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Michigan vs. Ohio State, Michigan State, & Notre Dame: Where We Stand

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Penn State v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Nick: Hi, guys! We’re reaching into the barrel here a little bit on football content, but I wanted to get into Michigan football’s standing with its three main rivals. (Sorry, Minnesota.)

First, is it fair to judge the 2017 season by how Michigan does against MSU and OSU? I know a lot of fans were approaching 2016 that way, and they went 1-for-2. Do you think Michigan fans are taking the same approach again this time?

Jared: Whether or not it is fair, I cannot speak to. It is, however, the reality of how these rivalries are viewed by Michigan fans. Speaking as a Michigan fan from right near the Ohio/Mich border, losing The Game means an entire year of ridicule and searing pain. Those fans down south will NOT let you live down a loss, so the fact that they keep piling them on us of late makes it nearly too much to stomach. All of the geographical politics aside, Harbaugh has to get one against OSU here soon. They are almost always going to be the ones standing in our way of a Big Ten Championship, we have to get through them to get back to the top of the mountain.

Will: I agree with Jared that we simply need to turn the tide against Ohio State. I’m old enough to remember Michigan dominating Ohio State in the 1990s, so there is some comfort in our overall series record and the realization these things go in cycles. But this cycle needs to end, already. The fact we outplayed them in Columbus last year only to still lose makes it all the more unbearable. Ohio State, even amid its recent success, measures its season on the Michigan game, above all. It’s time we did the same.

NCAA Football - Michigan vs Indiana - November 11, 2006 Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images

Mike: It feels like for the first time in years, but there’s an expectation that Michigan will beat the snot out of Sparty this year. 2017 is the year to relegate them firmly back to “little brother” status. I agree with everything above about Ohio State. The problem is, last year’s team was constructed almost perfectly to beat the Buckeyes, and, well, they technically didn’t.

All of this is a long winded way of saying that yes, the season will be judged by these two games, first and foremost. A narrow win or (God forbid) a loss against MSU and yet another soul crushing loss to OSU will make next season disheartening, mainly because it would be so similar to last season, and then all of the sudden we’re wondering if 10-2 is this program’s ceiling (it’s not, but still).

Andrew: Harry Kipke lost four consecutive games to Ohio State (1934-1937) before he resigned; Lloyd Carr ended his tenure with four consecutive losses to the Buckeyes; Rich Rod lost his only three games before he was fired; Brady Hoke lost his last three and was subsequently fired after Michigan’s lone victory this decade. Fielding Yost is the ONLY Michigan coach to survive a three game losing streak (1919-1921) to Ohio State in the program’s history.

The pressure is definitely mounting for Coach Harbaugh, but a loss for this youthful team should not prove fatal. However, if 2017 is not the year to break the slump, the 2018 edition of “The Game” could be a make-or-break game for Harbaugh. Worst case scenario silver lining: Michigan gets to bully Little Brother in the midst of a scandal and inevitable sanctions.

Capitol One Orange Bowl - Florida State v Michigan Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Ed: Prior to the Rich Rod days, beating teams like Iowa, Minnesota and MSU was an expectation. Sure, occasionally one of them would nip Michigan, but it wasn’t too often. The real test was beating the Buckeyes in the final week. We’re returning to those days, I believe. It’s hard to talk about national title hopes when you’re discussing whether or not Michigan can beat the Spartans. If this 2017 team can meet expectations, it’ll be a showdown in the Big House with Ohio State for the division crown. And yes, that game, especially given the 2016 contest in Columbus, will determine the success of the Michigan season.

David: Yes, because of the fact that Notre Dame not back on the schedule, yet. Both are must win games not only because they are at The Big House, they also are what will determine the division. Going on the road to Penn State will be the toughest road game, but it makes for a much easier path to Indianapolis if Michigan wins all three.

Nick: So, I won’t get into too much of the detail behind this, but Michigan State has had an abysmal off-season. Absolutely abysmal. On a scale of 1-10, I’d give it a 3-9.

Where does Michigan’s rivalry with them stand? Are you going straight to pity, like our rivals were when we were in a really rough stretch? I mean, just last year the victory over MSU was like a huge weight off our shoulders, but now it feels like they need a life time-out to focus on basic, fundamental stuff. It’s been a steady implosion.

Jared: Personally, I have zero pity for Michigan State. I do not want to get into the legal situation, because if it is true, it is horrible and MSU needs to deal with it accordingly. But for as much as their fanbase and their head coach have tried to throw moral shade our way, there will be nothing resembling sympathy coming from me. Credit to State for taking full advantage of a long down period for the Wolverines, but the pendulum has officially swung back, and Michigan looks like they are ready to put a stranglehold on that rivalry. The way that MSU develops players, play defense, and the way that Dantonio gets his guys up for big games will ensure that they are always a thorn in our side, but this one looks to be turning in our favor in a big, big way.

