Big Ten Preseason Power Rankings: Boardwalking To The Title

Today's post was supposed to be over linebacker Dwayne Beckford & tight-end Carlos Carvajal. But seeing as Dwayne's future is a little uncertain and I already did a write up for Carlos, I thought I'd go ahead with my weekly Big Ten power rankings.

Over the next few weeks I will be doing Big Ten power-rankings where I evaluate each team in relevance to what is going on within television, music, or whatever else is going on in my life as well as their success in the league. I'll also be trying to work on a name for this bad boy, so bear with me as I throw out some awful titles till I can come up with one I actually like.This week will be focused on the HBO hit series Boardwalk Empire. For those who don’t know what Boardwalk is about, allow me to give you a little summary:

The setting is in the mid-twenties right after World War I, during the prohibition movement in the United States. The main character, Enoch "Nucky" Thomas, is the treasurer for Atlantic City, New Jersey and basically runs the whole city. He is wealthy, powerful, and your go-to-guy if you need to get liquor smuggled into your city. The story is based on the struggles of Nucky and how he deals with other gangsters moving in on his business while he also does everything to avoid being caught by the government. If you love gangsters, action, alcohol and women, and a story line that is pretty historically accurate I highly recommend this show. Easily one of my favorite shows running.

I’m going to do my best to not give out too many spoilers, but I will be ranking each Big Ten team from the best to the worst while also tying them into 12 of the most relevant characters from the show. So here we go:

1. Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson: Wisconsin Badgers
  • The big cat who runs everything, Nucky Thompson is someone not to be messed with; people fear him, respect him, like him, and hate him. Viewers constantly feel this way throughout the series. Nucky is always helping out others by giving out tons of money, yet he does so just to receive votes to remain the treasurer of Atlantic City, as well as gain debtors who will have to repay him in services; which usually come in some form of helping him transport alcohol to Atlantic City and other areas. Nucky can be sleazy, but there are times where he shows a soft heart. Everything is about him and you always want to know what he is going to do next or how he will respond to a certain event or conflict. However, he is a dominate force and if you come after him, you better bring everything you have because he's not going down easy; even if it means he has to get his hands dirty instead of having his muscle handle things.
  • Wisconsin is the Nucky of the Big Ten. The Badgers have the talent to be the focal point of the league and can steal the show from Michigan with a lighter schedule and a more balanced team. They have the chance of going undefeated this season and representing the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl while also having a strong candidate for the Heisman in Montee Ball. It’s hard to hate Wisconsin, but at the same time you can’t really like them either. They are a respectable program that is always competitive, but at the same time they almost always kick Purdue’s ass which makes them hard to like. Well, actually it's pretty easy to not like them when they do that. Wisconsin is going to be a dominate force: teams are going to have to bring all their muscle to take down this giant.

