Part of the fun in being a sports fan is having the ability to compare contemporary athletes and stories to others throughout sports history. Rivalries are built on this very concept; one season's loss is motivation toward next season's rematch.
Michigan State is taking over Ohio State's position as U of M's biggest rival.
Michigan and Ohio State have been nestled into a competitive pattern for quite some time, and the rivalry is undoubtedly one of the most heated in sports. However, the Big Ten and NCAA are changing every year, and the fire has at least slightly diminished as of late.
The Big Ten division is now separated into two factions. The Legends Division contains U of M and MSU, while OSU plays in the Leaders Division. Because Michigan and Michigan State vy for the same spot in the Big Ten Championship, the dynamic between them changes.
Gone are the days where Michigan vs. Ohio State at the end of the season was the decisive game of Big Ten play.
Neither team is currently considered a legitimate contender for the BCS Championship, as the nation's best have most recently come from the SEC.
This is a drastic difference from a time as recently as 2006, when the two were the top two ranked teams in the BCS entering their season finale. This was also a time when the Big Ten was widely considered the strongest college football conference.
Michigan and Ohio State are now evened out a bit by powerful teams like Wisconsin and MSU and the division appears much less top-heavy than in years past. The lack of a dominant force as strong as Michigan and OSU used to be has caused the Big Ten to slip behind other divisions (think Pac-12, SEC).
Another factor that impacts the relationship between the Legends' best is that Ohio State was flooded with controversy surrounding former Coach Jim Tressel and QB Terrelle Pryor. In fact, the ensuing NCAA sanctions following the OSU investigation have put a damper on the Michigan-OSU rivalry.
Enter a scene where games against MSU and OSU have the exact same significance on the schedule.
Because OSU cannot compete for a Big Ten Championship this season, the spot is wide open for MSU or U of M. Wisconsin will most likely coast through the Leaders Division and clinch a spot to face 2012's best team out of the state of Michigan.
Add in to the mix that Michigan's traditional dominance over State (67-32-5 all-time via MGoBlue.com) has disappeared over the last four years.
Now, the Big Ten outlook appears very different. Most interestingly, the relevance of the annual matchup between MSU and Michigan has just skyrocketed heading into the 2012 season.
Although Michigan has usually been a bully to its in-state rival, Michigan State has been the model program most recently. Under coach Mike Dantonio, the Spartans have used power defense to establish themselves as the team to beat in the state of Michigan in 2012.
This year in the Big House, the game's importance will soar to new levels and be the biggest factor used to determine who will face Wisconsin at the end of the season. Don't be fooled; Ohio State under new coach Urban Meyer will return to muddle the Legends Division competition next year.
But for me, it comes back to the idea that rivalries are built on relevance. This is why Michigan vs. Michigan State will trump one of the most storied rivalries in sports.
Throughout Michigan football history, several factors (Coach Schembechler of U of M and Coach Hayes of OSU, for example) have influenced the importance of regular season games.
Ohio State and Michigan's prolific duel is always one of the better sporting events to watch of the year and one that has had implications on final Big Ten standings. Michigan State has stolen OSU's role.
Today, the in-state rivalry is on the rise, and the matchup's implications reach as far as a potential Rose Bowl berth. This season, the game against MSU is more relevant to Michigan's success and will be treated as such in Ann Arbor.