Let’s just start out by saying this is not going to be a popular take on a Michigan-centric site and with the fanbase. But if it’s sunshine and rainbows you’re looking for, there are plenty of other outlets and writers out there that are willing to tickle your Member Berries.
Michigan vs. Michigan State week is here, and if we’re being honest, it might be my least favorite week of the college football season. Rivalry weeks always include their fair share of trash talk and unpleasantries, but this one has gotten especially ugly in the last decade or so.
And truthfully, it is the most important game that Michigan plays in the right here and right now.
In-state rival. Generally speaking two of the best teams in the Big Ten East. Teams that have aspirations of toppling Ohio State.
Mark Dantonio is 8-2 in his last 10 games against Michigan after dropping the first game in 2007. Michigan has come into its games against MSU with a record of 53-15 over the last 11 seasons (not including this year) and has come out of that game with a record of 30-42 after the fact. These numbers are skewed because of non-conference play and a tough stretch toward the middle part of the conference schedule, but the fact remains that the Spartans have derailed a lot of September Heisman campaigns and often times exposed Michigan. Losing to MSU has generally been the first domino to fall in a lot of disappointing seasons.
In hindsight, of course it was bad with Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke and those guys lost their jobs for their ineptitude. Even with the Jim Harbaugh era, Michigan is 12-10 after it plays Michigan State the last three seasons. It is not a direct correlation, but the numbers are what they are.
Right now, Michigan’s game against the Spartans is the most important rivalry game because they need to win it for their game against Ohio State to even matter. The Wolverines beat up on Michigan State for years and fans never took that rivalry seriously. There was not much reason to other than it being an in-state bout every year. MSU earned its way into this being a serious rivalry by their recent dominance in the series. You can make excuses about the bad coaches, the botched punt, the monsoon last season, but the record is what it is and the excuses need to stop.
MSU’s entire renaissance has been built on the hatred for Michigan and rarely has the Wolverines matched that level of hatred and intensity. Now, I think this year is far different in that regard because players have been as open as ever about their distain for the Spartans and the next stop on the “revenge tour.” It has honestly been refreshing.
As far as the Buckeyes go, Michigan has to earn its way back into the Ohio State rivalry like MSU has with Michigan. Fans that are around my age (26-years-old by the time Nov. 24 hits), have not seen the Wolverines win back-to-back games against the Buckeyes since 1999-2000 and only two wins in the series since 2001. But pappy and grandpappy continue to tell us how great the Ohio State rivalry is because of the good ‘ol days of Woody and Bo. It is great and rich in history, but that rivalry is also supposed to hinge on who wins the Big Ten and Michigan has not held up its end of the bargain in almost two decades. Period.
I get so tired of the “if we only win one game a year and it’s against Ohio State, I’ll be happy!” crowd. That is borderline psychosis. Go out and do your business so something other than your pride is on the line when you go to Columbus or host them at the Big House.
Now to be fair, Dantonio is only 3-6 against the Buckeyes. However, two of those wins came in Columbus, the most recent of which was done with backup quarterbacks. The other win was in the Big Ten Championship game. Their 2013 and 2015 wins were both when OSU was ranked No. 2 in the country.
Like it or not, your downfall under Rich Rod and Hoke were kindling for the fire of what Dantonio’s program has become. And to Dantonio’s credit, they’ve been able to keep building and have staying power, even if you think they’re overrated. I think it’s awesome that this game matters now because it gives the state of Michigan its version of the Iron Bowl. It’s an elimination game. If you lose it, chances are you need help to have something to play for again.
You can have two rivals. It’s possible. Ohio State may be the bully on the block, but MSU is your pain in the ass neighbor that you deal with every day. Knowing what we do about this Spartan team, and honestly, it is nowhere near as good as it has been in the past even with the win over Penn State, can you really look yourself in the mirror and say a loss on Saturday would be acceptable as long as you beat OSU? Just think about that.
Michigan fans cling to the Ohio State rivalry because it’s two name brand schools going up against each other. The problem is that OSU’s brand is fueled by winning and being a national title contender, while yours is akin to a brand that has name recognition, but has offered little else in recent memory. Like the once proud Cracker Jack. Did you know Cracker Jack doesn’t even have prizes in the box anymore? You have to scan a code to get a digital prize now. What the hell is even the point of that?
If you cannot be the king of your own backyard, how can you be the king of the Big Ten? We can cross the OSU bridge when we get to it. Saturday sees MSU lining up across from the Wolverines and losing another to Dantonio, which would be your ninth in 12 tries, would be disappointing and quite frankly unacceptable.
I think Michigan snaps its fingers with the Infinity Gauntlet on Saturday and balances the universe. That doesn’t mean this rivalry is done, and from there it means the OSU game has even more importance and rightfully so. But even after 12 years people still don’t recognize the in-state bout as a rivalry. That has to change.