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Michigan Football's Biggest Storylines in 2015: Rivalry Redemption

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When will Michigan be on equal footing with Ohio State and Michigan State again? And will the Wolverines beat either the Buckeyes or the Spartans in 2015? Anthony Broome and Drew Hallett answer in the ninth edition of our storyline series.

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We at Maize n Brew continue our series where Anthony Broome and Drew Hallett address what they believe are the 10 biggest questions and storylines surrounding Michigan football and whether the Wolverines will be successful in 2015. This marks the ninth and penultimate edition of the series. Today, Anthony and Drew will discuss how much distance is between Michigan and Ohio State and Michigan State entering this season, which rivalry game is more important in 2015, and whether the Wolverines will walk away as victors against the Buckeyes or Spartans.

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Drew: This will be a miserable paragraph to write because -- well, let’s face it -- Michigan has been miserable against its rivals, Ohio State and Michigan State, for an extended period now. Since 2004, the Wolverines have won just one of 11 games against the Buckeyes; since 2008, the Wolverines have won just one of seven games against the Spartans. In fact, under the past two coaching administrations, Michigan is 2-12 against the Scarlet and Grey and the Green and White. It’s hard to remember the last time Michigan had such a dismal record against its two biggest rivals. It likely was in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s, but let’s be honest: do you really want to know? That's what I thought.

To make matters worse, it’s not just that Michigan is losing to its rivals. It’s also that Michigan and its rivals have been trending in polar opposite directions. While Michigan has mustered only a 46-42 record in the past seven seasons and a 20-18 record in the past three, Ohio State is 38-3 under Urban Meyer, winning the inaugural College Football Playoff with its third-string quarterback in 2014, and Michigan State has been 53-14 in the last five seasons under Mark Dantonio, earning two Big Ten titles and back-to-back BCS/New Year’s Six bowl wins. And, in the 2015 preseason AP poll, Ohio State is the unanimous No. 1, Michigan State is No. 5, and Michigan is nowhere to be found. It feels like the Wolverines couldn't be further apart from the Buckeyes and Spartans right now.

Dave Brandon is closer to winning the forgiveness of Michigan fans. OK, it’s not that bad.

But Michigan does have considerable ground to cover to join Ohio State and Michigan State at the top of college football. Michigan took a giant step in the right direction by hiring Jim Harbaugh, but there's much more work to be done. Anthony, how far behind Ohio State and Michigan State is Michigan? How long will it take to catch up?

Anthony: They have their work cut out for them, but with both of their rivalry games at home this season, it’s possible that that they can win one of those games. With that being said, they have quite a bit of work to do to close the gap with Michigan State and Ohio State. The good news for them is that they have Jim Harbaugh leading the program, which could certainly expedite the process.

Michigan will have an up-and-down year one and maybe win one of those rivalry games, but year two has to be when they begin to rise to the level of MSU and OSU. Now, both of those will be on the road, but if they are to be taken seriously as a contender, they need to go into East Lansing and/or Columbus and win a big game. Neither of those programs are going anywhere, so Michigan has to make a statement. I believe this year they need to have a good showing against both and by year-two, they should be able to split the games between the top two in the conference.

Drew: I think it’s going to take at least three years. It won’t happen in 2015. Michigan has a schedule that, with the right breaks, could end with a 9-3 or even 10-2 record. However, even if Michigan cobbles together that kind of season under Harbaugh in Year 1, the Wolverines still won’t have the year-in-and-year-out stability that Ohio State and Michigan State have had. Michigan could catch Michigan State in 2016. The Spartans will say goodbye to quarterback Connor Cook, its top two wideouts,  two of its starting offensive linemen -- and maybe a third if projected first-rounder Jack Conklin leaves early for the NFL -- and possibly six starters on defense. That’s a ton of experienced talent that Michigan State will need to replace. Though the Spartans’ recruiting has received a nice bump with their recent success, there could be some chinks in their armor in 2016. Nonetheless, it still will be a tough task for Michigan because the Wolverines face the Spartans in East Lansing in 2016, and that can be an utter nightmare.

However, in 2017, Harbaugh will have brought in two full recruiting classes, and the program should start to rise towards national prominence. I think Michigan will be at least equal with the Spartans, and the Wolverines will benefit by hosting them in Michigan Stadium that season. The real question will be if Harbaugh and Michigan can match what Meyer is doing in Columbus by then. We just want to assume that Harbaugh is the messiah and that he will have Michigan at the pinnacle again in no time. However, Meyer is an absolute terror right now at Ohio State, and what he’s doing is scarier than what Jim Tressel did. He’s already won a national championship at Ohio State, the Buckeyes are favored to repeat this season, and Meyer is dominating the recruiting trail for the 2016 and 2017 classes. That’s not to say that the Buckeyes’ program is invincible, but it is possible -- maybe probable -- that Meyer has taken Ohio State to a level that not even Michigan can attain under Harbaugh. It's that high, and it’s a tough pill to swallow.

