Michigan’s rivalry with Notre Dame is suffering a slow, painful death, and its interstate grudge match with Ohio State hasn’t been anything to write home about for about the last, oh, say five years.
That leaves Michigan State—yes, Michigan State—as the current and predominate foe for the Wolverines to contend with each fall.
That may sound incredibly illogical to say, as the Spartans have won four of the past five meetings with Michigan—making it not that much of a rivalry, but we’ll get to that later.
But that four-year winning streak, equal to a program-best stretch from 1959-62, isn’t enough for the Spartans to claim supremacy over the Wolverines just yet.
Don’t forget, Michigan owns a 68-32-5 advantage in the series—which won’t be evened any time soon.
That being said, coach Brady Hoke’s Wolverines will be in a peculiar situation come Nov. 2 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. At this point, it’s doubtful that Mark Dantonio and Michigan State will go tit-for-tat with Hoke, laying claim to victory after losing 12-10 during an absolute snooze fest in 2012.
And that plays into Hoke’s hands—quite well, actually.
If Michigan can notch back-to-back triumphs, all order within the “Big Brother-Little Brother” rivalry will be restored in the eyes of Wolverines fans—who are quick to excuse three of those four recent losses to Michigan State, placing blame solely on the shoulders of former coach Rich Rodriguez.
There’s probably a little truth to that. Rodriguez didn’t exactly understand the Michigan-Michigan State code, nor did he have a full grasp on what the Ohio State game meant to his former university.
History is Proof
Michigan State was a much more powerful and robust program during the late 1950s into the1960s. The Spartans only lost to the Wolverines twice during that span (tied once). That was the era of legendary coach Duffy Daugherty and “Kill, Bubba, Kill” Bubba Smith, also a fixture in Michigan State football lore.
However, all good things must come to an end, and Michigan put the nix on the Spartans from 1970-77, an eight-year span that stands, to this day, as the Wolverines’ lengthiest domination over Michigan State.
The Spartans didn’t win two consecutive games again until Larry Caper’s overtime touchdown in 2009 (26-20, MSU). Prior to two straight from 2008-09, the Spartans hadn’t beaten Michigan in years—2001, to be exact.
Michigan State won twice in the 1980s, and four times from 1990-2000. If it weren’t for the ‘60s, the all-time score wouldn’t be nearly as close as the 68-32-5 tilt that Michigan enjoys today.
Though a 2-0 stretch wouldn’t completely erase Michigan State’s four-year streak, it would certainly suggest that many more—and likely consecutive—victories over the Spartans are in Michigan’s future.
Historical data via UM's Bentley Library
Expect a Win in 2013
Thanks to fantastic recruiting efforts, Hoke has a program built for speed, power and winning.
It’s really that simple.
Stringing together elite class after elite class will obviously give Michigan a leg up over just about every opposing force it faces while Hoke is in charge. He’s getting top in-state kids like Drake Harris and Lawrence Marshall, along with bringing in national stars like Jabrill Peppers.
Michigan and the Spartans both probably know that the Wolverines in for an upward trek starting this November.
While the Wolverines have an exemplary defense, highlighted by an excellent corps of linebackers, the Spartans could easily struggle with Michigan’s new-look collection of running backs and wide receivers.
After what looked to be a nowhere-but-up destination, Dantonio’s Spartans, at least for the moment, have taken a step backward.
It’s important for Michigan to rule the corners of the Great Lakes State with an iron fist, and that’s predicated on beating Michigan State year after year, as in decades past. Of course, the Spartans benefit from arguably the best coaching staff in the Big Ten—it’s certainly up there with Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi—so this article isn’t suggesting that they’ll never again beat Michigan.
But with the way things are going, the way Michigan is headed, expecting few-and-far-between losses to Michigan State is perfectly logical and acceptable.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81