EAST LANSING – After the top five, three Big Ten teams finished the season with identical 7-5 records overall and 3-5 conference marks. Michigan State, Purdue and Indiana now battle to secure the most lucrative bowl opportunity for their program.
In play are the sixth and seventh bowls for the Big Ten, the Insight Bowl (Dec. 31) in Tempe, Ariz. and the Motor City Bowl (Dec. 26) in Detroit.
The Insight Bowl is a more attractive destination for two reasons: one, it pays better with a $1.2 million purse, compared to the Motor City Bowl's $750,000; and, two, it allows a Big Ten team to spread its image south and west into fertile recruiting grounds.
So why does Michigan State deserve to book flight plans to a warmer climate instead of charter a bus to the ice bowl?
Three reasons: Michigan State is just plain better than the other two; Spartan Nation has the stronger fan-base; and the Spartans have a unique mix of crowd-pleasing offensive talents.
One useful comparison is the head-to-head matchups. If it were as simple as inviting best team, Michigan State has a solid claim having handily defeated both the Hoosiers and Boilermakers. Play on the field has to count for something.
But even off the field, the Spartans look like the better pick for the Insight Bowl. Michigan State drew an average of 69,111 people to seven home games. Compare that to Purdue, which averaged 59,326 in seven home games and Indiana's average of 37,004, also in seven.
Also, consider the last time Michigan State played in a bowl game: 2003. Fans and alumni have been patient through some tough seasons and excitement is growing for the program after a successful first year under coach Mark Dantonio's leadership.
True, Indiana has not been to a bowl game since 1993, but failing to average even 40,000 fans a home game contributes little to the perception that their fans will travel well.
Plus, the Spartans can match both Purdue's and Indiana's star power – and then some. While both Indiana and Purdue have standouts at quarterback and wide receive, they cannot match the names Michigan State rolls out on offense.
Few teams in any given year get as much offensive production at three critical skill positions as the Spartans did this season: Brian Hoyer threw for over 2,500 yards; Javon Ringer rushed for 1,346 yards; and Devin Thomas gained 1,226 yards from a Spartan single-season record 75 receptions.
Add to that Jehuu Caulcrick, who had over 800 yards rushing himself to go along with 21 touchdowns, and tight end Kellen Davis, who will be playing on Sunday's in the NFL next season, and the Spartans look, well, almost sexy.
Many college football fans will not know they're teams bowl destination until early December, when the BCS hashes things out at the top. But for now, Spartan fans can rest assured that their team has made as good a case as they can to be generously rewarded.
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