Michigan won’t catch up with Ohio State or Michigan State in 2015, but it still must demonstrate that it's taking significant strides. Here’s my question to you: to do this, which rivalry game -- Ohio State or Michigan State -- is more important this season?

Anthony: My gut says Ohio State, but honestly, Michigan State is the first hurdle to get past. That’s the team that they need to catch up to first and we’ll see how quickly it happens. Honestly, the team they may match up better against is OSU seeing as even in the Hoke years they found a way to give their best effort there. With all of that being said, MSU has to be the team that they first match. Michigan needs to take back the momentum in the state and it starts with equalling their friends in East Lansing.

OSU, even without Noah Brown, are the favorites to win it all this year, so a win against them is highly unlikely. MSU is on the fringe of being a playoff team, so a win against them in my opinion would definitely help in equalizing the rivalry.

Drew: "Friends in East Lansing" is a foreign phrase to me, Anthony.

All joking aside, I understand from where you are coming. Michigan State is the first hurdle to jump before Michigan can try to surpass Ohio State as a program. The Spartans have become an excellent, consistent program under Dantonio, but, given that their recruiting generally falls below the top 20 in the nation, they will never have blue-chip talent that makes them the team to beat. And, throughout this rivalry, Michigan has become accustomed to stomping all over the Spartans. From 1970 to 2007, Michigan owned a 30-8 record against Michigan State. Though it’s unlikely that Michigan will have that kind of dominance against Michigan State while Dantonio is around, it’s time for Michigan to turn back the tables and restore order. A win in 2015 begins that process.

But I just can’t for the life of me pick Michigan State as more important than The Game. In any year. A win against Michigan State will tell the nation that the Wolverines won’t get worked over by their in-state rival anymore. A win against a loaded, likely-to-be-undefeated Ohio State team that is seeking a second straight national championship, however, will alert the nation that Michigan is to be feared and respected again.

And to ruin Ohio State’s perfect season? Yes, please.

Alright. Enough about future progress and what game is most important. Let’s give the readers what they want. Does Michigan beat Michigan State or Ohio State this season?

Anthony: I don’t think so. To me, those are two automatic losses you can pencil in this year. Both are college football playoff teams and I do not think Michigan is on that level yet. Like I said before, I believe they matchup better with Ohio State and would not be surprised if they take down the Buckeyes this year. I think that team is in for a bit of a slump following the national title and they are primed for an upset this season in the Big House.

I’m not 100 percent confident in that stance, but MSU’s defensive line, along with Connor Cook will be tough to overcome. OSU following a national title may be easier to catch sleeping, in my opinion.

Drew: History says that Michigan will upset Ohio State in the Big House this season. In 1969, a first-year Michigan coach by the name of Bo Schembechler guided the Wolverines to a 24-12 upset win over the top-ranked Buckeyes in Ann Arbor. In 1995, a first-year Michigan coach by the name of Lloyd Carr led the Wolverines to a 31-23 win over the No. 2 Buckeyes in Ann Arbor. In fact, since 1930, first-year Michigan coaches are 7-1 against Ohio State and a perfect 4-0 at home. The only such coach on the losing side was Rich Rodriguez in that disastrous meeting in 2008. On the other hand, history says that Michigan will lose to Michigan State. Why? Not one first-year Michigan coach has beaten the Spartans since Bennie Oosterbaan's boys did the trick with a 13-7 win in 1948. All six coaches that Michigan has hired since then fell short against the Spartans. Thus, Jim Harbaugh should beat the Buckeyes but stumble against the Spartans, right?

Wrong.

I agree with you, Anthony. Though Michigan will not travel to Columbus or East Lansing this season and benefits from home-field advantage in both games, the Wolverines will be 0-2 against their rivals. Michigan State continues to be a bad matchup for Michigan. Cook will be one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten, if not the nation, and he should have lots of time to survey and throw because Michigan doesn't have a pass-rushing answer for the Spartans' excellent offensive line. On the other side of the ball, the Spartans are not nearly as stout in the secondary as they have been in recent seasons, but, unless Drake Harris becomes a stud, Michigan won't have the vertical aerial attack to make them pay. It won't be a blowout like the last two meetings at Spartan Stadium were, but Michigan State will prevail in the end. As for Ohio State, the homer in me wants to pick the upset so badly, but the objective writer in me knows Michigan does not have the explosiveness on offense to keep pace with the Buckeyes. I just don't see it happening.

Michigan will need to wait another year before tasting that sweet rivalry victory.

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Tomorrow, Anthony and Drew will conclude our storyline series at Maize n Brew by offering their Michigan predictions for the upcoming season. You won't want to miss it.

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Previous Installments of Michigan Football's Biggest Storylines in 2015

August 17thThe Impact of Jim Harbaugh's Return
August 18thDid Brady Hoke Leave the Cupboard Bare?
August 19thJake Rudock vs. Shane Morris -- Who Wins?
August 20thWill a No. 1 Receiver Emerge?
August 21stThe Running Back Rut
August 24thDefense, Dominance, and Durability
August 25thPressure Problems
August 26thThe Delayed "Debut" of Jabrill Peppers