Big Ten scores high rankings.
The Big Ten stands as one of the top athletic conferences in the country -- and one of the best when it comes to academics. According to the 2020 U.S. News Best Colleges rankings, all of the Big Ten schools but one rank within the top 100 best National Universities, which are research-focused schools that offer a full range of undergraduate majors as well as master's and doctoral programs. Here's where the Big Ten schools landed in this year's rankings.
University of Nebraska--Lincoln
Location: Lincoln, Nebraska
U.S. News rank: 139 (tie)
Total enrollment: 25,820
4-year graduation rate: 41%
Chartered in 1869, the University of Nebraska--Lincoln launched a football program barely two decades into its existence. After cycling through a series of names including the Rattlesnake Boys and the Bugeaters, the football program was dubbed the Cornhuskers in 1899. Fast forward to the present, and those Cornhuskers have won five NCAA national championships on the football field and hold the nation's longest sellout streak for home games dating back to 1962. While the football program is well known, it's the women's volleyball program that has dominated in recent years, winning five national championships since 1995.
Learn more about the University of Nebraska--Lincoln.
Michigan State University
Location: East Lansing, Michigan
U.S. News rank: 84 (tie)
Total enrollment: 50,351
4-year graduation rate: 53%
According to the school website, the Michigan State Spartans are the only NCAA team to rack up national championship wins in football, hockey and men's basketball. Of the 25 national championships referenced on the school website, the football program has claimed four while the hockey and men's basketball programs have won three and two each, respectively.
Learn more about Michigan State University.
Location: Bloomington, Indiana
U.S. News rank: 79 (tie)
Total enrollment: 43,503
4-year graduation rate: 64%
As far as team names go, the Hoosiers may be among the more unusual monikers in NCAA sports. The team name, which at one point was "the Scrapping Hoosiers," is a nod to a poem that used the term "hoosher" as a reference to the bravery and self-reliance of pioneers living in Indiana. Indiana University--Bloomington offers 22 major sports and has a historically strong men's basketball program, which has won five NCAA national championships over the years. Not to be outdone, the men's soccer program has won eight NCAA national championships of its own, the most recent coming in 2012.
Learn more about Indiana University--Bloomington.
University of Iowa
Location: Iowa City, Iowa
U.S. News rank: 84 (tie)
Total enrollment: 31,656
4-year graduation rate: 53%
The University of Iowa is another athletic program that draws its name from literature. Iowa was dubbed the Hawkeye state in the 1830s, and it's believed that the name was partially inspired by a character in "The Last of the Mohicans," a novel by James Fenimore Cooper. Avian nicknames aside, Iowa does its best work on the ground, or more specifically on the mat: The Hawkeyes wrestling program has won 23 national championships.
Learn about the University of Iowa.
University of Minnesota--Twin Cities
U.S. News rank: 70 (tie)
Total enrollment: 50,943
4-year graduation rate: 65%
Minnesota, known as the Gopher State, is another university that applied the state nickname to its athletics program. The name was given in 1926 and later evolved to the Golden Gophers, a reference to the color of the football team's uniforms. The football program was dominant in the 1930s and '40s, racking up five of its seven NCAA national championships in that period, but it's the hockey program that has been more fearsome over the years. The men's and women's ice hockey programs claim 11 national titles between them, with the women's team winning four championships in the last decade.
Learn more about the University of Minnesota--Twin Cities.
University of Maryland--College Park
Location: College Park, Maryland
U.S. News rank: 64 (tie)
Total enrollment: 41,200
4-year graduation rate: 70%
Once known as the "Old Liners," the University of Maryland--College Park athletics program became the Terrapins in 1932 in response to a call for a new team mascot name by the school newspaper. The name was derived from the diamondback terrapin, the state reptile of Maryland. The school website claims that Maryland is only one of two schools to win NCAA national championships in both men's and women's basketball. Likewise, the men's and women's lacrosse teams have won national championships in the last three years.
Learn more about the University of Maryland-College Park.
Rutgers University--New Brunswick
Location: Piscataway, New Jersey
U.S. News rank: 62 (tie)
Total enrollment: 50,254
4-year graduation rate: 61%
Compared to other football programs on this list, Rutgers falls short in terms of wins and national championships, but it has its own unique slice of history. Rutgers played the first college football game, beating Princeton University 6-4 in 1869. Now known as the Scarlet Knights, the name of the college, its athletic programs and the mascots have all changed over the years.
Learn more about Rutgers University--New Brunswick.