2. Arnold Rothstein: Michigan Wolverines

  • Rothstein is a lethal dude. This guy could arguably be more bad-ass than Nucky. Rothstein has money, power, and muscle. He’s a huge gambler, a strategic genius, and is incredibly intelligent. He is best known for his rigging of the 1919 World Series where 8 members of the Chicago White Sox threw the game, allowing the Cincinnati Reds to win the World Series. Rothstein character progresses throughout the series. He’s always there and relevant, but recently has come into the big picture and poses a big threat to Nucky’s business and even his life. He and Nucky are always competing for business and Rothstein is constantly looking for ways to become one of the head honchos in the bootlegging industry.
  • The Michigan Wolverines are easily compared to Rothstein. Although they are ranked higher than Wisconsin, I’m unsure of Denard Robinson since he’s supposed to be awesome every year and hasn’t really made too much noise since his freshmen season. Plus I don’t see the Wolverines beating Wisconsin if the two meet in the Big Ten Championship. The Wolverines have been around for a while now and are always a good team, but this is the year that they are stacked. They’ve got their assets in the right place, and have brought in plenty of liquor and money (AKA good young talent and returning players). They are going to give Wisconsin a run for their money the whole way this season for the best team in The Big Ten. Michigan is going to be a fun team to watch, but will face a tough challenge early when they go to Alabama and play the Crimson Tide.
3. Margaret Schroeder: Michigan State Spartans
  • A quiet, soft-spoken Irish woman who loves her children and her family, Margaret Schroeder has become a big character in the series. In the beginning of Season 1 we see her get pushed around and abused by her alcoholic husband until Nucky has him killed. Margaret is able to rebuild her life around Nucky’s generosity and affection for her, yet she is always questioning Nucky’s criminal life; she never speaks out about this lifestyle even though she doesn’t agree with it. At first you can’t tell if you like Margaret, but as the seasons progress she gets awesome, and at the end of Season 2 you just have no idea what is going to happen with how she reacts to what Nucky has done. (I realize that last sentence could not be vaguer. That is my attempt to not ruin a huge twist at the end of Season 2.)
  • Over the past two seasons, the Spartans have a record of 22-5 and are looking to improve on that. Michigan State has accumulated some decent seasons, but during 2010-2012 they showed their program is legit and should be feared in The Big Ten. Sparty also has a shot of beating out in-state rival Michigan for the Legends Division champ. Like Margaret, MSU has taken a beating over the years, but are now fed up. Also like Margaret, MSU has a tough defense that can take a pounding and dish it right back. They are resilient and easily one of the best in the nation where they have depth at every position; example being their two awesome corners: Johnny Adams and Darqueeze Dennard. MSU is a wildcard; they could win the Big Ten or just end up as a really good bowl team.
4. Lucky Luciano: Nebraska Cornhuskers
  • Lucky Luciano is a young and upcoming gangster who is tough, and doesn’t take shit from anyone. He’s ruthless and cunning, while also being an opportunist who takes advantage of a good business opportunity when he can. Luciano took a ‘back-seat’ role to Rothstein in Season 1, but in Season 2 we start to see Luciano coming into his own role and turning into the gangster that he is historically known for. He’s threatening, and he knows it. Season 3 will show a lot of Luciano and he’s going to play a big role for Boardwalk
  • Like Luciano, Nebraska is on its way to become one of the up and coming powerhouses in The Big Ten. The Cornhuskers are young to conference, but they have winning tradition and are known for their football program. During their freshmen season they posted a 9-4 record with an impressive win over Michigan State and their only bad loss coming from Northwestern. Nebraska has 15 returners this season and now understands how The Big Ten style of play works. Nebraska will be another contender for the Legends division, and if quarterback Taylor Martinez has a big season this will be a scary team.
5. Al Capone: Ohio State Buckeyes
  • Known for being one of the most sinister mobsters of all-time, Al Capone needs little introduction. Capone has yet to turn into the great gangster that he is known for, but he is definitely on the verge of something great at the end of Season 2. Capone is cunning, likeable, but at the same time a merciless, ill-tempered gangster who is looking out for his best interest. He is a family man that takes pride in his Italian heritage as well. Capone has done some crazy things (Season 1 shoot-out; now that was bad-ass), but has yet to really break-out and do anything jaw-dropping…yet.
  • Just like Capone, Ohio State really needs no introduction when it comes to the history of this football program. The Buckeyes suffered a huge blow after scandals involving players trading championship memorabilia for tattoos, like bowl rings, the firing of Jim Tressel, and players accepting over $16,000 in illicit benefits. Needless to say Ohio State has had a lot go down over the past couple years. However, the Buckeyes are going in the right direction. With the recent hiring of coach Urban Meyer (Damn it! Why do so many great players and coaches just fall into OSU’s lap!?!), Ohio State has one of the best coaches in football and also gain a fantastic recruiter. Like Capone, this team has a lot of pride in its history and won’t just roll over and die after everything that’s happened; Urban Meyer won’t allow it either. The Buckeyes are going to have a stellar defense this season and after getting a year of starting under his belt, Braxton Miller looks to be a scary dual-threat QB who is only going to get better. At this point Ohio State looks great, but they still haven’t done anything jaw-dropping or to make us think they are that dominate as past OSU teams have been.
6. Chalky White: Purdue Boilermakers
