited release in 2019, sold out in only a few hours (proudly noted in this Hormel press release). Was this a genuine demand for the product, or a demand for a one-of-a-kind gag gift? Hormel probably believes the latter, since they have not re-released it. If you want it now, there are a few cans knocking around on Ebay, ranging in price from $30 - $150. This is another parallel to the Iowa Hawkeyes, who are highly ranked at #5 in the country but with their actual quality an open question. One thing is for sure - real SPAM ages a hell of a lot better than the Hawkeyes’ win over Iowa State has.
4. Michigan - Pumpkin Spice Cup Noodles
FPV: 1 H: 1 L: 6 LW: +0
“There’s a fine line between genius and insanity ... Care to cross it with us? Cup Noodles jumps on the Pumpkin Spice crazy train with a special pumpkin seasoning that’s the perfect blend of sweet, savory and spiced.” Look at this. This is directly from the Cup Noodles website. They KNOW what they are doing is wrong, and yet, they persist. The world has been hurt enough in the last 18 months - did we really need Cup Noodles to add to the global calamities?
Time was when Michigan would be awarded this product simply on the strength of Jim Harbaugh’s generally whacko public presentation, but either Harbaugh is calming down, or the spotlight has been grabbed by other crazy coaches ranting about hoodies and the like. But the real comparison is that like Cup Noodles, the recipe for success at Michigan couldn’t be simpler. They have the name, the money, the prestige to be one of the best teams in college football. It turns out though, that just as superior ramen is a bit more complex than the instant kind in a cup, so too has obtaining consistent success in Ann Arbor required a frustratingly complex recipe.
If you’re more interested in Pumpkin Spice Cup Noodles than Michigan football, you’re in luck. These nasty noods will be in “select Wal-Marts” beginning in October, which is the exact same time that Michigan traditionally fades from relevance. Even better, Michigan fans can pick up a pack while purchasing some new Michigan gear.
5. Michigan State - Pumpkin Spice Deodorant
FPV: 1 H: 1 L: 6 LW: +0
Get it? Because Michigan State stinks??? Ok, so I’m still a little bitter about last Saturday. It’s true though that the Spartans did not look as good as they had previously this season. Nowhere was that more true than on the offensive side of the ball, where MSU managed to have the ball for only 22 minutes, were 1-11 on third down conversions, and gained *checks notes* … five yards of offense in the second half?
Nevertheless, the Spartans won the game, helped ultimately by the Huskers’ predictable compulsion for self-destruction (I wonder if they’ve considered therapy?) The W on the record is the important part, and by the end of the season, will cover up the odor of this game.
Likewise, pumpkin spice deodorant promises to make your stinky pits smell much better than they would on their own, assuming that having your pits give off Thanksgiving Dinner vibes is an improvement (it probably is, but it’s a little weird, right?) The brand behind Pumpkin Spice Latte deodorant seems to pride itself on unique scents: “Surf & Sea Moss” (ok?), Key Lime & Sugar, and Cactus Flower & Poppy are just a few of its other offerings. These are all for women, because even though pumpkin is apparently an aphrodisiac for men, they don’t want their armpits to make them horny. (That’s probably wise, come to think of it.) Men can have their own underarm culinary experience though—the men’s line features: Earl Gray & Mulberry, Matcha & Sweet Cream, Cherry & Vanilla Macaron, and, for the truly insufferable Millennial male in your life, Oat Milk Latte.
6. Maryland - Pumpkin Spice Hot Chocolate
H: 3 L: 8 LW: +2
You know what? This one might actually be ok. It’s not necessary (like anything pumpkin spice-flavored, I suppose), but I can imagine a world where I’d drink this, and not hate myself afterwards. That’s certainly not true of everything on this list. In addition to the pre-packaged Swiss Miss route, there are oodles of recipes for a homemade pumpkin spice hot chocolate littering the internet, and most of the reviews seem fairly good.
Maryland—its football team and arguably the state itself—is also not necessary, but things seem to be going pretty well for it of late. The volleyball team has entered the conversation with a shocking upset of Wisconsin last Friday, and the football team is, improbably, 4-0. That this undefeatedness is of somewhat questionable value given that one of the W’s was the result of one of the grossest “games” of “football” to ever grace the gridiron, but even the ugly ones count.
