It's fairly obvious that not all college football fan bases are created equal. Some have trouble getting anyone to show up for their games. Others continue to sell out their contests despite mixed results on the field. Some have a small, passionate group of supporters who constantly show their loyalty. Others have national fan bases who act a bit more fair-weather.
Of course, there are a number of factors that go into being considered a "great" fan base. Attendance numbers are just part of the picture - but you also have to consider program revenue, online presence, tradition and reputation.
We've gone ahead and ranked all 14 college football fan bases in the Big Ten. No, we don't imagine you'll all agree with what we've come up with.
14. Northwestern Fans
Let's be honest - Northwestern is at a bit of a disadvantage for this study. Northwestern is the only private school in the bunch, has the fewest people enrolled and has experienced arguably the least amount of success on the gridiron. So historically, there hasn't been a lot to get excited about. But hey, they did win 10 games last year.
In 2015, Northwestern averaged 33,366 fans for home games - while its stadium seats just over 47,000. The program's social media followings are very weak - NU has around 29,000 Facebook likes for its entire athletics program. On Twitter, NU football comes in just under 16,000, while on Instagram it's closer to 9,000. There also aren't any huge blogs or message boards devoted to the program.
"Chicago's Big Ten" team has some work to do to move up a list like this one.
13. Indiana Fans
It is very hard to be considered both a football school and a basketball school. It's pretty clear which sport Hoosiers' fans prefer. Considering the team has only played in 10 bowl games all-time, that isn't exactly a surprise.
Indiana claims it averaged 44,314 fans per home game in 2015, while the seating capacity at Memorial Stadium is just under 53,000. The Hoosiers boast 34,000 Facebook likes, 13,000 Instagram followers and 27,000 Twitter followers for their football program. Northwestern is the only school with less of a following.
We have no issue with those who support Indiana football, but it's clear they're no powerhouse. They're just about on par with...
12. Purdue Fans
Purdue has hit a bit of a rough patch, winning just three Big Ten games combined over the past three years. But the Boilermakers have more historical success than many on this list. Their fan base, at the moment, isn't quite as strong as its been in the past.
The Boilermakers averaged over 37,000 fans per home game in 2015 despite Ross-Ade Stadium holding over 57,000. 37,000 people on Facebook like the team, while 42,000 follow it on Twitter. Purdue has an Instagram account as well, which features 10,000 followers. Purdue's overall program revenue ranks second-lowest in the conference too - ahead of only Rutgers. That doesn't necessarily mean that Purdue fans aren't a loyal bunch - there just aren't that many of them.
Purdue has some great traditions and it's one of the more unique programs out there, but the fan base has a hard time competing with many on this list.
11. Illinois Fans
Illinois is another team that has experienced limited success on the field, so it isn't a shock to hear that the Illini don't have the best fan base in the country. Illinois hasn't posted a nine-win season since 2007, and it's seen four different coaches in that time span. Illinois, like Indiana, is definitely more of a basketball school.
The Illini averaged just over 41,000 fans per home game in 2015, but if we're being honest, that also seems a bit inflated. Either way, the team's facility, Memorial Stadium, holds over 60,000, so there are always plenty of empty seats in the stands. Illinois' social media followings are better than Indiana's, but they aren't amazing. The Illini's football program boasts 86,000 likes on Facebook, 7,000 Instagram followers and 50,000 Twitter followers.
Perhaps the hiring of Lovie Smith will help the team move up this list.
10. Maryland Fans
Maryland hasn't exactly flourished in football in the Big Ten, but there are many who believe that it's a program on the rise. Its fan base will need to move up this list if it wants to compete with the big boys in the conference.
Maryland, a long-time ACC member, has experienced more success on the basketball court than it has the football field. The Terps averaged over 44,000 fans per game in 2015, with a stadium that fits 54,000. Oddly, Maryland has a much stronger Facebook presence (77,000) than it does a Twitter presence (21,000) or an Instagram following (17,000). The program comes in ninth in revenue among teams in the Big Ten.