  • Finally! I’ve been waiting all night to write about this guy! First off, if Michael Kenneth Williams is in a TV series you are thinking about watching it, do it! This guy is amazing! OK, enough exclamation points. Chalky White is hands down my favorite character. He’s a racketeer and the unofficial leader of the African-American community in Atlantic City. White’s character is blue-collared, hard-nosed, intimidating and just a royal badass. He comes from a poor background where he worked his tail off to get everything that he has, and he has a lot. Not only that, Chalky has had to overcome all the discrimination that he received during this time for being Black. A lot of the characters don’t respect Chalky because of his ethnicity, but Nucky knows the importance of Chalky and also acknowledges his strength and assets. The story of Chalky White is great, and I’m excited to see where Season 3 takes him.
  • One team in The Big Ten that doesn't get the respect it deserves, regardless of the sport or the quality of the team, is the Purdue Boilermakers. When we are good, people don’t really like to acknowledge it. When we are bad, people just assume that’s the norm. We have a history of being a good football team, and it looks like Hope is taking us in the right direction; slowly, but surely. Purdue’s tough, rough-neck, boilermaker style of play is nothing short of the way Boilermakers of the past have played. We are going to come at you 100% on both sides of the field. With a good defense anchored by senior defensive tackle Kawann short and junior cornerback Ricardo Allen, we have a small shot at competing for the Legends division. Our main competition is going to Wisconsin, and that won’t be easy at all. Purdue is going to be a dark-horse in The Big Ten. We could finish in the middle of the pack, but we have the potential to finish on the higher end of the league. We’ll just see where Danny Hope and the boys take us.
7. Richard Harrow: Penn State
  • The story of Richard Harrow is a sad one. Harrow served as a sharpshooter for the US Army during World War I. During his service, Richard suffered a severe injury where he had half of his face blown off and is now forced to wear a cosmetic mask to cover up the monstrous wounds. Richard is a badass who shows signs of his glory years whenever he assassinates someone or goes into a fire fight without even batting an eyelash. You have to respect Richard. But with all the respect that comes with Richard, you can’t help but feel bad for him. The guy looks like a monster, and people are always judging or mocking him. When Richard first entered the show, he had a persona that made him seem insignificant. Now Richard is showing that he has a huge role in Boardwalk and Season 3 is going to be a huge step for his character.
  • The story of Richard Harrow slightly resembles that of Penn State University. The Nittany Lions have a history of being one of the most dominate football schools ever. But we all know what happened over the past few years with Jerry Sandusky, and now Penn State has been stripped of wins, titles, and, most of all, pride. Like Richard, Penn State is wounded and defaced, but even with all the trials, transfers, and the switching of a head coach for the first time in over 40 years, Penn State is still looking to compete in the conference and has fight left in them. Richard's character started off slow but built up as time went on; that's how this Penn State team will most likely start out slow, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them show life mid-season and finish in the middle of the pack. They have a solid defense and will be riding an emotional roller-coaster all season; which will work bot for and against them. But it will be interesting to see how the Nittany Lions will put points up on the board with the losses of Silas Redd at RB, Justin Brown at WR, & Rob Bolden at QB.
8. Jimmy Darmody: Iowa Hawkeyes
  • Darmody's character is kind of a mysterious guy. He was a Yale drop out who fought in the trenches of WWI, but his roots are in bootlegging and crime. Jimmy was basically raised by Nucky and served as one of his body guards for the first season before he started forming alliances to make his own bootlegging profits. He is constantly trying to prove himself as a legit mobster who knows what it takes to make it big, but his youth and inexperience is constantly holding him back and the fact (spoiler alter!) that he double crosses too many of the wrong people leads to his demise. For the most part Jimmy is a likeable guy who has some really great moments in the show; especially when he teams up with Capone during the Chicago shoot-out. Jimmy gives us some big upsets when he kills a few high and mighty mobsters, but he doesn’t have what to takes to make it to the top.
  • The Iowa Hawkeyes are a young team that will be scary in the future. But at this point I think we can expect them to finish in mid to lower end of The Big Ten. They are returning one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, James Vandenberg, while also putting together a tough back-seven on defense featuring James Morrison at linebacker and Micah Hyde at cornerback. Like Darmody, these guys have a lot to prove and won’t be given a lot of respect because of their youth and the fact they really don't have a running game. But I could see Iowa having an upset when Nebraska comes to town at the end of the season. Even if Iowa is having a miserable season they will always be good at this: bringing a huge crowd for a big game. That stadium goes nuts during key games and is not easy to play in. Don’t mark this team off completely, because they will have a great home record.
9. Mickey Doyle: Northwestern Wildcats
  • Mickey Doyle is a Philly gangster who moved to Atlantic City to get into the bootlegging business. He’s a little obnoxious, but has a weird sense of humor so you occasionally find yourself chuckling at some of the stuff he says…or shaking your head and wanting to punch him. The main thing about Doyle is that he’s pretty annoying and no one seems to like him. He’s a pest, an instigator, and a huge manipulator. His role increased in Season 2 and it looks like he will have an even bigger part once Season 3 of Boardwalk begins.
