That's the total sum of how I view Michigan State. Not with disdain, nor with any level of affection, but instead a high level of ignorance. Every time I make a list of Big 10 teams, I come up with ten and then have to look up who I've forgotten (oh, the irony). Every time, it's Michigan State.
I've been to Lansing, Michigan. My Mom and I went there when I was about seven or eight years old. We had relatives there, if I remember right, my uncle John. About the only thing I really remember was this black guy coming out to pump our gas, and having a short conversation with Mom. She told him that she'd driven all the way from Nebraska. He responded with:
"You drove all the way from Nebraska? You and that little kid? Lady, you crazy."
Crazy is the key to understanding Michigan State. They know crazy because they are crazy. You never know what you're going to get when you play the Spartans. You might get the team that scores 38 points in a quarter and a half to beat Northwestern in 2006 (setting a record for the biggest FBS comeback in history) or the team that collapses in the fourth quarter, giving up 16 points to lose to Notre Dame.
I've worked with tons of alums from schools all across the nation, and I really can't remember anyone I've worked with from Michigan State. I have to wonder if they ever tell anyone, they stay in Michigan and never leave, or there just aren't many of them around.
The Spartans have had a revolving door at head coach in recent years, ever since Nick Saban left for LSU. They even tried to lure Tom Osborne out of retirement, but Nancy thought Tom would look like a giant piece of broccoli in green. So the revolving door of coaches. The John L. Smith era was most notable for this memorable halftime interview:
If history is any indication, Nebraska would own Sparty. Nebraska has played Michigan State five times and won all five. The first game was in 1914, a 24-0 win. Then in 1920 it was 35-7 Huskers. Then Sparty had the misfortune of playing us in '95 and '96, which resulted in 50-10 and 55-14 wins, respectively. The last game between the two was the 2003 Alamo Bowl which Nebraska won 17-3. Must have been something wrong with the offense that day.
The Spartans have three Big 10 trophies they play for - The Paul Bunyan Trophy in the rivalry against Michigan, the Old Brass Spitoon against Indiana, and the Land Grant Trophy against Penn State. The Land Grant Trophy was started when Penn State joined the Big 10, so it's probably proper that some type of trophy be established for a potential Nebraska - Michigan State match up.
You're welcome to suggest your own trophy in the comments section.
If there is one thing that has salvaged Michigan State athletics, it's their basketball program. Tom Izzo has taken the Spartans to six Final Four's, winning the 2000 National Championship. Sounds kind of like the Kansas of the rust belt.
Nebraska owes a dept of gratitude to Michigan State. Husker coaching legend Bob Devaney got his start in college coaching under Michigan State's Duffy Daugherty. Daugherty was offered the Nebraska job, but turned it down. If I remember correctly, Daugherty recommended to Devaney that he take the job (as well as recommending him for the job) and leave Wyoming, where he was the head coach.
One of Daugherty's most famous games was in 1966, in which the Spartans were ranked #2 and faced #1 Notre Dame. The game ended in a 10-10 tie when Irish coach Ara Parseghian played for the tie to preserve Notre Dame's national title bid. Parseghian was accused of being a coward and never lived it down.
Given the intervention that lead Devaney to Nebraska, it's hard to hate on Michigan State all that much, although I'm sure we could come up with some reasons were we to play them on a regular basis.