So, as with Pumpkin Spice Hot Chocolate, the question with Maryland remains: is it good or not? Your mileage may vary, of course, but it seems safe to say that the Terps are maybe not entirely disgusting.
7. Rutgers - Pumpkin Spice Socks
H: 2 (?) L: 10 LW: +2
First, let’s just take a moment and appreciate that Rutgers is ranked #7 in a Power Poll. Gone are the halcyon days of yore when a major feature of the Power Poll was seeing what new indignity perennial #14 Rutgers would suffer that week. Nothing ever topped “Rock or Something,” but goodness, how we tried. Rutgers has now ruined that glorious autumnal pastime by being not-terrible at football, and consequently depriving the world of “Pumpkin Spice Dead Squirrel in the Road” on a Power Poll. Thanks for nothing, Rutgers.
So instead, Rutgers is socks (sock or something?) I think it fits - socks are a good thing to have around, even if you don’t think about them too much. Some people try to make whimsical socks a major feature of their identity, much like Rutgers fans try to make “The Birthplace” part of theirs. Sock people wrongly assume that you will enjoy their fun socks as much as they do, and Rutgers people wrongly assume that anyone will enjoy New Jersey as much as they do. (Or, um, at all.)
If you are a Rutgers fan/whimsical sock fan, there are a lot of options out there for you. But only this pair promises to be “fall’s great pick-me-up.” Just “roll on these yummy coffee socks and start frollicing in the leaf piles. You can enjoy the essence of autumn any time of year with these cozy pumpkin spice socks!” There’s a lot going wrong here: Who “rolls on” their socks? Who is “frollicing” in the leaf piles in adulthood? Who loves “the essence of autumn” so much that they’re wearing these in June? Why is “yummy” being used as an adjective in the context of socks? I’m not happy to be faced with any of these questions, and I’m not happy that Rutgers is no longer in the cellar- the world of comedy is much worse for it.
8. Purdue - Fall Frolic Cat Litter
H: 6 L: 11 LW: +2
Speaking of “frollicing,” the next entry is not technically a pumpkin spice-scented affair, but it’s pretty clear that the fine folks at Tidy Cat were well aware of what marketing trend train they were attempting to board.
I am a proud cat owner (fck you, JD Vance!) and I’ve never once thought to myself “You know what? I think my cats are a little bit sad that they do not get to partake in the spirit of autumnal festivity. I wonder if they would be happy if they could crap in something that evoked pumpkin pie.” Why have I never thought that? Because cats give zero effs about most things, including seasons. Mine care about salmon-flavored Greenies treats, fresh water in their kitty fountain, and waking me up every morning at 4:30 am—and that is literally it. That’s the list.
So this misguided marketing venture (the litter is no longer available, and the extant reviews are fairly damning) was a swing and a miss. Purdue fans, though not yet panicking, are starting to wonder if Jeff Brohm was a swing and a miss as well - some of the early fall frolicking magic of a few years ago seems to have faded. Still, they’re 3-1, and things could be worse. Just remember Boilermakers - there are better ways to bond with your cat over your favorite fall activities:
9. Wisconsin - Pumpkin Spice Poo-Pourri
H: 7 L: 13 LW: -3
“Pumpkin Spice and bathrooms that smell nice! Harvest pumpkin followed by decadent notes of cinnamon and cardamom.” Ok, well first of all, Poo-Pourri, I’m going to need you to get the word “decadent” out of any description of a poop-related product. Then we can have a conversation about how you’ve latched on to the pumpkin spice trend and dragged it into the can with you.
On the topic of dragging things down to a truly shitty level, Wisconsin has come galloping into this particular chat. While we had our suspicions that the Badgers were going to emit a bit of a stench this year relative to years past, most of us never suspected that they’d fart things away so badly against Notre Dame. No, it was a truly crappy performance, and no amount of seasonal air freshener can obscure what they did in Chicago.
With Michigan coming to town this weekend, Wisconsin has the opportunity to wipe last weekend clean away and start afresh with a big win. But Paul Chryst best get to spritzin’ some magic ingredients, because Michigan has wound up smelling like a rose so far this season and Graham Mertz, with last week’s four (FOUR!) interceptions, has stunk.