  • One of those teams that always seems like a pest to everyone else in The Big Ten is the Northwestern Wildcats. The Wildcats are never really good, but they’re never bad either. This season looks like it will be mediocrity at its finest for the Purple & White. Northwestern has the tools to be an alright offense; they return play making QB Kain Colter, but have lost their star receiver Jeremy Ebert. This team will need young players to stand out early on offense and defense. They’ll need to take advantage of the easy games at the beginning of their schedule with the later portion featuring Michigan, MSU, and Nebraska.
10. Gillian Darmody: Illinois Fighting Illini
  • The mother of Jimmy Darmody, Gillian is a scandalous show girl who gets around a lot throughout the show. She is manipulative, crude, and wants to use Jimmy's mob-boss potential to ride to the top. There are times where she is pulling the strings and just telling Jimmy what to do, which makes you really dislike her. The future for Gillian is cloudy; it’s hard to see what her role for Season 3 will be with the death of her son and husband, but she may surprise us something. She has been through a lot: rape, raising a son at the age of 13, and putting up with the scum of Atlantic City to make a living. But despite all this, she’ll have to prove herself useful to stay relevant with this upcoming season.
  • When it came to Big Ten play the Illini had a terrible season; they hope to bounce back this year after finishing 2-6 in 2011 where they lost 6 games in a row before winning their bowl game. Illinois doesn’t have a terrible team this year, but they will have to prove early that they are relevant if they want to compete in the conference. Like Penn State, they are going to have a tough defense which will be the anchor to their success with their talented front anchored by defensive end Michael Buchanan and linebacker Jonathon Brown. Offense is a toss-up for Illinois. They have QB Nathan Scheelhaase returning, who is a dual-threat QB, but with the loss of receiver A.J. Jenkins someone else will need to fill that role of the play-making receiver. Illinois will have to win a lot of their home games, because Lord knows playing at OSU, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Northwestern isn’t going to be anything easy.
11. Elias 'Eli' Thompson: Minnesota Gophers
  • As the sheriff of Atlantic City and younger brother of Nucky, you would think Eli has all the power in the world. Well, he basically has none. He was given the position by Nucky and basically does whatever Nucky tells him to do. Eli is pushed around by Nucky and other political figures constantly, until finally he loses his shit in Season 2 and attacks Nucky, murders an alderman, and forms an alliance with Jimmy to bring down Nucky. Eli has always been in the backseat to Nucky, but now he has a taste to be his own leader and not some pawn for a wealthy politician. For now, he will have to sit there and be walked over like he has in the first two seasons until an opportunity arises.
  • Over the past five years the Golden Gophers have managed to put together a record of 20-42. That’s pretty terrible. They get beat up by their rivals Iowa and Wisconsin constantly and are generally in the bottom of The Big Ten. This year looks to be another disappointing year for Minnesota. They have a tough Big Ten schedule from start to finish and even their out of conference games are no walk in the park. The good thing is Marqueis Gray returns as their leading passer and rusher, and will be at the helm of this offense. The bad thing is, that’s really all they got. Minnesota will have to keep rebuilding and accept the fact that they are going to get walked over by other teams in the conference.
12. Agent Nelson Van Alden: Indiana Hoosiers
  • Agent Nelson is the absolute worst. If you enjoy this guy or he is your favorite character then you are either A) A controlling, judgmental person who condemns people for not believing what you believe in, B) A sociopath, C) A big Joffrey fan from Game of Thrones or D) All the above. Nelson is a senior agent for the Bureau of Prohibition and he takes that shit serious. He is extremely religious and conservative, so much so that he makes himself out to be a conceded lunatic (and by makes himself out to be one, I mean he actually is). After murdering a fellow agent and knocking up one of Nucky’s dancers, Nelson demonstrates that he doesn't practice being the wholesome, good doing religious man that he gives off which makes us hate him even more. Everything Nelson does on this show makes you hate him. The way he talks, the way he acts, the way he exists, just everything about this guy sucks!
  • Because of how much I detest Nelson and wish that he would just shut up and go away forever, this ranking will go to none other than….IU! Listen, let’s be honest here: IU sucks. They are going to be terrible this year. After only winning 1 FBS game last season, having one of the best recruits in the nation revoke his commitment, and the fact that IU fans constantly bad-mouth everything about Purdue, there is just no way they can avoid being agent Nelson. The thing is, as much as we want IU football to go away and just shut up it’s also fun to hate them, just like Agent Nelson. How much do we look forward to The Old Oaken Bucket game? Regardless of either team’s records or how either season is going the IU vs Purdue game is always looked forward to. IU looks like to have a chance to not be as terrible this year and actually win a few; with games against Ball State, Indiana State, Massachusetts, and Navy who are not terrible teams, but not good teams either. This will be an older, more mature Indiana team, but you can't rely on maturity and age alone; you need some talent. Regardless of the success or dismay of the Hoosiers, we love to hate them and we will always hate them; like Agent Nelson. So to summarize: IU sucks, Agent Nelson sucks, and they will always suck…unless somehow Nelson becomes awesome in Season 3 of Boardwalk Empire, which I highly doubt.

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