Will: I don’t know that last season’s game was much of an indicator regarding where we stand in our rivalry with Michigan State. Yes, we took home Paul Bunyan, but it was hardly a dominating performance. Plus, the Spartans were already limping their way through what was a lousy season. And the recent ethical and legal turmoil coming out of East Lansing has thrown this rivalry into a bit of a haze. Sure, we still need to crush them, but now it has a kind of kick-them-while-their-down feel to it. It’s hardly the benchmark for progress it was in Harbaugh’s first couple seasons. But should any of us feel a sense of pity on ol’ Sparty, just remember all the “little sister” chants from the Michigan State faithful in the Rodriguez and Hoke eras. So, yeah, we need to crush them.

Mike: The boorish inferiority complex schtick was sad and kind of funny when Michigan beat them year in and year out, but Michigan State’s act was even more gross and embarrassing and exasperating when they were winning. No sympathy. #disrespekt forever.

Ohio State v Michigan State Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Andrew: Michigan State became “little brother” because of themselves and their infatuation with Michigan’s perceived egotistical dominance (what every older sibling can speak volumes to). Mike Hart obviously added gasoline to the fire, but hey, he sparked Michigan State’s resurrection to relevancy. You’re welcome.

During this success, the Spartans became arrogant and created pseudo chips on their shoulders for motivation. Motivation only lasts if it’s authentic and theirs has quickly fizzled out as they experienced some success against the Wolverines. As they are now inundated in controversy, where does the rivalry stand? It stands where it always has.

Michigan is concerned about bigger goals, while State is solely concerned about Michigan. In the words of Conor McGregor, “Winners focus on winning. Losers focus on winners.”

Eric: Let’s not be too quick to bury the Spartans. Dantonio is a really good coach, so we shouldn’t take them for granted (that’s part of how they caught up in the first place). And the most important place to take it to them is in recruiting where Harbaugh is sucking away their oxygen (top 6 in states this year!).

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Ed: I’m not really sure what happened to State last year. They were bad, to put it plainly, but they lost games that even bad State teams should win. I expect they’ll bounce back to some degree this year. Mark Dantonio is still a good coach. Will they be close to Michigan’s level? No chance. Two years ago they needed divine intervention to beat Michigan in the Big House (with a quality roster) and last year they got beat handily at home (other than the opening drive and a couple late scores in garbage time, it was all Maize and Blue).

Heading into the MSU game in 2017, Michigan will be coming off two home non-conference games, a “road test” at Purdue and a bye week. I see Michigan gaining a ton of momentum in the rivalry.

David: I remember being in high school growing up in southeast Michigan, everyone would sport their Wolverine or Spartan gear that week and talk trash. Since then, I've only gained a few friends who are Spartan fans, and don't feel bad for them at all. I hope they all enjoyed their ride or success but the end came quick. It's a rivalry that's so close and personal for people who grow up in Michigan.

Nick: Alright, what about Ohio State? They were the team that officially stopped us from reaching the CFP, and yet neither they nor us won our bowl game. Theirs was turned into a meme; luckily, ours was not.

Now, we’re taking a similar route that their team did before the start of last season: basically, lose a bunch of guys, dominate the NFL Draft, and then float a little bit under the radar going into the season. What’s your take on all this?

Jared: Let’s make one thing abundantly clear; J.T was short. (Nick: Amen!) Now that we have that out of the way; what is going on in Columbus is what we are trying to replicate, or rather catch up to.

Urban Meyer has built a football factory down there, and that is why they have (twice) made it to the CFB Playoff in years where they weren’t expected to do much. I would love to think that we are ready for that kind of under the radar, championship season; I just do not think we have built up that kind of talent depth quite yet.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

I really hope I am wrong and we hit on every single one of Harbaugh’s young guys, but that is why the 2018 recruiting class is so important. If Harbaugh can string together one or two more top 10 recruiting classes, we will have the kind of depth that they have in Columbus, and then there is nobody in the country we couldn’t hang with.

Will: On paper, this should be a tough year to turn the tables on this rivalry. As Nick stated, we’re facing a lot of player turnover. Like, a whole lot. We have a few things going for us, however. First, we’re playing in Ann Arbor, and not the ‘Shoe. Second, we have a full season for our players to gel and mature in preparation for The Game. Third, even the underperforming Brady Hoke teams almost knocked off these guys a couple times, which speaks to the power of rivalry.

Like Jared, I think we’re a couple recruiting classes from returning this rivalry to where it belongs, but count on Harbaugh to make this game a slugfest, no matter the record going in.

Mike: I think it’s quite possible that Michigan has a 2016 Ohio State-ish season this year. A couple unnecessarily close games, a couple flashes of brilliance, and a button down end of season run after the team has eight or nine weeks to coalesce. Mike Weber was a first year starter that gave them enough on offense to overcome a lot of departures. I think Rashan Gary assumes that role this year in Ann Arbor.

