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Northwestern football fan base ranked No. 9 happiest, Illinois No. 111

Northwestern fans during an NCAA college football game against Penn State in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. | Matt Marton/Associated Press

Northwestern football fans are happy and they know it. Illinois fans? Not so much.

In a recent Fan Happiness Index ranking by ESPN, Northwestern fans ranked as the ninth happiest fan base among 128 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision schools, earning an “elated” label. Illinois fans were ranked 111th and held the “distraught” title.

Wildcats fans were second happiest in the Big Ten behind Ohio State, while Illinois fans were second to last in the Big Ten ahead of just Michigan State.

The ranking was built on six categories, each scored out of 100: program power (strength of record from 2012-16), rivalry dominance, coaching stability, recruiting trend, revenue growth and Twitter buzz.

Northwestern, fresh off a 7-6 season and a win in the Pinstripe Bowl, scored an 81 on program power and a 35 on Twitter buzz, but a whopping 98 in rivalry dominance. The Wildcats have won four of the last five games against Illinois including a 42-21 victory last season. Northwestern also earned an 84 on coaching stability, as head coach Pat Fitzgerald has had two 10-win seasons in his 11 seasons leading the team.

Illinois, coming off a 3-9 season under coach Lovie Smith, scored a 26 in program power and 6 in rivalry dominance. The Illini have not had a winning season since 2011 and allowed an average of 31.9 points per game last season. The team’s highest score in the happiness index was a 72 in revenue growth.

Both schools begin their 2017 season at home on Sept. 2, with Northwestern taking on Nevada and Illinois playing Ball State. The two schools face off in Champaign on Nov. 25.

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