Welcome one, welcome all to the most labor-intensive, least-scientific, and most tangentially related to football power rankings on the internet! Every week, your “writers” decide how they think the teams in the Big Ten should be ranked according to individual, whimsical, and non-standardized criteria shared by no one else. We also educate you on some arcane area of obsession to varying degrees of interest and success while making fun of your team.
But this week, I think we’ve found a near-universal crowd-pleaser: the humble spud. I think I can claim this near-universality as long as we remain a Midwestern-based conference, so best to get this one in the oven before the West Coast schools come in and I have to do a ranking of plant-based meat substitutes or something instead.
Case in point: allow me to introduce you to one of my most treasured family heirlooms: The Potato Bowl:
As we were cleaning out my grandma’s house after her passing, there was really only one thing I wanted to come home with me: the Potato Bowl. No one remembers where it came from, and the initials on the bottom don’t correspond with anyone in our family - but in 1964, someone apparently decided to paint a dish shaped like a potato, and at some point after that, my grandma acquired it, serving an insufficient amount of mashed potatoes from it at every family gathering after that forevermore. I have always loved the Potato Bowl, and always will. This is another reason the West Coast teams aren’t a good cultural fit - I’m sure most of you are reading this and appreciating what a fine example of ceramic art this bowl is, while any USC fan would probably look at this and see a tacky tchotchke of yore. Sigh… I rage at the heavens to no response.
Anyway, on to the good stuff - the good stuff, of course, being the potatoes, and not any Big Ten team’s performance in Week 1.
1 - Michigan: French Fries
First Place Votes: 11 High: 1 Low: 5
Fine, fine. Michigan is first, and they get french fries, the single greatest achievement a spud can hope to achieve (and in the US, something that 7% of potatoes achieve just for McDonalds alone). However, aside from being first in their respective rankings, there are precious few similarities between America’s favorite side and America’s least favorite Wefense.
Jim Harbaugh missed Michigan’s first game, and will miss the next two as well, an absence that unfortunately has proven unnoticeable, thanks to his penchant for weird soundbites/need for constant attention. Proclaiming himself the “guardian of victory,” negating the idea of a defense or offense in favor of a we-fense, and successfully creating a cult of personality around himself as manifested in J.J. McCarthy’s sartorial choices, Harbaugh seems committed to making sure that Michigan’s on-field success is sidelined by his antics.
Someone please beat Michigan soon because Harbaugh is the worst, and Michigan doesn’t deserve french fries.
2 - Penn State: Tornado Potato
FPV: 3 H: 3 L: 4
What is a tornado potato? I’ll let Wikipedia explain, because the teams at the top of this poll are way more boring to write:
Ok, I am convinced. This sounds amazing! Like poutine, there are certain dishes that sound so relevant to the interests of average Americans (aka eating things that are quite horrifying for our arteries), I’m shocked that they aren’t a more mainstream part of the diet. The Tornado Potato fits the bill.
I’m more lukewarm as a whole on PSU than I am the Tornado Potato, but as far as a football team in Week One, they fulfilled the brief in excellent style, perhaps better than anyone else save for September Maryland. With the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens on the docket this weekend, Penn State fans can expect the Nits’ results to slide down their gullets as easily as South Korea’s favorite street food.
3 - Ohio State: Potato Soup
FPV: 3 H: 1 L: 4
Ooo, finally a team that’s actually interesting to write about, if only because their 20-point conference win was underwhelming to their pampered fanbase. OSU, as you may have heard, IS TOTALLY TRASH AND THE WHEELS ARE COMING OFF THE RYAN DAY TRAIN AND THEY MAY LOSE UP TO THREE GAMES THIS YEAR AAAAAAAAAA!!!!!! Yes, hard times for our friends in scarlet and gray.
