Big Ten football network: Who is the winner on Twitter?

This post by Randy Olson is an entry to our $4,000 Blogging Contest. Randy is a third-year Computer Science & Engineering Ph.D. student at Michigan State University working in Dr. Chris Adami’s research lab.
Big Ten football is also Big on Twitter. The season is closing today, so this is a good time to draw some conclusions.
Let’s start from the big picture of all the hashtags related to the Big Ten. Here’s a handy visualization I created from the hashtags data from
Big Ten Twitter Hashtag Network Big Ten Twitter Hashtag Network
Click on the image to go to an interactive version of the network tells us which hashtags are related – it does so by checking when the same two hashtags are mentioned together several times. It’s no surprise why #Spartans and #Buckeyes are so closely linked this year: The Michigan State vs. Ohio State Big Ten championship game rocked the football nation when the Spartans knocked the Buckeyes out of contention for the national championship game.

But what I found especially interesting (and puzzling!) here is that despite the fact that Northwestern University, Indiana University, Purdue University, and the University of Iowa have been a part of the Big Ten for over 100 years, their sports teams aren’t very connected with the other Big Ten sports teams on Twitter. This is in direct contrast with the relatively newer Big Ten teams such as Ohio State University, Michigan State University, and Pennsylvania State University, whose sports teams are all mentioned frequently with other Big Ten sports teams.
What’s going on there? Could it be because the other Big Ten teams didn’t didn’t perform very well in their games this year – so their fans weren’t raving enough on Twitter?

So, in the end, who won the match on Twitter? also measures the relative popularity of all hashtags on Twitter, and here’s the final standings for our lot:
Popularity of Big Ten sports Twitter hashtags
Popularity of Big Ten sports Twitter hashtags
#Michigan is in the lead here, but… was that fair play? This hashtag is not only related to college sports, it’s used for everything Michigan, as we can see from its own related hashtags:
Screenshot from 2014-01-03 14:38:13
The strongest connection (thicker line) is with #Detroit, and then there are also #jobs, #news, #US… even if it is my sister University, in an unexpected turn of events, I have to disqualify #Michigan for not having a clearly defined sports hashtag.
#Huskers, #Buckeyes and #Badgers, on the other hand, are clearly referred to sports, so we can declare our winner: #Huskers, with a mere .3 points over #Buckeyes. It was a close one, and I’ll have to suggest Wolverines fans to use the #Wolverines hashtag instead of #Michigan if they want to be able to compete next year – competition on Social Media has its own rules, and you better stick to them if you want to win!

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