Solid post and I guess my point is that if a 0L doesn't know that Northwestern is better than Appalachian they probably shouldn't be going to law school.
Northwestern is a well regarded school and any 0L at an ABA school went to undergrad and for example I went to a California State University. I knew that Northwestern, Stanford, UCLA, USC etc were "better" undergrads.
The issue you cite is where I think the problem lies and was even my situation, I was using the rankings to decide between the following schools Penn State, Michigan State Tulsa, Franklin Pierce (now University of New Hampshire), Florida International, Texas Wesleyan (Now Texas A&M), University of San Francisco, Golden Gate, Chapman, and Santa Clara.
I was living in China when making my decision, which is why my schools were all over the map and I was not being realistic about location at all.
The rankings have no utility for any of these schools. If I wanted to live in Michigan-Michigan State would have been the best choice. New Hampshire-New Hampshire, then as to the Bay Area Schools at the time USF was "better" than Santa Clara now USF is barely ranked and Golden Gate was "tier 4", but now it is the same as USF. None of those three bay area schools are really much different when Boalt & Stanford are right here not to mention the array of Harvard, Yale, NYU etc grads that move to the Bay Area.
Many of my friends went to Boalt & Harvard and have no idea that there is even a difference between USF, Santa Clara and Golden Gate. It is essentially the distinction I made earlier about two students fighting over the 55th and 72nd class rank who would know or care?
As I have said you can use the rankings as a tie-breaker and to someone out there it might make a difference, you never know. However, if you wear a blue suit to an interview instead of a gray one that could make a difference as well.
I may even be even stupider than most 0L's when making my decision by using the rankings as a guide, but using the rankings to make a life altering decision is not a good idea. At least in my anonymous internet poster opinion, which is worth according to Michale Scott the most reliable source of information ever