Both the Michigan State Spartans and Michigan Wolverines have fallen short of preseason expectations, but that won't stop this fierce rivalry from being especially competitive this Saturday in the Big House.
The Wolverines have lost four straight to their interstate Big Ten foe. Senior quarterback Denard Robinson won't have to square off against Kirk Cousins this time around, and he will look to take advantage of that to beat Sparty for the first time in his sensational career.
Although the Spartans are underdogs coming off of their double-overtime loss to Iowa, many experienced players know they've had Michigan's number.
Here is a closer look at this year's battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
Who will win Saturday's version of this fierce Big Ten rivalry?
When: Saturday, October 20 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: Michigan State Spartans Sports Network Affiliates
Live Stream: BTN2Go.com
Betting Line (via OddsShark.com): Michigan -10
Spartans Injury Report
Dion Sims, TE (ankle) QUESTIONABLE.
Wolverines Injury Report
Brandon Moore, TE (knee) QUESTIONABLE, Stephen Hopkins, RB (hamstring) QUESTIONABLE.
(Note: all injury information courtesy of USA TODAY)
What's at Stake:
Pride is always on the line in this fierce battle. While the Spartans have dropped two games in the Big Ten already, Michigan still has an outside chance to claim the conference title. They are tied with Iowa at 2-0 in the Legends Division, and can jump back into the Top 25 with a win.
If the Spartans drop to 4-4, they will be in danger of losing grip on a bowl bid.
What They're Saying
Kyle Meinke of MLive.com highlights some key memories of current Michigan players from the rivalry with the Spartans. Head coach Brady Hoke discusses how such an intense competition doesn't require any extra effort to get up for.
I think when you're playing a rivalry game, your motivation better come from within. It's not something you put up or something you do. It usually comes from within.
Hoke hints at the sentiments that Michigan State will likely be feeling more than Michigan, as Sparty tries to salvage the season while the Wolverines look to roll to a Big Ten championship.
Michigan State Player to Watch: RB Le'Veon Bell
Already nearing the 1,000-yard milestone, Bell has been one of the most productive workhorse backs in the country. He currently sits fifth in the nation in rushing with eight touchdowns, but also has 23 receptions out of the backfield.
The Wolverine defense offers a generous matchup, which means Bell is likely in for a third consecutive 100-yard game. He will have to produce at least that much to give his team a chance.
Michigan Player to Watch: QB Denard Robinson
The senior signal-caller is coming off two spectacular games to key a hot start to conference play for the Wolverines.
This will be the toughest defense he has faced since Notre Dame, though. To put it in context, Robinson ran for 238 yards at Purdue in Week 6. Michigan State gives up an average of 273 total yards per game on defense.
Robinson must continue to take care of the football and not press too much, which will likely prove difficult since he has never beaten the Spartans.
The Wolverines' secondary has given up the second-fewest passing yards in the country. Led by senior safety and team captain Jordan Kovacs, opponents have had a rough go throwing through the air. That means Michigan State's game plan will depend on how well Le'Veon Bell and Co. can run the ball against the Wolverines, who give up just over 148 yards per game on the ground.
Michigan historically has the upper hand in the rivalry, but obviously the narrative has changed recently. It will be all about the senior leaders—Denard Robinson and Jordan Kovacs—playing in front of the home crowd and finally getting over the hump.
It will be a tight one, but the Wolverines are simply the better team at this point. The stout defensive backfield should force the inexperienced Andrew Maxwell into mistakes in his first taste of this matchup.
Le'Veon Bell will still perform well for the Spartans, but the passing game won't be efficient enough on third down to ultimately keep pace.
Final score: Michigan 27, Michigan State 21