Maryland's inclusion in the Big Ten East is going to make it hard for the Terrapins to put together consistent stellar campaigns - competing against Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State every year is rough. They're probably the biggest sleeping giant fan base in the conference, but they'll need to win some games to really see the full potential.
9. Rutgers Fans
Rutgers may be the birthplace of college football, but the program hasn't exactly been dominant at any point in the sport's history. Fans of the Scarlet Knights have had a decent amount to cheer about over the past decade, but it's going to be tough sledding moving forward. Nine-win seasons could be a thing of the past.
Rutgers averages just under 48,000 fans per game playing at High Point Solutions Stadium, which holds 52,454. The football team boasts 62,000 Facebook fans, 17,000 Instagram followers and 46,000 Twitter followers. On the revenue front, however, they're actually last in the Big Ten among public schools. The move to the Big Ten will prove to be solid for the school's finances - but they're going to have a difficult time competing on the gridiron.
The Scarlet Knights boast a sneaky passionate fan base, but they'll need to win a lot of games in a tough Big Ten East to move up any time soon. We shall see.
8. Minnesota Fans
Minnesota is actually the second-biggest school in the Big Ten, but they're nowhere near the top of our list. Why? The Golden Gophers aren't an elite program and haven't produced consistent enough results over the years. All seven of the team's national titles came over 50 years ago. They haven't played in the Rose Bowl since 1961. It's hard to build a robust fan base without experiencing a good run every few years.
Minnesota has one of the newest college football stadiums in the country - TCF Bank Stadium - and has seen decent attendance the past few years. In 2015, the Golden Gophers averaged 52,366 fans for their home games - and the arena seats can hold just over 54,000. Minnesota boasts 65,000 Facebook likes and 54,000 Twitter followers when it comes to social media, too.
Minnesota actually comes in fifth in the Big Ten in program revenue, despite the lack of success. If they're ever able to put together a title-contending campaign, they'd likely shoot up this list.
7. Iowa Fans
There's actually a big gap between the top seven Big Ten fan bases and the bottom seven. Iowa supporters are one of the most loyal fan bases in the country, and in 2015, they had a fun year. It didn't end the way they'd hoped - but hey, it was the first time the program had won 12 games in a season.
Iowa averaged over 63,000 fans per game in 2015 with a facility - Kinnick Stadium - that holds just over 70,000. On Facebook, Iowa has over 123,000 likes. On Twitter, they're at 120,000 followers. Instagram claims 50,000 followers. There are also a number of sites and blogs devoted to following/covering the Hawkeyes. They're one of the more under-appreciated groups in the country.
Prior to 2015, Iowa fans were pretty vocal about making a change at head coach. It looks like Kirk Ferentz is probably okay in the short term.
6. Michigan State Fans
Speaking of under-appreciated fan bases - how about Michigan State's? The Spartans, who have won at least 10 games in five of the past six years and are currently experiencing one of the best runs in school history, boast a solid following. Jemele Hill is probably the most vocal MSU supporter out there, but she certainly isn't on her own.
Michigan State averaged 74,661 fans per home game in 2015 at Spartan Stadium, which holds just over 75,000. The program's Facebook account has 205,000 likes, while on Instagram, it's just over 66,000. On Twitter, they're at 208,000 followers. Sure, some of that is recent success. But the program has built a nice following being the anti-Michigan and the anti-Ohio State.
The real test will come if/when Michigan State falls off. Will fans still come out for games and do the program proud? Or will they fall back to the pack in the Big Ten?
5. Wisconsin Fans
Wisconsin football is perhaps the program that defines consistently-good-but-never-elite. Their fans, however, are always top-notch. "Jump Around" is arguably the coolest tradition in college football.
