We've got quite the contest this week between 4-3 Michigan State and 4-2 Michigan, a rivalry that has been traditionally owned by Michigan, but as of late, has belonged to the Spartans, winners of four straight.
The Legends Division lead won't necessarily change hands based on the result of this game, as Michigan State already has two conference losses, while Michigan's tied with Iowa at 2-0, but there are consequences all the same: A Michigan State loss effectively ends its shot at returning to the Big Ten Championship, while if Michigan loses, it could lose its share of the division lead.
But what's really at stake here is something more ignominious. Whoever loses this game will have the unfortunate (yet undeniable) legacy of being the Big Ten's most disappointing team up to this point. And let's be honest, both teams have built quite the resume on that front.
Indeed, looking back over the course of the season, there isn't a single week where both Michigan and Michigan State have escaped the stench of disappointment. And that's not even taking an especially harsh look at either team, either. Observe.
Week 1: Michigan State wears down Boise State, 17-13, in what would end up being the most impressive Big Ten win of the entire non-conference slate (sigh). Michigan gets the ever-loving snot beaten out of it by Alabama, 41-14.
Week 2: Michigan State throttles Central Michigan, 41-7. Michigan gets a major scare from Air Force before prevailing 31-25. Air Force would then lose at UNLV the next week.
Week 3: Michigan gets things together and pistol-whips provisional FBS member UMass 63-13. Michigan State puts its No. 10 ranking on the line against Notre Dame and gets throttled 20-3 in a game that didn't even feel that close.
Week 4: Michigan State struggles with Eastern Michigan, trailing 7-3 at the half and needing two fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull away for the 23-7 win. Meanwhile, Michigan throws interceptions on five straight pass attempts in a 13-6 loss to Notre Dame. God help us all if that's not a record.
Week 5: Ohio State has its worst offensive showing of the season and still beats Michigan State, 17-16, in a game where Spartan DE William Gholston is clearly knocked out for a sustained amount of time, then is allowed back in the game after saying he "had the wind knocked out of him." Guard Jack Allen is also seen eye-gouging OSU DT Johnathan Hankins.
By comparison, Michigan looks stellar as it sits at home with a bye week.
Week 6: Michigan torches Purdue in what was supposed to be a close game, 44-13. Meanwhile, Michigan State goes down 17-0 to a feisty Indiana team and trails 27-17 in the fourth quarter before rallying for a 31-27 win. Again, this was against Indiana.
Week 7: Michigan continues its two-game hot streak by annihilating a lifeless Illinois team 45-0. Michigan State appears to control its game against Iowa by leading for over 55 minutes of regulation, but Iowa ties the game late and steals a win in overtime after a tipped pass leads to an interception.
And now we're in Week 8, and whoever drops this game is the official Sad Panda of the Big Ten. Nobody thought Michigan State would be 4-4 at this point, while a Michigan loss wipes out the positive momentum of the last two weeks and probably cements Denard Robinson's legacy as a little-game quarterback, one who could never beat Michigan State (and could rarely beat anyone else of any consequence).
More directly, a loss in this game means a rivalry loss when the other team was particularly vulnerable, and if there's one thing you never want to do in a rivalry (especially an intrastate, intradivisional rivalry), it's "be the win that re-energized their season." That's the type of thing a proper rival will never let you live down.
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