Similarly feast or famine (please insert the largest possible eye roll here at OSU fans’ version of “famine”), is the stalwart potato soup. It’s tough to nail down whether potato soup is a good or bad utilization of the potato. There are plenty of hearty recipes, souped up (heh) with bacon, cream, and cheese and that really hit the spot in the coldest winter months. However, there is also the potato soup that was served in your school cafeteria opposite of chili soup - a watery gruel with no identifiable potatoes in it no matter how hard one looked. The range of outcomes for potato soup is indeed a wide and unpredictable one, and this year, that unpredictable level of quality may also be true for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
4 - Maryland: Spuddy Buddy, the Mascot of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
FPV: 1 H: 1 L: 7
Hey there, it’s September Maryland at #4 in the Power Poll! Right on schedule, fresh off a big win against… Towson? I guess that’s how you get to be September Maryland. Still, in a week where plenty of Big Ten teams got off to a rough start, Maryland deserves a bit of respect for going out and doing what they were supposed to do - giving us the feel-good September Maryland storyline we crave.
Speaking of crowd-pleasers, it’s hard to get much more popular than “Spuddy Buddy,” the mascot of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (and of the Idaho Potato Commission). This extremely poorly written article lays out Spuddy’s charms thusly: “Spuddy goes coast to coast spreading the good word about Idaho potatoes! Sure Spuddy is a hometown hero, but on the road, it always feels like home… If you’ve seen Spuddy you already know, this tater is full of excitement.”
Spuddy may be full of excitement, but playing Towson is a game that wasn’t full of excitement and next week brings a matchup with Charlotte and more non-excitement. Something tells me the antics of an anthropomorphized tuber may indeed be more compelling than the antics of September Maryland.
5 - Wisconsin - Cheesy Potatoes, I guess?
H: 3 L: 10
I gotta tell you guys, I struggled mightily with Wisconsin this week. I have nothing to say about them, I don’t know who they are, maybe they throw the ball, maybe they run it, but who can say because no one watched that game, really. Luke Fickell looks kind of like Adam Sandler, we decided in the game thread?
Meh. Can I get some Wisconsin fans being themselves in the comments so I can remember why I used to love writing shit about you all? Thanks.
In the meantime, tell me in the comments what Wisconsin should have been in on this list.
6 - Iowa: Baked Potato
H: 4 L: 9
Omnipresent, reliable, unspectacular - that’s a baked potato, and that’s also Iowa football. The go-to side dish of a million steakhouses, the humble baked potato doesn’t offer much in the way of excitement, but it’s a perfectly serviceable way to shovel carbs and butter into your mouth - the pastime of choice of 94% of Iowegians!*
Surprisingly, Iowa promises a fair amount of excitement this season. Will it be on the field? Oh gentle reader, no, of course not. You know this by now. But thanks to an aspirational and very specific contract detail for one Brian Ferentz, we are all coming along on the journey of underachievement known as the Ferentz Line. Will Iowa meet it? I mean, probably not. Will it matter in the least? Also no.
Anyway, speaking of steakhouses and Iowa… remember that anyone who eats their steak well-done and with ketchup is a f*cking monster.
*Ok, this stat is for the entire Quadrangle - you got me. And Wisconsin’s probably skewing things.
7 - Illinois: Powdered Mashed Potatoes
H: 5 L: 10
Powdered mashed potatoes are weird, right? Part of me honors the science that made such a concoction possible, and part of me thinks this is yet another entry in the “just because we can, doesn’t mean we should” column. Still, shelf-stable, lightweight food product isn’t the worst thing to have on our rapidly dying planet, so perhaps I should lean into this nourishing flakiness.
Speaking of flaky, expectations for Illinois were high, certainly an unusual place for them to be in recent years. Playing the late game and watching the underwhelming performances put on by the rest of the West, expectations for Illinois’ basic competence rose even further. I read, at some point, the words “Illinois is going to run away with the West.” They may still, and while that’s the faintest of achievements, that’s fitting for the faintest of wins that the Illini gained over Toledo.
Will Illinois get their act together this season and ultimately be better than Powdered Mashed Potatoes? It’s certainly possible. But this performance against Toledo doesn’t earn them anything better than this. Still, it hasn’t been too long since Illinois would have been the smashed, moldy french fry that’s been stuck under the deep fryer at a McDonald’s with a health code violation, so be thankful for small blessings, Illini.
