I'm not going to pretend I know enough about the rosters of every other team in the conference to even attempt ranking the units and seeing where we stand. It's August. No one knows enough and if they say they do, they're either lying or misguided. It's too hard to keep track of that many players, especially now that we have two new teams that many of us have maybe watched twice. So that's not what this exercise is about.
No, I'm going with something that is far easier to accurately judge: team names. It doesn't take hours of film study or digging through three deeps and stat sheets to figure out. All you need is a sense of what is good and access to Wikipedia to help confirm why teams are named what they are. I've decided to judge the nicknames using three criteria: originality/uniqueness, how much the name makes sense for the school, and badassness. I think these three categories are pretty self-explanatory.
Am I objective? Not entirely, no. But that's too bad. I am the man with the keyboard and writing privileges. Deal with it. I did ask for some outside help in the badass rankings though from a wholly untainted source: my girlfriend Rebecca. Rebecca grew up in Louisiana and Colorado. She now lives in Kansas. She has no Big Ten rooting allegiances and generally doesn't care about sports at all. Each entry will have her opinion on team names and ranking of badassness on a scale of 1-10.
Instead of a true 1-14 ranking, I've chosen to divide the fourteen teams amongst three tiers. The teams in the tiers are listed alphabetically, so unless I deliberately state otherwise the order means nothing. If you disagree, feel free to voice your (flawed and terrible) opinions in the comments.
Illinois Fighting Illini- Before the angry boos envelope me, remember the three criteria. It would be pretty damn weird if another college sports program adopted the name Fighting Illini. When your state is named after a Native American tribe, it kind of makes sense to name the teams at the flagship university after them as well so it automatically passes the first two tests easily. And as for badassness? Maybe if the name was simply the Illini, you could argue that it's not fairly badass. But by placing "Fighting" in front of it? Do you want to mess with a whole bunch of Fighting Illini? I don't.
Rebecca's thoughts: "7.5. It has fighting in the name & Native Americans can be badass, but eh."
Michigan Wolverines- It's hard to go wrong naming your team after an incredibly angry and strong small mammal capable of destroying animals much larger than it. When that small (and smelly) creature also happens to be invoked in one of the state's nicknames? You've hit the triple 20, my friend. What's that, you say? The state of Michigan has only seen one wild wolverine in the past 200 years? Well then how about that Michigan Brigade in the Civil War named the Wolverines?
Rebecca's thoughts: "9. I just picture a half naked Hugh Jackman when I see the word Wolverine, so... yeah."
Minnesota Golden Gophers- You could almost completely copy and paste what I said for Michigan here, except for gophers being strong and fierce. They aren't. I struggled between placing Minnesota in the upper tier and the middle tier, but ultimately decided the fact that their gophers are composed of solid gold makes them pretty tough. Your bullets and snares aren't going to be nearly effective against a burrowing rodent made of the 79th element. I'm also a sucker for alliteration.
Rebecca's thoughts: "Negative 1. Gophers are the exact opposite of badass. It's like calling a team "The puce prarie dogs". If they wanted to make them sound a little tougher using a color "golden" was really the wrong choice. Iron gopher would be way cooler. Plus the mascot could wear chain mail & have a battle axe."
Purdue Boilermakers- I think this might actually be the first time in site history that I have something nice to say about Purdue. It feels weird and unclean and I'll try to avoid doing so again in the future. But what does a someone who builds boilers have to do with central Indiana? Back in the late 1800s, Purdue beat the tar out of a local college in football. Back in the old times, engineering students had to actually work on molding the metal and beating it in the forge. Purdue has always been an engineering school. The other schools thought it was a clever putdown to compare the students at Purdue to hard laborers. Purdue flipped the script and lovingly adopted the nickname. That's moxie.
Rebecca's thoughts: "5. It sounds like a hard, ungrateful sort of job that could result in death fairly easily. However, you don't hear the phrase 'A boilermaker is coming' and shit your pants, so not truly badass."
Wisconsin Badgers- The Michigan argument applies here completely. I've never seen a badger in the wild and I don't know that I ever actually want to. Well done, Wisconsin.
Rebecca's thoughts: "8. Those f****** are small, but they mean business. Have you seen the claws on those things? I would rather wrestle an alligator than fight a badger."
Indiana Hoosiers- Most of the teams in tier two are suffering from a lack of ability to be threatening. The Hoosiers are a prime example of this. With all due respect to Kurt Vonnegut, there is nothing cool or intimidating about simply being a person from Indiana. It's original and fitting, but it's also incredibly lame.
