The intensity of the Michigan, Michigan State rivalry on the gridiron has risen to levels not seen in decades and for obvious reasons. The Wolverines dominated the series from 1970-2007, compiling a record of 30-8. When the Spartans hired Mark Dantonio as head coach everything would change.
Dantonio brought his hatred of Michigan from his time at Ohio State over to East Lansing and instantly instilled his passionate disliking of the Wolverines into the program. After losing his first game against Michigan, Dantonio would guide the Spartans to four straight victories over their in-state nemesis, the longest winning streak over the Wolverines for Michigan State since 1962. Michigan won last year’s meeting in Ann Arbor in dramatic fashion as Brendan Gibbons hit a go-ahead 38-yard field goal in the closing seconds.
The game this year shifts to East Lansing and there will be a lot on the line. Both teams have a realistic shot of being undefeated heading into the game and whoever emerges victorious will own the tie breaker if they finish with identical conference records. Many are writing off the Spartans because of their disappointing 2012 season, but that notion will prove foolish.
Yes, Michigan State had a porous offense last year and lost workhorse running back LeVeon Bell and top receiving target Dion Sims to the NFL, and question marks remain on that side of the ball, but they return maybe the best defense in the Big Ten. If their tremendous defense isn’t enough to convince you that they’re a legitimate contender take a look at their schedule. The Spartan’s three divisional crossover games are against Illinois, Indiana and Purdue who went a combined 5-19 last season in Big Ten play. They host Michigan before their toughest road games against Nebraska and Northwestern.
Michigan on the other hand returns one of the youngest teams in the conference, but they are not short on talent. They will be lead by Devin Gardner, who enters the season as the starting quarterback for the first time in his career and a defense which head coach Brady Hoke thinks will be the best during his brief career with the Wolverines. Their young players will be battle tested heading into the eighth game of the season, and don’t be surprised if star linebacker Jake Ryan returns from an offseason ACL tear.
Tensions are always high when these two teams battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, but this year will be even more heightened as whoever wins the Nov. 2 match up at Spartan Stadium will represent the Legends Division in the Big Ten Championship.