8 - Minnesota: Dan Quayle’s Potatoe
H: 2 L: 11
Picture it: Trenton, New Jersey, June 1992. The place was a middle school, the occasion a spelling bee, and the man whose political fortunes would never recover was VPOTUS, Dan Quayle. As 12-year-old William Figueroa went to the board to spell “potato” for the Vice President and all of America, he never flinched - he wrote the word perfectly and sat back down, a job well done. But Quayle wasn’t so sure about that. “Hold on now, add a little to the end there.” Dutifully, Figueroa added an “e” to the end, as commanded. And the nation never quite recovered.
The “Potatoe” Affair ended up alright for William - he got to visit a potato museum (in Idaho, obviously), and enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame. It was a less great day for Dan Quayle, whose reputation for ineptitude was only enhanced by the occasion, effectively derailing his future political career.
While this remains one of my favorite historical anecdotes in US history, I think we can all agree that it would be incredibly nice for misspelling a basic word to be the height of lunacy uttered by a politician nowadays. Alas.
Minnesota, like Dan Quayle, “added a little to the end” in their game against Nebraska, and that has made all the difference - the Gophers now control the West, as dubious an honor perhaps as being VPOTUS.
9 - Michigan State: Ross’s Spudnik Costume
H: 5 L: 11
“Hey, remember the Russian satellite, Sputnik? Well… I’m a potato, or a SPUD, and these are my antennae… so ‘Sputnik’ becomes… SPUDNIK!” So enters Ross Gellar to a Halloween party in Season 8 of Friends, continuing his streak of being the worst, least-funny character to ever grace television screens. Other characters re-interpret Ross’s “clever” costume as a giant turd, a conclusion he eventually agrees with by the end of the episode.
Michigan State won their game against the mighty Chips of Central Michigan, I guess, and the final score looked a bit like they’d been clever. But for those who watched the game, it’s clear that this wasn’t the splash they’d hoped to make in the season opener. Mel Tucker’s slide from Most Wanted Coach to “What’s His Buyout Again?” last season was a masterclass in declension narratives, and if things don’t improve in East Lansing soon, Tucker may wish he was on a Soviet satellite rather than the ride he’s on through the Big Ten East.
10 - Rutgers: Mystery Potato!
Last Place Vote: 1 (seems mean!) H: 3 L: 14
First, a lament for Rutgers of yore. I’ve written over forty Power Polls over the years, and in a significant percentage of them, Rutgers was dead last. In 2016, we even did a year-end rundown of all the mean things we’d called Rutgers that year– and a pox on all of our houses if we ever forget “Rock or something.” Good for the long-suffering Rutgers fans and all of that, but Rutgers has been an absolute blast to write for these polls, and if they’re going to start being competent-to-mediocre, well, I for one am going to miss it.
But has Rutgers really crossed into competent-to-mediocre territory? They looked alright on Sunday, but they were playing Northwestern, who looks to be well and truly a proper abomination this season. I guess we just don’t know what Rutgers is yet… which is why they’re the Mystery Potato!
The Mystery Potato is an inheritor of the spirit of the 1970s Pet Rock craze, wherein people pay perfectly good money for something very stupid (like purchasing a Rutgers in 2014, for example.) One can look through the list of available spuds, including a mustachioed spud, or one with a photo shittily pasted to it. There are even gift boxes available– including a Valentine’s Day gift box, which I recommend avoiding unless you’re certain your partner likes offbeat humor, or you are actively pursuing divorce. You can even get tuber-free “Glitter Bombs” delivered in the mail, if you happen to be a massive asshole with $9 to spare.
So what will Rutgers be in 2023? Time will tell, but perhaps it’s time those Scarlet Knights got in touch with their Glitter Bomb side - watch out, Big Ten East!
11 - Purdue: Potato Alarm Clock
H: 7 L: 13
Get it, because they’re engineering nerds? Whew, I’m out of practice writing these. Apparently, a potato alarm clock is a semi-common science experiment, wherein potatoes are capable of powering a small clock purely through the powers of their potato juices! That was a great and very accurate description of what happens, I am sure, brought to you by one of your friendly neighborhood historians.