Rebecca's thoughts: "2. The only reason I didn't give it a 1 was that would take away from the Cornhusker's leading status as having the crappiest regional name. Also, Indiana sucks as a state. Why would you want to proudly advertise being from there"
Iowa Hawkeyes- Iowa is the Hawkeye State, so this is a pretty perfect name and it's not like any other university is going to try and steal it. But do you know why Iowa is the Hawkeye State? Because two guys from Burlington, Iowa decided to launch a campaign after naming their newspaper the Hawk-Eye and Iowa Patriot after Chief Black Hawk. Who was born and lived in Illinois. Don't claim our kickass Native American leaders as your own Iowa. That's poor form.
Rebecca's thoughts: "8. This is a complete guess because I haven't read Last of the Mohicans and I need to get back to making cookies for tomorrow or I would research it."
Maryland Terrapins- Did you know that the Chesapeake Bay region was once completely overrun by diamonback terrapins? Now you do and now their team name makes sense. Hooray for learning! Dr. Byrd's best decision also resulted in Testudo, one of my favorite mascots, so I'm a pretty big fan. That being said though, no one is scared of a turtle unless it's an alligator snapping turtle. And since they're not the Maryland Alligator Snapping Turtles (name's too long, wouldn't fit on the jerseys), they're stuck in tier 2.
Rebecca's thoughts: "3. Unless said turtle has talons & a sharp beak snapping turtle style (in which case this would be bumped to an 8)."
Michigan State Spartans- No one is going to pretend the Spartans weren't badasses. An entire civilization of warriors? That's hardcore (let's ignore all the disturbing aspects of their culture for this exercise). But the only reason the Spartans are the Spartans is because a group of Greek brothers who owned a diner in Lansing convinced administrators to change the name. It's fine to name your team after something cool that has nothing to do with the state or region. Just don't expect to get placed in the top tier.
Rebecca's thoughts: "9.5 . Thank you Gerrard Butler."
Nebraska Cornhuskers- Nebraska is very proud of their corn production and that is fine. Corn is a wonderful and versatile crop that helped build this great country into the shambling behemoth it is today. But you don't see the University of Georgia Peanutshuckers, do you? No, you do not. Because that name is silly (yet wonderful).
Rebecca's thoughts: "1. I don't think this rating requires explanation."
Ohio State Buckeyes- Why are so many states in the Midwest named after the stupidest of things? Oh, your state is full of trees? Better name it after them and their goofy ass acorns! I'm not even going to get started on Brutus. Why would you anthropomorphize an acorn? They don't need arms and legs to get where they're going. They're going in the ground. Those eyes will see nothing but darkness.
Rebecca's thoughts: "0. Seriously? That's like naming your sports team 'The Pistachios'."
Penn State Nittany Lions- I'll give Penn State credit for not just naming the team the Mountain Lions or the Cougars. I dock them points for not being the Penn State Pumas though. That's a much better name. Always strive for alliteration. They also lose points because the mountain lions it refers to may not have ever existed. That's practically Jayhawk territory. If you're going to name your team after a fake animal, at least use a cool one.
Rebecca's thoughts: "8. Would rank higher if it was actually a real animal."
Rutgers Scarlet Knights- I originally had this listed in the bottom tier, but upon further consideration I bumped it up. They've only been the Scarlet Knights for just under 60 years. Personally, I think the Chanticleers was a fantastic name and that they shouldn't have changed it. They get credit for incorporating a color into the name instead of just becoming the knights and knights are pretty badass. But since it was decided on by a schoolwide student poll and has no ties to New Jersey, it's stuck at the bottom of tier 2.
Rebecca's thoughts: "8. Assuming he's scarlet because he's covered in blood. If he's scarlet because he's wearing a fashionable velvet red doublet then this is downgraded to a 6."
Northwestern Wildcats- I grew up as a Wildcat. My elementary school, middle school, and high school were all Wildcats. Plainfield, as you can tell by the name, is not a creative place. Thanks to grad school, I am currently once more a Wildcat. Kansas is not a creative place. Naming your team the Wildcats is basically one step up the originality ladder from the Bulldogs. Sure there are a dozen or so teams named the Tigers, but that's at least a specific type of cat. You know what kind of wildcats you find around Chicagoland other than the random bobcats that occasionally creep through? Feral cats. Stray freaking cats. The name lacks in originality and has nothing to do with the region. That is an unforgivable crime.
Rebecca's thoughts: "7. Wildcats are no Augustus St. Cloud's Editor's note: Venture Bros reference, but they're not quite at the top of the animal kingdom ass-kicker scale either."
Follow The Champaign Room on Twitter at @Champaign_Room and Like us on Facebook. You can follow Mark Primiano on Twitter at @SBN_UGod.