At about eleven or twelve you probably had your first premonition about where you were going to college. It may not have been the right one, but none the less, for the first time your mind reached the point where forward planning extended past Saturday morning cartoons. If you have brothers or sisters, you probably announced at the dinner table that you were going to the Grand State/Private/Directional Institute/College/University of State/City/County/Dead Guy/Dead Girl, and expected everyone to clap and congratulate you on your fine decision.
More than likely, the second the words exited your mouth your younger sibling stated even louder that he or she was going there too, or your older sibling said the school sucked, called you were retarded, and likely hit you. Either way your thunder was stolen by these philistinic bastards. And they would pay. Oh yes. Pay.
There's nothing quite like a good brawl between siblings. In a normal fight, if the guy goes down, that's the end of it. In a sibling fight it ain't over till all the blood is spilled. Teeth, knees to the crotch, elbows in the ribs. All fair game. At least until your parents ground you. Then you sneak into your brother/sister's room later at night just to punch them in the arm and run.
I give you Michigan v. Michigan State.
Of Michigan's rivalry games, this is truly the nastiest. Think about it. How many households, couples, or marriages will be divided on Saturday when the game approaches kick off? Unlike out of state rivalries, someone didn't get in somewhere or someplace didn't offer enough money to go there, so you went to the other school. And someone's not happy about it.
There's a certain venom to the rivalry that can only be attributed a family feud. Neither side just wants to win. They want to humiliate. Whether it's State knocking Michigan off its pedestal in 2001 or Michigan coming back from the abyss in 2004, the embarrassment factor is the key.
And this year will be particularly brutal. Mark my words.
Michigan has suffered its two worst home losses in its illustrious history this year. A year that was supposed to end in a national championship, but instead will end, regardless of record, with a loss to D1-AA Appalachian State on its dance card. State started out 4-0, but has quickly slipped to 5-4 with losses to Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State and lowly Iowa. Indiana is MSU's only Big Ten win. A year after posting the biggest comeback in NCAA history against Northwestern, the Spartans allowed the Cats to return the embarrassment favor by topping them in OT. I'm not even going to touch the Iowa loss.
Despite the setbacks, both have much to play for. Michigan is in full control of its destiny and with a win inches closer to a BCS Rose Bowl berth, something that seemed as likely as seeing Jesus ride a Unicorn after back to back losses to open the season. Michigan State is playing for bowl eligibility and their first bowl invitation since 2003. A bowl in Dantonio's first year will go a long way toward burying the ghosts of miserable coaches past.
The match-ups in the game are intriguing. Michigan hopes to have its starting quarterback and running back healthy and in the lineup on Saturday. Unlike years past, the Spartans enter the game healthy. Like all sibling rivalries, one of the combatants has an advantage in size and strength. That sibling is Michigan. On talent, experience and past performance, they should win. But never count out Michigan State. What they may lack, or possess to a lesser degree than Michigan, they will more than make up for in guile, determination and good old fashioned hatred.
Michigan's Offense v. Michigan State's Defense
Through nine games Michigan State ranks 36th overall in total defense, 39th in pass defense, and 38th in rushing defense. Solid numbers. Unfortunately if you look at the Spartans' early schedule, which consisted of UAB, Bowling Green, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, you get an idea why the numbers look the way they do. With the exception of Indiana, the last five games have looked like this: Wisconsin ran for 214; Northwestern 287, Ohio State 229, and Iowa for 230. So. Um. Yeah. Notsogood. By the way, Northwestern threw for 520 yards. Tyler Donovan of Wisconsin threw for 272, and for the record, at this point, he is not good.
Michigan State can get pressure on the quarter back with pornishly named Defensive end Jonal Saint-Dic, which is French for... never mind. This is a family site. Anyway, he and Ervin Baldwin (who was awesome in The Usual Suspects) are MSU's top pressure guys. Every Man's Favorite Saint has 9 sacks and Should Never've Made Slap Shot II has 5. Other than that the defense is somewhat suspect. With eight interceptions the defensive backfield is decent, but the torchings at the hands of OSU, Wisconsin and Northwestern don't instill fear. They'll be physical, but I'm not of the opinion they've got the physical skills to match up with Manningham and Co.