Purdue ran out of juice against Fresno State last Saturday, though in so doing provided the most entertaining game of Week One - so congrats on that, at least. Undone by the fatal error of scoring too early and failing to salt the game away, Purdue did what we all knew it must. Like a faulty potato, it failed to light up the scoreboard when it really counted.
12 - Nebraska: Calvin’s Potato Tattoo
H: 9 L: 13
Here’s a deep dive that possibly no one else will remember, but that has stuck with me for lo these many decades: the story of the potato-tatted child in Wayside School is Falling Down. The Wayside stories were exercises in absurdity tailored toward elementary students, and in one story, a kid named Calvin is faced with a big decision: which tattoo he should get for his birthday. Why is a ten-ish year old kid getting a tattoo? Because he is always breaking or losing his toys, so his parents decide to get him something he can never lose. There is a certain logic there, if also arguably some child endangerment.
Calvin’s quandary continues throughout the story, with the other children adding their predictably terrible two cents. Then, one day, Calvin arrives at school with his tattoo:
“Calvin pulls up his left pant leg and shows the class his tattoo: a potato, located above his ankle. The other students find Calvin’s new tattoo distasteful. Bebe tries to tell Calvin that she wishes she could draw potatoes that well, but she also thinks his tattoo is dumb. Calvin assures that he likes potatoes, and Mrs. Jewls says she’d hope so, Calvin can tell even Mrs. Jewls doesn’t like his tattoo either. Everyone gives their suggestions again, telling Calvin what they’d get, but even though Calvin knows his peers don’t like his new tattoo, he decides that it doesn’t matter. He looks at his potato and smiles, he feels pretty sure that he made the right choice.”
Inscrutable and baffling, the potato is a boldly terrible choice. And inscrutable and baffling, Nebraska is a boldly terrible football team. Matt Rhule’s first taste of The Curse might also have him feeling pretty sure he made the WRONG choice.
13 - Indiana: Freedom Fries
H: 8 L: 13
Travel back with me to the year 2003, when the US had the bright idea to invade Iraq, and France was not on board. In a fit of idiotic political posturing and demented nationalism, Rep. Bob Ney (Ohio-R) ordered that Capitol cafeterias rename french fries to “Freedom Fries.” The move was widely ridiculed, including by the French embassy, who responded “It’s exactly a non-issue ... we focus on the serious issues. (France is) in a very serious moment dealing with very serious issues, and we are not focusing on the name (Americans) give to potatoes.” The name change persisted until 2006, when both “Freedom Fries” and Bob Ney were removed from Capitol Hill - the fry nomenclature because it was stupid, and Ney because he was pretty corrupt.
Indiana is also in a very serious moment, dealing with very serious issues - specifically, facing another year in the Big Ten East without being very good at football. By many metrics, the loss to OSU wasn’t THAT bad, but, you know, it wasn’t good either. Much like “Freedom Fries” isn’t the dumbest thing Congress has ever done, but you know, it’s still really dumb.
14 - Northwestern: Potato Famine
LPV: 17 H: 13 L: 14
You know you’re a special kind of football blog when you find yourself using “potato famine” in a Power Poll twice in two seasons (here’s the other). But let’s be real - there was no other choice for Northwestern, as they are embarking upon what appears to be an extremely dark timeline.
The historic Irish Potato Famine lasted for seven years, from 1845-1852, and the repercussions of it literally shaped nations. Of course, it shaped Ireland, where over a million people died as a result of malnourishment, and 2.1 million more left. Many of those who emigrated arrived in Canada and North America, where they were to establish important ethnic enclaves and form a major segment of 19th century America’s working class. A perfect storm of potato disease, a lack of crop diversity, and cruel policies enacted by the British government resulted in unfathomable changes to the Irish people.
While Northwestern’s demise will thankfully have far fewer humanitarian consequences, from a football perspective, things are looking quite as catastrophic and landscape-shifting. The Cats have been here before, a different Hard Time, and fans were hoping they would never go back. But in the wake of a perfect storm of hazing scandals and Fitzgeraldian lack of responsibility, they seem poised on the doorstep of a return to the darkest days of yore.
What’s your potato preparation of choice?
This poll is closed
Sweet potato fries
Some cheesy casserole situation