12. Ohio State (223 points, mean 3.98, sd 2.13)
What it's trying to say: ???
What it's actually saying: We need remedial drawing lessons.
I finally understand where THE Ohio State University's obsession with the the comes from. Four B1G universities include "The" in their seals, and only OSU sets it apart by using small capitals. They could have just modified the seal instead of saying "THE" every chance they get.
Voter DEK notes: "It's hard to read, is their slogan now 'Discipline is lacking'?"
11. Purdue [5 first-place votes] (256 points, mean 4.57, sd 4.64)
What it's trying to say: We have a modern spin on the idea of the university seal!
What it's actually saying: We developed our modern spin in 1969, so we were taking a lot of drugs when we designed it.
Purdue engineers know their non-Gaussian statistics and thus aren't surprised to see that the standard deviation of their logo's popularity is greater than its mean. About 1/4 of you loved the modern take, but about 1/2 you hated hated hated this seal. In case you're wondering, that's supposed to be a griffin holding a shield.
10. Wisconsin  (261 points, mean 4.66, sd 3.30)
What it's trying to say: Our eyes are always open for new knowledge.
What it's actually saying: We must keep Purdue from reaching Mt. Doom and destroying the One Ring.
I had never seen Wisconsin's seal before running the poll. Now I can't unsee it. And I'm afraid it can't unsee me too. The one-first place vote came from Greg S., offering further evidence for my theory that he is actually the Witch-King on Angmar. MLR wants to know if it was designed by a Hall & Oates fan.
9. Nebraska  (297 points, mean 5.30, sd 2.99)
What it's trying to say: Look at all the cool stuff we do here!
What it's actually saying: We couldn't think of one symbol that says "university," so we included all of them.
AFLAC trivia question for the first Nebraska-Purdue game: What B1G school's official seal contains a train? Matt Millen will be shocked to learn the answer is Nebraska.
The Nebraska seal is lame in the way that most ads for universities are lame. Instead of focusing on one or two elements to symbolize the university, they crammed everything onto the seal and hoped it worked. Which it didn't.
Voter Emily: "As Coco Chanel once said, a seal should look in the mirror before leaving the house and take one thing off."
8. Minnesota (301 points, mean 5.38, sd 2.09)
What it's trying to say: We've got ALL the arts: science, painting, industry, and woodworking.
What it's actually saying: We don't so much have a seal as we have a scroll that our regents stuck on a wall somewhere.
While voters were really split about Purdue, just about everyone agreed Minnesota (or at least its regents) had the 8th best seal in B1G, with almost 40% of votes putting it 8th place. DEK: "Minnesota's seal, when decrypted, is a map to his Lucky Charms."
7. Indiana  (352 points, mean 6.29, sd 3.29)
What it's trying to say: We speak Latin!
What it's actually saying: We don't care much for font design!
Greg S. noted that Indiana has the words "Lux et Veritas" floating around a book, when they just as easily could have been written in the book itself. @jwschultz writes "Indiana: I'd be proud if you were like a 3-year old university." Voters would have like the seal better if it used a more classical font.
6. Michigan State  (379 points, mean 6.77, sd 4.29)
What it's trying to say: We have many lovely buildings on a verdant campus.
What it's actually saying: We have at least one building on a campus that's verdant because our seal is green.
Lots of love/hate on the MSU seal. On the one hand, it's pretty enough. On the other hand, it says nothing about the university other than "Look! A building!" ecormany liked the "great use of Verdana," perhaps sarcastically.
5. Illinois (406 points, mean 7.25, sd 2.49)
What it's trying to say: We have strong agricultural roots and are hardworking Midwestern folk.
What it's actually saying: Our books glow for some reason. (possibly involving Peter Graves)
No university in B1G has a bigger contrast between what it's like today and what its seal claims it's like than Illinois. It's a high-tech university, the place where both HAL and Dippin' Dots were created, but the seal holds fast to its 19th century agrarian roots.
@jwschultz: "Illinois, we are serious about learning and we have dead languages on our emblems. We make up fake Latinized names for our states and we put serious Latin words on the pages of the books in our Seals. You don't get to split "AGRICULTURE" onto two lines; go find a word like "ILLUMINATIO" and you may split it as often as needed."
4. Iowa  (408 points, mean 7.29, sd 2.60)
What it's trying to say: We have a hawk. With a bow and arrow. That kicks ass.
What it's actually saying: It's really important you know the exact date we were organized. Unfortunately we didn't keep record of the time.
They didn't have to try very hard to have a better seal than IowaState. Dan TrueBlue says it looks like it belongs more on a dollar bill while Greg S. called it a "rejected tails coin design." Most people seemed to like the clean design.
3. Northwestern  (453 points, mean 7.29, sd 2.92)
What it's trying to say: We speak Greek! And Latin! and English!
What it's actually saying: We couldn't decide on a motto. Also, ask about our Sanskrit motto contest.
With three concentric circles of names of mottoes, Northwestern should have 6 official seals for each possible permutation of English, Greek, and Latin. It would be awesome to see Universitas Caurensis or Argestes. As an engineer, I'm fond of our forefather Vitrivius and his northwestern wind names.
2. Penn State  (531 points, mean 9.48, sd 3.45)
What it's trying to say: We are a university in the state of Pennsylvania.
What it's actually saying: We were too lazy to come up with our own seal, so we just used the state's.
Nick called the PSU seal "classy" for looking like an actual seal used to actually seal letters in wax. Pennsylvania native DEK was livid that PSU just ripped off the state's official seal - although borrowing the state's official seal can produce some unusual designs, e.g., LSU.
1. Michigan  (669 points, mean 11.95, sd 3.73)
What it's trying to say: Lamp of learning, check. Book, check. Rays of light, check. Arts, check. Science, check, Truth, check. That's all you'll ever need in a seal!
What it's actually saying: We're Michigan. We don't need to do anything original to win.
Michigan won this contest for two reasons: 1) This is a Michigan blog. 2) Michigan's graphic identity people were the only ones smart enough to make sure the highest-quality version of the seal got put on Wikipedia.
Bo & Lloyd must like the seal. It's the "three yards & a cloud of dust" of design. The worst thing about it is that you could change the name and colors and it would work for any reputable university.
MVictors linked to the history of the Michigan seal: http://mvictors.com/?p=3144
Many thanks to David for putting this together and thanks to all of you who voted. We may do another of these in the future, so we're open to suggestions.