Nov. 12, 2007
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan State is bowl eligible, but not necessarily bowl bound.
A logjam of Big Ten teams with at least six wins means it might take a home victory against Penn State on Saturday to secure a postseason bid for the Spartans.
It's a high priority in East Lansing. Michigan State (6-5, 2-5 Big Ten) hasn't been to a bowl since the 2003 season.
"We don't have to wait on somebody else to do something," Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio said at his weekly press conference Monday. "We can control our own destiny here this weekend, which is the way we want it to be."
The Big Ten has seven tie-ins with bowl games. But 10 conference teams -- every program except Minnesota -- already are eligible for a bowl heading into the last weekend of the regular season.
Ohio State, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Penn State (8-3, 4-3) know they'll be in bowl games and are playing this weekend to get the best bid possible. After that, it gets dicey.
Purdue has seven wins, while four programs -- Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan State and Indiana -- have won six each. There may not be enough postseason bids for all of these teams, even if one or two gets picked up by bowls with open slots that fall outside the Big Ten alliance.
The organizers of the Motor City Bowl, played in nearby Detroit, would love to be able to invite Michigan State. But that largely depends on what happens this weekend. The bowl is aligned with the Big Ten and the Mid-American Conference.
If the Spartans beat Penn State to finish at 7-5, they might also be in contention for the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., or possibly even the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
The Spartans played themselves into bowl contention with a 48-31 win last weekend at Purdue, a key win considering Michigan State was coming off a disappointing loss to archrival Michigan.
It may be the biggest sign yet that Dantonio, in his first season as the Spartans' head coach, is changing the culture of the program.
Dantonio said Monday that his team has come ready to play for all 11 games this season. All five of the Spartans' losses have been by seven points or less, including two in overtime.
Michigan State leads the Big Ten in scoring at 34 points per game. Running backs Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick have combined to average 183 yards rushing per game this season, while receiver and kick returner Devin Thomas leads the Big Ten in all purpose yards at 194 yards per game.
Quarterback Brian Hoyer has been efficient, completing 60.5 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns against just five interceptions.
The Spartan defense has been opportunistic. Michigan State has forced 18 turnovers this season while committing only 10, one of the better ratios in the conference.
The Spartans, especially the seniors playing their last home game Saturday, want a bowl bid as a tangible sign they've made progress this season after three consecutive losing campaigns.
"If we have a winning season, we can say we played a big part in turning this program around," senior defensive end Ervin Baldwin said.
By TIM MARTIN, The Associated Press