If it weren't for Notre Dame, there may not be a football program at Michigan State right now.

That's because during the relative infancy of the Spartan football program, before MSU was admitted to the Big Ten, Michigan State wasn't really "on the map." But thanks to a series with Notre Dame, that all changed.

Michigan State renews its rivalry with the Fighting Irish on Saturday in South Bend. It's the first time the two schools have met since Notre Dame won 17-13 at home in 2013. The Spartans haven't forgotten their only loss of that season.

At his weekly press conference Tuesday, MSU head coach Mark Dantonio was asked if the Spartans-Irish rivalry is more respectful than bitter because of the help Notre Dame afforded Michigan State all those years ago.

"I'll let you know after this weekend," Dantonio replied, obviously kidding.

Herb Haygood runs in a 68-yard game-winning touchdown reception for Michigan State against Notre Dame in 2000. (Getty Images)

"I think there are things that happened in this rivalry that led to the emergence of Michigan State being a major football player in the country... There will always be respect [for Notre Dame] from the people at Michigan State because of that aspect, I would think."

He's right.

The Spartans and their fans are definitely salivating at the chance to chalk up a victory in South Bend. A win would break a three-game winning streak by the Irish in this series and be State's first at Notre Dame since Dantonio's first year on the job for MSU (2007).

But there's a palpable difference in the feel of this rivalry compared to others from MSU's vantage point. I mean, when's the last time a Michigan State coach said such flattering things about his contemporary at Michigan?

Odds are you won't hear Dantonio say many kind things about U-M. That's not the case for Notre Dame, though. After all, the Irish's head coach took over for Dantonio at Cincinnati.

Fans may still take the rivalry to a bitter place, sure. But it still doesn't begin to encroach on the hate-o-meter levels reached by the MSU-Michigan feud. No, Michigan State-Notre Dame is a rivalry based on a history of cooperation, not institutional hatred.

Hear Dantonio's comments in the YouTube video above, and click here for more videos of him previewing Saturday's MSU-Notre Dame game.