According to AL.com, the Big Ten's average attendance dropped to 70,387 fans per game in 2012, its lowest total since 2008. But that trend is a little misleading.
More and more FCS games dilute those numbers, in every conference, and make it seem like spirit has decreased when it hasn't. In fact, according to an NCAA report, the Big Ten occupied six of the top 20 spots in average attendance last season, including the top two. Only the SEC, with eight, had more.
But which Big Ten schools have the best gameday atmospheres, the ones students most love to attend and opponents most dread to play in? Which experience will you be most inclined to tell your grandkids about?
Here's a quick look at where each school ranks:
On-field success hasn't translated to off-filed excitement in Evanston...at least not yet.
Attendance was up 6.7 percent in 2012, pushing the average game to 35,697. Trending upward is an encouraging sign, but that's still woefully beneath Ryan Field's capacity.
A bowl win over Mississippi State, coupled with the return of Kain Colter and Venric Mark, should keep fans interested again in 2013, but until their passion is tangible, not hypothetical, it's hard to rank them anywhere but last.
Illinois is just six years removed from a Rose Bowl appearance, and won bowl games in two straight years before 2012, but fervor waned during last year's 2-10 campaign, and the attendance numbers prove it.
Illinois saw the conference's biggest attendance decrease last season, going from an average of 49,548 in 2011 to 45,564. Eight percent of 2011's fans opted that a struggling team wasn't worth their time or money.
A small drop-off during a 2-10 season is expected, but one of that magnitude says all you need to know about the atmosphere in Champaign—as does the fact that, per ESPN, attendance numbers have dropped every year since 2008.
In the glory days of Purdue football, Ross-Ade Stadium was one the nation's most feared venues. But the team has seen troubled times in recent years, and the atmosphere has largely followed suit.
Attendance was down 3.6 percent last season, bringing the average number of fans per game to a lowly 43,588. Only Northwestern drew less fans at Big Ten home contests in 2012.
Per an NCAA report, Purdue, which finished 55th in average attendance, only filled 69.74 of its available capacity last season. Of the top 55 teams in college football, that was second-to-last, only ahead of Miami (FL).
Needless to say, there are big problems in West Lafayette right now.
Minnesota football has been largely irrelevant since The Bank opened in 2009, and in turn, the stadium hasn't played host to many big moments. It lacks the historical gravitas of other Big Ten stadiums.
It's a nice facility, though, and judging by the basketball atmosphere at The Barn, Gopher fans have the potential to be a special unit.
Once the next great generation of Minnesota football arrives, "The Gopher Hole" has a chance to jettison up these rankings. But as of this season, it still belongs in the bottom three.
One of the Big Ten's up-and-coming teams (maybe) is also one of its hottest venues.
Memorial Stadium (Bloomington), one of three "Memorial Stadiums" in the conference, saw an 8.3-percent attendance increase last year—the highest among all Big Ten teams.
That average attendance, 44,802, is still around 15-percent lower than Memorial Stadium can hold, so there remains some room for improvement.
With Cameron Coffman, Shane Wynn and Cody Latimer all likely staying for two more seasons, though, that potential improvement is likely. With a little bit of luck, they can become the Big Ten's version of Texas Tech; high-scoring offenses always sell tickets.
Kinnick Stadium seemed to lose some of its influential luster last season.
Hawkeye teams have been bad before, but they've always been able to count on their home-field to persevere. They went 1-4 on the road in 2011, but thanks to a 6-1 record at Kinnick, they were still allowed to go bowling. The story was similar the season before that, when only No. 13 Wisconsin and No. 9 Ohio State beat Iowa—by a combined four points—on its home field.
The wheels came off in 2012, though, where Iowa went 3-5 at Kinnick, including losses to in-state rival Iowa State and MAC non-powerhouse Central Michigan, who finished 7-6.
One bad season doesn't expunge the luster from Kinnick's hallowed halls, but if things don't get better in 2013, it starts to look more like a trend than an outlier.
Attendance was up in East Lansing last season, but that could be a result of timing. The Spartans were coming off an 11-2 season and their home schedule was stacked, featuring games against Boise State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska.
Not a bad atmosphere by any stretch of the imagination, Spartan Stadium does lose points as a matter of context. We know, from watching basketball games at the Breslin Center, what this student section is capable of.
For whatever reason, though, the fervor of the Izzone has never wholly translated to football.
What may sound, at first, like a summer recluse for over-privileged pre-teens is actually one of the most vaunted stadiums in college sports.
The Badgers have lost at Camp Randall just twice in the past four seasons—once to 10th-ranked Iowa in 2009, and once to undefeated Ohio State, in overtime, this past season.
A lot of that credit goes to the players, no doubt. But some of it—an amount too large to ignore—also goes to the atmosphere.
In the not-too-distant past, Beaver Stadium was right up there with the next few stadiums, vying for the conference's top spot. All things considered, it's lucky to still place top-4.
Attendance dipped by 4.6 percent last season, predictable backlash given the Sandusky trial, the Freeh report and the NCAA-mandated sanctions. That's the bad news.
On the other hand, attendance only dipped 4.6 percent last season, given the Sandusky trial, the Freeh report and the NCAA-mandated sanctions. Lesser fan-bases might have seen much larger depreciation.
Still, as ESPN's Darren Rovell points out, attendance at Beaver Stadium has dropped in each of the past five seasons. Home games in 2012 saw an average of 12,000 less fans than home games in 2007.
A downward-trending atmosphere can't possibly top the next three stadiums.
Everyone, even Jim Carrey and Zooey Deschanel, know the allure of Memorial Stadium in the fall.
But it's not just Hollywood that supports Nebraska's claim to fanaticism; it has the numbers on its side too. Among stadiums with top-25 national attendance in 2012, according to an NCAA report, Nebraska's had the second-highest Accumulated Percent Capacity.
In other words, of those 25 teams, only Alabama packed in more fans-per-available seat than the Huskers. That says a lot about how much these guys care.
The "Big House" led college football in average attendance last season, 112,252 fans donning the Maize and Blue on a typical Saturday afternoon.
Now that Michigan has snapped out of its funk, its stadium is equal parts historical and contemporary. Its just as revered for its past as it is for its present; the Wolverines are undefeated at home in the past two seasons.
From the prodigious dimensions, to the raucous tailgates, to the iconic fight song, you'd be hard-pressed to find any atmosphere, in all of college football, that compares with The Big House.
Unless, of course, you click to the next slide...
My family friend just married a guy from Columbus. Their invitations were Ohio State-themed, as was the wedding itself and the reception. He and his 20 family members all arrived late to the rehearsal dinner because they were preoccupied with a game.
Ohio State's Spring Game.
The guy didn't even go to Ohio State; he went to Vanderbilt. But he grew up in the atmosphere of Columbus, a major U.S. city that functions, from one city limit to the other, like an unabashed college town.
Ohio Stadium had a better Accumulated Percent Capacity than Michigan did, even though the Wolverines' stadium is bigger. It's a toss-up between OSU and Michigan to occupy this spot, but as of last year, that figure (plus the Buckeyes' undefeated record) gives Ohio State a tiny edge.