A person is smart. People are dumb.
- Agent K, Men in Black
Agent Tommy Lee Jones was probably right when it came to the existence of aliens, but I would argue the reverse is true when it comes to sports. If you get into a conversation with one person about college football (or, you know, anything), there’s a pretty good chance a plurality of the things said in the conversation will be at best tenuous and at worst completely made up. A person, in this case, is often dumb.
But when you take the totality of knowledge from college football fans across the country, eventually we can come upon something of a consensus. Put us all together, and we generally know what we’re talking about. This is known as “the wisdom of crowds.” People, with the fringe morons weeded out, tend to be smart.
This principle is at play in the ELO Program Rater at Sports-Reference’s college football site. ELO ratings are most commonly used in chess but have made their way into a number of other rankings, such as Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings for the BCS, and, to take a slightly nerdier turn, rankings in the Halo: Reach arena mode. Check out their full explanation here.
Keep in mind that people can have different criteria for ranking a program; some will look at a program’s entire history, others will take a “what have you done for me lately” approach. Some will look at regular season success, others will give more weight to bowl victories.
Now, without further ado, S-R’s ELO program rankings for the Big Ten schools:
10. Penn State
13. Ohio State
31. Michigan State