While the game won't boil down to a Mike Hart v. The World theme, you can bet your ass the Spartans are lining up to stuff him. Hart has averaged 188 yards a game against Michigan State, and done it with a bum shoulder or ankle on more than one occasion. For MSU to win, they'll have to stuff the run and force Michigan into obvious passing situations. If that happens, Cannonized Phallus will have ample opportunity to tee off on Steve Schilling and play Rubics Cube with Chad Henne's ribcage. Worry significantly if this happens.
Michigan should control the line of scrimmage and dominate the offensive side of the ball, but don't be too quick to rule out Dantonio's defense. He was hired to beat Michigan. He comes from Tressel's beat Michigan pedigree. He'll have the Spartans ready to go on Saturday and if Henne or Hart are out, or taken out early, this match up could shift from a decided Michigan advantage to a dead even trench war.
Michigan's Defense v. Michigan State's Offense
Quick, which school is this? #2 rated Conference passer, number #3 rated Conference runner, and an up and coming star at wide out. Except for the running back part, you could easily guess Michigan. Instead, it's Michigan State. For once, Michigan won't be facing a "spread" offense and gets Michigan State's more conventional attack. Tailbacks and fullbacks. Tight Ends and Wide Outs. None of this zone read crap. Smash mouth Big Ten football.
At tailback Jevohn Ringer is easily one of the most underrated running backs in conference, if not the country, and he scares the hell out of me. Out with an ACL tear last year he's back averaging 120 a game and if breakin' foo's down. His backfield mate, Jehuu Caulcrick is more Panzer than man, and has steamrolled his way to 16 TDs this year. Caulrick and Thunder to Ringer's Lightning. Right now it's the best running back combo in the Big Ten. One of the biggest improvements for the Spartans has been at the offensive line. Somehow they've learned how to block, and Ringer and Caulcrick are reaping the rewards. In space Ringer is the more dangerous of the backs, with his speed and vision he's a legitimate "take it to the house" runner. Caulcrick is just physically dangerous. If he gets a head of steam up you have to slow the rotation of the earth in order to bring him down. Michigan seems to be alright with nifty speed backs like Ringer, however, the size and strength of Caulcrick makes me think our linebackers and safeties are going to have rough days.
Quarterback Brian Hoyer is a definite surprise this season. Ranking second in the conference in passer rating, he's only chucked 4 interceptions this year compared to 11 touchdowns. He picks his targets and eats the ball when he has to. He is not is mobile, but he is a relatively decent quarterback. He threw for over 300 yards against Wisconsin and Iowa. He hasn't set the world on fire, averaging around 180 yards per game without the 300 yard outliers, but he's been consistent and hasn't tried to shoot his team in the foot the way Stanton used to. The last two games he's been knocked around pretty hard, but seems to bear it well. If Michigan can get to him, well, that'll be good because it'll prevent our backfield from getting picked on.
MSU's main receiving threat is Devin Thomas. Thomas has 51 catches, 906 yards receiving and 5 TDs on the year. For the record that's 80 more yards than Manningham on the same number of catches. Expect whoever is on him to have constant safety help, because after Thomas there ain't much. Ringer is second on the team with 28 catches and no one after that has more than 17 grabs.
How the defense fares against MSU's traditional attack will probably give you a snap shot into the rest of the season. If Michigan is going to be successful against Wisconsin and OSU, they're going to have to shore up their interior run defense. A big key to Michigan's recent improvement against the run is Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson's emergence as legit run stuffers. The other key is our linebackers' seeming inability to shed a block and tackle someone. If Michigan is going to win this game, let alone the remaining games on its schedule, Ezeh, Graham and Crable are going to have to make some stops at the second level instead of leaving the work to Englemon or Adams. Personally, I think Ringer's going to have a pretty good day, which means our defensive backs are going to be on an island.
Strangely, I'm comfortable with that. Trent, Warren and Harrison seem to have shed the nightmares of ASU, Oregon, and Northwestern. They were damn near flawless against Purdue and Minnesota, two of the conference's better offenses (shocking, I know). Containing Thomas will be their main objective, and after that, supporting the linebackers on the 7 yard slant and run that seems to perplex them so.
No matter the outcome, both teams are walking away with a black eye. It's just that kind of a game. Whoever comes away without the limp, well, that'll be your winner.