These days, everybody’s got what they call football power rankings. Power. There’s too much of a quest for that in this world.
I give you the Big Ten Happiness Rankings. We all want to be happy.
1. Ohio State (12-0). It’s a frustrated happiness, because we’ll never know how Ohio State would have done in the BCS championship game. Assuming it got there instead of the winner of the SEC title game, which is a leap of faith in itself.
But after last year’s 6-7 season put the Buckeyes at the bottom of my 2011 Happiness Rankings (though they didn’t exist last year), a 12-0 season puts OSU at the top. Especially with that home win over Michigan to cap things.
2. Nebraska (10-2). Ten wins. A division title. A possible Big Ten crown. With this team.
It seems like the Cornhuskers used as much smoke and as many mirrors as a team can possibly be allowed in one season, but the team took care of business. Being one win from Pasadena is happy stuff.
3. Penn State (8-4). No bowl, and no bowl for a long time. But after the horrors of the past year in Happy Valley, this year’s Nittany Lions played with purpose and flair after starting the year with losses to Ohio and Virginia. The season-ending overtime win over Wisconsin brought happiness indeed.
A 6-2 Big Ten record? Fantastic.
4. Northwestern (9-3). Oh, what might have been. The leads that slipped away against Nebraska and Penn State and Michigan. This could have been a dream season.
So total happiness isn’t this year’s Wildcat tale, but Northwestern is headed to a very nice bowl.
5. Minnesota (6-6). Hey, it was improvement in Jerry Kill’s second year. The bowl game may be third-tier, and the Gophers may have been 2-6 in the Big Ten (OK, it’s not “may have been,” it’s “were.”). But it’s progress. I’m not sure “happy” defines the mood of Gophers fans, but they get this high spot because of default more than anything else.
6. Michigan (8-4). Losing to Ohio State always sends the happy factor plunging in Ann Arbor. In all the Wolverines’ defining games other than Michigan State, they lost. Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State.
7. Wisconsin (7-5). What? Going to the Big Ten title-game and not happy? It was a humdrum year by Badger standards. Montee Ball isn’t getting that Heisman, the team didn’t come close to winning its division, and a loss to Nebraska will send Wisconsin tumbling down the Big Ten’s bowl ladder.
8. Indiana (4-8). Improvement. Hope. Kevin Wilson lost his starting quarterback, Tre Roberson, early in the season to injury, but still had his team playing competitive football (sometimes) late in the season. Better days seem to be ahead.
9. Purdue (6-6). The Boilermakers expected more this season. They had the players, or so they thought. They had the schedule, or so they thought. They had Ohio State and Penn State on NCAA probation. But they didn’t start winning until they entered the Three-I League (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana) in November.
The Boilers are going to a bowl, but without a head coach and without enthusiasm.
10. Michigan State (6-6). After two straight 11-win seasons, this was dreary. The offense was often hard to watch. Going 0-4 in Big Ten home games was harder.
11. Illinois (2-10). First-year head coaches get a break, but Tim Beckman has some convincing to do if he wants people to think the Illini will rebound anytime soon.
The Illini aren’t 12th only because expecations for them were set pretty low.
12. Iowa (4-8). The Hawkeyes were 60-13 at home between 2001 and 2011. This year? Try 2-5, including losses to Central Michigan and Purdue.