Pennsylvania State University--University Park
Location: University Park, Pennsylvania
U.S. News rank: 57 (tie)
Total enrollment: 46,810
4-year graduation rate: 66%
The name Nittany Lions comes from the region in which Penn State is located -- the Nittany Valley and Mount Nittany -- and is also a nod to cougars that used to roam the state. Penn State has a storied history on the football field and a successful gymnastics program. It's most dominant program recently has been wrestling, which has a headlock on success. PSU wrestling claims 10 NCAA national championships -- eight since 2011 -- and the last four national titles.
Learn more about Pennsylvania State University--University Park.
Purdue University--West Lafayette
Location: West Lafayette, Indiana
U.S. News rank: 57 (tie)
Total enrollment: 43,411
4-year graduation rate: 56%
The name Boilermakers was born in a newspaper headline, a reference to a blowout football victory in 1891. The term boilermaker itself is typically a reference to iron workers, not to be confused with a shot of whiskey and a beer combo, another definition of the term. Prior to the Boilermaker name, Purdue teams experimented with various monikers, including pumpkin-shuckers, railsplitters, blacksmiths and cornfield sailors.
Learn more about Purdue University--West Lafayette.
Ohio State University--Columbus
Location: Columbus, Ohio
U.S. News rank: 54 (tie)
Total enrollment: 61,170
4-year graduation rate: 59%
Like other schools on this list, Ohio State draws its Buckeyes moniker from the state nickname.The football team has eight NCAA national championships to its name, though due to inconsistency in past polling, some argue that the Buckeyes only have a rightful claim to six of those titles. Of Big Ten schools, Ohio State also has 45 players in the NFL, a number second only to the University of Alabama.
Learn more about Ohio State University--Columbus.
University of Wisconsin--Madison
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
U.S. News rank: 46 (tie)
Total enrollment: 44,411
4-year graduation rate: 62%
Located in the Badger State, a reference to mining in the 1820s, the University of Wisconsin--Madison has applied that nickname to its athletic program since the 1880s. The most successful programs at Wisconsin are its men's cross country and men's ice hockey teams, each with six national championships. The women's ice hockey program has seen similar success, winning five NCAA national championships, most recently in 2019.
Learn more about the University of Wisconsin--Madison.
University of Illinois--Urbana-Champaign
Location: Champaign, Illinois
U.S. News rank: 48 (tie)
Total enrollment: 49,702
4-year graduation rate: 70%
The name Fighting Illini dates back to 1921, according to university archives, and there is some question as to whether it was intended to be a reference to Native American tribes. While the intent may be unclear, the university has drawn on Native American imagery for its athletic programs, including a mascot named Chief Illiniwek. After controversy ensued over use of the mascot, the university retired Chief Illiniwek in 2007.
Learn more about the University of Illinois--Urbana-Champaign.
University of Michigan--Ann Arbor
Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
U.S. News rank: 25 (tie)
Total enrollment: 46,716
4-year graduation rate: 79%
According to the university website, the origin of the Wolverines moniker is murky but dates back to as early as 1861. Like its namesake, Michigan has been fierce, winning NCAA national championships across multiple sports in more than 150 years of competition. Historically, the most successful program has been the men's swimming and diving team, which has won 19 NCAA national championships. The Wolverines have also been a football powerhouse historically, winning 11 NCAA national championships.
Learn more about the University of Michigan--Ann Arbor.
Location: Evanston, Illinois
U.S. News rank: 9
Total enrollment: 21,591
4-year graduation rate: 84%
Like Purdue, Northwestern can thank a newspaper when naming its football team the Wildcats, a name that spread to all of the school's athletic programs after it was introduced in 1924. Prior to the Wildcats, Northwestern had been the Fighting Methodists. The women's lacrosse program has been the standout on campus, winning seven NCAA national championships, including five straight from 2005 to 2009.
Learn more about Northwestern University.
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How the Big Ten schools rank among National Universities
-- Northwestern University: 9
-- University of Michigan--Ann Arbor: 25 (tie)
-- University of Illinois--Urbana-Champaign: 48 (tie)
-- University of Wisconsin--Madison: 46 (tie)
-- Ohio State University--Columbus: 54 (tie)
-- Pennsylvania State University--University Park: 57 (tie)
-- Purdue University--West Lafayette: 57 (tie)
-- Rutgers University--New Brunswick: 62 (tie)
-- University of Maryland--College Park: 64 (tie)
-- University of Minnesota--Twin Cities: 70 (tie)
-- Indiana University--Bloomington: 79 (tie)
-- University of Iowa: 84 (tie)
-- Michigan State University: 84 (tie)
-- University of Nebraska--Lincoln: 139 (tie)
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