Wisconsin, in 2015, averaged over 78,000 fans at Camp Randall Stadium, which holds just over 80,000. The school is fourth in revenue in the Big Ten. On Facebook, the program is a monster, boasting over 400,000 likes. Their Twitter following is solid too - at 153,000 followers. Instagram comes in at 45,000.
The Badgers have a very passionate fan base, and in a few other conferences, they'd be ranked in the top two or three. But in the Big Ten, they have some serious competition. They'll have to settle for being second-tier for now.
4. Penn State Fans
Penn State fans have had a rough decade, and they often catch a lot of flak for the actions of a few in regards to the Sandusky scandal, but in reality, they're a huge, powerful fan base that loves college football. A Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium is something that you definitely need to experience before you die. You could honestly make a case for them being No. 1 on this list.
Penn State averaged just under 100,000 fans per home game in 2015. Beaver Stadium holds 106,572. Considering the team only won seven games this past year, that's pretty solid.
On Facebook, Penn State has 640,000 likes for its football program - on Twitter, it's 151,000 followers. Instagram? 100,000 followers. So they're a social media monster too.
If Penn State can ever return to being a national title contender, they'll have the opportunity to shoot up the list. The Nittany Lions are always a popular draw.
3. Michigan Fans
In terms of sheer numbers, Michigan's fan base is tops in the Big Ten. But as you'll find out later, being the biggest doesn't necessarily make you the best. Wolverines supporters are one heck of a group, though.
Michigan has so many fans, it boasts the biggest college football stadium in the country. And in 2015, in head coach Jim Harbaugh's first year, they all showed up to watch games. UM averaged over 110,000 fans per game in 2015, despite the facility - Michigan Stadium - only technically being able to hold 107,601. That being said, in the pre-Harbaugh era, Michigan actually had a few seasons in which it didn't sell out games.
Michigan boasts a whopping 1.5 million Facebook likes and 402,000 Twitter followers for its football program. They don't have a football-specific Instagram account, but their athletics handle boasts 140,000 followers. There are also a number of websites and message board communities - most notably MGoBlog- devoted to the program.
Michigan fans likely won't be thrilled to see themselves anywhere but No. 1 on this list, but there are two programs we have just a bit higher.
2. Ohio State Fans
We've already told you that Ohio State's fans are the most powerful in all of college football. But that doesn't mean they're the best either. They did beat Michigan, though, something their team has done quite a bit lately.
Ohio State, like Michigan, averaged more fans at home games this year than its stadium - Ohio Stadium - can technically seat. Ohio State saw an average of over 107,000 fans come out for its games in 2015 - second in the country behind only rival Michigan. On social media, the school has 640,000 Facebook likes, 265,000 Twitter followers and 322,000 Instagram followers.
Ohio State has the highest program revenue as well - even beating out Michigan. The Buckeyes, like the Wolverines, also have entire sites (Eleven Warriors, etc.) dedicated to their coverage.
Why isn't Ohio State or Michigan No. 1 on our list? Because there's one fan base that, despite its size, has proven time and time again that it has the most loyal fans in the nation.
1. Nebraska Fans
Nebraska does not boast the biggest fan base in the Big Ten - in fact, the Cornhuskers aren't even close. They don't boast the biggest social media following either - they have just 128,000 Facebook likes, 58,000 Twitter followers and 66,000 Instagram followers. But as we've noted in the past, they are by far the most loyal fan base in the country. How do we know?
The Cornhuskers have sold out 347 straight contests at Memorial Stadium, which seats 85,000 fans. That streak dates back to 1962. The "Sea of Red" is one of the most impressive groups in the country.
Nebraska actually averaged almost 90,000 fans per game in 2015 - so they join Ohio State and Michigan in averaging a higher attendance than their stadium can technically hold. As a reminder, this all happened with the Cornhuskers winning just five regular season games. How many programs have fans that, regardless of down periods, come out for every game?
Congrats, Nebraska - you have the best fans in the Big Ten.