5 Forgotten Facts About This Weekend’s Michigan/MSU Game
Well, it's here. The annual in-state rivalry game between Michigan State and Michigan is upon us.
And, unbeknownst to the respective fan bases, the college football world hasn't exactly followed the cookie cutter strategy set forth by national media pundits leading up to the season...an occurrence that happens more times than not.
With both teams coming into the game highly ranked...one expected to be there towards the top, one not so much...the trash talking is at an all time high already...and, it's only Monday.
Here are five facts that fans shouldn't forget about this Saturday's showdown.
If you read social media or listen to fans talk about this season's Michigan state squad, you'd think the sky is falling. Since MSU's convincing win over Oregon in week two, the Spartans have apparently underwhelmed their faithful. To hear the MSU offense criticized for not running up the score each and every week against each and every opponent is asinine.
Sure, this was supposed to be the year that MSU hammered home their spot among the nation's elite. But, in my book, winning 30 of your last 33 games dating back to 2013 is a solid sales pitch. Scoring 30 points or more in 16 of your last 19 contests, including a nation's longest streak of 12 in a row during that timespan, adds more evidence to the side of the Spartan Program. Then, toss in the fact that 5th year senior quarterback Connor Cook is 29-3 as a starter gives the debate even more weight.
Defensively, obviously, MSU isn't quite as strong as in 2013 and 2014, and has lots of room to improve...especially in the secondary. But, that's bound to happen when you lose 11 starters in two seasons to the NFL. Spartan fans and media heads alike need to remember that a win is a win is a win. As Coach Dantonio says, the program is selling results, not hope.
And, fans, if you're going to gripe about your team not living up to your standards, don't bitch and whine when the national media somewhat agrees with you, and drops them from number 2, to number 4, to number 7.
When Jim Harbaugh was hired in Ann Arbor last December, a ton of media hype followed him, and still follows him everyday. While this played well for Michigan fans starving for the results of yesteryear, it didn't really hold a lot of merit...until the team took the field in 2015, that is.
In it's first game of the season at Utah (ranked number 4 this week, and like MSU, also currently undefeated) the Michigan offense looked sluggish and inconsistent. Transfer 5th year quarterback Jake Rudock threw three interceptions to his two touchdowns, and the Wolverines could only muster 76 rushing yards as a team. Yet, they only lost 24-17, and had a chance to tie the game or win in the late stages. That was completely the result of a defensive unit's efforts. That defense has stolen the show in Ann Arbor by playing aggressive, yet fundamental football.
Offensively and defensively, and even on special teams this squad has improved each game this season week by week. The results have been five straight wins behind an offense that is gaining more and more confidence, and a defensive unit that college football hasn't seen in 20 seasons and that Michigan fans haven't seen in 35 seasons. The current three-game shutout streak is very impressive. The last team to complete such a feat is the 1995 Kansas State squad. The early season results have the Michigan fanbase falling over themselves in joy.
Harbaugh has definitely changed the mindset at Michigan. The entire coaching staff is to credit. The team should be confident in itself. But, let's face it. The program didn't have anywhere to go but up, especially in typical Michigan standards. And, the road to result-based success is still a long path.
I think I did a pretty good job in items 1 & 2 describing why this game is exciting both fan bases. Both Michigan and Michigan State fans, as reluctant as they may be to do so, shouldn't forget the history of this series. Years of having two highly ranked teams battling for the Paul Bunyan Trophy have been few and far between.
MSU has won 6 of the last 7 meetings. Prior to that, Michigan had won six straight. Going back 45 years to 1970, only 9 of the annual showdowns have featured both teams ranked in the Top 20/25. If you're counting, MSU has won 4 of those 9 games, including three of them in the last 5 years. Both of these teams are in the Top 15 this week. That has only happened 4 times in the same 45 year window. Michigan is 3-1 in these contests. (2003 - #13 Michigan 27, #9 MSU 20; 1999 - #11 MSU 34, #3 Michigan 31; 1997 - #5 Michigan 23, #14 MSU 7; 1975 - #8 Michigan 16, #15 MSU 6)
Whether one side feels the other is worthy of its team's ranking is typical hogwash fodder for rivalry week. The nation is about to watch something very special take place. Both sides should damn well know by now, records, streaks, momentum, and trash talk can all be thrown out the window when these two teams meet. The only true known factor...both teams will show up to knock the snot out of each other. And that's the way Big Ten Football is meant to be played.
I'll say it again, results speak for themselves. After decades of looking up at the top of the conference, Michigan State has established itself as a Big Ten mainstay. That happens when the culture of finding ways to lose tight games is completely reversed by a dedicated coaching staff, a driven unit of players, two B1G Championship Game appearances, the first Rose Bowl berth...and victor...in a generation, followed by a huge Cotton Bowl berth...and victory, and back to back Top 5 finishes.
The team is already bowl eligible for the ninth consecutive season. I challenge any fan to find the last time that has happened. One loss doesn't erase all of that. Win or lose, MSU isn't going anywhere anytime soon. There isn't much difference between saying "6 of the last 7" and "6 of the last 8".
Come Sunday, MSU will still have the current upper hand on their rival. Though I can't imagine that sitting well outside of the walls of The Skandalaris/Perles/Daugherty facility, make no doubts, the foundation isn't going to crack anymore these days on one game. But, MSU fans are sure set up for potential heartbreak, aren't they?
Let's face it. Michigan has nothing to lose in this game. In 2008, when Rich Rodriguez took the wheel in Ann arbor, he said Lloyd Carr left the cupboard bare; the roster void of talent. Brady Hoke needed to get his own players in 2011 and 2012 before the program could right its course, despite a BCS bowl win in the 2012 season. Well, Hoke got those players according to recruiting experts with "4 and 5 star players" in abundance. But, Michigan's win-loss record consistently declined in his final two seasons.
Suddenly, those same players have won as many games already this season as last...and we're half way through the campaign. Sure, Jim Harbaugh may have, by no fault of his own, brought a swarm of media attention with him to Ann Arbor. Some folks 'round these parts are downright nauseous by it, while every Wolverine fan is eating up this season's results with a golden spoon.
There's no denying the change that Michigan's coaching staff has instilled in these players, especially considering the drastic improvements each week in all aspects of the game; defense, special teams, and even the still-suspect offense. This Michigan team is garnering a lot of attention this week nationally. After all, Michigan wasn't supposed to be "here" already. And, it's hard to ignore a team that has outscored its opponents 160-14 in five straight wins, including three consecutive shutouts, two of those three over ranked teams.
Come Sunday, win or lose, Michigan will still be on its return path to "greatness". It will still own this series with MSU (68-34-5 coming into this week, by the way). And the "new culture" isn't going away anytime soon, either. But, Michigan fans are sure set up for potential heartbreak, aren't they?