10. Indiana - Pumpkin Spice Essential Oil
H: 8 L: 11 LW: +1
DID YOU KNOW: Walking among us is a sub-community that calls themselves “oilers,” revels in having an “oily” day, and sincerely believes that rubbing something called “thieves blend” on their children’s feet will ward off disease? It’s true! I know that’s hard to believe, given American society’s rock-solid grasp of basic scientific principles and faith in medical experts instead of mommy bloggers, but here we are.
Lest I sound too dismissive of the obvious wisdom of buying tiny bottles of scented oils at $20 a pop for vague and utterly unproven health benefits, I should note that I do not think that essential oils are entirely worthless. I think they smell very nice, and if you’d like to diffuse them, there’s nothing wrong with that—even if there are more cost effective air fresheners out there. Fortunately, the peddlers of pumpkin spice essential oil seem to realize that scent is the main redeeming quality of pumpkin spice oil, promising only that it will bring “back warm feelings and memories. This blend will not only fill your room with spicy goodness, it will also freshen the air while bringing a smile to your face.”
Indiana has struggled to put a smile on its fans’ faces, especially after failing to slam the door on Western Kentucky last weekend. Star receiver Ty Fryfogle continues to struggle, but on a brighter note, Michael Penix saw a more robust performance than in previous weeks (could it be the thieves blend that sources tell me he’s incorporated into his foot care regimen???) With a road trip to Penn State looming this week, Indiana may need to exhaust all of their oily options to get them any kind of warm feelings and memories.
11. Nebraska - Pumpkin Pie Vegan Cracklins
Last Place Vote: 2 H: 8 L: 14 LW: +1
What. In. The. Actual. Sam Hill. Is a vegan cracklin? A cracklin is about as animal product-y as it is possible to be and not still be a living animal. Scraps of pig fried in pig fat. It is the anti-vegan, arguably even more offensive to those refined sensibilities than bacon. A “vegan cracklin” makes as much sense as jumbo shrimp. As exact estimates. As a sexy Iowa fan. The mind simply cannot wrap around the existence of such ridiculous, contradictory concepts.
It speaks to the arrogance embodied by many vegans that they believe that they can somehow sanctify things like cracklins. “You don’t have to kill the planet and kill animals to enjoy your favorite animal-based products!” they proclaim. “The vegan version tastes JUST THE SAME!” It does not, you deluded hippie. If you prefer navy beans fried in sunflower oil, that is 100% your choice and I support your right to it, but don’t you dare pretend it’s in any way equivalent to a pork cracklin. (This goes for you too, gluten-free’ers who proclaim your cakes and pastries are just as good - they aren’t, and everyone knows it, including you.)
While Nebraska isn’t exactly a hotbed of veganism, its football team can only be called a hotbed of wtf’ery. After watching four false starts in a row (or close enough) and Deontre Thomas commit a flagrant personal foul that negated his own 8-yard sack on a 3rd and 7, a calmer second half led to some of us cautiously believing that Nebraska had perhaps shot off all of its feet, and had no more available for self-sabotage. We were wrong however, as the Huskers saved their very own “vegan cracklin” moment for the very end - allowing a punt return for the tying touchdown, and throwing an interception in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal for MSU.
Nebraska, tragically, is no better than navy beans in sunflower oil, with or without pumpkin spice flavoring. :(
12. Minnesota - Pumpkin Spice Ivermectin
LPV: 3 H: 9 L: 14 LW: -5
I’m giving the dumbest thing on this list to Minnesota, because somehow, our writers have only ranked them 12th, in spite of their loss to Bowling Green. That dumbest thing, marketed to the dumbest people, is pumpkin spice ivermectin - because worm-infested horses are BIG fans of fall!
One can’t blame the folks at Durvet for capitalizing on the highest demand their product has ever seen. The horse market is relatively small, but the nitwit market… well, that’s where the big bucks can be made. There’s a sucker born every minute, and Ivermectin’s manufacturers are here to offer very large doses of dewormer with a pleasing blend of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves.