Poll

Does Michigan beat Ohio State this year?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    Yes
    (382 votes)
  • 24%
    No
    (142 votes)
  • 8%
    Yes, but the refs, so no.
    (49 votes)
573 votes total Vote Now

Andrew: What Ohio State accomplished last season was nothing short of impressive (I think my fingers are bleeding). Similar to how UK basketball reloads every season, the Buckeyes have the formula. Only time will tell if these Michigan freshman and first-year starters can have this type of impact. I find myself uncommonly optimistic for several players moving up the depth charts and can see a path for the Wolverines to make some noise in 2017. Saturday, November 25, could once again determine a Big 10 title spot and carry the hopes of the College Football Playoff.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Ed: The timing just seems off here. If last season’s game had been in Ann Arbor, Michigan likely wins. Then a young Michigan squad goes to Columbus in 2017 to battle and gain a ton of experience, bringing that back to the Big House in 2018 for another victory. Unfortunately, that’s not how it’s all worked.

Fortunately, Jim Harbaugh is still our coach. By season end he’ll have the team firing on all cylinders. It hurts to play back-to-back road games heading into Ohio State, especially with the week before being at Wisconsin. But championship teams win the big games. Can Michigan beat the Buckeyes this year? Absolutely, but it’ll take some of Harbaugh’s best work all season long. This rivalry is just going to keep getting better and better with these two coaches at the helms.

David: Its a daily reminder for me and I'm not making any comments about the officials at last year’s game because we all know. I got married on that day in 2006, so this game every year is a reminder about that year, which was the team we all compare to a successful team to see how they match up. Both teams are young but very talented.

It will come down to how much both teams evolve and develop over the year while staying healthy before they meet in November. Our coaching staff knows how to develop players so we will have those guys step up as leaders. We may not have the level of talent on defense, but I have a lot of faith in Don Brown to get the DUDES ready.

Notre Dame v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Nick: Lastly, I’ll mention Notre Dame, because that game is coming up in a year and a half (or ten million years, in college football time). Is Brian Kelly still going to be in town when we get there? What does this rivalry mean to Michigan fans right now? When we left it a few years ago, the hatred between the two sides felt white-hot, but now I’m not sure if it’s still top two for us.

Jared: Notre Dame had a pretty atrocious year last year, which also helped to highlight just how difficult of schedule they play as an independent. There are no cupcakes, and every game is a potential upset if you are not on your guard.

All that aside, I don’t see Brian Kelly as the coach when Michigan and ND next meet. The rumblings I have heard from some of the current and former players is that Kelly is incredibly hard to play for. The way things went down last season, he seemed to throw in the towel early on, and started throwing his guys under the bus to boot. I’m no Tony Robbins, but that is not how you get guys motivated to play for you.

Their schedule lets up a little bit next season, but it is still far from a cake walk. I think the fan base and alumni were concerned enough with what went down last year that anything less than 8 wins might mean the end for Brian Kelly at Notre Dame.

Will: I’m glad the Irish will soon be back on the schedule. Whatever our records in a given year, these are the two winningest programs in college football and they should face off every fall. I’m not sure there is much in the way of “white hot” hatred between these two programs. There might even be some respect there, something like we might hold for a pre-scandal Penn State or a Nebraska. It’s just fun to play Notre Dame, and it’s an early-season indicator of where we stand. The difference, now, of course, is that the game could hold CFP implications. But that’s true of every win and loss, isn’t it?

Mike: I don’t think Brian Kelly will be coaching when the two programs meet in 2018, which is a huge bummer because those few Brady Hoke/Brian Kelly farces were so kinetic and sloppy that they produced in me a cocktail of emotions that will probably remain inscrutable until I die. It was bad football, but it was feverishly interesting. There will always be something missing when these two teams matchup again playing competent--even good--football. That said, these two programs never stay down very long, and having an early season rivalry game is awesome.

Andrew: Brian Kelly will not be the coach the next time these two teams play. I am sure he will either be fired, move to the NFL, or both. Now, the rivalry is nowhere near where it was a few years ago and I've also blocked out their last meeting from my memory. However, say Notre Dame hires Les Miles to fill their future head coaching vacancy. That would elevate this rivalry to forgotten heights and add a new emotional component. Michigan Man vs. Michigan Man. I love it.

Eric: Agree that Kelly is likely out after this year, barring a miracle CFP run (which he doesn’t have the horses for). But this rivalry will jump right up to the level of at least MSU from day one, especially with the early season scheduling. And if ND gets the right coach, it can get back to the Bo vs. Holtz levels.

David: With all the rich tradition and success that Norte Dame has created, I never liked that hire knowing what kind of coach Brian Kelly really is. He was over his head in that role and the trip to the National Championship was about as embarrassing as the Manti Teo debacle. I love this game is back on the schedule because it just feels right, and we should all be able to watch this game each fall. Let's hope it's the start of a long stretch of another chapter in this great rivalry, but chances are looking more like it will start with a new leader in South Bend.