Before you all hare off into the wilds of the internet seeking a yummier horse medication instead of just going and getting a completely free and well-studied vaccine, I should probably tell you that this is, in fact, a very well-done photoshop (sadly, I don’t know by whom), and not a real product. Pretty much everyone has issued warnings that unless you are a horse, you should not take horse medication.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, the stunning final score of their game against Bowling Green was not a clever photoshop, and was hauntingly, horrifyingly real. Peej’s year has quickly gotten much more interesting, much like those who have chosen to follow YouTube advice instead of that of actual medical doctors. Both may soon be livin’ on a prayer.
13. Northwestern - Pumpkin Spice Protein Powder
LPV: 3 H: 11 L: 14 LW: +1
As we all know, bros love protein powder. It makes them big and manly, which helps them fight the psychological despair and damage created by the same forces of toxic masculinity which have driven them to define themselves by their musculature in the first place. But what you may not know is that bros also love pumpkin spice protein powder! I know this because there are literally dozens of said items on the market. This one, available at Costco, is “like sipping on a piece of pumpkin pie,” which sounds gross to me, but you do you, Chad.
You may be wondering what a school full of presumed nerds like Northwestern is doing with “protein powder” as its pumpkin spice product, but hear me out. Nerd loses to other Nerd (Duke) and is deeply shamed by its peers (the rest of the Big Ten). What choice does he have but to bulk up to prove his worth and that he is not a wimp? After a week of building muscle, Nerd went out and impressively defeated some Bobcats. Nerd self-worth restored!
Northwestern may not need to do as much bulking this week, as Nebraska’s inevitable flair for self-harm requires no special preparation on the part of opponents. So which Northwestern will we see? The wimpy weenie who couldn’t beat Duke? Or glimmers of last year’s division champ, with a tell-tale orange mustache on his upper lip and the unmistakable whiff of nutmeg and cinnamon? Given that they’re facing Nebraska, it probably won’t really matter.
14. Illinois - Pumpkin Spice Plush Toy
LPV: 11 H: 8 L: 14 LW: -1
At first blush, this plush doesn’t seem like the worst thing on this list. Perhaps it isn’t, but in its own way, I think it might be the saddest. “Kendla the Pumpkin Spice Latte” is something called a “Squishmallow” and is purported to be quite collectable. The secondary Squishmallow market (good lord, the phrases I write sometimes) appears to be hopping, with prices on Ebay and Amazon ranging from $30-60 for little Kendla here.
I had never heard of Squishmallows before today, and so it was news to me that they apparently became quite popular during the pandemic, with the help of Tik-Tok. I won’t be too harsh on people’s coping mechanisms during a very difficult time, and there are certainly worse ones than buying plushies, but... I’m getting very Beanie Baby vibes here. Gen Z thinks they’re so much cooler than Millennials, but they’re out here wearing scrunchies and spending too much money on collectible stuffed toys— sweaties, recognize the originals in bad fashion and bad investments, please.
Here’s the description of this apparently-coveted toy:
- PERFECTLY SIZED SQUISHMALLOWS- These plushies are warm cuddly fun and the right size for taking with you wherever you go
- SUPER SOFT - Made from incredibly cozy- polyester fiber, these squishy toys have a marshmallow-like texture that’s pillow-soft
- COLLECTIBLE CUTENESS - Squad up and collect the entire Squishmallow line of cute stuffed animals
- PERFECT FOR ALL AGES - for babies, teens, or adults, there’s so much to love about Squishmallows
How does Illinois fit into this? Well unfortunately for Illinois, I think they have even less value than Kendla the Pumpkin Spice Latte Squishmallow. Here’s the description of Illinois football:
- Rather than warm cuddly fun, the Fighting Illini prompt cold, hard despair (source: Thumpasaurus)
- Super soft! The team is actually fairly soft, reliably giving up points to the other team at the worst possible time.
- Sadly, there is little either collectible or cute about the Illinois football program. There is only one, and that’s a good thing. You should probably not invest money into anything related to it.
- For babies, teens, or adults, there’s very little to love about Illinois football.
Do you love pumpkin spice?
This poll is closed
Meh, it’s fine - but I’m not going out of my way for it
Gross - justice for maple syrup, fall’s rightful flavor champ
What is the worst pumpkin spice idea on this list?
This poll is closed
Kendla the Squishmallow